At a time when world's top rated players will be playing in the chess Olympiad, the absence of former world champion Viswanathan Anand, world number 27 Pendyala Harikrishna and other top rated players from the Indian team is very strange, say chess players from India and abroad.
"Anand has not been playing in the Olympiads for years. This time, several other top players are also not playing. It seems there is some serious issue to be resolved," an anguished FIDE-rated chess player told IANS preferring anonymity.
The World Chess Olympiad is the fourth largest sporting event in the world in terms of the number of participating countries.
The 2014 edition being held in Norway Aug 1-14 will see around 1,800 players and team captains from 174 countries.
India, at 2650 elo points, ranks seventh in the world based on the average rating of its top ten players.
Curiously the Indian team for the 2014 Olympiad is ranked 18th with an average rating of 2617 points.
Only three of India's top 10 players - Grandmasters (GM) Krishnan Sasikiran, Parimarjan Negi and Baskaran Adhiban - are in the current Olympiad team. The other two GMs S.P. Sethuraman and M.R. Lalith Babu are ranked 11th and 12th, respectively.
If the Indian Olympiad team comprises of its top five players (Anand, Harikrishna, Sasikiran, Negi and Abhijeet Gupta) then it would have been ranked 8th with a rating of 2692 points.
"In the initial rounds, high-rated teams would generally get weaker teams as opponents. Further, when it is known that the team led by Anand has another player with a rating of over 2,725 points and includes others players with ratings over 2600, then the psychological advantage is huge," a rated chess player preferring anonymity told IANS.
"Anand has not been playing at the Olympiad for a long time whereas the absence of India's number two Harikrishna is a big surprise," an overseas GM told IANS.
When contacted for comments, the All India Chess Federation's (AICF) CEO Bharat Singh Chauhan told IANS to get in touch with the federation's new secretary V. Hariharan.
"We had asked Anand and Harikrishna about their availability for the Olympiad. Harikrishna replied that he was not available," Hariharan told IANS.
Anand was not available for comments and an email sent to him remained unanswered.
"I received an email from AICF stating that I was one of the provisionally selected players for the Indian chess Olympiad team and was queried about my availability," Harikrishna told IANS.
"As I was preparing for the world rapid and blitz tournaments I had conveyed to AICF about my non-availability," he said.
According to Hariharan, the AICF has no hold on the players to make them play the tournaments.
Queried about signing up a contract with the top rated players he said: "The issue has not been brought up earlier. Perhaps, the suggestion could be deliberated upon."
Welcoming the idea, Harikrishna said: "Most of the top chess federations have such agreements with the players. The contract between the federation and the individual players should be a professional one listing out all the details clearly. The issue is not about appearance fee but the facilities that AICF would extend to players."
"The contract should be agreed mutually by the player concerned and AICF," Sasikiran said.
It is reliably learnt that the idea of a contract was suggested to AICF a couple of years ago, but the federation has not looked at it seriously.
The absence of other top-rated players in the Indian team is also due to AICF's selection process.
The AICF selects the Indian team for top tournaments like the Asian, World and Olympiad based on the player's FIDE rating. The national champion will be a default member of the team.
While selecting the other team members those who had played the Nationals will be given additional 75 points. As a result a lower rated player by virtue of getting the bonus points can get into the team ahead of others.
While accepting AICF's view that National events should attract top players, the 75 points bonus is too high. It should be only 40 or 50. Perhaps four members of the Olympiad team should be selected based on FIDE rating alone and the fifth member could be the national champion with a rating cut-off, a couple of GMs told IANS.
According to Sasikiran, the National championship should be rejigged into a three-tournament format so that only strong players come to play at the National A tournament.
"Forcing GMs with a rating of over 2600 points to play the National B is not right. They have already proved themselves," a player told IANS.
According to Harikrishna, there should be more round-robin tournaments with top 20 players participating.
Meanwhile, Sasikiran said: "On paper, the team may look as lower rated, but going by the current form of the the players, it would certainly do well."