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 ( 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."

Record entries for Merdeka championship

THIS year's Merdeka team chess championship had a record 82 teams playing in the three-day event at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, from Aug 29 to 31.

Without a doubt, the PWTC provides a very conducive atmosphere for playing chess. The vast lobby was big enough to accommodate all the teams; there should not be any problem if even more teams were to take part next year.

It was a pity, though, that players were initially not allowed to walk along the aisles once they had finished their games. More understandably, spectators were also prevented from walking into the cordoned-off area. This rule was somewhat relaxed in the later rounds when the organisers realised the pulling power of the games.

After a year on the sidelines, Penang returned to win the state title. Although Penang did not lose any of its matches, the team was eclipsed by Selangor and Terengganu in most of the rounds.

Johor had a good start but after losing to Selangor in the fourth round, the team began to fall back and eventually finished fourth. Terengganu also had a good start, but then lost by similar 1-3 scores to Selangor and Penang. However, a tremendous effort in the sixth round saw Terengganu drawing level, with Penang going into the final round.

In the meantime, Selangor, which led for five rounds, was upset by Perak in the sixth round. A 1.5-2.5 loss to its northern neighbour put paid to its hopes of retaining the Deputy Prime Minister's trophy.

Going into the final round, only Terengganu and Penang were neck and neck for the top prize. Tension was high as Penang realised that it had to beat Perak by 4-0 to win the title.

But then, Terengganu drew one of its games with Johor and Penang's target of 3.5 points became more realisable. In the final analysis, Penang's 3.5-0.5 win over Perak was impressive but unnecessary since Terengganu could only draw 2-2 with Johor.

Final standings: Penang 20 points, Terengganu 18.5 points, Selangor 17.5 points, Johor 17 points, Kuala Lumpur 16 points, Sabah 14 points, Sarawak 13.5 points, Perak 13.5 points, Malacca and Perlis 13 points each, Kelantan 11 points, Kedah 12 points, and Negeri Sembilan 3 points.

Apart from the state section, the open section of the championship also attracted a lot of attention. There was a good turn-out this year with 42 teams.

There was a tight finish with two teams fighting closely for the top prize. After the sixth round, the PCMM Invitation team was leading the field by two full points ahead of the Royal Selangor Club.

But the PCMM team, with international master Mas Hafizulhelmi on the top board, almost faltered in the final round when it drew 2-2 with the Safe Aim Mutual team to collect 21.5 points.

The Royal Selangor Club team could have tied with the PCMM had it managed to win 4-0 over Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Instead, RSC could only get a 3.5-0.5 score, half a point less than the winner, which meant that it got only the second prize.

Singapore entered two teams in the open section. Caissa Chess Enterprise came third with 19.5 points while IntChess was seventh with 17 points. Brunei was the only other country with a significant presence in the Merdeka event. Apart from two teams in the youth section, there were three Brunei teams in the open section.

The fourth prize went to Clofa with 18.5 points, Safe Aim Mutual was fifth with 18 points, while the Johor Black Knights took the sixth prize with 17.5 points.

The other top standings in this section were: Terengganu and Chelsea Forever 16.5 points each; Universiti Kebangsaan "A" 16 points; Universiti Teknologi Malaysia 15.5 points; Kuala Beliat, Nusa Mahkota and Bandar Seri Begawan "B" 15 points each; Kolej Za'Ba Universiti Malaya, Bandar Seri Begawan "A", Ericsson Sports and Social Club, Star, Setiausaha Kerajaan Perlis, Pasukan Bumiputra Sarawak and Tian Ha 14.5 points each.

In the youth section, almost everyone was again left breathless by the steam-rolling exploits of the Sekolah Catur Enerpac team. This group of under-12 players from Indonesia practically ran away with the title.

Except for a draw with Penang, the Enerpac team felled all other opponents, including the Johor, Perak and Selangor teams. Second-placed Penang put up a spirited challenge to the Indonesian boys but dropped a number of points unnecessarily in other matches. These two teams led all the way from the start of the tournament.

Perak, second last year, put on an encouraging show with Deon Moh and Aaron Yee, two very promising junior players in the team.

Final standings: Sekolah Catur Enerpac 22.5 points; Penang 21 points; Perak 17.5 points; Johor and Malacca 17 points each; KL Boys 16.5 points; Alam Shah 99 and SMK Kepong Baru 15.5 points each; Sarawak and Subang Jaya "A" 15 points each; Selangor, Terengganu, Sabah and San Peng Boys 14.5 points each; Perlis and SMK Sea Field 14 points each.

Quah Seng Sun's chess articles are archived at ( or ( Readers can write to him at:

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