Bologan, a surprise winner

ONE of world classical champion Vladimir Kramnik's forts fell when Viktor Bologan of Moldova won the Sparkassen chess meeting held at Dortmund, Germany, from July 30 to August 10.


Viktor Bologan with his wife Margarita after his first Super Category triumph in the Sparkassen chess meeting at Dortmund. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

ONE of world classical champion Vladimir Kramnik's forts fell when Viktor Bologan of Moldova won the Sparkassen chess meeting held at Dortmund, Germany, from July 30 to August 10.

The 1971-born Bologan, living in Moscow, achieved a career milestone by winning this category 18 tournament ahead of the three hot favourites. He scored 6.5 points from the 10 games to win the tournament by a one-point difference. Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand tied for the second place with 5.5 points and finished in that order when the tie-break was applied.

Perhaps owing to budget constraints (reduced to 375,000 euros, about Rs. 2 crores), the organisers could invite only three mega stars and opted for three emerging players to fill the other three slots. They made a deal to include the winner of the Aeroflot Open held in Moscow and did not have to pay for Viktor Bologan's entry. The 18-year-old Latvian-born Arkady Naiditch had settled in Dortmund for many years. For 16-year-old Teimour Radjabov, the fee should just be the right incentive as he made a mark in his third straight major tournament.

The established stars, six-time winner Vladimir Kramnik, two-time joint winner Viswanathan Anand and winner of the 1999 and 2002 editions, Peter Leko, were expected to have a smooth sailing. However, this Dortmund tournament was different. The trio totalled 15 points, just half of the total points registered by all the six players — an equal number going into the tally of the underdogs. Significantly, all the lesser-rated players will gain Elo points, while all the established stars will lose Elo with varying levels. Bologan gains the most, followed by Radjabov and Naiditch. Leko is the biggest loser, followed by Kramnik and Anand.

Bologan became the first player who does not belong to the World Elite (top 10) to win the tournament since Jeroen Piket won in 1994. It was undoubtedly his career best triumph. He will gain about 16.5 Elo from this tournament and the October 2003 rating list should swing him up from No. 42 to around 25 in the world. He might need another similar performance to enter the 2700-club. Clearly, Bologan will be in demand in both round robin and open tournaments after this victory.

Bologan is a well-known trainer and has worked with players such as Judit Polgar and reigning FIDE world chess champion Ruslan Ponomariov. The "trainer" put up an impressive performance, as there were only three prizes and by working hard to enter the prize list, he even landed in the first place.

Practically, he was more efficient than the so-called favourites. In the opening press conference when he was asked to predict the placings, he said, "In chess anything can happen." Perhaps he was making a point. He said this performance was the best after the triumph at the Aeroflot Open at Moscow, which earned him a lone qualifying berth for this tournament.

He had Radjabov behind the wall in the penultimate round and could have won with a round to spare. But he also missed chances like everybody else did and required a final round draw against Kramnik. He was a bit nervous, sitting and praying for a draw and finally got it in 38 moves for a deserving first place finish.

Bologan had the most wins (4), and was in the lead almost throughout since moving ahead after round three. His lead was at best 1.5 points and when he finished he was one point ahead of the rest. He latched on to blunders from Leko and a serious mistake from Anand. Bologan kept his nerve at crucial moments making four draws with the other Russian-speaking players, Kramnik and Radjabov. He was delighted at having beaten Anand, which was his best game, and said, "He had tortured me in all previous games."

His success suggests that more players in the 2650 range should be invited to compete in these big events where surprises are possible. Players such as Krishnan Sasikiran, Etienne Bacrot are as strong or even stronger than Radjabov but the big break is yet to come.

Kramnik had one of the most lacklustre performances in Dortmund. He won the first round against Radjabov and then drew the remaining nine games. Yet, he was close to winning the tournament! A last round win would have given him what many thought an "undeserved success." However that anti-climax did not happen. Kramnik looked tired after the game against Bologan and kept off the closing ceremony.

Kramnik tried to pick opponents to beat. He pressed hard against Naiditch with the white pieces and only after 89 moves did he offer a draw. Against Anand he had an option to attack at the cost of a pawn but he chose not to and decided to be "wise" against stronger opponents. He played a resourceful ending against Leko to save a valuable half point. He was accompanied by his trainer, Grandmaster Vladimir Belikov, who played and won a match on the same stage against a German International Master.

There were no prizes for being undefeated. Kramnik was the only player not to drop a game. The Dortmund organisers love him but his absence from the prize giving ceremony may be taken seriously when invitations are handed out for the 2004 edition.

Of the three hot favourites, Anand will lose the least Elo rating. His expected score was 6.30 points and he finished on 5.5. After a dismal 0.5/3 start, questions, which were being asked in 2001, resurfaced. However, he managed to stage a comeback, first by putting a brake to his defeats, and taking a 25-move draw against Kramnik. Strangely, this game was a repetition of the Topalov v Leko game from the Istanbul 2000 Olympiad where white sacrificed a queen for rook, knight and pawn and later drew after a much longer fight.

Then in two successive black games Anand won to claw back to 50 per cent score at 3/6. The first of his wins came when he bottled up Naiditch's queen in the centre of the board. The second was after a powerful attack that Leko underestimated. Those two wins brought him back into the reckoning and he regained his confidence. The third straight win was against the leader Bologan when he sliced through to the uncastled black king with a well-planned rook sacrifice. His bone depth preparation was followed by an exhibition of classic execution, which opened up the title interests.

After raising hopes through these wins, Anand disappointed his fans by taking short draws in the last two rounds against the two lowest rated players of the tournament. "All are reasonably strong Grandmasters," Anand said at the opening press conference. "It was not that I am seeing a win and not going for it," said Anand. He justified his decision playing very true to the position that arose on the board.

Anand had played eight times in Dortmund with his best years being 1996 and 2000 when he shared the first place. This time he was accompanied by a new trainer, Rustam Dautov, a former Soviet soldier who is now settled in Germany. Dautov replaced Ubilava as the accompanying trainer. Anand continues to work with others through e-mail but prefers to keep it a secret. He continues to meet Ubilava at the gym and keeps the relationship going with the GM, who has worked with him very closely from July 1994 to March 2002.

The Indian hero plays in the German league for Baden Baden's team Baden Oos, and Dautov is his team-mate. Alexei Shirov will be joining him this year and together, with Peter Svidler, they will be playing for the Bundesliga title starting in November this year.

His former sponsor P. R. Venkatrama Raja of Ramco Systems, who is President of the Tamil Nadu Chess Association, visited him for three days in Dortmund and each of these three days Anand won. Good luck or otherwise, he is NIIT's brand Ambassador from 1999.

Anand was expected to start with a bang as he normally does. The pairing also offered him that advantage with two white games but he did not make use of that. He missed a half chance in round one against Leko. In round two, he messed up his chances when he overlooked a deft knight move that followed a plausible queen sacrifice and paid for that. Thereafter, he could not sense danger and missed the draw too, later in that game against Radjabov.

Overall, a tied second place is better than the clear last place he ended up in 2001 as world champion. Anand won at Wijk aan Zee, Leko at Linares and the third strongest event of the year has now been won by Bologan. These three events are looked upon in chess circles as three Grand Slam contests in tennis.

A slight below par performance for Anand is the true assessment. <147,4,0>He was the most interesting player despite the two last round draws. At 33, he was the oldest player but he had to sweat the most in hot conditions. His trainer, Dautov said, "The second half went well and could have even been a little better."

At 16, Radjabov has been the blue-eyed boy of many an organiser. He has played all three major tournaments — Wijk aan Zee, Linares and now Dortmund — and is the youngest player to do so. And after each of them he is getting stronger. He will gain over five Elo from this showing, which includes winning and losing two games and drawing six. A rare queen sacrifice win against Anand came with black pieces and he humbled Naiditch in round eight. Openings continue to be his soft spot and his strength is his attacking and ambitious play. Adding a trainer may help him further.

The 1999 and 2002 winner Leko failed miserably and did not win a single game. However, he came close to it when he played Kramnik in the first cycle with black pieces. He drew eight games, lost two to lose over 12 Elo, and is the biggest loser in the tournament. Leko is in a phase of his career where he is fully prepared to play Kramnik and can't show it here. How long will he hide? He was accompanied by his wife Sofia and parents-in-law. His father-in-law Grandmaster Arshak Petrosian is also his trainer. His defeats came with the white pieces when he showed signs of vulnerability at the first time control. The first defeat came against Bologan through a blunder on move 40 and the second one to Anand when he missed a draw on move 36. The defeat to Anand came on his wife's birthday and shattered his hopes of a comeback in the event.

German Grandmaster Arkady Naiditch made good use of this opportunity to gain rating. Thrust into the strongest field he has ever faced in his career, the Latvian-born star made a mark with 1-1 showings against Kramnik and Leko. His lone victory over Radjabov came when he proved that he cannot be taken lightly by the higher-ranked players. Trained by Grandmaster Landa, Naiditch is expected to emerge as Germany's best player in two-three years time. Overall, he gained experience besides his four Elo points. This last place finish is not a disgrace as he won one game, lost four and drew five games.

This event faced publicity competition from the beauty contest for men and women at the start. Later, during the closing stages, the foot<147,5,7>ball match on August 9 and the cycle rally, which brought the leading cycling heroes of the world, dominated the headlines.

The arbiters, 65-year old Andrei Fillipowicz of Poland, who replaced the ageing German Lothar Schmidt, and Alexander Bakh of Russia, did not have much to do except asking the organisers to arrange extra drinking water supplies for the players due to the unusually warm weather.

It looked more like a low-key tournament at least in comparison to the 2001 edition. The organisers did not confirm such a thought and even made a statement that "all went well" and as expected there were around 5,000 spectators. The venue change from the Opera Theatre to the smaller Dortmund Theatre with half the seats, low tournament budget, lowering of the commentator fees which Dr. Helmut Pfleger confirmed, choice of Bologan, Radjabov and Naiditch instead of Adams, Topalov and Lutz (highest-rated German), all indicated that it was a low-key contest and can be termed under the presently popular term "cost-cutting."

It was the warmest Dortmund tournament ever with the Fahrenheit scale hitting 100 mid-way through the tournament. The choice of the Holiday Inn city centre instead of the more luxurious Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in the past made the officials and players, with the exception of Kramnik, to sweat and suffer, as they did not have air conditioners and even fans. "The problem was this hotel was meant for winter living," said Anand, who got two tiny fans but his room was one of the warmest. Leko and Bologan stayed exactly one and two floors above the Indian. "I did not use even a fan, I am not used to it and was scared that I might catch a flu," Leko told The Sportstar. "Kramnik had the only room with air conditioners but it did not have any effect," Leko said, adding, "I have been there, it makes some noise making it difficult to sleep."

The playing hall was thought to be air-conditioned. The best place was the pressroom and journalists arrived too early and left very late to make the most. "No, the playing hall was a furnace," said Anand. "Suddenly I felt that heat wave." And on days he came to the pressroom directly he was sweating profusely. Bologan wore a round neck T-shirt, unseen in top category chess but it had more to do with the sweltering heat and the uncomfortable feeling.

But low-key cost cut events are better than no events at all and the organisers need to be praised to put forth the event despite adverse economic conditions prevalent in the world, particularly in Germany. There will be an event next year. Sparkasse, the sponsor, is a savings bank largely owned by the Dortmund city. The lavish dinner and <147,6,0>drinks at the bank's penthouse at the end of the event were absent this year and the closing ceremony was queued up immediately after the last game concluded, at the pressroom.

The three best games from the event:

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Viktor Bologan, round seven, Caro-Kann defence, B17: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 Bd6 8.Qe2 h6 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Qc7 11.0-0 b6 12.Qg4 g5 13.Qh3 Rg8 14.Re1 Bf8 15.Qf5 Bg7 16.h4 Kf8 17.Qh3 Rh8 18.hxg5 hxg5 19.Qg4 c5 20.Bxg5 cxd4 21.Rad1 Bb7 22.Rxe6 fxe6 23.Be7+ Kxe7 24.Qxg7+ Kd6 25.Nxd4 Qc5 26.Bf5 Qe5 27.Nf3+ Qd5 28.Qg3+ Ke7 29.Rxd5 Bxd5 30.Qg5+ Kd6 31.Qf4+ Ke7 32.Be4 Rh5 33.Nh4 Rg8 34.Ng6+ Kd8 35.Qf7 Re8 36.Bd3 1-0.

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Teimour Radjabov, round two, Sicilian Kalashnikov, B32: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Nb5 d6 6.c4 Be7 7.b3 f5 8.exf5 Bxf5 9.Bd3 e4 10.Be2 a6 11.N5c3 Bf6 12.0-0 Nge7 13.a3 0-0 14.Ra2 Qa5 15.b4 Qe5 16.Re1 b5 17.cxb5 axb5 18.Bxb5 Nd4 19.Bf1 d5 20.Rd2 Be6 21.f4 Qxf4 22.Rf2 Qxf2+ 23.Kxf2 Nb5 24.Kg1 Nxc3 25.Nxc3 Bxc3 26.Bb5 Bxe1 27.Qxe1 Nf5 28.Bb2 Rac8 29.Ba4 Rf7 30.h3 h5 31.b5 h4 32.Be5 d4 33.b6 e3 34.Kh2 d3 35.Qb4 e2 36.Bc3 Rxc3 37.Qxc3 Ng3 38.b7 Rxb7 39.Qa5 Rb8 0-1.

GM Viktor Bologan-GM Viswanathan Anand, round three, Caro-Kann defence, B19: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Ngf6 11.Bf4 e6 12.0-0-0 Be7 13.Kb1 Qa5 14.Ne5 Rd8 15.Qe2 0-0 16.Ng6 Rfe8 17.Nxe7+ Rxe7 18.Rd3 Ree8 19.Rhd1 Qd5 20.Rg1 b5 21.Qd2 a5 22.Ne2 b4 23.g4 Ne4 24.Qe3 Ng5 25.Rc1 Nb6 26.b3 a4 27.Bc7 Qa5 28.f4 Nh7 29.g5 hxg5 30.fxg5 Rd7 31.Bxb6 Qxb6 32.Rg1 axb3 33.cxb3 Qa5 34.g6 fxg6 35.hxg6 Nf6 36.Rg5 Rd5 37.Re5 Ng4 38.Rxe6 Rf8 39.Qh3 Nh6 40.Rxc6 Rdf5 41.d5 1-0.