Chess: 21st Linares Tournament

The Observer
March 14, 2004

Escape: CHESS

By Jon Speelman

The 21st Linares tournament finished last Friday March 5th, as many
readers will undoubtedly already know, in outright victory for
Vladimir Kramnik on 7/12.

I left you last week with Kramnik half a point ahead of Gary Kasparov
and Peter Leko and just the last round remaining. Kramnik agreed a
draw quite early as Black against Veselin Topalov in an unclear
position and Leko followed soon thereafter, making no serious effort
against Alexei Shirov. This left just Kasparov in play, Black against
Francisco Vallejo Pons and uncharacteristically for the man, though
all too consonant with his bad form in Linares, Kasparov got a very
dangerous looking attacking position but failed to convert. The final
outcome was that Kasparov and Leko were second equal on 6.5/12;
Teimour Radjabov and Topalov made 6/12 and Shirov and Vallejo were
last equal on 5.

Linares is always the showcase for the top players and it was
disappointing that just 9 of the 42 games ended decisively. Indeed,
the winner himself, Kramnik was the worst ‘offender’ with his games, I
believe, averaging just over 26 moves. However, he explained later
that in Wijk aan Zee, where he had a dreadful time, he had become
tired towards the end and therefore decided to conserve energy in
Linares; and his meta-strategy undoubtedly worked, albeit mainly
because of Kasparov’s lapses.

A profusion of draws is tough on both spectators and sponsors and it
has led to a chorus of disapproval and even calls for modifications in
the rules: I’ve seen respected sources suggesting either 3 points for
a win and 1 for a draw; or that draws by agreement be banned till move
50. But however high its profile Linares was a single tournament and I
feel that there has been something of an overreaction. Either
modification would lead to a seismic change in tournament practice
and, as in ‘real life’, panic legislation should be avoided at all

Four of the eight decisive games involved Radjabov and although he
made just 50 per cent he was to my mind the star of the
tournament. Seventeen just two days ago, he is young and strong. But
youth certainly doesn’t inoculate you against the potentially damaging
psychological effects of playing day in day out against the world’s
elite; and he showed terrific inner strength, not to mention chess
ability, to recover from a lousy start.

The only loser in the first six rounds (!), Radjabov reached the half
way mark on ‘minus two’ having been defeated by Leko and Shirov. In
the second half he rode his luck a little notably against Kasparov
(see below). But Radjabov kept going and clawed his way back to parity
with wins in his last two games against Vallejo and then Shirov.

Gary Kasparov (Black)

Teimour Radjabov (White to play

After a fairly drawish looking opening, Kasparov had outplayed
Radjabov who was now fighting a desperate rearguard action. Battle

51 b6 g3 52 b7 g2 53 b8Q If 53 Nxe2 Rxe2 Black is threatening to queen
with check which forces 54 Ra1 Rb2 55 Rg1 Rxb7 56 Rxg2 Rd7 cutting the
king off and winning

53. . .Rxb8 54 Nxe2 Rb2 55 Ng1 Rf2? Too elaborate. After the simple
55. . . Rb1 56 Nh3 g1Q+ 57 Nxg1 Rxg1 White can’t play 58 Kd4 because
of Rg4+. It’s far from obvious that, say, 58 Ra6+ doesn’t help. But
endgame databases confirm that Black wins by force; and since White
now draws rather easily it had to be tried perforce.

56 Ra6+ Kf5 57 Kd4 Rf1 58 Ke3! Clearly this is what Kasparov missed
when playing 55. . .Rf2?. Now if 58.Rxg1 Kf2 defends and Black has no
way to improve on this so the draw was agreed.

Alexei Shirov (Black)

Teimour Radjabov (White to play – diagram above right)

In a serious time scramble Shirov had jettisoned the exchange but
managed to activate his king. Luckily for Radjabov it was now move 41
and so he had time to collect his thoughts before playing

41 e5+! This is what White wants to play because if he can force the
exchange of rooks then that will hugely help his cause. However, it
required serious calculation in view of 41. . .Ke3 which loses but
only just: 42 exf6! Re2+ (if 42. . .Kxd4 43 f7 Re2+ 44 Kd1 Kd3 45 Ra1
Rd2+ 46 Ke1 Re2+ 47 Kf1 Kd4 48 Kg1!; or 42. . .Rxh2 43 Re4+ Kxf3 44
f7) 43 Kd1 Rf2 44 Re4+! (44 f7? loses for White to Be2+! 45 Kc2 Kxd4
46 f8Q Bxf3+ followed by a discovered check and . . .Rxf8) 44 Kxf3 (or
44. . .Kd3 45 Ra1) 45 Rc2! Rf1+ 46 Re1!.

42 Rd2! Rxd2 43 Kxd2 Although the passed a pawn is annoying, White now
has very good winning chances and I don’t see an obvious improvement
for Shirov in what follows:

43. . .Kf4 44 Rc3 a5 45 Ke1 a4 46 Kf2 Bd7 47 Rc4+ Kg5 48 Rd4 Be8 49
Rd5+ f5 50 Kg3 h4+ 51 Kf2 Bf7 52 Ra5 Bb3 53 Ke3 Bc2 54 h3

White would prefer not to fix a pawn on a white square but in this
case it helps to force the enemy king back.

54. . .Bb3 55 f4+ Kf6 56 Kd4 Bc2 57 Ra6+ Kg7 58 Ke5 Kf7 59 Ra7+ Kg6 60
Ke6 Bb3+ 61 Ke7 Kg7 62 Ra5 Bc2 63 Rc5 Be4 64 Rc1! Forcing the king to
the h file after which the rest is fairly straightforward.

64. . .Bd5 65 Rg1+ Kh6 66 Kf6 a3

67 Rg6+ Kh7 68 Rg7+ Kh6 69 Ra7 a2 70 Kxf5 Bc4 71 Kf6 Bb3 72 f5 Bc4 73
Ra4 Kh7 74 Kg5 Kg7 75 Ra7+ Bf7 76 f6+ Kg8 77 Kxh4 Be6 78 Kg3 and
Shirov resigned.

) 2004 Guardian Newspapers Limited