Kasparov is still the best


GARRY KASPAROV'S domination in Linares continued for the fourth straight year as he won the 19th City of Linares Super Category chess tournament by a wide 1.5-point margin over six other top players, including world champion Ruslan Ponomariov and former world champion Viswanathan Anand.

Garry Kasparov (left) receives the trophy from the Mayor of Linares, Juan Fernandez Gutierrez.-ARVIND AARON

World No. 1 ranked Kasparov defeated Ponomariov to keep the title threat away and then humbled Alexei Shirov in the last round. He was the only player to win a game with the black pieces in the tournament. In the end he had totalled eight points, 1.5 points more than Ponomariov who finished with six points. It was Kasparov's eighth title in Linares.

Linares 2002 was no different from the previous editions. It was yet another seven-player double round-robin tournament. The event was sponsored by the Linares Town Council as the telecom giant, Telefonica, opted out of sponsorship this year. Although four million pesetas (Rs. 10 lakhs) was the official prize fund, the players were given appearance fee. The tournament was held from February 21 to March 10 at Hotel Anibal, a four-star hotel. There were a record number of spectators largely because the Category 20 event was conducted at the same time as the Open. No gate fee was charged and the Spanish spectators came flocking to see their new hero Vallejo, specially on weekends.

Kasparov rises to the occasion every time the situation demands. The 39-year-old knew that a new young threat had landed in town. He had not met the 18-year-old Ponomariov face to face prior to the tournament. In their first game, Kasparov was brilliant with the black pieces and had winning chances but missed them. He drew with Ivanchuk and Anand 1-1 and beat the other four by 1.5-0.5. Kasparov's best game was in the last round against Shirov but the journalists voted for his victory against Ponomariov as the best in the competition. In the return meeting with Ponomariov, Kasparov was in a must win situation as a draw meant Ponomariov will have a higher tie-break score in case they tied for the title. Ponomariov faltered on the eighth move and this 13th round victory for Kasparov settled the issue. Kasparov missed many chances in the tournament and could have easily mustered an extra point had he capitalised on his chances against Anand and Ponomariov in the first round robin.

Kasparov remained the only undefeated player, winning four games and drawing eight. His two wins towards the end aided his rating reflections and he would not be gaining or losing points. In the 42 games played, 15 were decisive and Kasparov's contribution was four.

Age is fast catching up with him and he was seen sweating and wiping himself all the time, inside the hall. He started off very cautiously and still did not shake hands or speak with Shirov, citing an old problem both the players had late in 2000. He wrote 1/2-1/2 on his scoresheet to offer a draw in the first game! In the other, Shirov signed the scoresheets while resigning.

The tournament in Linares is so important for Kasparov as he has no world title to show except the No. 1 rank. The Linares result has proved once again that Kasparov is still the best and is justified in demanding the highest starting fee in the player market. He came with one thing in mind: first place, and took it.

Ponomariov, who had signed a two-year contract, refused to play initially, saying that he wanted to rest after winning the world chess title in Moscow in January. But facing with a $1 million court law suit, he yielded to the pressure. For a debutant, even one victory at Linares is a dream. Ponomariov started with one and Ivanchuk was at the receiving end. The happiness was short-lived as Adams checkmated the teenager in 76 moves after winning a pawn and grinding all the way. Ponomariov then recovered by playing draws and was tough to last the 14-round contest. In round nine he avenged the defeat by neutralising Adams with white for a 1-1 score from the tournament. He drew both his games against Anand. On each occasion the player with white came back after losing the previous game with black, so there was not much fire in these encounters. The best Ponomariov achieved was plus two (6/10) when he joined Kasparov in the lead. The defeat because of a poor opening choice in the French defence with the black pieces against Kasparov pushed him to second place but it was a very creditable show.

It was a profitable debut for Ponomariov. Playing 35 Elo points above his start rating, he finished ahead of his expected score. Ponomariov is a super category player now and he should get used to the playing conditions soon before bettering his results, especially against Kasparov.

After losing to Adams in the second round, Ponomariov threw up some tantrums which included a demand for a mini-bar in his room like in the Englishman's room. It was good that nobody showed him the identical back to back suites which Anand and Kasparov occupied for they did not have more of them in case the teenager demanded one in the name of "world champion." He was accompanied by his manager and was joined midway through the tournament by his trainer, the Moldovian Grandmaster, Viktor Bologan. Speaking at the end, Ponomariov said he did not have enough time to prepare for this event but said his performance was satisfactory. He said the tournament was too long for him and appealed to cut the free days. Players get two byes and two regular free days.

Asked what Kasparov has that he lacks, he refused to answer that question, saying, "I am 18, I will grow up and then answer that." He attributed his defeat to Kasparov in the 13th round to an opening blunder.

Ponomariov resembles Karpov in his younger days and the teenager occupied the lunch and dinner table which used to be reserved for the legend in his playing days at Linares. He wore a tie and jacket the first time he faced Kasparov and was in his usual sweater on the other days.

Three players, Vallejo, Ponomariov and Ivanchuk had good performances in that order and would be gaining Elo. Shirov, Anand and Adams played below their expected strengths and would be losing Elo. Among those who tied for third place, Adams, Ivanchuk and Anand were placed in that order sorted by decisive games played by the participants.

Michael Adams of England was the most enterprising player of the tournament featuring in most decisive games. Usually a solid player, the British No. 1 scored in his very first game at Linares beating the world champion Ponomariov. Adams won three games and lost three to draw the least games. He was unlucky to lose to Kasparov against whom he missed a draw. Against Ivanchuk he made a dangerous knight sacrifice rather than accept a draw with black by repetition. He was accompanied by his girlfriend and his trainer, GM Jonathan Emms. He showed good fighting spirit and chose the Petroff's defence against Kasparov and Anand. He had a clear plan to play for a win with the black pieces. Adams is at the peak of his career and using more Seconds could help his performance.

Ivanchuk was at his eccentric best and he too performed better than he was expected to. Having a new trainer in IM Emil Hermansson of Sweden, Ivanchuk was able to recover from the poor rating result of the World championship finals against Ponomariov. The three experienced players, Kasparov, three-time winner Ivanchuk and 1998 winner Anand drew all six games between them.

Ivanchuk was defeated by Ponomariov in round one before he clawed his way up. Had Kasparov drawn his last two games and Ivanchuk won the game against Shirov, Ivanchuk might have tied for first place. But in deep time pressure he lost his second game. He crushed Vallejo with white and benefited from Adams' risky knight sacrifice. He could have done better for the positions he obtained. In the second Adams-Ivanchuk game, the Englishman was finding a way to continue a barely drawn rook ending with an extra pawn when Ivanchuk offered a draw.

The time control in the tournament was seven hours, as compared to four hours in FIDE competitions.

Although the statistics indicate that he underperformed, the Anand camp did not take it that way. "Mild recovery," said his trainer GM Elizbar Ubilava. Anand was expected to play well but he was unable to concentrate and irrespective of the colour he was playing with, it seemed he was quickly fighting for a draw.

The round one game against Shirov was a nightmare for Anand, losing a pawn and facing white's attack. He struggled to draw the game by entering an opposite colour bishop ending after losing a second pawn. In the next game, he had white but lack of co-ordination among his pieces failed to work against the tight defence of Vallejo and the game ended in a draw. In round three it was another great escape with the black pieces. Kasparov obtained a winning position but fumbled by repeating the position in time pressure and Anand claimed a draw by a three-fold photographic repetition. After a bye in round four, Anand, with the white pieces, took on Ivanchuk. Facing a Sicilian Sveshnikov, Anand's novelty did not provide the sparks. Ivanchuk dominated for most part and made the Indian to sweat for the ultimate drawn result. Having drawn difficult games, Anand might have thought he had learnt the art of defence. But in the next round he lost in a queen ending which required technique against Adams. The active defensive plan he intended backfired and the Englishman reduced one of his huge deficit scores against Anand.

The next day Anand took a quick draw with white against Ponomariov. It was a surprise to see Anand giving away easy draws with the white pieces in the first half of the competition. Anand finished the first round-robin with a 2.5/6 score, five draws, one defeat and no wins.

Anand was at his best in round eight as he handed Shirov his first defeat of the tournament. A subtle queen move on the 12th turn from Anand saw Shirov trying to throw everything at the uncastled white king before he ran out of more material to sacrifice. The novelty against the Sicilian Kalashnikov by the Indian was one of the best games of the tournament and an important one for theory of that line.

After tasting success, Anand gained in confidence. Though he drew the rest of his games he was never in any kind of trouble. He was more relaxed in the second half. Anand drew more (10) games than the other players, won one and lost one for a below expectancy result. His next classical chess tournament is from May 23 to June 5 and it will be held at Astana in Kazakhstan. This year, the Astana tournament is Category 21, one category higher than Linares due to Vladimir Kramnik's presence.

The good news is that Anand is showing a fighting spirit and playing well when in trouble though his openings were not as penetrative. Ideas were repeated fairly regularly but the decision to bring in a second trainer, Pablo San Segundo, for the second half paid off well. It helped the Anand-Ubilava duo in reviewing three games from Linares and five from the Cannes tournament which was held in France on the same dates.

The 6/12 score, good for joint third place, was a vast improvement over the previous classical tournament result at Dortmund. With rapid chess events sandwiching his next classical tournament, Anand should be able to get into a positive frame of mind before reaching Astana.

In Vallejo, Spain has a new star ready to take on the chess might who frequent Spain's top flight events. The tall 19-year-old is famous in the chess world for winning the World under-18 championship at Oropesa del Mar. He hails from Menorca, one of the tourist islands on the Mediterranean Sea. Trained by the stocky Latin America-born GM, Franco Zenon, Vallejo promises a lot. The best yardstick to measure the performance in a round-robin tournament is to take the Rating Performance and deduct the start Elo. Vallejo played 63 Elo above himself and by that criteria he was the best performer of the tournament although he finished only in sixth place.

The performance is certainly satisfying since it was his debut and Linares is a tough tournament for such young stars. Peter Svidler and Peter Leko made their first appearance in Linares in the previous edition. They had made a name for themselves elsewhere before competing here but failed to live up to the expectations in previous editions.

Vallejo started with six draws (3/6) at the end of the first round-robin. He showed amazing maturity since Spanish players are expected to be pushovers. Kasparov remarked that he was the most resourceful Spanish native player. However, Vallejo has a couple of weaknesses. His repertoire is not wide enough with very few surprises and he is prone to time pressure.

Vallejo blew one big chance to finish off the solid Adams in a mating attack. He failed to perceive black's last ditch defensive manoeuvre with the bishop, without which Adams would have shaken hands and left. The reason was the clock. Against Anand he made two secure draws including one with the black pieces. In his game against Kasparov with the black pieces, Vallejo was able to throw a good fight before experience prevailed.

Vallejo was without a victory till the penultimate round. But in round 13, his last (since he had a bye in round 14), Shirov lost his winning ways, and Vallejo capitalised on a small advantage in a queen and knight ending to win despite the pawns being on the same side. That win, his first and only triumph bailed him out of last place. Vallejo is sound in theory and is hardworking but he has to find stronger events to compete and augment this new strength.

For Shirov, the event, his first after the birth of his son on February 3 this year, proved to be a disaster. He went through the second phase with four defeats in six games. In the other games in the second half, he pushed Ponomariov around in the queen ending before the game ended in a draw and benefited from a rook blunder by Ivanchuk for his lone victory. In a very competitive year, Shirov, the 1972-born Latvian player, competing under the Spanish flag, might find his rating nosediving and might be out of the top 10 and the 2700 club.

Shirov played at 67 Elo below his own to be pushed to last place. The Amber tournament at Monte Carlo and the FIDE Rapid Grand Prix at Abu Dhabi should help him regain his lost touch. The defeat against Vallejo proved costly. Shirov was in a winning position in that game but lost steam in time pressure. He should train more as he lost the grip in the second half, for no good reason. An army of Seconds such as GMs Rytchagov, Salov and Magem Badals in the second half did not seem to help although the last two came to Linares for other reasons. Salov was involved with the Blind tournament and Badals competed in the Open tournament.

The second half of the double round-robin was more productive accounting for exactly twice the number of decisive results as the first. The reason being that Vallejo and Shirov, the two Spanish players, showed signs of tiring while Kasparov was eager to finish at the top.

The seven-player field appears too less to decide the winner. It will be interesting if the tournament is back to the 14-player format as in 1994 which was the best or even a 12-player format as in 1997. Continuing with the double round-robin will keep the field close and less interesting. Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Ponomariov and Vallejo have been invited for the 2003 event. Kramnik's participation will depend on his decision and the appearance fee.

The best game of the tourney:

GM G. Kasparov-GM R. Ponomariov, round 13, French defence, C10: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.c3 c5 8.Ne5 Nd7 9.Bb5 Bd6 10.Qg4 Kf8 11.0-0 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Bxe5 13.Bg5 Bf6 14.Rad1 Qc7 15.Qh4 Bxg5 16.Qxg5 f6 17.Qh5 g6 18.Qh6+ Kf7 19.Rd3 a6 20.Rh3 Qe7 21.Bd3 f5 22.g4 Qf6 23.Rd1 b5 24.Be2 e5 25.Rhd3 Ra7 26.Rd6 Qg7 27.Qe3 Rc7 28.a4 e4 29.axb5 axb5 30.Bxb5 Qe5 31.Qg5 Qe7 32.Qh6 Be6 33.Qf4 Bc8 34.Qh6 Be6 35.gxf5 gxf5 36.Be2 Qf6 37.Bh5+ Ke7 38.Rxe6+ 1-0.