Anand's enduring Corsican affair

VISWANATHAN ANAND made it four in a row in the 7th Corsica Masters Rapid chess tournament at Bastia in the Corsica Islands in France.

ARVIND AARON

The winner Viswanathan Anand and the runner-up Veselin Topalov (left) with their trophies. -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

VISWANATHAN ANAND made it four in a row in the 7th Corsica Masters Rapid chess tournament at Bastia in the Corsica Islands in France.

Anand, 33, added yet another title to his list playing with a new confidence as the world rapid chess champion for the first time. Remaining undefeated, Anand raised the playing level whenever it was required and moved from the last 16 to the finals with ease. In the title round, he negotiated the hurdles put up by Topalov with a measure of care. After four draws — two in the rapid and two more in the semi-rapid games — Anand went into the blitz finals. In these games, played over three minutes for a full game plus two seconds, he vanquished Topalov 2-0 for an overall 1-1, 1-1, 2-0 win.

Anand participated in this tournament for the first time in 2000. After winning then, he seems to have monopolised the title, retaining his crown in 2001, 2002 and now in 2003. He thus justified his reputation as the top-seed. To see Anand play the blitz tie-break of the finals was like a scientist eager to complete his research. "This (against Topalov) was my toughest match," said Anand moments after winning the title.

The finals between Anand and Topalov in progress. -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

The Indian never pushed harder than was required. He applied maximum pressure on the Bulgarian in the fifth game, which was the first of the two tie-break blitz games. In the sixth game which was the second in the blitz tie-break, Anand required only a draw to keep his title. But he never missed winning opportunities and playing at amazing speed picked up pawns at random. Topalov resigned with just 20 seconds on his clock and a shattered position with a two-pawn deficit.

Anand was too strong in the matches against Cebalo and Lautier, while he won nicely against Grischuk. In the finals, Anand had some chances in the second rapid game where he had the advantage of making the first move. But he opted to capture a sacrificed rook and allow Topalov to repeat the position for a draw.

It was a well-fought finals and the spectators could not have asked for a more thrilling match. There was loud all-round applause when Anand won game five to take the lead. For those in the hall, there was an anti-climax when the computer lost the position on the board when the rook ending emerged. When it reappeared, there were five passed pawns, three for Anand and two for Topalov. Anand timed the ending sweetly. While game six was in progress with the Indian enjoying an extra pawn advantage many rightly expected the result and started to leave. Anand won with a smashing knight sacrifice.

Topalov and his trainer Silvio Danailov were all praise for Anand's professionalism and excellence in rapid chess. "He is living in a new world with no challenge in rapid chess," said Danailov while commending the Indian. Perhaps it was a mistake for Topalov to have taken an uphill 15-minute walk before the second game and the subsequent tie-break. But Topalov looks ever fresh and his eyes surf the board faster than those of any other competitor. However, here it was about understanding the position quicker, not just surfing the board.

The rapid matches were a best of two with each player getting a white and a black. They were given 20 minutes for each game and there was a five-second increment for making each move. When the rapid matches were tied at 1-1, they went for a semi-rapid pair of tie-break games with 10 minutes per player and five-second increment. If they were still tied, they were given three minutes and awarded a two-second increment.

The tournament had plenty of exciting games and the Bastia Theatre which was a centrally located venue had a lot of school-children as spectators, especially in the final rounds. There was professional commentary over wireless headsets and various web sites took the moves and games live to all parts of the world in real time.

Semi-finals action featuring Anand and Alexander Grischuk -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

The players generally enjoyed themselves, the only complaint that some had being a rather tight schedule. For example, Shirov played 25 games in three days to Anand's 21 in four days. These two players, however, did not complain. There was nothing to complain about, too since the schedule was announced before the event and the players had the choice to take part or keep away. Yet, it was a tiring schedule.

Anand was crisp in his approach. He gave more than 100% percent in his black games and won many of them, thereby making the draw easy to get with the white pieces. He took sufficient risks in his black games against Cebalo and Lautier. Anand beat them with black and drew with white to move up. In the semifinals, he drew against Grischuk with black and then won a brilliant game with the white pieces to make the finals.

Shirov, the Latvian-born player who represents Spain, had a good tournament. But he had to play too many tie-breakers and was tired. He bowed out in the semi-finals also in the tie-breaker to Topalov.

Shirov was lucky to pack Tkachiev home in the tie-break when the flamboyant Kazakh-born player made an illegal move and lost. Thereafter, Shirov downed Karpov also in a long match to make the semi-finals. There was no play-off for the third-fourth place and both Shirov and Grischuk received identical trophies.

Grischuk picked up the same 7,000 Euros as Shirov after deciding to participate in the Corsica Masters on the spur of the moment. On the night of October 30 he was together with Kramnik at Cap d'Agde drinking. Kramnik was possibly disturbed by the defeat he suffered to Anand in the world championship and Grischuk was celebrating his 20th birthday, which was on October 31. Early in the morning when he saw some players leave for Montepellier to fly out to Bastia, he joined them and got a waitlisted air ticket. He was lucky to board the plane to Bastia, play and make it to the qualifier.

Owing to ill-luck in the pairing, Grischuk got Radjabov, the tough and talented Azeri player from Baku. He played out two 1-1, 1-1 draws before winning the blitz tie-break. Then, the World No. 7, who until three days before was the No.1 ranked junior player in the FIDE list, knocked out the experienced Gelfand 1.5-0.5. Gelfand missed a chance in the ending when he failed to use an outside passed pawn. Grischuk rode that piece of luck to make it to the semifinals. There, he was beaten by Anand in a high quality game when he had less time after spending most of it trying to remember the lines. Memory blip! When he remembered his opening and finished the line he had just two minutes on the clock. This was not enough to stand up to a big player like Anand, and Grischuk went down after a good fight.

Earlier, in the qualifiers, most of the favourites got through without much trouble. Sasikiran lost two games and had to compensate that with victories. Karpov and Lautier too dropped games, but made it in the end to the last 16. The games began on a Friday evening to allow office-goers to participate. It was a 10-minute a player game plus five seconds per move and all nine rounds were rushed through by midnight. All the 16 qualifiers made the same 6.5 points from nine rounds. In fact, three other players with that 6.5 score went out on tie-break.

Anand, who remained undefeated with four victories and five draws, was a certain qualifier taking the eighth place on tie-break. Sasikiran made it by taking the last place, the 16th.

"It was a gruesome qualifier to go through," said Loek Van Wely, the Dutch Grandmaster who made it to the last 16. "The schedule should have been more spaced out," said Topalov who made it to the knock-out stage finals. Those who qualified for the last 16 made 1,500 Euros (about Rs.79,500).

The arbiters never had much work, except to say, "start your game". The players themselves started the clock. During the qualifier, an arbiter came up and said, "If Ponomariov is inside the hall, will you please switch off your mobile?" This caused much amusement because in the European Team Championship in Bulgaria in October, Ponomariov forgot to switch off his mobile. He received a call from a friend who intended to wish him on his birthday. Ponomariov's opponent Agrest protested and was awarded the point.

Rapid chess scores over conventional chess in terms of publicity in the press and in attracting spectators to the tournament halls. But conventional chess still has to change a lot in terms of playing time.

Alexei Shirov and Topalov. -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

Seven-hour sessions for one game is too long and this has been one of the hindrances in popularising this sport.

Several attempts have been made to give rapid chess the thrust. Chipmaker Intel had an attractive series of rapid tournaments which lasted until Kasparov signed to play IBM's Deel Blue. Thereafter, the continuing efforts of individual billionaires like J. J. Van Oosterom has given rapid chess the much-needed boost. The spirit of quick chess has also spread, thanks to online chess offered by sites like the Internet Chess Club.

While some conventional chess players have criticised rapid chess as lacking in quality, sport is to be completed in a given timeframe. There is only one version of chess slower than seven-hour games. This is correspondence chess where each player gets three days for making each move and a game normally finishes in about two years!

Rapid chess has attracted Leo Battesti's attention and he is promoting the game in the island of Corsica. "I am Corsican, not French," swears Battesti before the players. He made a small beginning with 350 club players, but after the advent of the Corsican tournament, the number has grown to 4000. Four thousand may not be large for a country like India, but it is certainly large for Corsica, a Mediterranean Island with 250,000 inhabitants belonging to France .

Krishnan Sasikiran, who made the knock-out phase, takes on France's Eric Arbau in a qualifying game. -- Pic. ARVIND AARON-

There is going to be an eighth edition next year and Anand will have an opportunity to make it five in a row.

When you win more than half the number of events held so far, you are said to dominate the honours list.

By winning four out of seven, Anand has left an Indian stamp on the event. One of the sacrifices he has made is skipping Diwali in order to compete in this island tournament

The results:

The 16 qualifiers: 1-19 T. Radjabov (Aze), V. Tkachiev (Fra), L. Aronian (Arm), V. Topalov (Bul), A. Grischuk (Rus), A. Shirov (Esp), V. Anand (Ind), L. Van Wely (Ned), M. Cebalo (Cro), V. Epishin (Rus), A. Motylev (Rus), B. Gelfand (Isr), J. Lautier (Fra), A. Karpov (Rus) and K. Sasikiran (Ind). I. Smirin (Isr), E.Lobron (Ger), P. Blatny (Cz) also scored 6.5/9 each, but had lower tie-break scores and were eliminated. Totally, 172 players participated.

The knock-out phase:

Pre-Quarterfinals: Miso Cebalo (Cro) lost to Viswanathan Anand (Ind) 0.5-1.5, Joel Lautier (Fra) bt. Vladimir Epishin (Rus) 2-0, Alexander Grischuk (Rus) bt. Teimour Radjabov (Aze) 1-1, 1-1, 2-0, Vladislav Tkachiev (Kaz) lost to Alexei Shirov (Esp) 1-1, 1-1, 0-2, Mikhail Gurevich (Bel) bt. Krishnan Sasikiran (Ind) 1.5-0.5, Levon Aronian (Arm) lost to Boris Gelfand (Isr) 1-1, 0.5-1.5, Veselin Topalov (Bul) bt. Alexander Motylev (Rus) 2-0. Anatoly Karpov bt Loek Van Wely 1.5-0.5.

Quarterfinals: Viswanathan Anand (Ind) bt. Joel Lautier (Fra) 1.5-0.5, Boris Gelfand (Isr) lost to Alexander Grischuk (Rus) 0.5-1.5, Alexei Shirov (Esp) bt. Anatoly Karpov (Rus) 1-1, 1-1, 1.5-0.5, Veselin Topalov (Bul) bt. Mikhail Gurevich (Bel) 1.5-0.5.

Semifinals: Viswanathan Anand (Ind) bt. Alexander Grischuk (Rus) 1.5-0.5, Veselin Topalov (Bul) bt. Alexei Shirov (Esp) 1-1, 1.5-0.5.

Finals: Viswanathan Anand (Ind) bt. Veselin Topalov (Bul) 1-1, 1-1, 2-0.

The decisive fifth game which gave Anand the lead in the finals:

GM Veselin Topalov-GM Viswanathan Anand, finals, blitz tie-break, game 5, Ruy Lopez, C77: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 Bd7 7.0-0 g6 8.Re1 Bg7 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 g5 11.Bg3 Nh5 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Bxd7+ Qxd7 14.Bxe5 dxe5 15.Qxh5 Qxd3 16.Na3 Qd6 17.Nc4 Qe6 18.Ne3 0-0-0 19.Nf5 Bf6 20.g3 Rd7 21.Re2 Rhd8 22.Kg2 a5 23.b3 Kb8 24.Rae1 c6 25.Re3 Rh8 26.R1e2 Bd8 27.Rf3 Bb6 28.Ne3 Bxe3 29.Rexe3 f6 30.Qg6 Rd6 31.Rf5 h5 32.h3 h4 33.Ref3 hxg3 34.fxg3 Rd2+ 35.Rf2 Rxf2+ 36.Kxf2 Rxh3 37.Kg2 g4 38.Qxf6 Qxf6 39.Rxf6 Rh7 40.Rg6 Rd7 41.Rxg4 Rd2+ 42.Kh3 Rxa2 43.Rg5 Rb2 44.Rxe5 b5 45.Re8+ Kc7 46.e5 Rxb3 47.Re7+ Kb6 48.Kg4 Rxc3 49.e6 Re3 50.Kf4 Re1 51.Kf5 a4 52.Re8 a3 53.Ra8 b4 54.g4 Kc7 55.g5 b3 56.Ra7+ Kd6 57.Rxa3 b2 58.Rd3+ Ke7 59.Rd7+ Ke8 60.Rb7 b1Q+ 61.Rxb1 Rxb1 0-1.