Friday, September 10, 1999
Another 'K' carries the day
By Quah Seng Sun
AFTER a month of intense competition, Russia's Alexander Khalifman won the World Chess Championship in Las Vegas. In the six-game final, he bettered Armenia's Vladimir Akopian with a 2.5-1.5 score.
So yet another player with a name beginning with "K" has become the world champion, after Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov. Khalifman was declared the 14th world chess champion by World Chess Federation (FIDE) president Kirsan Iljumzhinov.
Khalifman won the first game after Akopian's surprise of a piece sacrifice went wrong. Khalifman managed to exchange enough pieces until his opponent no longer had the initiative. He then moved his remaining pieces into action and Akopian was forced to resign the game.
The second game saw little excitement on the board and was quickly drawn.
The third game lasted almost seven hours. There was a lot of manoeuvring in the endgame with Akopian trying to find the best squares for his pieces. The Armenian showed some excellent technique by squeezing a point from his opponent.
"This game features the most beautiful rook ending in the history of the World Chess Championship," said an excited Valery Salov, the Russian grandmaster.
"This endgame was a theoretical draw, but Akopian played almost perfectly, finding every trick and trap. The attractive conclusion to the game would not have been possible if Khalifman had played the best defence."
But Khalifman bounced back immediately by winning the next game.
With only two games remaining, Akopian was in a "must win" situation in his last game with the white pieces. He emerged with an edge but could not capitalise on it. The game whittled down into a rook ending with Akopian nursing an extra pawn. However, Khalifman dug in deep to draw the game.
The last game of the championship was not an anti-climax despite the month of exhausting chess. Khalifman did not play conservatively and took the game to Akopian.
As he said later, "In the beginning I could have kept the game quiet but I told myself, 'come on, this is the final,' I have to try to play the best moves. But at the end, I was no longer fighting to find a win. I said, 'enough is enough, I only need a draw.' "
Iljumzhinov was among the first to congratulate Khalifman. He said: "I want to congratulate Alexander Khalifman, the 14th FIDE world chess champion. I want to say that he must come back next year to play and defend his title."
When asked if he felt like a true world champion, Khalifman responded: "I don't claim to be the world's best chess player. But I am the FIDE world champion. Kasparov has some informal claim to being the world's best player. I'm afraid to say anything about Karpov because he is very experienced with lawsuits!"
Khalifman has his own chess school in St Petersburg, Russia, and a popular website (www.gmchess.spb.ru). And now that he has won US$660,000 (RM2.5mil), what is he going to do with it?
Khalifman said that he had not given it much thought, but added: "My wife is a very reasonable person. We agree on most things. For some years we have lived modestly. I don't think she will spend half a million in the first week!"
On to the Olympics
Towards the close of the world championship, FIDE's presidential board met in Las Vegas. In his address to the board, president Kirsan Iljumzhinov said that on June 20, the International Olympic Committee had recognised chess as a sport. He has received a certificate from IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch confirming this. Iljumzhinov said that FIDE should now drastically change its administration based on this decision.
Ilyumzhinov said FIDE executive director Emmanuel Omuku would go to Sydney, Australia, to discuss arrangements for a chess event at the 2000 Summer Olympics. One question which would be raised was whether coffee, whiskey and vodka were drugs. He said this is a serious matter.
Iljumzhinov also said the FIDE world championship will be held every year during the last week of November and the first three weeks of December. Regarding next year's event, he said that Hong Kong, Dortmund in Germany and Sun City in South Africa have expressed interest in hosting it.
Turning his sights next on Karpov and Kasparov, Iljumzhinov said, "When (they) continue to criticise, I have one answer: the title of the world champion has to be won and defended in an honest chess fight and not in the courts or at press conferences.
"They have to prove their superiority by playing in the world championship. There will be no matches between the winner here and Kasparov or Karpov. If Kasparov and Karpov have questions, FIDE will be happy to invite them to the 2000 World Championship.
"FIDE will enter the new millennium with the 14th world champion," declared Iljumzhinov. "Samaranch said that chess has been recognised as a sport because we have destroyed the monopoly and dictatorships of some chess players. We have given all chess players the opportunity to fight for the world title."
Copyright © 1999. Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd. (Co No. 10894-D)
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