Friday, August 27, 1999
World championship surprises
By Quah Seng Sun
NOT so very long ago, the world chess championships were made up of two- or three-year cycles that would almost invariably be decided by long matches between the defending champion and challenger. Then, about two years ago, the World Chess Federation radically changed the championship format to an annual knockout contest.
Since the end of last month, the chess world's attention has been focused mainly on the US$3mil (RM11.4mil) world championship taking place at the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas. From a field of 100 players, the participants have now been reduced to two and, since last Sunday, Alexander Khalifman and Vladimir Akopian have been engaged in a six-game match to decide the next world chess champion.
However, for much of the last fortnight, a lot of talk had centred on whether this knockout format was achieving its desired result. The quarter-finals was a crucial stage for the championship but at its end, the top players who had been booted out included Vladimir Kramnik (world No.3), Alexei Shirov (world No.5), Vassily Ivanchuk (No.8), Veselin Topalov (No.12), Alexey Dreev (No.15), Nigel Short (No.17), Judit Polgar (No.19) and Zoltan Almasi (No.20).
Left in the contest were Michael Adams (world No.7), Vladimir Akopian (No.36), Alexander Khalifman (No.45) and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (No.136). Adams (Britain) was expected to beat Akopian (Armenia) in the semi-finals but to everyone's surprise, Adams too was shown the door when Akopian prevailed by a 2.5-1.5 score.
The Romanian grandmaster Nisipeanu, aged 23, with a rating of only 2,584, was the surprise of the event. His passage through the championship was not easy but his victims had been Yugoslav GM Stefan Djuric, Georgian GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili (10th highest rated player in the event), Brazilian GM Fafael Leitao and Ivanchuk and Shirov. His luck was expected to run out against Khalifman who, despite his placing as 45th in the world, is actually a very seasoned player.
Yet, Nisipeanu almost upset the form book again. Khalifman won the third game of the semi-final match but Nisipeanu struck back with a fourth-game win to take the match to extra time. It was only in the play-off that Khalifman managed to send off his opponent.
The final of the world championship thus pitted two non-favourites against each other. This is already a surprise, but one can guess how much bigger the surprise would have been if this had been Akopian playing not Khalifman but Nisipeanu for the world chess championship title!
Throughout the past month, Gary Kasparov, despite his non-involvement with this event, has been making general observations and comments on the games through his Club Kasparov chess site on the Internet. In one of his comments, Kasparov described Akopian, Sergei Movsesian and Nisipeanu as tourists, meaning that he considered them lightweights who would surely be eliminated by the heavyweights in the event.
As the unfolding events have shown, it is actually the lightweights that have displaced the heavyweights.
An indignant Nisipeanu pointed out that Kasparov "doesn't even know me," but he was quick to add: "Okay, next to Kasparov, I am a tourist."
Akopian was more critical. He said about playing Kasparov: "Once, I had a completely winning position, but his luck saved him. It was a team match and I gave him a draw because my team had already won. In the other game, he was White. He immediately began trading all the pieces and he made a draw against me. So he was White and I could not prevent him from doing this. But for me, for sure Kasparov is the tourist."
Although readers can follow the progress of the world chess championship from the official web site at (http://www.worldfide.com/), there are other chess sites on the Internet which provide comprehensive coverage. Among them are the Inside Chess Online homepage at (http://www.insidechess.com/) and the Club Kasparov homepage at (http://www.clubkasparov.ru).
Xie Jun wins women's crown again
At about the same time that the world chess championship was starting in Las Vegas, the lesser-known match between Xie Jun of China and Alisa Galliamova of Russia for the women's world chess title was also being contested almost half a world away.
This championship match, which was also a World Chess Federation event, had been split between two venues with the Russian town of Kazan hosting the first half of the match and Shenyang in China hosting the second.
The Kazan half of the match had ended in a 4-4 tie between the two players but Xie quickly seized control of the match once the venue shifted to Shenyang. Xie went into a two-point lead, then saw it reduced to only one point before she fought her way back to take the match with a 8.5-6.5 score.
By winning this encounter against Galliamova, Xie has reclaimed her women's world championship crown which she lost to Zsuzsa Polgar in 1996. When it came to Polgar's turn to defend her title against Xie who had qualified as the challenger, she refused, citing many non-reasons such as having a baby, her doctor's advice not to travel within six months of her delivery, and a US alert to its residents against travelling to China.
(At that time, diplomatic relations between the United States and China were at an ebb following the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy building in Belgrade at the height of the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia.)
The World Chess Federation then said that Polgar had defaulted on the match, and decided that Xie and Galliamova would instead battle it out for the women's chess title. At first, Galliamova refused to play this match, saying it was unfair that the full match would be held in China. After much wrangling by both parties, the Chinese agreed that the first half of the match would be played in Kazan.
The match began with Xie drawing first blood with a win in the second game. However, Galliamova struck back immediately in the third game. Xie then went ahead by winning the fifth game but again, Galliamova equalised by taking the sixth game.
Xie began the Shenyang half of the match with a win in the ninth game. After a drawn 10th game, Xie went further ahead by winning the 11th game. Galliamova managed to reduce the margin by winning the 12th game but after Xie won the 14th game, Galliamova's title hopes evaporated. The draw in the 15th game gave Xie the women's crown.
Merdeka Team Championship
THE 18th Merdeka team chess championship starts on Sunday at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Like in previous years, the three-day championship is divided into three categories: state, youth and open.
The state category of the championship has always elicited the best performances from the state chess associations which view the competition as the de facto national team tournament. Prizes for the state category are RM2,000, RM1,500 and RM1,000. The winner will also receive custody of the Deputy Prime Minister's challenge trophy.
The youth category normally also gets a good response from chess players. The five prizes in this category are RM1,000, RM750, RM500, RM300 and RM150. The Merdeka youth challenge trophy will also go to the winner.
The other main feature of the championship is the open category in which the winning team will receive RM2,000 and the runner-up RM1,500. The other prizes are RM1,000, RM800, RM600, RM400 and RM200. In addition, there are special prizes for the best government department, women's, school, and family teams.
For a list of the teams that have signed up for the championship, visit my website at (http://www5.mol.com.my/qss/Library/index.html).
Registration for the teams will start at 8.30am on Aug 29. The first round will commence at 1pm and the second, at 4.30pm. On the second day, the rounds begin at 9am, 1pm and 4.30pm, and on the last day of the competition, the final two rounds are at 9am and 1.30pm.
According to the Malaysian Chess Federation, the outstation state and youth teams will be put up at KL's Dynasty Hotel, the official hotel for the event.
Johor Baru Open
THE Johor Baru District Chess Club will hold its ninth Johor Baru open chess tournament at the Dewan Menara Komtar, Johor Baru, on Sunday in conjunction with National Day celebrations.
This event, which is jointly organised with Johor Land Berhad, will be divided into open, under-16 and under-12 sections. There will be 10 cash prizes in each section, with prizes of RM300, RM100 and RM80 going to the respective winners.
The entry fee for the open section is RM15 while players entering the under-16 and under-12 events will be charged RM7 and RM5 respectively. The games start at 8.30am on Aug 29, and only the first 300 entries will be accepted.
For more information about the tournament, contact Narayanan Krishnan ( 07-333 8215 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). Entries will close today.
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