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Review of the Chess Year 2005

Last Edited: Friday September 1, 2006 2:22 PM
by John Saunders

Here is my personal A-Z of chess in 2005 in which I attempt to encapsulate the main chess events of the year (not always seriously).

Levon AronianA is for Aronian. The 23-year-old Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian (pictured left) cemented his place in the world top ten by winning the FIDE World Cup in Siberia. He probably ranks as the world's most improved player of 2005.

B is for Bulgaria. They currently boast three major world champions (Veselin Topalov - FIDE world champion; Antoaneta Stefanova - women's world champion; Liuben Spassov - world senior champion). B is also for Baseball. Garry Kasparov was subjected to a bizarre physical assault by a political opponent during one of his first press conferences after his retirement. His assailant's chosen weapon was one of the tools of Kasparov's former trade - a chessboard. Kasparov later expressed relief that he had not been a baseball world champion.

C is for Carlsen. The 15-year-old became the youngest player ever to qualify for the candidates' stage of the world championship with a great performance at the FIDE World Cup in Siberia in December. Next year it could be 'K for Karlsen' if the young Norwegian is wise enough to adjust the spelling of his name to something that looks a bit more world champion-like.

D is for Dreadful - the best adjective to describe the Russian team's performance at the European Team Championship in Gothenburg in August. Despite being top seeds and a superb effort from top board Peter Svidler, they finished a dismal 14th (yes, 'dismal' is another apt adjective). Had this occurred before the 1990s, I feel sure I would have been filing them under 'G for Gulag'. See under 'O' for the remarkable Russian renaissance a few months later.

E is for English Chess Federation, otherwise 'the chess federation formerly known as British'. It now has a name which reflects its true territorial range. Well, more or less. Rumours that it is planning to change its name again to reflect where most British professional chess gets played (i.e. the Isle of Man and Gibraltar) have been denied, as has the existence of a secret committee charged with investigating why no English-born, English-registered player has managed to win the British Championship since 1998.

Freddie Flintoff, chess playerF is for Flintoff. A chess-playing Lancastrian, Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff, was voted the BBC's sports personality of the year. But I feel obliged to point out, for the benefit of readers other than Commonwealth citizens and Peter Svidler, that it was for his cricketing heroics against Australia rather than his schoolboy chess exploits of many years before. Another chess/cricket-loving Lancastrian (Nigel Short) was unplaced. Incidentally, F is also for Feeble Fake Foto. My thanks to Alex Baburin for acting as Freddie Flintoff's body double.

G is for Guardian. At a time when newspaper chess coverage in the UK is dwindling, the left of centre UK newspaper The Guardian bucked the trend and now employs three weekly chess columnists - grandmaster Nigel Short, grand old man Leonard Barden and Stephen "Rookie" Moss.

H is for Hydra (and hammering): England no.1 Mickey Adams was on the receiving of the latter (by 5½-½) from the former, in London in June, thus emphatically ensuring that 'A' would not be for 'Adams' in 2005.

I is for Iceland. The Atlantic island now claims the world's most talented chess player ever as its citizen. Sadly for them, Bobby Fischer is now well past his 'play by' date.

J is for Jail. Grandmasters Bobby Fischer, Zurab Azmaiparashvili and Maxim Dlugy have all been on the wrong side of a cell door (or facing charges) at times during 2005 but all of them enter 2006 as free men. Just goes to show that jail is for Monopoly players.

K is for Kamsky, the 'Kome-Back Kid'. The former world championship challenger quit the game some years ago but returned to the international fray and recently won a place in the next world championship candidates' series. If you were expecting K to be for Kasparov, see R for Retirement. If you expected K to be for Kramnik, you simply haven't been paying attention in 2005. I recommend buying the bound volume of British Chess Magazine when it comes out.

L is for Leko. It seems a long time ago now, but Peter Leko placed first at the Corus Wijk aan Zee tournament last January ahead of Anand, Topalov, Kramnik, etc. Since that bright start, the Hungarian has had a disappointing year.

Alexander Shabalov, Manx MonarchM is for Man (as in 'Isle of'). The jewel in the Irish Sea hosted not one but two major congresses during 2005. Scottish no.1 Jonathan Rowson retained his British championship title at the Smith & Williamson British Championships in Douglas, while former US champion Alexander Shabalov (pictured left) became 'Manx Monarch' at the Monarch Assurance tournament in Port Erin. M is certainly not for 'Mainland', as mainland Britain held no comparable congresses during the year. M is also for 'masterpiece': John Nunn's Grandmaster Chess Move By Move, my tip for book of the year.

N is for Naiditsch. In July, 20-year-old Arkady Naiditsch of Germany won the Dortmund tournament ahead of Topalov, Leko, Kramnik, etc, despite being the lowest rated player. N is also for Netherlands, who won the European Team Championships in Gothenburg in August, and for Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, who won the individual European Championship. All this is making me wonder - is the initial 'N' the new 'K'?

O is for 'oh so close'. Complete outsiders China had a fantastic World Team Championship in Beer Sheva in November and seemed certain to win going into the last round. They needed only two draws from four games to win the title. But they were playing the mighty Russians and only managed one draw. Anyone know the Chinese for 'what a choker'?

P is for Polgar. Susan took over temporarily from her sister at the top of the women's rating list in January while Judit took maternity leave. Judit finished last at the eight-player world championship final but scored a brilliant victory over 2004 champion Kasimdzhanov. Susan created a world record for simultaneous play in August. P is also for Ponomariov: after a period of inactivity, the former FIDE title-holder came close to winning the FIDE World Cup and finished the year with a tournament success in Pamplona. Another significant 'P' is 'Poker': as chess tournament opportunities dwindle, many of the UK's professional chessplayers have turned to online poker to supplement their incomes.

1 e4 e5 2 Qh5Q is for Qh5. US champion Hikaru Nakamura decided that it was OK to start a tournament (as opposed to a one-minute bullet) game with 1 e4 e5 2 Qh5. See also under Y (for 'You're 'avin' a laugh"). Q is also for 'Quote of the Year', with first prize going to Vishy Anand. Recalling Anatoly Karpov's incautious pre-world championship tournament prediction that 'Topalov could not win the tournament because he did not understand chess', Anand ruefully observed "I wish I didn't understand chess the way Topalov doesn't understand chess."

R for Retirement. Garry Kasparov quit chess after winning Linares for the umpteenth time. Unlike most British sportsmen when they retire, he has decided not to become a pub landlord but is seeking to oust the world's second most powerful politician - President Putin of Russia. Presumably he set himself this relatively modest goal because you have to be born in the USA to be eligible to become US president.

S is for Silence. Players at the Mtel Masters at Sofia in May weren't allowed to talk to each other - hence it was not permitted to offer a draw. The experiment seemed to work pretty well, and all the games were played out to a logical finish, though 19 of the 30 games still ended in draws. We will never know how Garry Kasparov would have coped with this gagging rule as it was only brought in after his retirement. For next year's tournament the organizers are believed to be considering a 'no grimacing' rule, and if that works they may experiment further with a 'no leg shaking' rule.

T is for Topalov, now 'Topa the world'. The 30-year-old shared first in Linares, beating Kasparov in the former champion's last professional game, won first place in Sofia to go level with Anand at the top of the FIDE rating list, and then crowned a tremendous year by running away with the FIDE world championship in Argentina. Is nothing beyond this multi-talented Bulgarian? His 2006 plans are not yet known but could include a challenge to become the first Bulgarian to win the Eurovision Song Contest.

U is for the unified world championship. Only kidding - maybe next year. U is also for Ukraine, where the 'Heroes of Chernobyl' GM tournament, supposedly played in April, proved to be a figment of the organisers' imagination (along with a complete set of results and game scores). By a weird coincidence, the player who was reported as winning this fake tournament, Alexander Nosenko, was the same player who didn't turn up to play Nigel Short in round one of the 2003 Monarch Assurance tournament, thereby triggering one whole heap of trouble. Hey, wait a minute... does this Nosenko guy really exist? I think we should be told.

Vlad KramnikV is for Vlad the Impostor. Surely the below-par Vladimir Kramnik (pictured left) we have seen playing in 2005 cannot be the same person as the young firebrand who stormed to the top of the chess Olympus in the late 1990s? Instead of drug testing, perhaps FIDE should consider DNA testing to check that tournament competitors are the 'real deal' and not some low-grade imitation.

W is for Wood Green, who won the 2005 4NCL (British Team Championship) for the second time after a nail-biting final match against Guildford-ADC. Emil 'Knee-Trembler' Sutovsky scored a point for Guildford and nearly shook the adjacent board clean out of the room during a tense finish. But Viorel Bologan held his ground (literally) to win his game and the title for Wood Green.

X is for 'X-tra' time. At the 2004/5 Hastings knock-out tournament, Black received 20 minutes' more thinking time than White to compensate for the disadvantage of moving second. In practice most Black players found that they frittered away their extra time allocation in wondering how on earth FIDE could justify rating a game where the time was divided unequally. Though the operation was deemed successful, and the games duly rated, the experiment was not repeated at the 2005/6 tournament.

Y is for Youth. I've already mentioned 15-year-old Magnus Carlsen who seems to be one of the leading hopes for the future of professional chess. Another is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who won his second World Junior Championship title in November after a storming 8½/9 start, as well as another Azeri, Teimour Radjabov. Britain's best young player is 15-year-old David Howell, already 22nd on the English list and close to GM strength.

Z is for Zebra. British champion Jonathan Rowson's Chess for Zebras proved to be a popular new title. Z is also for zzz - Alexander Morozevich overslept before one of his games in the Russian championship in December and was defaulted (the 3pm start was apparently too much for him).

© 2005 John Saunders. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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