Leon, his happy hunting ground

V. Anand flanked by Natalia Rodriguez, Councillor for Sports, City of Leon (left), and Miguel Ignacio Gonzalez, Director of Sports, Government of Castilla y Leon.-Pics: TORNEO MAGISTRAL DE LEON V. Anand flanked by Natalia Rodriguez, Councillor for Sports, City of Leon (left), and Miguel Ignacio Gonzalez, Director of Sports, Government of Castilla y Leon.

Viswanathan Anand, who has maintained his No. 1 spot in world chess ranking, speaks about the record seven titles he has won in Leon. Over to P. K. Ajith Kumar.

The organisers of the Magistral Ciudad de León chess tournament believe variety is the spice of life, so they often change the format of the event. Viswanathan Anand believes in winning the tournament regardless of the format.

The World No. 1 from India has played in the Spanish city eight times and won on seven occasions, displaying his brilliant skills in classical, rapid, blitz and advanced chess. His latest triumph came on July 8, beating Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov quite comfortably in the final of the four-player tournament: He won 3-1 in the match comprising four rapid games of 20 minutes each with the increment of 10 seconds per move (he won the second and fourth games, while the remaining games were drawn). He actually completed a double hat-trick at Leon; he had won consecutive titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001 as well. Two victories by Alexei Shirov (Spain) is the second best effort in the 20-year history of Leon.

“I like the event very much and it is extremely well-organised,” Anand told Sportstar. “It is a nice trophy.”

He said he was expecting stiff competition at Leon. “This year I have been training for the World Championship (in Mexico, beginning on September 12). The other three participants at Leon — Topalov, Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine) and Rustam Kasimdzhanov (Uzbekistan) — will not be in Mexico. I realised I would be playing very tough opponents. My semifinal match with Ponomariov went very smoothly; I think 3-1 is an impressive score.”

It certainly is, as Anand set up the final with Topalov, for the second successive year. The Bulgarian had beaten Kasimdzhanov 2.5-1.5 in the other semifinal.

“The final was like a repeat of last year,” said Anand. “Topalov is a very aggressive player and never gives up. So I decided to just take things coolly.

In the first game, I was able to capitalise on his errors. In the second game, I played aggressively and had two strong knights. I was able to attack on the queenside and at the same time defend on the other side. In the fourth game the match situation was favourable to me and I had the luxury of playing with white. I sacrificed a piece for three pawns that seemed very dangerous especially in the end game. Topalov hadn’t castled and his king became vulnerable. Against someone like Topalov 3-1 is a good score.”

Anand’s first win at Leon came in 1997. “It was a match against Miguel Illescas (Spain), which I won by a comfortable margin. This was in classical chess. The event then changed format and became a pioneer in what was then considered the future of chess: advanced chess. I was to play Garry Kasparov but due to some inexplicable reasons he withdrew. Instead, I played Anatoly Karpov. I defeated him 5-1. Now this match was sweet revenge for Lausanne (World Championship title match). I thoroughly enjoyed the match,” recalled Anand.

Topalov and Anand before the final.-

In 2000, his semifinal opponent at Leon was Judit Polgar of Hungary, probably the greatest sportswoman ever. “With Judit I played a very interesting match. In the final I won against Shirov with white. That year Shirov and myself were playing each other quite a lot and in the end I had to play him in the World Championship final in Teheran. In Leon that year it was the blitz play-off that was the tricky part. It was quite funny that even with computers the play was not so correct and we did make errors in judgment. In 2001 I played Peter Leko and again won in the blitz play-off. In the final I beat Shirov 2.5-1.5.”

About his loss to Kramnik in 2002, Anand said, “The whole match had a drawish feel to it and somehow the match seemed to lose steam. After that edition, the organisers went back to rapid chess. In 2005, I defeated Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who at that time was still a youngster with a lot of promise (now he is such a tough rival). The final against Kasimdzhanov was very close. I lost Game 1, won Game 2, nearly lost Game 3 and won a very nice final game. Kasim had won the World Championship in Libya in 2004 and had shown his strength in rapid chess there. This was my toughest victory in Leon.”

Last year, Anand was given a scare by Lazaro Bruzon of Cuba in the semifinal. “All our games went back and forth and were drawn. In the blitz play-off, I lost the first game. The match went all the way and I won Game 6. It was by far the closest play-off I have played.

In the final against Topalov I was more ‘relaxed’ after the Bruzon scare. Topalov was in great form, having won in Sofia. Though the scoreline of 2.5-1.5 seemed convincing, it was not actually so easy. My most cherished memory about Leon remains defeating Karpov.”

It truly has been a joyous July for Anand, as he maintained the No. 1 spot in FIDE’s latest ranking list. “Of course I am very happy,” he said. “I am now 23 points ahead of the No. 2 (Topalov). This is of course a comfortable margin.”


Ciudad de Leon, Leon (Spain), July 8, 2007, Final, Game 2.

V. Anand (Ind 2786) v V. Topalov (Bul 2772), Sicilian Defence, Najdorf (B90).

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. f3 h5 9. Qd2 Nbd7 10. a4 Be7 11. Be2 Nb6 12. O-O d5 13. a5 d4 14. axb6 dxe3 15. Qxe3 Nd7 16. Na4 Rc8 17. Na5 Bg5 18. Qd3 Rb8 19. Rfd1 O-O 20. Kh1 Qf6 21. c4 h4 22. c5 Qh6 23. c6 bxc6 24. Nxc6 Nf6 25. f4 Bxf4 26. Nxb8 Rxb8 27. Nc5 Ng4 28. Rf1 Ne3 29. Qd6 Re8 30. Nxe6 Qg6 31. Rf2 h3 32. gxh3 fxe6 33. b7 Qxe4+ 34. Bf3 Qd4 35. b8=Q Rxb8 36. Qxb8+ Kh7 37. Qb7 Nd5 1-0

Ciudad de Leon, Leon (Spain), July 8, 2007, Final, Game 4.

V. Anand (Ind 2786) v V. Topalov (Bul 2772), Sicilian Defence, Scheveningen (B90).

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. Be2 Nbd7 8. 0-0 b5 9. a4 b4 10. Nc6 Qc7 11. Nxb4 d5 12. Nxa6 Bxa6 13. exd5 Bd6 14. h3 exd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Qxd5 Bb7 17. Qc4 Bc6 18. b4 Qb7 19. Rad1 Be7 20. b5! Bxg2 21. Rxd7 Kxd7 22. Qg4+ Ke8 23. Qxg2 Qxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Rxa4 25. b6 Ra5 26.

Rd1 Bg5 27. b7 Ke7 28. Bb6 Re5 29.Bd8+ 1-0.