Armenia triumphs in chess world

Crowded calendar keeps enthusiasts on their toes.

THERE are just too many world-class chess events which have taken place or are taking place all over the world at the same time. From Ningbo in China to Dortmund in Germany and Biel in Switzerland, my attention is being divided by this surfeit of chess activities.

Would I consider this a problem? Yes, but this is a happy problem. I don’t mind the distraction. It only proves that chess can have a crowded calendar.

So where shall I start? Perhaps, from where I left off last week, with the world team chess championship that ended in Ningbo on Tuesday with Armenia deposing Russia to become the new champion.

Poised to win: Vladimir Kramnik is creating waves at the Dortmund Sparkassen invitational chess tournament.

I thought at first that Russia was going to win this event but the Russians stumbled badly and lost to China and Azerbaijan, and in the final round, suffered the ignominy of losing to India.

Russia’s setback was the opportunity for Armenia to spring into the lead. The Armenian team had played so steadily that they hadn’t lost to any other team yet. At their worst, they drew with Russia, the United States and Azerbaijan.

On Tuesday, Armenia was due to play Ukraine in the final round. A drawn match was all that they needed to clinch the title but the Ukrainians themselves were in the chase. If they could score a crushing result like a 3½-½ win against Armenia, they may even come out tops. Maybe the Ukrainians saw the unlikelihood of this ever happening because soon after the start of the round, their match was quickly drawn.

I believe China was disappointed with this outcome because they were mathematically in contention for the title and they would only need to win by 2½-1½ against Hungary, which they did, to be the champion if Ukraine had won by any score line. The only consolation for the Chinese team was that they actually finished with the same game points as the Armenians, except that on the more important match points, they trailed the new champion.

India, Israel and Egypt found themselves out of their depth. Israel was possibly the biggest disappointment seeing how just a year ago, they had finished third in the Chess Olympiad.

India came into this event as the Asian champion but they soon realized that even finishing in the middle of the table would be a tall order. I thought they could play the role of a spoiler and take surprising points off the main title contenders but the only problem was, they could not until the very last round against Russia when the results did not count any more.

As for Egypt, there is little to be said about this African representative except that they failed totally.

And so we move on to Germany where the former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik, is creating waves at the Dortmund Sparkassen invitational chess tournament. Well, at least he has been in impressive form right until the mid-way point of this event last Monday. By the way, the tournament ends on Sunday so there is still time to see whether Kramnik will carry his advantage right through till the end.

The Dortmund Sparkassen is an elite chess tournament that goes a long way back. However, it was not until 1973 that it was converted into a regular annual event. This year’s edition is a six-player, double round-robin tournament that features Vladimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura, Ruslan Ponomariov, Le Quang Liem, Anish Giri and local German player Georg Meier.

As mentioned, Kramnik has been showing great form. He couldn’t have been happier. In the first half of the tournament, his victims included Ponomariov, Giri, Meier and Nakamura, and he has dropped only a draw to Le. Even if he eases up on the pedal and draws the rest of his games in the second half, I believe he should coast through easily to win the top prize.

The last tournament on my list today is the annual Biel Chess Festival.

This chess festival has been around for decades. It started as a masters open tournament in 1968; the grandmaster tournament was introduced in 1976, and evolved into one of Europe’s showcase events. Like in Dortmund, this is a double round-robin tournament featuring six very strong players. Their names speak for themselves: Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexei Shirov, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Morozevich and Yannick Pelletier.

I would be very surprised if Carlsen does not win the event which will end today. On Tuesday as I was writing this story, Carlsen was leading the field with only Morozevich following hard on his tail. The rest had been left behind.

Caruana, who had won last year’s Biel grandmaster tournament, found himself trailing everyone this time around. A complete reversal of form.

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