Inching his way to the top

WITHOUT doubt, Peter Leko is certainly chess's hottest personality today. With his career being on the upswing since 1999, this year has seen Leko inching his way to the zenith.


Peter Leko is totally focussed on the board at all tournaments. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

WITHOUT doubt, Peter Leko is certainly chess's hottest personality today. With his career being on the upswing since 1999, this year has seen Leko inching his way to the zenith. By winning the prestigious Linares tournament, he has added another feather to his cap and also given his fans something to cherish for a long time.

Born in 1979, Leko hails from Szeged in Hungary. Introduced to the game by his mother at a very young age, he soon thereafter shot into prominence in 1992 as a 12-year kid at the Dortmund super category tournament showing promise. Once on being asked what he would like to be, his quick reply was `World Champion'. Narrating this story, Dr. Helmut Pfleger, a German Grandmaster said Leko was also asked who would he like to defeat. To which he replied without the slightest hesitation, `Viswanathan Anand'. His opportunity came at Linares this year.

In 1994 Leko became the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the game, at the Hoogovens chess tournament at Wijk aan Zee, erasing earlier records held by Bobby Fischer and Judit Polgar. Subsequently as a kid Grandmaster he gained entry into many major competitions. Leko, when he started out, was uninteresting to watch adopting a defensive style of play. But lately, he has managed to come out of that shell playing aggressive and popular openings such as Petroff's defence.

His victory at the Dortmund tournament in July 1999 made him the first junior player to win a category 19 tournament. That remained his biggest achievement until his win at Linares. Now, he is qualified to challenge Kramnik for the Einstein World Chess Championship later this year. Winning the world title is well within his reach and he is hoping that his victory at Linares would help the organisers find a sponsor for that match.

Leko topped the FIDE rating list for juniors as soon as Kramnik moved out of the junior age group. But unlike other professionals of his time, such as Judit Polgar, Gata Kamsky and Kramnik, Leko never played the official world junior championship.

Leko married early in 1998 to his girlfriend of many years, Sofia Petrosian. His wife, who accompanies him for all competitions, is the daughter of Armenian Grandmaster Arshak Petrosian. His professional manager, Carsten Hensel, is also manager to Kramnik and an organiser of the Dortmund tournament. He is sponsored by the RWE Gas Company.

He has used the services of big stars as German based Russian Artur Yusupov as trainer and later on worked with various others such as Petrosian and Amador Rodriguez of Cuba. Leko has also been a member of Anand's camp in the 1998 World title match against Karpov at Lausanne.

An extremely friendly and kind-hearted person, one would always find him calm and composed at the board. Leko sets a right example by staying back to explain to his fans what went wrong in case of a defeat. A rare phenomenon considering that it is almost impossible to find defeated players at the venue.

One may call Leko a perfectionist. He is totally focussed on the chessboard at all tournaments. "It is true that I make good calculative moves. I hardly make mistakes," said Leko in an interview to The Sportstar in 1999. Today, he is doing the same and quickly too. He has the ability to bounce back from a defeat whereas others take time to recover. His success could only be attributed to his hard work.

The next time one gets to read about Leko, it would either be as a world champion or as a challenger. He is soon bound to achieve his mission and the Linares victory is only a pointer of things to come.