Friday, Dec 15, 2000

Fiery quest for the finals

By Quah Seng Sun

THE world chess championship in New Delhi, India, has reached a most interesting stage. The field in the men's championship has now been reduced to only four players in the semi-finals stage, thus making it easier to focus our attention on the event. As for the women's championship, the finals are now in progress.

When the event kicked off some 2 1/2 weeks ago, there were 72 players entering the first knockout stage of the championship. Even when half of this field was eliminated, they were joined by another 28 players who, by virtue of being higher seeded, had the right of entry into the second round.

But by the fifth round, the number of contenders had been whittled down to only eight. Along the way, many fancied players had seen their aspirations dashed for at least another year.

For example, in the first round, the biggest casualty was France's Joel Lautier who lost at the hands of Rafael Leitao of Brazil. But there were also a lucky few who survived this stage, like Vietnam's Dao Thien Hai who eliminated Ukrainian wonderboy Ruslan Ponomariov, and Poland's Bartlomiej Macieja who beat England's Jonathan Speelman.

Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand (right) making a move against defending champion Alexander Khalifman of Russia during the men's World Chess Championship quarter-finals in New Delhi on Dec 9.

Dao's run ended in the second round when he lost to England's Michael Adams while Macieja found the inspiration to progress further when he beat his compatriot, Mikhail Krasenkow. However, there were no bigger upsets in this round other than Jann Ehlvest beating Vassily Ivanchuk, and Nigel Short losing to the virtually unknown Igor Nataf of France.

Armenia's Vladimir Akopian, who had played so wonderfully in Las Vegas last year when he advanced until the final stage, hit a wall this time when he was beaten by Aleksei Aleksandrov of Bulgaria. In the meantime, Russia's youngster Alexander Grischuk who was a key member of the Russian team at the Istanbul Chess Olympiad, got the better of his higher rated opponent, Ilya Smirin of Israel.

The fancied names that made it through this round included top-seeded Viswanathan Anand, Alexander Morozevich, Adams, Alexei Shirov, Peter Leko, Veselin Topalov, Evgeny Bareev, Peter Svidler, Boris Gelfand and Alexander Khalifman. In addition, the dark horses who managed to sneak into the third round were Vladimir Tkachiev, Loek van Wely and Jeroen Piket.

For van Wely and Piket, however, this was as far as they could go, for they were now eliminated by Alexei Dreev and Gelfand respectively. Macieja again surprised everyone by beating Alexander Beliavsky but, apart from this rather unexpected result, the more fancied players who survived this round included Anand, Khalifman, Adams, Shirov, Svidler, Topalov and Morozevich.

Tkachiev and Grischuk also found their way through to the next round. Tkachiev beat Uzbekistan's Rustam Kasimdzhanov while Grischuk beat Grigory Serper.

By the fourth round, the world championship had become decidedly tighter and, consequently, more interesting. Basically, there weren't any more easy pushovers except for maybe three pairings. Anand, as expected, ended Macieja's fine run. Khalifman also ended Leitao's fine run, while Bareev stopped the unassuming Boris Gulko in his tracks.

Of the other line-ups, Adams beat Svidler, Topalov took care of Dreev, Grischuk eliminated Ehlvest, and Shirov disposed of Gelfand.

Meanwhile, Tkachiev continued to surprise by beating the fancied Morozevich.

The highlight of the fifth round, the quarter-finals of the world championship, was the anticipated clash between Anand and Khalifman. It was rather disappointing that the match between the aspirant and the incumbent had to occur at this stage of the championship as many would have preferred that they meet in the final.

But such was the pairing and, according to reports from Delhi, the playing hall was jam-packed with Indian spectators for this match. This year alone, Khalifman had already lost to Anand thrice with the black pieces, so the biggest question mark was how he would play against Anand in the first game.

To Khalifman's credit, he chose the aggressive Marshall Attack against Anand's Spanish Opening and he held the initiative for a long time. But although the play was exciting, the advantage never tipped significantly either way and, before long, both players had agreed to a draw.

The second game was drawn, so the match headed into the play-offs.

The first two games were drawn, then Anand struck in the third game, forcing Khalifman's resignation. In the fourth play-off game, Khalifman held a very slight edge in the position but it was not enough to win. With this game drawn, Anand thus advanced to the semi-finals. We shall see a new world champion.

In the other quarter-final matches, Adams won comfortably against Topalov while the Grischuk-Tkachiev and Bareev-Shirov games went into the play-offs. Grischuk and Shirov won their respective play-off games and are now meeting each other in the semi-finals. Adams is presently playing Anand in the other semi-finals.

The winners of the two semi-final matches will then travel to Teheran for the final match of this world championship series from Dec 20 to 26. There will not be any Christmas break for the players and they may still be playing chess as Ramadan ends and Syawal begins in Islamic Iran.

The women's world championship will be spared the potential problems of women playing chess in Iran because the cycle will end this week in Delhi itself. Because there were fewer players to begin with, the World Chess Federation could arrange for the women's cycle to be completed in six rounds instead of seven.

For the women's final, Xie Jun is defending her title against another Chinese player, Qin Kanying. For Xie, it has been a casual stroll since she entered the championship in the second round as the top seed. The only time that she had to stretch herself was in the semi-finals in which she secured her place in the finals with a win against Ekaterina Kovalevskaya during the play-off.

By comparison, Qin had to battle her way from the first round. But in beating Alisa Maric in the semi-finals, Qin is halfway to realising her ambition of winning the world championship.

It will not be an easy match for Qin. Xie, a two-time world champion, is a very experienced opponent. She would not be where she is today if she is not a formidable player. Even as you read this, the women's finals may well be over!

The official homepage for the world chess championship which is run by Fide Commerce in conjunction with the Indian and Iranian organisers is but an equally interesting coverage is offered by

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Selangor 'Fun Karnival' events

THE Chess Association of Selangor (CAS) will organise a series of tournaments from tomorrow until Dec 22 at the Mines Exhibition Hall, Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur, in conjunction with the "100 Fun Karnival 2000''.

This weekend will feature four individual events. Apart from an open tournament, there will be separate events for the under-eight, under-10 and under-12 age groups. Each event will be a six-round Swiss with a time control of 30 minutes per player.

Three rounds will be played tomorrow and another three on Sunday. Players who have already registered with the CAS must confirm their entries at the playing venue at 9.30am tomorrow.

The entry fee for the open section is RM15 while the three age-group events are free of charge for the players. Only the first 100 entries will be accepted, and participants will receive gifts from the organisers.

The total cash prize is RM2,200, of which RM500 will go to the winner of the open section. The winners of the three age-group events will receive RM150 each.

Apart from these individual events, the CAS will organise the under-15 and under-18 competition for school teams at the same venue on Dec 21 and 22. Each team shall comprise at most four players, of whom one is a reserve.

Again, these shall be six-round Swiss events with the same time control. Teams must confirm their entries at the Mines Exhibition Hall at 9.30am on Dec 21. The entry fee depends on the number of players in each team and is calculated at RM15 per player. Participants will be given a "100 Fun Karnival'' T-shirt each.

Only the first 20 teams will be accepted for each category, and there is a total cash prize of RM1,000 to be won.

Quah Seng Sun's e-mail address is His previous chess articles are archived at Logo

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