Leko, a deserving winner

ARVIND AARON

Peter Leko (right) shakes hands with Garry Kasparov before their game. Leko took the title ahead of the second-placed Vladimir Kramnik via the tie-breaker. — Pic. AP-

PETER LEKO of Hungary has broken into another bastion in world chess by emerging victorious at the prestigious City of Linares Super Category tournament through a lucky tie-break. His return to Linares could not have come at a better stage in his career. On the threshold of fulfilling a career ambition of winning the world title, Leko issued a notice with his fine performance.

Leko's success came at the cost of world Classical chess champion, Russian Vladimir Kramnik. In spite being in the lead and remaining undefeated through his 12 games, Kramnik finished with seven points and narrowly missed the title. On the other hand, Leko with four wins, two losses and six drawn games went on to win the title through a tie-break which was decided on the basis of more games won. Leko played well and was a deserving winner but Kramnik was clearly disappointed at having let Leko walk away with the title.

World Cup champion Viswanathan Anand, having claimed the first major title of the year at Wijk aan Zee this January, was widely expected to repeat his stellar performance at Linares. A rather sluggish Kramnik making a comeback and Kasparov having just finished a computer match at New York seemed to only further help Anand's chances. He lived up to the expectations at the start but his defeats to Kasparov and Leko in drawn endgames cost him the top place. The fall of strong players such as Anand and Kasparov to a young 23-year-old player is a positive development in modern chess. Supremacy at Linares over the years has been restricted to just three players, Kasparov (eight-time winner), Kramnik and Anand (once each).

Fifteen-year-old Teimour Radjabov (left) shocked the World No.1 Garry Kasparov. — Pic. AP-

Like in the past, the Local Municipality or Town Council sponsored the seven-player double round-robin tournament held at Hotel Anibal in Linares, Spain. The tournament organisers had little difficulty in choosing the line-up for this prestigious event. All four players from the World Chess Championship Reunification plan (Kasparov, Ponomariov, Kramnik and Leko) were chosen along with local star Vallejo and World Cup champion Anand. Fifteen-year-old Radjabov of Azerbaijan was chosen as the seventh player, possibly receiving the organiser's nod at Kasparov's behest.

With his previous major successes coming at Dortmund in 1999 and as Kramnik's challenger in 2002, Leko's victory at Linares helped him move up the ratings ladder into the world's top 10. Accompanied by a large delegation that included his wife Sofia Petrosian, trainers (father-in-law) Arshak Petrosian of Armenia and Amador Rodriguez of Cuba, Peter Leko was a treat to watch. Known to be overly defensive in the past, Leko adopted a more combative approach to his game. His defining moment of the tournament was a win against Anand in the penultimate round when the Indian faltered a drawish rook. His best game was against Radjabov where he sacrificed a queen to win in the eighth round.

Francisco Vallejo Pons notes down his move against Anand. The Spaniard held the Indian to draws in both the games. — Pic. AP-

Kramnik who had lost some weight also seemed to have lost his appetite to win. He won against Ponomariov and Radjabov and only managed draws against the rest. Despite trying hard, he missed out on his chances in some games. <147,4,0>During the penultimate round of his second game against Radjabov, he was on course for a win but allowed the game to drift away.

A shocking penultimate round defeat to Leko spoilt Anand's chances. Having scored only half a point from his final two games, Anand missed many chances including the black game against FIDE world champion Ponomariov. The results reveal that had he been as shrewd in the two rook endings he would have probably won the tournament. His extraordinary skills were seen in many of his white games, but he only managed a third place finish due to a better tie-break score than Kasparov.

When Kasparov said he played his worst tournament of his life it looked like the former world champion was exaggerating. But a look at the cross table indicates that he played more like a 2742 player ought to, which is 105 Elo below himself. An early defeat to Radjabov proved costly as he only managed a win in two games. He scored morale-boosting wins against Ponomariov and Anand, in a tricky rook ending. Scoring 6.5 points he was on par with Anand but finished fourth because of fewer wins.

Rusian Ponomarlov (right) was struggling with his form and finished fifth. Here he batties it out with Radjabov. — Pic. AP-

The split field was a concern as the top four players participated in a low scoring title race and the other three were fighting to avoid a last place finish. Kasparov, Ponomariov and Kramnik played below expectations while the others played above their expected score. Anand finished a shade above his rating expectancy. Vallejo, Leko, Radjabov and Anand were the better performers rating-wise, while Kasparov, Ponomariov and Kramnik lost Elo points.

Ponomariov lost only one game against the world's top three of Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand. His two wins against Vallejo helped in minimise his ratings damage to an extent. Last year he was in the race for the title and finished second, but this time round he was struggling with his form and finished in the bottom half.

Vallejo performed at a similar level as last year and scored five points from 12 games. Managing to avoid a last place finish, he gained ratings from the event and was pleased to have beaten the eventual winner. He scored points against everyone except Ponomariov, demonstrating that he was no flash in the pan. With experience one could well see Vallejo move up the ladder.

Radjabov started as the last seed and finished likewise. But he made headlines for bringing down the man who was world champion for 15 years. Kasparov rarely ever loses in a tournament, and when he loses with the white pieces, it remains etched on everyone's mind. Radjabov beat the 39-year old Kasparov with black pieces and became the first player since Kramnik (Dos Hermanas 1996) to do so. Being a teenager helped Radjabov in getting an entry into the strongest tournament of the year. But he showed his mettle by bravely overcoming Kasparov. His weakness with the black pieces was to be later exploited by Kramnik, Leko and Anand in successive rounds. Yet, Radjabov finished above expectations.

As was the case last year, only 15 of the 42 games ended decisively which could be considered normal at such category competitions. A difficult task for the organisers was that five of the 14 rounds ended in all three draws. These indicate a need towards a change in format. Many suggest that the 14-player single round robin event would offer spectators at the venue and others something to cheer about. In the last 10 years, the 1994 edition won by Anatoly Karpov was undoubtedly the best, and that incidentally was a 14-player event.

The seven players during the draw of colour and match order before the start of the tournament (from left): Ruslan Ponomariov, Peter Leko, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, Teimour Radjabov, Vladimir Kramnik and Francisco Vallejo Pons. — Pic. AP-

Some interesting games from this competition: GM Garry Kasparov-GM Teimour Radjabov, round 2, French defence, C11: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3 Qb6 10.Ne2 c4 11.g4 h5 12.gxh5 Rxh5 13.Ng3 Rh8 14.f5 exf5 15.Nxf5 Nf6 16.Ng3 Ng4 17.Bf4 Be6 18.c3 Be7 19.Ng5 0-0-0 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Be2 Ngxe5 22.Qe3 Nd7 23.Qxe6 Bh4 24.Qg4 g5 25.Bd2 Rde8 26.0-0-0 Na5 27.Rdf1 Nb3+ 28.Kd1 Bxg3 29.Rf7 Rd8 30.Bxg5 Qg6 31.Qf5 Qxf5 32.Rxf5 Rdf8 33.Rxf8+ Nxf8 34.Bf3 Bh4 35.Be3 Nd7 36.Bxd5 Re8 37.Bh6 Ndc5 38.Bf7 Re7 39.Bh5 Nd3 0-1.

GM Peter Leko-GM Teimour Radjabov, round 8, French defence, C12: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.Qg4 g6 9.Bd3 Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5 11.h4 Bd7 12.h5 g5 13.f4 Nc6 14.fxg5 Qa5 15.dxc5 d4 16.Nf3 0-0-0 17.Rab1 dxc3+ 18.Ke2 Rhg8 19.Qe4 Qc7 20.g4 Ne7 21.Bb5 hxg5 22.Rb3 Nd5 23.Rhb1 Bc6 24.Bxc6 Qxc6 25.Nd4 Qa6+ 26.Ke1 Rd7 27.c6 Rc7 28.Rxb7 Rxb7 29.Rxb7 Nb6 30.Qh7 Rf8 31.Qg7 Qa3 32.Qxf8+ (If 32...Qxf8 33.Nb5 wins) 1-0.

GM Peter Leko-GM Viswanathan Anand, round 13, Petroff's defence, C42: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.c4 Nb4 9.Be2 0-0 10.Nc3 Bf5 11.a3 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Nc6 13.Re1 Re8 14.cxd5 Qxd5 15.Bf4 Rac8 16.Bd3 Qd7 17.Rb1 Bxd3 18.Qxd3 b6 19.d5 Bf6 20.c4 h6 21.h3 Re7 22.Rbd1 Rd8 23.Rxe7 Nxe7 24.Ne5 Bxe5 25.Bxe5 Re8 26.Bg3 Nf5 27.Bxc7 Qxc7 28.Qxf5 Qxc4 29.d6 Rd8 30.d7 Qc6 31.g3 a6 32.h4 b5 33.Rd5 a5 34.Rxb5 g6 35.Qd5 Qxd7 36.Qxd7 Rxd7 37.Rxa5 Kg7 (37...h5 Stopping white's g4 and getting a rook ending with greater drawing possibilities.) 38.a4 Rd1+ 39.Kg2 Ra1 40.g4 Kf6 41.Kg3 Rc1 42.Rb5 g5 43.Rf5+ Kg6 44.h5+ Kg7 45.a5 Ra1 46.Kg2 Re1 47.f3 Re6 48.Kf2 Kf8 49.Rb5 Kg7 50.Rf5 Kf8 51.Rc5 Kg7 52.Rb5 Kf8 53.Rb6 Re5 54.a6 Kg7 55.a7 Ra5 56.Rb7 Ra3 57.Ke2 Kf6 58.Kd2 Ke6 59.Kc2 f6 60.Kb2 Ra4 61.Kb3 Ra1 62.Kb4 Kd6 63.Rh7 Ke5 64.Kb5 Ra2 65.Kb6 Kd5 1-0.