Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chess powerhouse


China makes its mark on international chess scene.

FORTY years ago, if I were to mention that chess was a popular game in China, I'm sure that you wouldn't be thinking of any other type of chess than xiangqi, better known to many of us as Chinese Chess.

And you wouldn't be wrong. Yes, down the centuries, xiangqi was the most popular board game in China and really, nothing has changed till today. It will always remain their most popular board game.

But there was a small section of people in China who decided on the big step to cross over and play what is known to you and me as international chess. It wasn't that they were abandoning the game that was their heritage but more that they were the innovators who decided to explore beyond their cultural boundaries.

In the years since then, there is no denying that China has become a very significant player on the international chess stage.

At the last Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk for example, the Chinese national chess team finished fifth among 145 countries in the open event. That was no mean feat. Ahead of China were only the Ukraine, the Russian first team, Israel and Hungary, all very high-powered teams.

Plus, breathing down the Chinese necks were the Russian second team, Armenia, Spain, the United States and France. These teams finished with the same points as China but they lost out on the tie-breaks.

And in the Women's Chess Olympiad, the Chinese women were second behind the first Russian women's team. All in all, there is no denying that as a chess-playing nation, the Chinese are very strong indeed.

But what about their individual chess players? For this, there are two reference points: one is the static World Chess Federation's rating list that is published every two months, and the other is the rarified chess live rating list that ranks the chess players in the world who have an international rating of at least 2700.

The live rating list is dynamically changing all the time and presently, there are only 39 chess players on it. If a player gets onto this list, he is among the crème de la crème. China can claim to have two players there: Wang Yue is ranked 13th in the world and Wang Hao is joint 15th.

Lately, China has also been making its mark as an international chess organiser. In July, it organised the Asian youth invitational chess championships over various age groups.

And it was only last month that China organised the elite third Nanjing Pearl Spring chess tournament.

How high calibre was this double round-robin event? Well, in the first instance, only six players were invited. In the second instance, the organisers wanted only the best players and who would be among the best players in the world if not for Magnus Carlsen, Veselin Topalov and world chess champion Viswanathan Anand? Yes, indeed.

In the third instance, it was the first time that a chess tournament anywhere would feature three players whose ratings were 2800 or higher.

For 10 days then, all eyes were on Nanjing. There were only three games played every round but they were three games of the highest profile.

Not that the games were free of errors but on the contrary, the errors contributed to the tension and made this event one of the finest ever organised.

Carlsen was in superb form and he practically ran away with the first prize of 80,000. That was equivalent to earning about RM34,400 per game. Not bad for a player who was just a month shy of his 20th birthday.

Anand also turned in a strong performance but it was not enough to challenge Carlsen for the first prize. In fact, at one stage of the tournament, Anand was in danger of finishing third after losing to Etienne Bacrot but a combination of luck and hard work landed him the second prize of 55,000 (about RM236,000).

Bacrot was delighted with his third placing and I suppose, Vugar Gashimov, too, who finished fourth. An off-form Topalov found himself in fifth place, while a most disappointed Wang Yue finished last. He had the home support but this was just not his tournament.

This game is a typical example of the high tension in this event. If Carlsen had won this game, he would have pulled far, far ahead of his rivals and if Anand had lost this game, who knows what psychological damage it would have inflicted on him. But a draw, well, it allowed him to fight on for another day.

White: Magnus Carlsen (Norway)
Black: Viswanathan Anand (India)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nf5 8.Nf3 0-0 9.d4 d5 10.c3 Bd6 11.Bd3 Nce7 12.Nbd2 c6 13.Nf1 Ng6 14.Qc2 Nfh4 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.g3 Qd8 17.Ne3 Re8 18.Bd2 Nf8 19.Nf5 Bc7 20.Rxe8 Qxe8 21.Re1 Be6 22.Qc1 f6 23.Qd1 Qd7 24.Qf3 Re8 25.h4 (Undeniably, White has the better game here.)

25...Bf7 26.Rf1 Bg6 27.h5 Bxf5 28.Bxf5 Qf7 29.Kg2 g6 30.Bd3 f5 31.Rh1 Ne6 32.hxg6 hxg6 33.g4 (The first sign of tension) 33…Bf4 34.Be3 (34.Bxf4 is answered by 34...fxg4) 34...fxg4? (The second sign of tension. 34...Bxe3 would have been correct. Now, White increases his pressure on Black.)

35.Qxg4 Kg7 36.Rh5 (The threat of 37.Rf5 would be winning.) 36...Bxe3 37.fxe3 Nf8 38.Rh3 Kg8 39.Rf3 Qe6 40.Qf4 Kg7 41.b3 Qe7 42.c4 Rd8 43.Rh3 Rd6 44.Qh6+ Kg8 45.cxd5 cxd5 46.e4 Qg7 47.Qe3 Qe7 48.e5 Rc6 49.Qh6 Qg7 50.Qh4 a6 51.Rf3 Qd7 52.b4 b5 53.a3 Qc7 54.Kg3 Kg7 55.Bb1 Nh7 56.Ba2 Qd7 57.Bb3 Rc1 58.Kh2 Rb1 59.Bc2 Rb2 60.Rc3 Qf7 61.Kg3 (The third sign of growing tension. After 61.e6, Black's overworked queen cannot defend both his second rank and the g6 pawn.) 61...Nf8 62.Rf3 Qe6 63.Qd8?? (The fourth sign of tension. White throws the win away, having missed 63.Rf6 Qe8 64.Rf2 Ra2 65.Qf6+ Kg8 66.Bb3 Rxa3 67.Rf3. The game heads to a draw.) 63...Nd7 64.Rf2 Ra2 65.Kh2 Qg4 66.Qe7+ Kh6 67.Qd8 Qh5+ 68.Kg2 Qg4+ ½-½

source: The Star

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