Anand's systematic approach

WORLD CUP champion Viswanathan Anand won the 12th edition of the Amber chess tournament, thereby signalling his dominance in world chess.

ARVIND AARON

Melody Amber, in whose name the tournament is held, with the top finishers. Viswanathan Anand, the winner, is flanked by the runners-up Alexander Morozevich (left) and Peter Leko. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

WORLD CUP champion Viswanathan Anand won the 12th edition of the Amber chess tournament, thereby signalling his dominance in world chess. In this marathon tournament, he swung into the lead in the fifth round and never looked back, triumphing by a one-point margin at the end.

Anand regained the combined title after six years and he is winning the event for the third time. He scored 14.5 points from 22 games, placing himself one point ahead of joint runners-up Peter Leko of Hungary and Alexander Morozevich of Russia.

Vladimir Kramnik of Russia won the blindfold title and Evgeny Bareev, also of Russia, took the rapid chess title. This is the first time in the history of the tournament that a player who did not bag either of the titles has won the combined tournament. Anand's play in blindfold and rapid was so well balanced that he finished second in both.

This was a 12-player double round-robin tournament with each player facing the other once in a blindfold game followed by a rapid game. Anand was in total control of the tournament and never let go chances. He lost just one game to Morozevich, but came back within the day to defeat him in the rapid game and leave the hall with a 1-1 score. Anand never returned without at least one point in his bag on any given day. It was a show of resilience and solidity. He lost the least number of games in the tournament.

Anand kept himself in the title race and was ready to accelerate at any given situation. When he found the opportunity, he won the final round deciding game against Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria with a novelty to be assured of first place. Then, needing a draw to confirm his title he accepted it in just 17 moves with the black pieces to inflict a 1.5-0.5 defeat on Topalov and win the tournament.

Looking at the Anand progress chart (see table on page 71), one will get the impression that he knew his opponents' strengths and weaknesses and played accordingly. Now, at 33, that is what sifts him from the rest of the professionals. He is gauging opponents and choosing who and when to hit. He won and drew matches in alternate days, except when he met Ljubojevic. By then one was sure that his next target was Topalov. And Anand did maintain his chart well.

His best game was against Topalov and the most dangerous match was against Morozevich. He was a little lucky to survive in the first game against Gelfand and lucky to win the second against Shirov. Bonus points do come when you keep trying and playing. His most entertaining draw was against Ivanchuk in the blindfold on the latter's birthday.

This year the tournament started with Leko taking the lead. Then, in round five, Anand snatched the lead beating Ljubojevic 2-0 and thereafter he wrote a new chapter for the honours list. He became the first player to win the tournament three times, all unshared. When Anand wins the title, he does not like it shared. The next best is Kramnik who has won two titles shared and two unshared. Winning it alone, Anand won his second major title for the year. Earlier, he had won the Corus chess tournament held at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. He had a good show in Linares too, but missed winning that event as he failed to draw two games with tough endings.

On course to his third Amber title, Anand won eight games, lost one, drew 13 and picked up Euro 25,500 plus his appearance fee for this effort. Anand came with one aim and fulfilled it with a scintillating final round win against Topalov.

The 12-player tournament had a category 19 field playing each other twice, first in a blindfold game and then in the rapid chess mode. Each game started with each player having 25 minutes. For making each move they got 20 seconds on their clock in the Fischer clock principle for blindfold games and 10 seconds for rapid games. The average rating of the players came to 2707, the highest recorded in the history of this event.

There was one change in the tournament this year and it happened to make a huge difference. Anand replaced Jeroen Piket, the retired Dutch player. Piket has given up chess but was present on all days as a honoured guest. He is said to be taking up a high level administrative position in the Dutch billionaire Van Oosterom's Secretariat to manage the huge fortune. The 12th edition of the tournament like, all the previous editions, was sponsored by J.J. Van Oosterom and organised by Association Max Euwe. This time the venue was the Vista Palace Hotel in Roquebrune Cap Martin in France, a 10-minute uphill drive from Monte Carlo, where it used to be held previously. The tournament is named after the daughter of the sponsor, Melody Amber, and they announced that there would be a 13th edition next year.

In the past the event had four free days. But it was thought to be far too many and was cut down to just two. The free days now look too less as players find the blindfold games taxing. Blindfold games do not mean a drop in playing strength, but they stretch the imaginative capacity of the players. Prolonged exposure to blindfold games or even simultaneous blindfold games can also be hazardous for a player's mental health.

World No. 1 Garry Kasparov had been interested in competing and had been given an open invitation to participate. The former world champion, however, did not like to play blindfold. This mode might lead to unexpected defeats through blunders and Kasparov did not want to take the chance.

The organisers complained about the standard of play but not the entertainment value that the games produced. With the venue on a hilltop, some 333 metres above Monte Carlo inside French territory, even the few spectators the tournament attracted seemed to have stayed away this year. The scene from the top overlooking both Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea was enchanting.

Leko came to "relax'' after winning the Linares tournament. He found himself thrust in the early lead and as a result started to take the event more seriously. A defeat to Morozevich and later at a crucial stage to Ljubojevic cost him a good chance to challenge Anand all the way till the end. Leko played cautiously like ever to keep his place in the medal podium. Last year he made the same 13.5 points and took third place behind Morozevich and Shirov. This time he tied for the second-third place. Ties are not broken in this tournament and all are sent home happy. The winner of the 2002 edition, Morozevich, was relegated to joint second place this year. In 2002 he replaced Anand in the tournament and won it. Yet, Morozevich, was a big attraction, for he won 12 games, lost seven and drew just three to be any organiser's delight. He was killing his opponents or getting killed. His style of play is also very unpositional, yet very aggressive. It is hard to classify this unusual kind of player. His king hunt against Bareev was his best game. He also avenged last year's defeat by Kramnik, winning 2-0.

In round six, Morozevich's dream of retaining the title took a body blow when Shirov blanked him 2-0. To make a comeback, he needed a second win against Topalov with the white pieces in the rapid game, but failing here in round 10, he let his chances slip in the tournament. Although he scored 1.5 points less than Anand, Morozevich was entertaining as ever.

World classical champion Kramnik was in the lead right from the start in the blindfold games and lost his tournament balance as a result. The four-time winner of the tournament did not look physically fit for the long games. Coming with lower energy levels, he seemed exhausted in the blindfold games and did not have enough in him for the rapid games. He had to wait till the 11th round and an easy pairing in Ljubojevic to win his first and only rapid game. Overall, Kramnik tied for the fourth-fifth place with 13 points, two points more than last year.

His blindfold win against Topalov gave him immense satisfaction. It was a brilliant game qualifying for the best game title in any tournament. His success in blindfold has a long history and he has always performed well in this section even if he failed to impress in the overall event like this year. Kramnik has no trainers and his comeback attempt in the event was demolished 0-2 by Morozevich in round eight.

The winner of the 2001 edition, Topalov, had a tough task. He was required to beat Anand to jump from second place to first. The mission was impossible and he fell to a great idea from the Indian. Topalov played his usual quota of decisive fighting games, but could not be among the medals for the second straight year. The start for him against Shirov and Kramnik was tough as also the ending against Morozevich and Anand. He could not adjust to the pairing well, but still scored one full point more than what he did last year for the shared fourth-fifth place.

Gelfand was in the title race in the middle of the tournament but perpetual defeats (3/8) at the end kept him out of the medals bracket once again. Gelfand was unlucky in many games and it included the very first game of the tournament against Anand when he won a piece and failed to convert that into a point.

Year after year, Gelfand has scored the same 12 points, but the points made this year meant much more as the contest was tougher and he played far ahead of his expected rating. With more luck and careful play he could have picked up a few points more.

Two-time Amber champion Shirov came tired from Reykjavik where he had just won a tournament. A poor start (1/6) left him with a lot of hard work for a comeback. Shirov's Estonian trainer Richagov arrived in time to resurrect his chances. His comeback included two 2-0 sweeps over Morozevich and Ljubojevic. Shirov's games had the attacking flair he is famed for. He threw away one rapid game against Anand, losing half a point with an inexplicable blunder. The comeback helped him finish near his rating expectancy. At the closing ceremony, Shirov entertained off the board too with his dancing skills.

``He is calculating like a horse,'' Czech-born German grandmaster Vladimir Hort said about Bareev's blindfold play and he was not wrong. Bareev sees a little picture and concentrates on a little area of the board and sometimes misses tactics if it involves the whole board. He finished two points below everybody else and still above Ljubojevic in blindfold chess. In rapid chess, Bareev was the hero, winning the section by remaining undefeated. His five wins and six draws were enough for the rapid title with eight points from 11 rounds.

Bareev could not offset the blindfold defeats in rapid chess as he lost far too many of them. He finished in the lower half of the combined standings. A replacement for Karpov in the 2002 edition, Bareev scored one point less than last year but was rewarded for his rapid skills with Euro 11,000 prize money. Bareev, Kramnik and Morozevich are friends and fight each of their games in a sporting manner. All of them left a positive mark on the event.

Almasi is Hungary's third best player after Leko and Judit Polgar. He brought his trainer along and finished a shade below his expected score. Almasi was unlucky in many games and his performance was akin to the last time, a shade below his Elo rating. He scored half a point more than last year in a tougher tournament and that is worth something if not a place for next year.

The winner of the maiden edition in 1992, when it was held at the same hill-top hotel, Ivanchuk had a tough event finishing third from last. He never scored more than one point from two games against opponents other than Ljubojevic. Having had a poor Corus tournament, Ivanchuk is on a downward slide. He had some energetic days, but the player who turned 34 during his game against Anand will have to perform better to keep getting invitations for these classic elite events.

The only Dutch player in the tournament, Van Wely, never managed more than one point from his two games except for the day he faced Ljubojevic. For the Dutchman, who impressed at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year, this was a below par result. He put all the eggs in the blindfold basket and never won any of the 11 rapid games. His blindfold performance was near his rating expectancy. Van Wely has a long way to go to prove himself.

It was an event to forget for Ljubojevic, the Yugoslav veteran who lives in Linares. He suffered the most number of defeats and his last place was confirmed at least two rounds before the tournament ended. Five and a half points below the last finisher, the 1950-born Ljubojevic is an entertainer outside the board and a friend of the sponsor. His best game was a lucky win against Leko in the penultimate round which made Anand's journey to the title a little easier. Last in all the three sections, Ljubojevic got a pre-tournament message from the sponsors that it was indeed going to be tough this time with the added strength. "My laptop computer's hard disk failed a week before the event and I could not prepare,'' said Ljubojevic.

When Melody turns 13 next year there will be another edition of the tournament. The estimated budget of the tournament is half a million Euros, 193,250 of which is in prize money.

This unique event will go on next year. Unique in the sense that there is no other blindfold chess competition in the world and no other regularly held rapid chess event. Also, chess is the only sport which has a blindfold competition for those who are not visually impaired.

The best games by each of the three winners in blindfold, rapid and combined sections:

GM Vladimir Kramnik-GM Veselin Topalov, round two, blindfold game, Sicilian Scheveningen, B82: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.f4 a6 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 Bd7 10.Nb3 Rc8 11.Kb1 b5 12.Bd3 Nb4 13.g4 Bc6 14.g5 Nd7 15.Qf2 g6 16.Rhf1 Bg7 17.f5 Ne5 18.Bb6 Qd7 19.Be2 Qb7 20.Na5 Qb8 21.f6 Bf8 22.a3 Nxc2 23.Kxc2 Bxe4+ 24.Kb3 Ba8 25.Ba7 Qc7 26.Qb6 Qxb6 27.Bxb6 h6 28.Nxb5 Kd7 29.Bd4 Bd5+ 30.Ka4 axb5+ 31.Bxb5+ Bc6 32.Bxe5 Bxb5+ 33.Kxb5 Rc5+ 34.Kb6 Rxe5 35.Rc1 Rxa5 36.Rc7+ Kd8 37.Rfc1 Rc5 38.R1xc5 dxc5 39.Kc6 (Black has no answer to white's threat of Ra7 and Ra8 mate) 1-0.

GM Evgeny Bareev-GM Veselin Topalov, round three, rapid chess, Slav defence, D11: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 5.Qc2 Bg4 6.Nbd2 e6 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.b3 c5 9.h3 Bh5 10.g4 Bg6 11.Bxg6 hxg6 12.g5 Nh5 13.dxc5 Bxc5 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Qd3 d4 16.Qe4+ Kf8 17.exd4 Qc7 18.Qc2 Re8+ 19.Kd1 Bd6 20.Qxc7 Bxc7 21.Ba3+ Kg8 22.Rc1 Bb8 23.Re1 Rxe1+ 24.Nxe1 Nf4 25.Rc8+ Kh7 26.Rxh8+ Kxh8 27.h4 Ba7 28.Ndf3 f6 29.Kd2 Kg8 30.Bd6 Nd5 31.Nd3 Kf7 32.Nc5 Bxc5 33.dxc5 Nb4 34.a3 Nc6 35.Kd3 Ke6 36.Nd4+ Kd5 37.Nxc6 Kxc6 38.Kc4 a5 39.f4 fxg5 40.hxg5 1-0.

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Veselin Topalov, round eleven, blindfold game, Sicilian Sveshnikov, B33: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.c4 Be7 10.Bd3 0-0 11.0-0 Bd7 12.a4 f5 13.c5 Bxb5 14.axb5 e4 15.c6 Nd7 16.Be2 Ne5 17.f4 exf3 18.gxf3 Bf6 19.Kh1 b6 20.Ra2 Qc7 21.f4 Ng6 22.b3 Ne7 23.Bc4 Rae8 24.Re1 Nc8 25.Rae2 Rxe2 26.Rxe2 Qf7 27.Re6 Re8 28.Qe2 Kf8 29.Ba3 Rxe6 30.dxe6 Qe7 31.Bd5 g6 32.Qc2 Qc7 33.Bb2 Qg7 34.Bxf6 Qxf6 35.c7 Qd4 36.Bb7 Qxf4 37.Qc4 Qf2 38.Bxc8 Qe1+ 39.Kg2 Qd2+ 40.Kf3 d5 41.Qf4 Qc3+ 42.Kg2 Qc2+ 43.Kh3 1-0.

No. Opponent Result ELO 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Tot R/P

1. Viswanathan Anand g IND 2753 ** == 01 == 1= == =1 == 1= =1 1= 11 14.5 2819

2. Peter Leko g HUN 2736 == ** 0= == == == 11 1= == =1 11 01 13.5 2784

3. Alexander Morozevich g RUS 2678 10 1= ** 11 10 =1 00 10 =1 01 01 11 13.5 2789

4. Vladimir Kramnik g RUS 2807 == == 00 ** 1= 1= 1= 1= 10 == 1= =1 13.0 2762

5. Veselin Topalov g BUL 2743 0= == 01 0= ** == 1= 10 01 11 1= 11 13.0 2768

6. Boris Gelfand g ISR 2700 == == =0 0= == ** 0= 1= 11 10 1= =1 12.0 2743

7. Alexei Shirov g ESP 2723 =0 00 11 0= 0= 1= ** 1= 00 =1 =1 11 11.5 2719

8. Evgeny Bareev g RUS 2729 == 0= 01 0= 01 0= 0= ** 11 == 01 11 11.0 2704

9. Zoltan Almasi g HUN 2676 0= == =0 01 10 00 11 00 ** == == 1= 9.5 2659

10. Vassily Ivanchuk g UKR 2699 =0 =0 10 == 00 01 =0 == == ** 01 1= 9.0 2642

11. Loek Van Wely g NED 2668 0= 00 10 0= 0= 0= =0 10 == 10 ** 1= 8.0 2608

12. Ljubomir Ljubojevic g YUG 2570 00 10 00 =0 00 =0 00 00 0= 0= 0= ** 3.5 2435

First game was blindfold, second game rapid chess. R/P= Rating performance. Chief Arbiter: Geurt Gijssen.