Friday, Jan 12, 2001

Asians gain the upper hand

By Quah Seng Sun

WHO would have thought that it would take more than 600 years before chess is championed by Asians? It has finally happened, through the efforts of India's Viswanathan Anand and China's Xie Jun at the world chess championships that were held in New Delhi and Teheran late last month.

For the first time in the long history of the ancient game, both the men's and women's chess crowns are held simultaneously by Asian chess players. And from the way that they achieved these successes, you would have believed that it had come so easy to them.

In fact, the way I see it, it was way too easy for the top seeds in their respective championships. For most of the earlier rounds, Anand and Xie had marched through their opponents like a knife cutting through butter.

Anand's first real test came in the quarter-final stage where he disposed off the defending world champion, Alexander Khalifman. This was an exciting match. The first and second games were drawn and so, the match headed into the play-offs.

The first two games of the play-offs were also drawn, then Anand struck in the third game. 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 advanced to the semi-finals where he was to play Michael Adams.

The first game between Anand and Adams was drawn, but the Indian outplayed the Englishman in the second game. Two more draws followed and suddenly, Anand found himself in the final. For the final match between Anand and Alexei Shirov, the venue shifted from New Delhi to Teheran.

The organisers had expected this match to go the full distance of six games but to everyone's surprise, all it took to decide the new men's world champion were four thrilling games! Viewers following the games through the Internet were kept enthralled throughout the short battle.

The first game was a draw but then, Shirov decided that if he wanted to win the match, he would have to take a lot of chances and risks. So, in the second game, despite playing with the black pieces, Shirov served up a most complicated game. However, Anand kept his cool and adroitly converted the endgame into a full point.

Disaster again struck for Shirov in the third game. He gave up one of his rooks to wreck the position around Anand's king, but this enterprising sacrifice was not enough to force a win. Through accurate play, Anand managed to cover his weaknesses and then, after having done so, he used his material advantage to force a resignation from Shirov.

The fourth game saw Shirov throwing caution to the wind as it would be a make-or-break game for him. With all his guns blazing, Shirov launched into a kamikaze attack.

Anand declined to castle and Shirov responded by ripping open the centre. A terrific attack followed during which Shirov's mass of centre pawns threatened to weave a mating net around Anand's king. But suddenly, the queens were off the board. Without the queens, Shirov's initiative petered out and Anand had no trouble realising his material advantage.

Xie also had no problem in winning the final match against her compatriot, Qin Kanying, but there was one difference. Xie was already the defending champion and she fully justified her top ranking by breaking through the dense rows of European players to reach the final. With Xie in such intimidating form, it would have been very naive to expect Qin to perform miracles in this match.

In the first game, Xie played an interesting novelty and won. It took only one mistake on Qin's part and her position became practically hopeless. Xie edged closer to victory by drawing the second game.

Qin managed to strike up a fight but nothing came out of it. The final position in this game was so sterile. Similarly in the third game, Qin tried her best but could only reach an equal rook endgame.

The fourth game presented Qin with the final chance to draw level in the match. However, she failed to put her plans into practice and simply flowed with the tide. Her only salvation was that Xie only needed to draw the game and once she saw a perpetual check, she was no longer interested to find a simple way to win.

So, after a gruelling month of chess in India and Iran, the 2000 edition of the world chess championship came to a close.

With the start of the new millennium, Asia suddenly finds itself with two worthy chess champions. Will this herald a new age for chess in Asia, or will we find that Anand's win is only a slight aberration in the world chess order? Only time will tell.

Perak chess calendar

The Perak International Chess Association (PICA) has released its calendar of activities for this year and between now and July, chess players in the state can expect to play in five local chess tournaments.

The most immediate activity takes place this weekend at the Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman library in Ipoh. There is a two-day Category A event starting tomorrow at 2pm for Perak players with internal ratings of at least 1,700 points. This tournament is played over six rounds with a time control of one hour on each player's clock for each game.

On Sunday, a six-round Category B tournament with a 30-minute time control will also be organised from 8.30am. To play in this tournament, players must have no internal Perak rating or have a rating of more than 1,699 points.

Three other similar events will be held on the weekends of March 10 and 11, May 12 and 13, and July 7 and 8. According to the PICA, players who perform well in the Category A tournaments will be short-listed for the Perak team which will be sent to this year's Merdeka team championship in Kuala Lumpur at the end of August.

The other main tournament that the association will be holding will be the second Kellie's Castle open tournament in Batu Gajah on April 21 and 22. The PICA is also holding its annual general meeting in Ipoh on March 11.

Readers interested in taking part in these tournaments should call W.K. Wong ( 05-366 1692).

CAS clarification

Last month, the Chess Association of Selangor (CAS) organised the Metro Hundred Chess Carnival at the Mines exhibition hall in Seri Kembangan on behalf of Metro Hundred Sdn Bhd. Apparently, the winners of the tournament have not received their prizes.

In a short statement released earlier this week, CAS said that the event was not funded by them. However, according to CAS, the prize money for the winners would be paid by Metro Hundred on Feb 15.

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

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