The seven chessmen
By Quah Seng Sun
LAST year's world chess championship in Las Vegas, the United States, brought an unlikely duo to the forefront of chess: Armenia's Vladimir Akopian and Russia's Alexander Khalifman.
Unless you are very familiar with the international chess scene, you will be forgiven if you were to ask: Akopian who? Khalifman who? These two players, although they are chess grandmasters, do not feature as prominently as their higher profile contemporaries such as Vladimir Kramnik or Alexei Shirov or Michael Adams who were eliminated on their way to the finals.
But it was to Akopian's and Khalifman's credit that, against the odds, they had battled their way through almost a month of knock-out mini-matches to earn a shot at the championship title which was eventually won by the latter.
This year's World Chess Championship, now being played in New Delhi, follows the same format as last year's edition. There are the same series of short, knock-out matches to determine two players who will then contest for the title.
This type of short, knock-out matches makes it rather difficult for anyone to predict the winner accurately. Will the top contenders assert themselves this time, or will the title again go to someone relatively unknown?
If you are betting that someone relatively unknown will pull it off again, then there is no shortage of potential candidates to think about: some 90 names ranging from Indonesian grandmaster Adianto to Poland's international master Zaja.
But if you are putting your money on one of the top contenders, then there is a shorter list of candidates to consider and choose from. After all, all the top stars of the chess world are participating except for Gary Kasparov, Kramnik, Judit Polgar and Anatoly Karpov.
Kasparov's absence is predictable since he remains at odds with the World Chess Federation (Fide); Kramnik is probably still enjoying his new status as Kasparov's successor to a debatable and unrecognised world championship title; and Karpov is a fading star with his own set of Fide-related problems.
Meanwhile, Polgar was somehow not invited. She was denied a "wild card'' entry into the championship despite good results in the Istanbul Chess Olympiad last month.
In their absence, there are seven players who are most likely to make an impact in Delhi: Viswanathan Anand, Adams, Alexander Morozevich, Peter Leko, Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk and Khalifman.
The 31-year-old Anand is the firm favourite, being the top-rated participant. Besides, he is also on home turf. The World Chess Championship is not unfamiliar to him. In the 1997 series, he had advanced as far as the finals, only to meet his match in Karpov. Anand's tournament victories so far this year have included winning the World Blitz Championship and the Fide World Cup in Shenyang, China.
Adams, two years younger than Anand, is also a top contender. His successes this year have included winning the Redbus tournament and two rapid chess events in Bordeaux, France, and Frankfurt, Germany. He reached the semi-finals in last year's World Chess Championship where he was eliminated by Akopian.
Morozevich, 31, is an immensely talented player. He put in a brilliant performance on the second board for the Russian team at the Istanbul Chess Olympiad. He is hopeful that the momentum from Istanbul will carry him through in New Delhi.
Leko, 22, is among the youngest championship hopefuls. Earlier this year, he beat Khalifman in a short match and this has given him the self-confidence to do well in the World Chess Championship.
Shirov, 29, is a former world junior champion. His games are often exciting but he walks on a tightrope in his games. Everybody expected him to survive until the final in Las Vegas last year but his devil-may-care attitude in his games saw him crash out at the quarter-final stage.
Ivanchuk, 32, is often described as highly-strung, displaying mood swings in matches. He can win brilliantly but is also susceptible to spectacular losses. Yet, he remains a contender for the World Chess Championship this year. His successes this year have included the Keres Memorial tournament, the Stein Memorial tournament and the Montecatini-Terme tournament. He was a quarter-finalist in last year's world championship.
Then there is the 35-year-old Khalifman who is defending the title that he won last year. This time, he is no longer a relative unknown. His greatest triumph this year was in the Hoogeveen tournament in which he scored 5.5 points from six games against difficult opponents. Will he be able to emerge the winner again for the second year? Time will tell.
According to the tournament schedule, the second round started yesterday and the second game of the mini-match will be played today. If it is a 1-1 tie, tomorrow will be used for the play-off games.
The third round knock-out matches will be played from Dec 3 to 5, and the fourth round will be from Dec 6 to 8. The quarter-final matches are scheduled from Dec 9 to 11 and the semi-finals, from Dec 12 to 16. For the finals of this world championship, the venue will be Teheran, Iran, where the games will be contested from Dec 20 to 26.
Together with the men's championship, a women's world championship is also being held at the same time. However, unlike the men's championship, the women's championship will last until Dec 16 and all the games will be played in New Delhi. In a way, this will avert any potential problem with the Iranian authorities regarding women playing chess in public.
For the women's championship, defending champion Xie Jun, Alisa Galliamova and Maya Chiburdanidze have been seeded directly into the second round.
There is a homepage for the World Chess Championship which is run by Fide Commerce in conjunction with the Indian and Iranian organisers.
The URL for this event is http://wcc2000.fide.com/ and you can follow the games daily from 4pm (Malaysian time) onwards.
The Chess Association of Selangor will organise their fourth quarter open allegro tournament on Dec 10 at the Sunway College in Petaling Jaya. For more information, call Jackie Wong ( 03-703 8237) or Lim Tse Pin ( 012-298 4922).
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