I've talked about the climb of Chinese players up the FIDE rating list in the past. This month we get to see how they stack up against some of the best in the US during a 10 board match in Seattle starting tomorrow. The Chinese certainly made their presence felt at the National Open in Las Vegas over the weekend. Zhang Zhong tied for first with Akopian (the former FIDE finalist returning to the scene of his biggest payday) with 5.5/6. Ye, Yin, and Ni all had 5 to tie for 3rd. Jun Xu, Peng, Bu, Yuhua Xu, Qin, Lei Wang, and Yue Wang also finished in the money at 4.5. It will be very interesting to see how they stack up against the US team featuring Benjamin, Christiansen, Gulko, Alexander Ivanov, Kaidanov, Seirawan, and Shabalov. 6 players face off in each of the four rounds, plus 2 women, and 2 juniors. I like the all GM US team in the top 6 matchup since China will have a WGM and an IM playing here. I expect the Chinese to dominate the woman's event even without woman's world champion Xie Jun and runner-up Zhu Chen, who are listed as part of the overall Chinese team, not the woman's team. The junior matchup could be more balanced, the Chinese have GM Bu and two FMs vs. IM Bhat and two FMs for the US, but home turf could play a factor.
Linares is in the books for another year. Last year Kasparov and Kramnik topped the field at +2, while the other 4 participants went -1. It was pretty much the same story this year with Kasparov a dominating +5, with the other 5 participants in a 2nd-last log jam at -1. Kasparov was almost a perfect +1 =1 against all the others with the exceptions of Judit, who gained two draws, and Grischuk, who took the double bagel. It's time for my annual review of where they stand after Linares (in order of change):
1. Garry Kasparov - What can you say about another phenomenal tournament performance. In the absence of his two main rivals, Kramnik and Anand, he emphasized that they are really his ONLY rivals. This will do nothing to slow the momentum for Kramnik-Kasparov II.
2. Judit Polgar - The past couple of years it looked like Judit was slipping from the elite, but her result here shows that she can still bring it with the best. Finally getting out of the loss column, not once but twice, against Kasparov must also help her confidence.
3. Alexander Grischuk - This dude is looking like the future of chess. Only 17 and playing in the biggest event of his life he showed he was the real deal by going +1 against everyone excluding Kasparov. Wins against Shirov and Karpov in double rook endings were especially impressive. Only the two losses to Kasparov kept him from being clear 2nd in the tournament and 2nd on my list.
4. Anatoly Karpov - I thought the ex-champ might be motivated by the return to his biggest tournament triumph, but alas time is starting to catch up with Anatoly. It must be difficult after being at the top for so long. Too many times in Linares we saw positions that the vintage Karpov would have ground out to victory be spoiled by the clock. While he doesn't seem to be working on his game, I'll still give him credit for fighting. Quite a contrast to ex-champion Spassky who is content to play short draws in his golden years (when he still gets invitations).
5. Alexei Shirov - Fire on Board got burned too many times in this one. He's still one of the most interesting players around, but the disaster against Anand in Iran and now the -11 and counting score against Kasparov with no wins shows that he is back in the second echelon of the world elite.
6. Peter Leko - So much talent, so many draws. I don't know what it's going to take to turn him into a fighter. His lost against Kasparov stopped him from having a perfect (+0 -0 =10) score. The game Shirov-Leko showed why these two players are so loved and hated by the chess public. Shirov sacrificed a piece and continually spurned perpetual check. Eventually he tossed another exchange to make it a whole rook with no perpetual in sight. Leko missed a win, avoiding an obvious capture with check, choosing instead a line that forced a draw. Of course, this was most likely just a miscalculation, but commentators had a field day with this one. I especially liked the list of Peter Leko book titles including "Decelerated Dragons" and "My 60 Memorable Draws".