Friday, March 3, 2006

The unofficial chess world championship

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

The Ciudad de Linares tournament is known as the Wimbledon of chess and is sometimes hailed as the unofficial championship of the year. After the Wijk aan Zee, which was won by both Vishy Anand and world champion Veselin Topalov in a tie, it is the second mega-tournament of the year.

For the first time, this year’s tournament has been divided into two, with the first half being played in Morelia, the capital of the of the state of Michoacan in Mexico from Feb. 18-26. The players will then proceed to Linares, Spain for the second half, which will be played from March 3-11.

SUPRISE. The first half has just been completed and the unlikely leader, though not unexpected, is Peter Leko of Hungary.

He has three wins and four draws after seven rounds — the only player not to lose a game. The surprise of the tournament so far has been the so-so performance of Topalov, who could only tally 2.5 points after only one win, three draws and three losses. This just confirms my observation that among the top 20 players in the World, anything can happen. If Topalov continues with this lackluster performance in the second half, he will go below the 2800 Elo level in the next Fide ratings and Anand, the surprise non-participant in this year’s edition, will be the No.1.

Round 1 — The tournament began in a dramatic fashion with a win by Peter Svidler over Topalov in a Berlin defense. Peter Leko won over Vallejo with black and Aronian won over Teimour Radjabov with white.

Round 2— Both Peters, Svidler and Leko, won again and Ivanchuk defeated Aronian after missing what looked like a winning position in the first round. Topalov’s game against Bacrot was drawn.

Round 3— Topalov, with the black pieces, played a nice game against Aronian and was winning but the tables turned and the game ended in a draw after a marathon 123 moves. The Svidler-Leko and Radjabov-Ivanchuk games were intense fights with sharp, unbalanced openings. Both games were drawn. The Bacrot-Vallejo game was also drawn after an irrational position.

Round 4— Topalov is now at the cellar after losing to previous tail-ender, Radjabov with white, while the two Peters won again with Leko prevailing over Ivanchuk and Svidler over Bacrot. The Vallejo-Aronian game was a draw.

Round 5 — At last Topalov wins with the black pieces against Ivanchuk. Leko is now in solo first place with 4.5 points, after drawing his game against Bacrot, while Svidler, lost to Aronian. The Vallejo-Radjabov game was a fighting draw.

Round 6 — Another unexpected turn of events in this round as Topalov lost to tail-ender Vallejo with the white pieces! Svidler continued his losing streak, this time to Ivanchuk, while Leko drew with Aronian to lead the field by a full point. The young Radjabov got his second win, this time over Bacrot.

Round 7— This final round of the first half of the tournament saw three interesting games reach first time control, but all were drawn — Leko versus Topalov in a Sicilian Najdorf, Svidler versus Radjabov in a Sicilian Rossolimo and Vallejo versus Ivanchuk in a Petroff defense. Aronian beat Bacrot to move to second place behind Leko, the solo leader

The second half continues today in Linares, Spain.

The final standings after the first half of the Ciudad de Linares tournament: 1.) Peter Leko, Hungary (2740) 5.0 2.) Levon Aronian, Armenia (2752) 4.5 3.) Peter Svidler Russia (2765) 4.0 4.) Vassily Ivanchuk, Ukraine (2729) 3.5 5.)Teimour Radjabov, Azerbaijan 3.5 6.) Francisco Pons, Spain (2650) 3.0 7.) Veselin Topalov Bulgaria (2801) 2.5 8.) Etienne Bacrot, France (2717) 2.

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