Star Players Kick Off Tata Steel Chess India

Star Players Kick Off Tata Steel Chess India


The Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz Women’s tournament was inaugurated at Kolkata, India, on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, with a short ceremony and drawing of lots. The event pits five of the best Indian women players against five invited global stars, including the reigning Women’s World Champion, Ju Wenjun. The women’s event will run from August 31 until September 4, 2023, to be followed by the open event for the next five days, both with a single round-robin of rapid games. The women’s tournament carries a prize fund of $41,500, identical to the open tournament, an admirable gesture by Tata Steel to bring parity to the competitions.

Ju starts as the firm favorite on paper in what will be her tournament debut on Indian soil. Her rapid rating of 2592 and blitz rating of 2536 are way ahead of her nearest rivals, the Indian duo of GMs Humpy Koneru (2473 and 2448) and Harika Dronavalli (2459 and 2417). However, quick time controls and the resulting unique challenges promise an absorbing contest.

The Women’s Rapid begins on August 31 at 5:30 a.m. ET / 11:30 CEST / 15:00 IST.

How to watch the Tata Steel India Chess Women’s Rapid & Blitz

You can watch the event live on Twitch, as well as our YouTube channels for and Chess24. Keep up with all the details of the tournament on our live events platform, and follow live games by clicking here. 

The live commentary team of GM Robert Hess, IM Soumya Swaminathan, and IM Tania Sachdev will be at Kolkata to provide comprehensive coverage of the event:

A hectic schedule of global events has made it quite difficult for the organizers to assemble an interesting field this year in both the women’s and open sections. Many players were at the World Cup 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan (July 30-August 24), and/or at the World Rapid Team Championship in Dusseldorf, Germany (August 26-28), before this event, and are proceeding to the World Women’s Team Championship in Warsaw, Poland, and/or to the Asian Games 2023 in Hangzhou, China (September 23-October 8).

The schedule has been most grueling for Harika, who had to find time to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday in between all her tournament appearances, and hence preferred to rest after landing in Kolkata, instead of attending the inauguration ceremony.

Jeroen van den Berg, the organizer of the current tournament and also the iconic tournaments of Wijk aan Zee, shared his insight on the difficulty of getting a strong field of players in the open and women’s sections this year: “Normally, we (hold these tournaments) in November, but the Sinquefield Cup is being (held at that time this year). Some of the ladies, immediately after this event, (are going) to Poland, to play the (Women) World Team Championship. So, it was quite a puzzle to make it happen… But, we have the (Women’s) World Champion here—we are quite happy with that”.

Jeroen van den Berg addressing the media, along with Chanakya Chaudhary, Vice President – Corporate Services, Tata Steel. Photo: Vivek Sohani / Tata Steel Chess India.

The hectic schedule also meant that the All India Chess Federation decided to conducts its practice camp for the Indian team for the Asian Games with GM Boris Gelfand at the players’ hotel, thus making it convenient for the teams to attend the camp as well as participate in the event. Unfortunately, this means that the players’ list in the open section will miss speed chess expert GM Nihal Sarin, who was not selected to represent India for the Asian Games due to his standing in the national rankings.

In spite of all the scheduling conflicts, Tata Steel and event organizer Gameplan are happy with the pool of players gathered. “Among the international players, we always tried to get a mix of young and talented players and as many top players as we could get. So, we were happy to get the (Women’s) World Champion. In fact, we had the runner-up (GM Lei Tingjie), who had agreed. But due to visa delays, she had to withdraw,” said Jeet Banerjee, Director of Gameplan. Hence, the organization secured the participation of GM Polina Shuvalova as a replacement, while WGM Divya Deshmukh was another last-minute replacement for defending blitz champion IM R Vaishali, who had to withdraw due to ill health.

Jeet Banerjee at the inauguration, with IM Soumya Swaminathan and GM Robert Hess, the hosts for the evening. Picture: Vivek Sohani / Tata Steel Chess India.

Another new face in this edition is GM Nino Batsiashvili, who returns to India with pleasant memories of the gold medal for her performance on the second board in the 44th Chess Olympiad in 2022. “I like to be in India because I play very well here always!”

Nino Batsiashvili, returning with pleasant memories. Picture: Vivek Sohani / Tata Steel Chess India.

Returning to defend her rapid title is GM Anna Ushenina, who also celebrated her 37th birthday on the inauguration day. “Defending my title will be tough, but I will try my best,” Ushenina declared.

Birthday girl Ushenina. Photo: Vivek Sohani / Tata Steel Chess India.

What does it take to do well in such an unusual and grueling format compared to a classical tournament? To their credit, youngsters Deshmukh and WGM Vantika Agrawal came up with smart insights: “The most important thing to play well in such a tournament is to keep your composure, as it is not a tournament where you have time to recover from your losses. So, I think the most important thing would be just to make peace with whatever result comes and try to do your best in the next games,” explained Deshmukh, while Agrawal opined, “You need to be physically (very) fit to play rapid and blitz—so many games, so many rounds in a day.”

Young and smart, from right to left: Agrawal, Deshmukh, and GM Irina Krush. Photo: Vivek Sohani / Tata Steel Chess India.

Players of the Tata Steel India Women Rapid & Blitz. Photo: Tata Steel Chess India

First-round pairings: Women’s Rapid

Rating Title Name vs. Title Name Rating
2459 GM Dronavalli Harika

WGM Divya Deshmukh 2216
2364 GM Nino Batsiashvili

IM Polina Shuvalova 2358
2236 WIM Savitha Shri

IM Vantika Agrawal 2307
2384 GM Anna Ushenina

GM Irina Krush 2405
2473 GM Koneru Humpy

GM Ju Wenjun 2592

The 2023 Tata Steel Chess India Men’s and Women’s Rapid and Blitz are two of India’s most prestigious rapid chess events. The Women’s event takes place before the Men’s. Players compete in a 10-player round-robin in three days of rapid games with a 25+10 time control, followed by two days of blitz games played at a 3+2 time control. 

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