I've been meaning to write about the Candidates Tournament that took place in Dortmund a couple of months ago. This was the first step towards unification of the world chess title. Eight grandmasters were brought together to determine a challenger for Vladimir Kramnik, who these days is being called "the world champion of classical chess". I didn't think the format was especially great. The 8 players were divided into two groups. The top two in each group were then paired off for knockout matches to determine the challenger. I thought that a short tournament to determine multiple positions and short KO matches brought together everything that seemed to be criticized about other systems. At least one of the invitees seemed to agree with me. Former world champion Garry Kasparov declined his invitation. Nevertheless, the tournament turned out to be one of the most exciting in recent years with a lot of fighting chess.
Unfortunately, instead of replacing Kasparov with an elite player, the organizers decided to invite the local grandmaster Christopher Lutz. While Lutz is very strong player (#41 in the world), in the classification of top players into "the elite" and "tourists" he would fall into the latter group. There was little mercy as the other three players (Veselin Topalov, Alexei Shirov, and Boris Gelfand) all beat him with White. Essentially, this groups result was decided in Round 2, when Gelfand had Black against Topalov in the following position
Here, Black snatched the poisoned pawn with 31...Rxg4? but after 32 Rd8+ Kc7 33 Rd7+ Kb6 34 Be7 he found himself in a mating net. The game concluded 34...Nd5 35 Rb7+ Ka5 36 Rxa7+ Kb5 37 Rb7+ Nb6 38 a4+ Ka5 39 Kc2 1-0 Black is helpless against the threat of Ra7+ followed by Nd3# since 39...Nd5 is hit by 40. Bd8+.
Entering the final round, that was the only decisive game not involving Lutz with the Black pieces. That left Gelfand in the unenviable position of having to beat Shirov with the Black pieces. He tried bravely, even declining repetitions in a worse position, and eventually went down. This left Shirov and Topalov tied on top of the group and a quick chess playoff on the rest day gave Shirov the top seed.
Group 2 featured 3 solid players, Mikey Adams, Peter Leko, and Evgeny Bareev, paired with the wild man, Alexander Morozevich. Bareev jumped out to the early lead here, winning the first two rounds against Moro and Leko. Rounds 3 and 4 saw 4 draws, but in Round 5, Leko threw a monkey wrench into things by topping Bareev. Moro had a chance to catch up as well, but in what was perhaps a sign of things to come
In this great position for black, Morozevich played 43...Re4 44. Rb7 Re8 45. Ra7 Bf6 46. Ra5 Bd4? and Adams claimed a draw 1/2:1/2 since 47. Ra7 will reach the diagramed position for the third time.
The final round was a crazy affair with all 4 players still having a chance to advance at least to a tiebreaker. The first to get through was Bareev who somehow managed to survive 3 pawns down against the star-crossed Morozevich.
33...Ne1 34. Rf6 Now, 34...Nxg2 should be a technical win, but in time pressure Moro went for it all 34... Qd1 35. Bxb7 d5 36 Kh2 Kg7? A horrible move stepping right into 37 Qe5! Kg8 38. Bxd5 Nd3 39 Qe7 Qe1 40 Bxf7+ and Black was put out of his misery by his flag falling
In the other game, Adams elected to defend a passive endgame out of the opening. Instead of his normal tough resistance, he went down almost without a struggle. Thus, Leko gained the final position in the semis. I've bashed Leko plenty on these pages for his high drawing percentage, but I'll have to give him his props here. With his back against the wall he won back to back games against two of the top 10 players in the world.
The semifinal matches (Shirov-Leko and Bareev-Topalov) were a mere 4 games. Both Shirov and Bareev got off on the wrong foot by losing the opening game with the White. Shirov never recovered. After a fairly quite draw in the second game, he went all out in game 3, but Leko easily refuted Shirov's overly optimistic play to send him packing.
One might have expected the other match to follow a similar course, but this was not the case. I'm amazed by Bareev's ability to shut out bad results. Early this year, at Wijk aan Zee, he was destroyed by Khalifman in 20 moves, two rounds from the finish. He shrugged this off and won his last two games to win the tournament. Here, after a loss to Leko, a near miss against Moro, and a loss with White to open the match against Topalov, he turned around and beat Topalov from the Black side in game 2 and again with the White pieces in game 3. However, Topalov is also a player who can shrug off adversity, and he forced a playoff by winning game 4. Out of 7 games in the semifinals, 6 were decisive!
The playoff was also exciting. Topalov sacrificed a piece for an attack in the first game, but it eventually turned into a drawn ending. In game 2, Topalov advanced to the finals with a crushing attack against the Rubenstein variation of the French 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 . I'm not quite sure why this variation sees so much action by top players. Black's position is very solid, but it seems to lack the dynamic play that is the hallmark of modern chess. There seems to be a long list of brutal losses by Black including the above-mentioned Khalifman-Bareev miniature. Perhaps, Bareev should have heeded his own words concerning that game, "Maybe this opening is too difficult for me. Too many open lines." He only lasted until move 27 before resigning.
That set up Topalov and Leko in the final. Leko again got the jump by winning game 1 with White. In game 2, Leko again got the upper hand and his passed d-pawn cost Topalov a piece. Topalov played on since the Black king was a little loose (not to mention the match situation). It looked like he was going to be rewarded with a half point after Leko played some inaccurate moves. However, after 55...Kf8
instead of grabbing perpetual check with 56. Qh8+, Topalov had a big hallucination that he was winning and played 56. Qf5?? and after 56... Nc4 everything was back in order for Leko to take an almost unsurmountable two point lead. If you've been keeping track, that made it 7 wins in 8 games for the former drawing machine.
There was still some excitement left in the match, however. In game three, things finally took a turn for the worse for Leko. There was a very odd sequence after 48. Rc5
The game continued 48...Nf3+ 49. Kf1 Nxh2+ 50. Ke1 Nf3+ 51. Bxf3 Obviously, Leko had miscalculated something since he could have taken the knight on move 49 without losing his h-pawn. Indeed, in Chess Today GM Baburin gave the line 49. Bxf3 gxf3 50. Rxd5 exd5 51. b5 Ka7 52. Kf1 d4 53. Ke1 e3 54. fxe3 dxe3 55. Kf1 with equality. However, the pawn endgame specialist, Russell Linnemann pointed out to me the move 54...d3 for Black which is much stronger. The White King is now paralyzed by the Black pawns and Black has unlimited tempi with Ka7-b6-a7. Since White may be able to complicate matters with 55. g4, it is more accurate to play 53...h5 eliminating that resource and leaving White helpless against the maneuver e3 fxe3 d3. Russell and I gained some fame when I emailed the above analysis to GM Baburin and he published it in the next issue. In the game Topalov went on to win, giving himself a ray of hope. In the final game, Leko was able to rebuff Topalov's winning attempts to become Kramnik's challenger.
So now there are four. The matches Kramnik-Leko and Kasparov-Ponomariov are supposed to happen sometime in the spring with the winners meeting later in the year to reunify the title. For opinions on how these matches will come out, check out the poll at the top of the page where it is being broken down to levels beyond scientific. The early opinion seems to be that it will be Leko vs. Kasparov in the finals. Leko certainly seems to finally be reaching his potential. After a very lethargic year in 2001, where he only won 4 games at normal time controls, he seemed to finally be reaching his potential this year. He only scored +1 in Wijk aan Zee, but his play showed signs of becoming much sharper. See, for example, his win over Grischuk in that event. He seems to have become energized after winning the rapid Grand Prix in Dubai in April. He followed that up with a strong +5 score at Essen in May and now a bunch of wins in this event. Leko has proved to be a difficult opponent for Kramnik. Vlad has never beaten him in a game at regular time controls, not a feat many GMs can claim.
The rapid match Russia vs. the Rest of the World this month in Moscow gave us perhaps the final preview of the semi-finals. Both games, Leko-Kramnik and Kasparov-Ponomariov ended in draws as did the swapped pairings of Kasparov-Leko and Ponomariov-Kramnik. I think all these results show is how off form Kasparov was in that tournament. Normally, even in a rapid event, The Boss would look to send a message to his future match opponents, especially with the White pieces. However, he not only drew those two games, but also lost 3 times during the event (to Ivanchuk, Polgar, and Akopian)! The only thing normal about Kasparov's play was that he beat Shirov even though Alexei had the best score among all participants.
In round 1, I got off to a good start with the Black pieces against Brad Watson after 11... Qd7
My database found 5 games that had reached this position. White played a variety of moves, scoring +3 -1 =1 with 12. Qd2, 12. h3, 12. Re1, and 12. b3. The latter move was Lautier's choice in a win against Ponomariov in France in 1999. Brad's move strives for the e5 break, but is a little mistimed since he now has some loose squares in his position. 12. f4 Bxc4 13. Bxc4 Ng4 14. Qf3? This covers f2 enough times, but Black had another threat. Better was 14. Qe2 but Black still has a very comfortable position after 14... Ne3 15. Rf3 Nxc4 16. Qxc4 a6 17. Raf1 b5 18. axb5 axb5 19. Qe2 b4 20. Nd1 Ra2 21. b3 Nb5 14... Ne3 and he decided to resign rather than play on the exchange down with no compensation. [0:1]
In round 2, I had White against Leonard Dickerson. I had a slight advantage because of more space and a couple of his pieces were a little awkwardly placed after 21. Red1
21...d5 22. e5 Not 22. exd5? Rxe3 23. dxc6 (23. Qxe3 Bc5 24. Rd4 Nxc2) 23...Rxc3 24. bxc3 Nxc6 with clear advantage to Black. Now, he went for complicated play with 22... Na6? 23. b3 Bb4 24. Nb1 better was 24. Bd4 c5 25. bxc4 cxd4 26. Nxd5 Qxc4 27. Rxd4 Qc8 28. Nxb4 Nxb4 29. Ne4 with a big plus to White 24... Bxd2 25. Bxd2 25. Nxd2? d4 and the Black bishop gets away 25... b5!? I didn't really expect this move I thought he would go 25... Bxb3 26. cxb3 Nac5 27. Be3 Nxb3 28. Qc2 d4 29. Qxb3 dxe3 30. Qxe3 when Black has compensation 26. bxc4 bxc4 27. Bc3 I was eager to place my bishop on the long diagonal, but it may have been better to first activate the knight with 27. Nc3 27... Nf8 28. h4 Rb8 29. Bh3 Red8 30. e6 d4 This weakens the e4 square, but Black had to deal with the threat of Be5. I had a long post-time control think here as White has many options. 31. e7 Black seems to keep the advantage after 31. Bxd4? c5 32. Re1 Rxd4 33. e7 Rxf4 34. Qe3 Nb4 but 31. exf7+ Kxf7 32. Ba1 c3 33. f5 and 31. Bxa5!? Qxa5 32. e7 Re8 33. exf8=Q+ Kxf8 34. Bd7 also deserve consideration 31... Qxe7 32. Bxa5 Rd5 33. Be1 c3?! It seems logical to try and restrain the knight on b1, but Black doesn't really have time for such prophylactic measures, especially since this severely limits the mobility of his central pawn mass. Instead, he should try to play actively with 33... Rb2 threatening d3. The position is very complicated after 34. Bf1 d3 35. Nc3 Rd8 36. Nce4 Rxc2 37. Qb6 34. Bg2 Rd6 35. Ne4 Re6 36. Qxd4 f5 36... Rb4 37. Nf6+ Rxf6 (37... Kg7 38. Ne8+ Kg8 39. Qg7#) 38. Qxf6 +- 37. gxf6 Qb4 38. f7+ Kxf7 39. Ng5+ Ke8 40. Nxe6 Nxe6 41. Qd7+ Kf8 42. Qxe6 [1:0]
In round 3, Klaus Pohl gained an advantage in a queenless middlegame with more space and the bishop pair. He perhaps pushed his queenside pawns a bit too quickly. After 23...Na6-c7
He elected to stop ...Nd5 by 24. Nc3 24. a5 stopping Black's reply also deserves attention, for example 24... Ncd5 (24...Nfd5 25. e4 Nf6 transposes) 25. e4 Nc7 26. f4 Ng4 27. Bh3 Ne3 28. Bxe5 Rxe5 29. fxe5 Nxd1 30. Rxd1 Bg7 31. Rd7 Bxe5 and White retains some advantage 24... a5 25. b5 cxb5 26. c6 bxc6 27. Bxc6 Rec8 28. Rc2 bxa4 28... b4 also deserves attention, but I wanted to open lines around his king. 29. Nxa4 Nce8 30. Bxe5 Rb4 31. Rd4 Ng4 32. Bf4 Bg7 It looks like Black's knight might be getting in some trouble after 32... Nxh2!? 33. Rxb4 Bxb4 34. f3 but the exchange sacrifice 34... Rxc6 is then possible 33. Rxb4 axb4 34. Nb6 Rd8 35. Bd5 Ne5 36. Rd2 Rb8 37. Bxe5 37. Nc4 Rc8 37... Bxe5 38. Nd7 Rc8+ 39. Kb1 Bc3 40. Ra2 Rc7 41. Nb6 I had expected instead 41. Ra8 Rxd7 42. Rxe8+ Kg7 43. e4 when White the opposite colored bishops should give White good chances to draw. 41... Nf6 42. Bb3 Ne4 43. Nd5 Rc5 44. Ra8+ Kg7 45. Nxc3 bxc3 Probably best is 45... Rxc3 46. Bd5 Nxf2 47. Ra7 Ng4 48. Rxf7+ Kh6 also possible is 45... Nd2+ 46. Kc2 bxc3 but I thought this gives Black less options than the game 46. Ra2 Nd2+ 47. Kc2 Nf3 48. h4 better was 48. Ra1 Nxh2 49. Ra7 Rf5 50. f4 Nf1 51. e4 Rc5 although Black retains a slight edge 48... Ne1+ 49. Kd1 Nd3 50. f3 50. Ra7 Nxf2+ 51. Kc2 Rf5 52. Kxc3 Ne4+ 53. Kd4 Nxg3 with clear advantage to Black. 50... Nb4 51. Re2 Ra5 52. Ke1 Ra1+ 53. Kf2 Nd3+ 54. Kg2 Nc1 55. Rc2 Nxb3 56. Rxc3 Ra2+ 57. Kh3 Nd2 58. e4 h5 59. Rc1 Nxf3 60. Rh1 Ne5 [0:1]
Round 4 saw what looked to be the decisive encounter of the tournament when I had White against Todd Andrews. The only other player with 3 points was Eric Redheffer, who had upset Neal Harris, but had Black against Pohl this round. I've had Todd's number recently, so I was interested to see what he had planned for me. I got a surprise on move 2, when instead of steering towards the Benko Gambit as I have seen him play exclusively throughout his career he played 2...e6 and headed towards the Queen's Gambit Declined. We reached an approximately equal position after 12. Bxe7
12...Rxe7 Theory regards 12... Qxe7 as equal. White had a very small plus in 17 games I had in my database. I even found a game Kramnik lost from the White side of this position. I only found one game with Todd's move (Petrosian-Letelier Argentina 1964). The point seems to be to keep the queen from facing the White rook on the e-file, but by not preventing b4, White is allowed to switch from the central strategy back to the queenside strategy. 13. b4 b6 signaling his intention of playing with hanging pawns after 14. b5 c5 15. dxc5 bxc5, but perhaps his pieces are not in a good configuration to play this structure. 13...a6 was Letelier's choice although Petrosian did win that game. 14. Nc1 On the immediate 14. b5 c5 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. e4 White has to reckon with 16... c4 which looks about equal after 17. Nxd5 cxd3 18. Nxe7+ Qxe7 19. Qxd3 So instead, the knight frees a square for the bishop to retreat and looks to add more pressure to the c5 square from b3. 14... Qd6 15. b5 15. a3 a5 gives Black counterplay. 15... c5 16. dxc5 bxc5 17. e4 d4 18. Nd5 Re6 19. Nb3 Nd7 20. f4 I think he realized here that his position was not too rosy since he used up almost all of his remaining time (the time control was a rather brisk 30/80) trying to find a defense. 20... Rb8 20... Bb7 21. e5 Qxd5 22. Bxh7+ Kf8 (22... Kh8 23. Be4 d3 24. Qd1) 23. Be4 d3 24. Bxd5 dxc2 25. Bxb7 is good for White 21. Bc4 Bb7 22. e5 Nxe5 desperation, but 22... Qf8 23. Nc7 Rg6 (23... Re7 24. e6 Nb6 25. exf7+ Kh8 26. Ne6 Qxf7 27. Ng5 +-) 24. e6 Rxg2+ 25. Qxg2 Bxg2 26. e7 Qc8 27. e8=Q+ Qxe8 28. Rxe8+ Rxe8 29. Kxg2 is also much better for White. Black also has to be careful in many variations that g4 doesn't just win the offside knight on h5. 23. fxe5 Rxe5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Qf5 Qxf5 26. Rxf5 g6 27. Nf6+ Kh8 28. Rf1 Ng7 29. Nd7 Rd8 30. Rxf7 Be4 31. Ndxc5 [1:0]
When my 4th round game finished, it looked like Pohl had a tremendous position against Redheffer, so I thought I might be a full point up heading into the final round. Instead, Redheffer managed to hold on and upset his second straight master to set up a final round game with me for the title. I had black and reached a very comfortable position after 20. Be3-f2
Black has a pretty sizable edge here. He has the bishop pair, White's kingside is overextended leaving a weakness on f5, Black has the only open file, and White's remaining bishop is pretty wretched. I played to emphasize this last fact with 20...d5 Much better is 20... Rae8 I got needlessly worried about my a-pawn in variations like 21. d5 c5 (21... Bxc3 is also very good) 22. Nxf5 Qxf5 23. Nb5 but then Black is just winning with 23... Qxf4 21. cxd5 cxd5 22. Nf3 Nf8 23. Ne5 Bxe5?! I don't know what I was thinking about with this move. I had intended to move my queen and then at the last second decided to just get rid of the knight on e5 24. dxe5 Be6? Now, Black gets in very serious trouble 24... Rd8 25. Bxa7 d4 26. Ne2 h4 27. Rb3 d3 gives Black counterplay 25. f5!? I expected 25. Bc5 Ree8 26. Bd6 with a big advantage for White. He can also try to immediately grab material with 25. Rd3 25... gxf5 since 25...Bxf5 26. Nxd5 is a disaster 26. Qxh5 I thought the intermediate 26. Bc5 was again stronger so I decided to prevent that move for once and for all with 26... b6 27. Qh6 Rc8 28. Rd1 f4 29. Rgd3 29. Ne4? dxe4 30. Rxd7 fxg3+ 31. Bxg3 Rxd7 -+ 29... Qc6 30. Bd4?! Instead 30. Rxd5! looks to give White a clear advantage 30... Bf5? The final move of the time control. I thought I was setting a deep trap, but there was a tactical hole. Instead 30... Ng6 31. h4 Bf5 and Black starts to take over the initiative. He had a long think here and I believe he chose the best move 31. Qxc6 31. e6 was the post-game favorite of the spectators, but Black's king escapes to safety with 31... fxe6 32. Qh8+ Kf7 Eric also said he considered 31. Qf6 but then the position still remains very unclear after 31... Bxd3 32. Qxe7 Qc4 31... Rxc6 32. Nxd5 falling into my "trap" 32... Rd7 33. Nxf4? After another long thought, he failed to find the defense. Also bad was 33. Nb4? (33. Nf6+? Rxf6 34. gxf6 Bxd3 35. Rxd3 Ne6 -+) 33... Bxd3 34. Nxc6 Be4 35. Nb4 (35. Nb8 Rd8) 35... Ne6 -+; The correct move was 33. Rc3! since after 33... Rxc3 34. Bxc3 the threat of Nf6+ doesn't give black time to pick up the pinned knight with Be6 so he has to cover f6 with 34...Nh7 with advantage to White although the opposite colored bishops and reduced material may give Black some drawing chances. 33... Bxd3 34. Rxd3 Rc4 35. Ne2? ending things quickly, but 35. Be3 Rc2+ 36. Kg3 Rxb2 is very good for Black 35... Rc2 [0:1]
For the first time since 1996, I am the sole Tennessee State Champion (I also shared the title in 1998). It was extra special because the tournament was held in my hometown of Knoxville. I was the top seed among 4 masters in the open section (Todd Andrews, Neal Harris, and Klaus Pohl were the others) but had some very difficult and exhausting games en route to a 5-0 score. I'm going to enjoy things for a couple of days before subjecting my games to the cold eye of analysis, which I am sure is going to uncover many blunders. So look for highlights later in the week.
The directing/organizing team of Harry Sabine, Jason Knight, Richard Westbrook, and Pat Knight did a great job running what turned out to be the largest Tennessee Open in history. Hopefully this sort of turnout will encourage more tournaments to be held in Knoxville.