A novel idea, but a lopsided contest

ARVIND AARON

IT started as a novel idea and ended as a lopsided contest. But it will not stop Spanish organisers from thinking in developing newer ideas to popularise chess in their region in the near future.

"The organisers did not expect us to score at will. They expected some resistance from their team, which did not take place. We had a nice time in Santurtzi, the food was excellent, there was plenty of reenery around," said Viswanathan Anand, after the tournament. -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

The town of Santurtzi, near the northern Spanish city of Bilbao had its chess festival from May 1-4 featuring a chess match between three players from the world's chess elite group against the sons of the soil in the Basque region. The match featured a novel Scheveningen system of pairing where the visitors would face only the local players in a two-game match of rapid, blindfold and advanced chess.

The visitors comprised former world champions, Viswanathan Anand, Anatoly Karpov of Russia and the queen of world chess, Judit Polgar of Hungary. The domestic opposition consisted of Grandmaster Felix Izeta who is now famous for being a commentator at the Linares tournament, Jose Luis Fernandez who is more known for being a trainer of GM Miguel Illescas and the third player was Mario Gomez. The local opposition was never thought to pose a big challenge against the star-studded world team line-up.

On Day one, which was `May Day' the World Team snatched a big 5-1 lead with Anand and Judit Polgar, the two players in form this year in the professional circuit, doing most of the damage. Anand vanquished Gomez 2-0 with his famous speedy rapid play, while Judit Polgar benefited from a queen blunder in one of the games in her 2-0 sweep of Felix Izeta in the blindfold games. Karpov hit the headlines for the wrong reason as Fernandez pulled off two sensational draws against him in advanced chess.

In the two sessions on each day, the spectators could see one rapid, one blindfold and one advanced chess game in progress at a given time in a rare variety, all in one hall, for the first time. But the local fans, however, had to sit and wail over the losses of their home-grown players, one after the other. All the local players were past their best chess playing days or had almost given up.

Day two only saw the three visitors try to outscore each other. The trio won two games each for a 6-0 sweep and the contest was already decided!

Karpov recovered with a 2-0 drubbing of Izeta, winning largely with good technique in the rapid games. Anand downed the hero of the Basque team from Day one, Fernandez, 2-0 in the two blindfold games. He did it in style with a rook sacrifice in the second encounter after outplaying him with the black pieces earlier in the first game. Judit Polgar ensured that she matched the other two visitors in her long 2-0 win over Gomez in advanced chess.

With the match being decided at 11-1 after two days it seemed a demoralised effort from the local players and the organisers for staging such a show. But on Day three, things were much better for the local outfit, who benefited from the easy-going attitude of the visitors. Anand and Karpov made two draws in the games against Izeta and Gomez. However, Judit Polgar did not let go her white, beating Fernandez with white and then making a draw with black to top-score with 5.5 points from six games. Anand scored five points from six games and Karpov made four points. None of the visitors were defeated or under a threat of defeat in any of their six games. The hosts displayed a pathetic scorecard with Fernandez making the most with 1.5 points from six games. Izeta and Gomez made one point each with two draws on the last day.

The overall margin was 14.5 to 3.5 for the World Team. The result was clear at the start but the organisers perhaps expected more from the losing side. The area where they would have expected to cash more was advanced chess and they made two points via four draws in that from the six games. The Basque team scored 2/6 from advanced, 1/6 from blindfold and 0.5/6 in rapid chess.

The sponsor was the town council and the show was well presented. Not much of international chess has happened in this area and it augured well for the new interest. Most of the top-flight contests have happened in the arid southern Spain areas at places like Linares, Ubeda and Dos Hermanas.

The event was staged in a professional manner and the players were invited as early as January, immediately after the final round at the Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee. All the 18 games that were played were broadcast live on the Internet. All went well for them except that the visitors were playing at another level and were simply too strong.

Talking to The Sportstar, Viswanathan Anand said, "They did not expect us to score at will," adding, "the organisers expected some resistance from their team, which did not take place. We had a nice time in Santurtzi, the food was excellent, there was plenty of greenery around," said Anand, who indicated that it was easy work at the board.

Anand, who finished the Bundesliga 2002-2003 season with the highest rating performance among all competitors this March, has had a great year so far.

He had won the Corus tournament, the Amber tournament, the SIS-MH Masters and now his World team has won with ease at Spain. His next event is the Chess Meeting at Dortmund, the third strongest tournament of the year, from July 30.