Several eventful happenings

Garry Kasparov... calling it quits.-AP

Through the year, Topalov's rise was meteoric, Anand remained consistent, but Kramnik slipped in the rankings, writes RAKESH RAO

FOR more reasons than one, 2005 will go down as a landmark year in the world of chess. From the surprise retirement of Garry Kasparov to the coronation of Veselin Topalov as the new World champion, there were several eventful happenings through the year.

From the Indian perspective, Viswanathan Anand led the charge as usual and reached his highest international rating since 2001. He may not have won any classical title during the year, but he performed very consistently for a podium-finish in every outing apart from winning three titles in the shorter version of the game.

The year began with Peter Leko winning the season-opener Corus championship at Wijk aan Zee and preventing the second-placed Anand from becoming the first five-time winner of the prestigious title.

This was before the dramatic announcement of Kasparov's retirement, which overshadowed everything else. Arguably the world's strongest ever to have played the game, Kasparov lost the final round of the Linares tournament to Topalov but got the trophy ahead of the Bulgarian for having scored more number of victories with black pieces. Soon, Kasparov declared his decision to call it a day.

Topalov, who called himself the "moral winner" of the prestigious title, was quite unhappy with the timing of the announcement since it had taken the attention away from his victory over the World number one. Fortunately for Topalov, destiny had willed better rewards for him in the second half of the year.

Kasparov leaving the scene to pursue a career in politics hastened the announcement of the World Championship scheduled in September-October at San Luis, Argentina. Although Kasparov was seeded to play, he expectedly stayed away. Vladimir Kramnik, the man who defended the World Classical title against Peter Leko late last year, also refused to be part of the latest attempt to find an "undisputed" world champion.

Eventually, when the eight-player 14-round event took place, it was Topalov who set the early pace by scoring 6.5 from the first seven rounds and drew the next seven games to win with a whopping 10 points, 1.5 points ahead of runner-up Anand and third-placed Peter Svidler.

N. Srinath gold medal in age-group world championships.-R.RAGU

Later, the talks of a title-unifying match between Topalov and Kramnik failed. Topalov also made it clear that he was willing to face Kramnik without putting the world title at stake. So, Topalov remained the champion of the chess world.

Through the year, Topalov's rise was meteoric, Anand remained consistent but Kramnik slipped in the rankings. Earlier in the year, Topalov won the Mtel Masters title in Sofia after playing a major part in setting up the event. Though he lost a couple of points in Dortmund, where Anand was a notable absentee, Topalov went on to finish the year ahead of the Indian as the highest-rated active player in the world.

For Anand, the victories at the Amber rapid and blindfold event, the Mainz Chess Classic and the Leon rapid chess events were in keeping with the expectations. However, the biggest surprise came in Bastia where he surprisingly went down to Russia's Vadim Milov in the final of the Corsica Masters rapid event.

Among the other Indians, the steady rise of P. Harikrishna, the consolidation of K. Sasikiran in the top-50 of the world, the encouraging one-off performance of K. Humpy and S. Vijayalakshmi's consistency during her stint in Europe provided the reasons for joy. In fact, for the first time, three Indians — Anand, Hari and Sasikiran — were part of the top-40 list of the world. However, the failure of the Indians to break into the top-10 of the Asian Championship held in Hyderabad was a huge disappointment.

Hari, on a high after winning the World junior title in November 2004, made the most of the invitations he received to play in Europe and China. He jointly won the title at Bermuda with Boris Gelfand, finished tied-second at the tough Global Chess Challenge and won the strongest round-robin event of his career by beating the field in the Taiyuan Grandmasters tournament for the Sanjin Cup in Taiyuan, China. In the Mainz rapid tournament, Hari tied for the second spot and went on to win the Essent classical title in a tough four-player field.

Sahaj Grover gold medal in age-group world championships.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

In the World Cup, Hari made it to the third round before going down in the tiebreak games to Russia's Alexey Dreev. Sasikiran and National champion Surya Shekhar Ganguly made their exit following the second round tiebreak matches.

In July, Sasikiran won the Benasque Open in Spain, Saptarshi Roy Choudhary tied for the honours in the Canadian Open, P. Magesh Chandran finished runner-up in the World Open in Philadelphia and made his final GM-norm. Neelotpal Das and S. Kidambi were the other GM-norm makers this year.

Among the women, Humpy claimed the honours in the North Urals Cup in Kransnoturinsk, Russia, before Vijayalakshmi tied for the top spot in the Biel International chess festival but finished second. More significant was Vijayalakshmi making her maiden GM-norm in a tournament in France. Equally creditable was the fact that she raised her rating from 2414 to a career-high 2485 by playing almost without a break for two months in Europe.

Tania Sachdev joined the list of Woman Grandmasters while her friend Eesha Karavade waited anxiously for the confirmation of the WGM title after having met the requirements.

At the age-group level, India produced two world champions — N. Srinath in the under-12 section and Sahaj Grover in the under-10 category. Mary Ann Gomes won the gold in the Asian under-16 girls' championship and I. Ramya Krishna took the silver.

In the Asian Youth chess championship in New Delhi, the Indians won 21 out of 24 medals to improve their effort of 18 in the previous edition in Singapore. The prodigious Parimarjan Negi, the 12-year-old Delhi-boy, lived up to the expectations by adding three International Master norms during the year.

The year also saw several players competing overseas because of the lack of open events in the country following protracted legal battles involving two groups of the All India Chess Federation. After much confusion among the players, a clear picture emerged towards the end of the year. Moreover, the set of new office-bearers have promised more number of tournaments at home than seen in 2005. In the midst of lack of chess activities in the country, the newly formed Chess Players Association of India (CPAI) made its presence felt by organising a major rapid event in Kolkata.

Overall, more Indians did well in chess this year than in the past. This was all the more creditable since the number of opportunities provided at home were less than in the previous years. Apart from Anand's continued stay at the world number two spot, the most significant gain was that more Indians commanded respect around the world than ever before. With this new-found belief and recognition, more Indians promise better performances in the New Year.