The king is Bulgarian

THE search for a worthy champion of the chess world finally ended with Veselin Topalov.

After 14 rounds against seven players, the Bulgarian came out undefeated from the World Championship and took the honours with a comfortable margin over fellow top-seeded player Viswanathan Anand and four-time Russian champion Peter Svidler at San Luis, Argentina.

When the action commenced on September 28, none would have imagined the making of the champion with a round to spare. But at the halfway stage, Topalov amassed 6.5 points from seven rounds to virtually `kill' all opposition. Till then, the Bulgarian had beaten six challengers and drawn only with Anand. In the second leg, with players swapping colours, Topalov drew all the games to aggregate 10 points.

Topalov received the champion's gold trophy, a gold medal, the San Luis Government Trophy and the Senate Trophy besides his share of $300,000 from the one million dollar event.

In a competition where the average rating of the players was 2739, Topalov played way above his rating of 2788 and performed at whopping 2889 to win by a 1.5-point margin. Anand, Svidler and Morozevich also scored more than what was expected of them and finished in that order.

Peter Leko, one of the favourites, was the biggest disappointment of the event. After missing his chances to nail Topalov in the opening round, the Hungarian could never really emerge as a challenger at any stage and eventually finished fifth. Defending champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Michael Adams and Judit Polgar, the lone lady in the fray, filled the remaining places.

With 24 decisive games, most of them hard-fought, the championship caught the imagination of the chess fraternity like very few events in the history of the game.

Topalov, the first to arrive at San Luis, was extremely lucky to win his campaign-opener against Leko and a shade unfortunate to let Anand elude his grasp on the second day. The Topalov-Anand 97-move game was also the longest of the event. Thereafter, Topalov won the next five rounds at the expense of Morozevich, Adams, Svidler, Polgar and Kasimdzhanov.

The world sat up and took notice of Topalov who, by this time, had performed at an astonishing level of 3152 and was threatening to emerge as a runaway winner. He held a two-point lead over Svidler and three over Anand, who had suffered shock defeats at the hands of Kasimdzhanov and Morozevich.

Considering that Topalov had won all four games with black pieces in the first leg, the title already looked decided. Unless Topalov's undefeated streak was broken, none could resurrect their chances of coming on top. Like Anand, Leko, too, was struggling to bounce back into contention and the duo shared the third spot at 3.5 points.

The second leg, as it turned out, saw Anand recover brilliantly with victories over Polgar, Kasimdzhanov and Leko. But, in between, Anand's much-awaited battle with white pieces against Topalov ended in a draw in a mere 17 moves. The chess world sat down to analyse where Anand missed a winning line after sacrificing a piece. Even as the experts wondered whether Anand chose to draw too soon, Topalov had come out unscathed against the Indian. It may be recalled that when Topalov tied for the Linares title with Garry Kasparov in March this year, Anand was the only one to beat him.

With Anand out of the way, Topalov was his usual aggressive self against Morozevich but the Russian, who had scored successive victories over Anand, Kasimdzhanov and Leko to make amends for a poor start, defended well and survived. In the remaining rounds, Topalov came under pressure from Adams and Kasimdzhanov but was never in danger of losing the games.

Even as Topalov drew with tail-ender Polgar in the final round, the battle for the second spot between Svidler and Anand was still on. Fittingly, the two met in the final round where a quick draw made Anand the runner-up. As per the event's tie-break rules, Anand was placed higher since he had won more games, five to Svidler's four.

Morozevich, who finished a further 1.5 points behind Anand and Svidler, took the fourth spot and ensured qualification for the next World Championship.

The fifth-placed Leko, who suffered a loss each to the four players who finished ahead of him, defeated the other three players in the fray to finish at 6.5 points. For someone with a rating of 2763, Leko's performance level of 2706 was indeed very disappointing. Looking desperate to win, Leko tried too hard, too soon, and lost two of the first three games. Thereafter, he could only play for pride.

Kasimdzhanov, the lowest-ranked player in the field, never compromised with his positive approach and gained plenty of admirers. He performed just two points below his rating of 2670, lost five games but had the satisfaction of beating Anand and Polgar.

Adams, the only player not to have won a single game in the competition, realised that his rivals had come well prepared to foil his positional warfare.

His losses came against Topalov, Anand and Leko while the remaining players denied him the pleasure of scoring a victory.

Polgar, who returned to competitive chess in January after giving birth to son Oliver, was clearly not the best prepared for an event of this magnitude. She did outwit Kasimdzhanov in a highly tactical battle for her lone victory, but her six defeats, including two against Anand, showed that the strongest woman player in the world was far from her best. — A Special Correspondent