Youngsters hog limelight

Published : Jan 04, 2003 00:00 IST


A number of off-board moves were made in 2002 and now there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel to unify the two world chess titles some time in the New Year. Attempts have been made by FIDE to bring in more professionalism to the sport and to show the potential sponsor that there is unity in the game after the unfortunate division that has afflicted the sport since 1993.

During the year, 18-year-old Ruslan Ponomariov, the little-known Ukrainian, upstaged his more famous countryman, Vassily Ivanchuk, to be crowned as the youngest world champion, in Moscow. India's Koneru Humpy erased Judit Polgar's record by becoming the youngest lady to attain the rank of a Grandmaster on the men's side. Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine became the youngest GM at 12 years, seven months and two days. In a year dominated by Ukrainians, Kateryna Lahno became the youngest WGM.

On the Indian scene, the growth of chess continues with the number of FIDE-rated events and the emergence of new talent. Chennai's Narayanan Srinath, only eight and a half years old, became India's youngest FIDE-rated player, bettering Delhi boy Parimajan Negi's record. In the January 2002 list, 894 Indians were rated. By October an extra 141 players joined the list to make it 1035 players. India has the largest rated players for any Asian nation but is still way behind Germany, which has more than five thousand rated players. Russia, which is the strongest chess-playing nation, is behind Germany.

When Ponomariov faced Ivanchuk, he became the youngest to play for the world title and when he won the match 4.5-2.5 he became the youngest world chess champion. At 18 he is the first junior to win the senior title in the history of the sport. FIDE crowned him the 16th world champion. He also has an entry in the record books as the world's youngest Grandmaster at 14 years and 17 days, in 1997. The youngster, referred to as "little Karpov", remained undefeated to win the match with a game to spare and pick up a cheque for $400,000. The FIDE President, Ilyumzhinov, offered him a flat in Elista, Russia. Ponomariov's win heralded a new wave of youngsters accomplishing feats all through the year.

Among the professionals, Anand, Kasparov and Leko had a great year and one of them will be looking forward to winning the Chess Oscar at the expense of Ponomariov who clinched the world chess title but drew a blank thereafter. Ponomariov was also humiliated at Dubai in April when he became the first reigning world champion to lose to a reigning world women's champion, Zhu Chen. Later, when the No.1 ranked player Garry Kasparov lost to the No. 1 ranked woman player Judit Polgar at Moscow, it became clear that the gap between men and women is close.

The youngsters may have had a great time but 33-year-old Anand and Kasparov, nearing 40, had a much better year. Anand came into 2002, having lost his hold on the world title in December 2001. He retained his World Cup title at Hyderabad after suffering a shock defeat to Sasikiran early in the tournament. The victory in the knock-out EuroTel Trophy at Prague in May was perhaps the icing on his cake for the year. It featured both rapid and classical chess for the finals. Most of the top players were in action and Anand beat Anatoly Karpov in the finals for the title. Kramnik exited early, losing to Karpov, while Kasparov bowed out to Ivanchuk. At Mainz, Germany, in the Chess Classic, Anand dazzled in the eighth game to defeat world champion Ponomariov 4.5-3.5 in a rapid chess match. Later at Bastia, in France, he beat Karpov in the final to win the Corsica Masters for the third time in a row. Anand lost his hold at Leon in Advanced Chess to Kramnik by a narrow one game margin but had more success in 2002 than in the previous year.

Kasparov won the traditional super category tournament at Linares and also beat Ponomariov in the first tournament they played together. But he failed in the EuroTel Trophy at Prague and in the Russia versus Rest of the World play-off. In June, he won the Moscow Grand Prix and later in October he helped Russia to another gold medal win in the Bled Olympiad by excelling on the top board with a 2933 Elo rating performance.

Kasparov's relationship with the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov took a U-turn after he was favoured in the landmark Prague Deal made in May. The crux of the deal is that FIDE will have a match between its No. 1 ranked player Kasparov and its world champion Ponomariov as a candidate for the Reunification match in early 2003. On his part, Kramnik, the professional champion, will defend his title against the winner of the July 2002 Dortmund qualifier (Leko) in May 2003. The winners of the two matches will play for the unified title in October 2003. FIDE has kept both Anand and Ivanchuk out of the unification plan but sacrifices have to be made for such landmark deals to be accomplished. Grandmasters, led by Khalifman, Shirov, Anand and Leko have voiced their concern to FIDE to reconsider the Prague Deal through their open letter on May 27.

Vladimir Kramnik lost a two-point lead to draw Deep Fritz 4-4 at Bahrain in the match against the computer to pick up $800,000, which was the biggest chess event of the year. His poor eighth place in the Amber tournament and an early exit in the EuroTel Trophy raised a few questions if he was the best professional player in the world. His narrow 3.5-2.5 win in the Advanced Chess match against Anand was the best to write about him for the year. His 4/9 score for Russia did not help the host nation in the match against the Rest of the World.

One player who had a big year was Leko, winning the Dortmund Qualifier, which did not feature Anand, Kasparov and Ivanchuk. The 23-year-old will challenge Kramnik in May 2003 for the professional world title. Leko also won the Dubai Grand Prix, and helped Rest of the World beat Russia. At Bled, he played for Hungary on the top board and helped his team defeat Russia 2.5-1.5 and win the silver medal.

Judit Polgar had a good Olympiad for the Hungarian men's team and beat Kasparov in the mutual game between the No. 1 rated woman versus No. 1 man in a historic encounter at Moscow. World women's champion Zhu Chen was in poor form and it nearly destroyed China's gold medal effort at Bled. Humpy, who won more world age group titles than anybody else, had a glorious year. She completed her third GM norm at the Elekes Memorial tournament in Budapest to become the youngest girl in the history of chess to achieve the Grandmaster title. Humpy's achievement came when she was 15 years, one month and 27 days beating Judit Polgar's record of 15 years, four months and 28 days. Asia's pride, Humpy also won the women's title in the British Open. While cruising along well to the title in the World Cup, Humpy blundered against Xu Yuhua of China in the semifinals and had to exit after dominating the games thus far. Xu Yuhua went on to retain her World Cup title she had won at Shenyang.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was re-elected for a third term and his team, including P. T. Ummer Koya as Vice President, came through unopposed long before the FIDE Congress was held during the Bled Olympiad. The act to put in a joint effort and unify the chess titles and drug testing in the Olympiad were some of the major decisions made. FIDE rightly shot down a proposal to turn the Olympiad into a rapid time controlled one.

For the third time in history, Russia was tested in a match against the Rest of the World and surprisingly the former lost 48-52 in a fairly close and interesting match held in Moscow. The Russian failure was largely due to the failure of the big K's — Kasparov, Kramnik, Khalifman and to some extent Karpov. All four of them played 37 games and scored only 16.5 from them. The games were played on a rapid basis and Scheveningen system, with each player in the world team facing a Russian once. It was a historic result for the World team, which was offered winning bonuses by the FIDE President. Owing to appearance fee related problems, Adams and Topalov stayed out of the World team but it still won.

The Indian juniors failed to make a mark in the World Youth Chess Festival in Greece winning only a silver and two bronze medals. Though this was an improvement over the previous year it was not comparable to the two golds and one silver recorded in 2000. G. Rohit of Andhra Pradesh had a great year winning the National U-14 and 15 championships and remained undefeated in the National `B'. He picked up the gold medal for the best performance in the fourth board in the World Youth Olympiad at Kuala Lumpur and richly deserved the silver medal in the World Under-14 championship in Greece. Dronavalli Harika, who won the National Women's `B' this year, took the bronze medal in the World Under-12 girls' championship. Top seed and Grandmaster P. Harikrishna did well for his bronze medal in the world Under-18 section but could have done better.

The Chess Olympiad was held at Bled. Record entries caught the organisers on the wrong foot in the early stages but it was still regarded by many as the best Olympiad. Russia dominated and won the men's gold for the sixth straight time while China kept its women's gold after an indifferent start and exciting finish. Indian men slipped to the 29th position while the women finished 18th. The mediocre show revealed that the Indian players lacked stamina and did not have sufficient time to prepare after so many overseas tours.

However there were a few bright spots. Surya Sekhar Ganguly made his final Grandmaster norm and became India's eighth GM. Vijayalakshmi kept her silver medal for the second best performance on the women's top board in the Olympiad.

Having won the National championship several times, Sasikiran is feeling the competition is getting tougher but is keeping himself above the race.

He had a great period and in the Moscow Grand Prix he gave the experienced Bareev a real scare before bowing out.

The World Cup held at Hyderabad was largely due to the interest shown by the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. With two fast rising stars, both teenaged Grandmasters, Harikrishna and Humpy from the State, the effort is bound to pay in the long run.

The Indian players were sent on more overseas tours this year and there were a few success stories too. Sasikiran, who had won a number of international Open tournaments in India like the Asian Open in Bikaner early in the year, also won the Dr. Tan Chin Nam Cup at Qingdao in China in July. He also broke into the World Top 50 and is only the second Indian to do so after Anand. At Torquay, R. B. Ramesh won his last four games in a row to become the first Indian in 69 years to win the British Championship. He also inched closer to the Grandmaster title with a norm. Following the tremendous achievements by the players, private sponsorship is knocking the doors with IT major Wipro planning to spend Rs. 1 crore per year on chess. It took Deepan Chakravarthy and R. Priyadarshini under its wings in addition to having Harikrishna and Aarthie Ramaswamy. NIIT, which is behind Anand, and Bank of Baroda, which sponsors Humpy, are the other big private sponsors. When the Indians left for Marawila in Sri Lanka for the Asian Junior championship in June they were looking for the titles and they returned leaving nothing for the other nations. They took the gold, silver and bronze in every section with Deepan Chakravarthy winning the event and also becoming an International Master. Tania Sachdev of Delhi won the girls' title to become an International Woman Master and also earn a WGM norm. The Indians have been leaving very little for others in Asian meets and making big impacts in international events.

If the year that has just passed belonged to the young achievers and women besides the landmark Prague deal, the new year should see the implementation of the Unification plan and one World champion.

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