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Linares 14: Vallejo holds Kasparov; Kramnik clear first

3/8/2004 – Vladimir Kramnik took clear first in Linares for the first time. He got a short draw and then watched as Vallejo defended against Kasparov for over five hours in an interesting game. 79% of the games were drawn in Linares this year, many of them in under 25 moves, including seven by the tournament winner. Full report and analysis now up!
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21st International Chess Tournament
Linares Feb. 19 – March 5, 2004

Linares Round 14

Round 14 (Friday, March 5, 2004)
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Peter Leko
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik

Final Standings

Vladimir Kramnik of Russia is the winner of the 2004 Linares supertournament! Congratulations to the champion on his second title and the first he can call just his own.

Kramnik and Leko drew their round 14 games quickly, leaving it up to Paco Vallejo to hold Garry Kasparov back from tying Kramnik on points. (Kramnik had better tiebreaks than Kasparov but worse tiebreaks than Leko.) The Spaniard put up tough defense but it took Kasparov missing yet another win in Linares to make the game a draw.

The tournament winner played exceptionally conservative chess throughout the event. It was long ago that Vladimir Kramnik picked up the nickname "Mr. Plus Two," particularly in Linares. He practically never loses and picks up wins when the ideal opportunity presents. Not to say that Kramnik isn't incredibly strong, of course, it's that we only rarely get to see his talent displayed.

The 14th world champion averaged just 26 moves per game in Linares, a phenomenally low number. Seven of his games were drawn in 23 moves or fewer. (For the record, Leko averaged 31 moves per game, Kasparov 39, Shirov 44, Radjabov 45! Although for Radjabov it was often because opponents were trying harder to beat him and also his two wins were long endgames.)

"But he won!" Yes, Kramnik won Linares, his first clear first place finish in the most super of supertournaments. In 2000 he tied for first with Kasparov (with +2) and they shared the title. Last year he tied for first with Leko (+2!) but the Hungarian got the trophy on tiebreaks. So we know in advance that Kramnik will get +2, a score just about any other player would kill for. The question each year is whether or not anyone will be able to top that score and this year the answer was no. But any victory in Linares is impressive and this is the first clear first place by anyone other than Kasparov since Anand's win in 1998.

Garry Kasparov finished equal second with Peter Leko with +1. Kasparov played hard and gained many winning and superior positions but was plagued by time trouble that cost him several points. Whether it was a sign of rust, age, or nothing it all, it was a trying experience for the world number one, who expressed his frustration to us after the tournament ended. "When I had bad results here before and scored plus one in 1998 and 2003 I knew I played badly. This time I can't say that; I played some good chess in many games. To miss four clear wins is too much to take. But I don't feel bad about the chess, only the results."

These results, draws instead of wins, defined Linares 2004. Had Kasparov found three one-move wins he scores +4 for an excellent result and an easy first place victory. If this sounds like a silly game of "what if," how many other players missed a one-move win during the tournament, let alone three or four!?

Leko confirmed our predictions and turned in another solid performance to follow up his fine Corus result in January. He was on course for greater things when he stumbled against Kramnik in round 11 and turned a superior position into a loss in the span of two moves. That took the wind out of his sails completely. Before that Leko had played two very short draws, with black against Kramnik and Kasparov. After the loss he drew out with games of 21, 19, and 25 moves when a single win would have made him the winner on tiebreaks over Kramnik.

Radjabov burst out of the cellar by winning his final two games to reach an even score. Not an unmitigated success of a tournament for the teen, but drawing four games against Kramnik and Kasparov is a remarkable achievement unto itself. His victory over Shirov was one of the smoothest and most attractive wins of the tournament.

Topalov appeared to tire toward the end, playing three short draws after two weeks of hard fights. In a preview we considered the chance that Shirov might "flame out" as he has done in several Linares past and unfortunately for Alexei that's pretty much what happened. He battled well and notched a spectacular, trademark win over Radjabov. It was all downhill after that and he lost three of his final four blacks.

Vallejo kept his head at the water level again in Linares, despite sharpening his repertoire compared to last year. This experience will doubtless help him in the future and his last place finish was still enough to garner him a few more rating points. The clock is ticking for the Spanish hope, however. If he doesn't make a move to reach the top 10 or 20 in the next year or two statistics say it's very unlikely to ever happen. That's the cruel reality of today's chess. Of the current top 10 perhaps only Judit Polgar, a true wunderkind regardless, didn't arrive there before turning 21.

Kasparov came very close to tying Kramnik on points, although even had he beaten Vallejo in the final round Kramnik would have won the title on some tiebreak possibly involving most wins under a full moon.

This was one missed opportunity that Kasparov couldn't blame on time trouble. Black is closing in on the exposed white king and Kasparov inexplicably rushed his next move although it was the first of the second time control. 41...Qa4? allowed a miracle save by giving up the pawn and bunkering down for the endgame. 42.Rg2 (or Kf1 transposing) 42...Rxc2+ 43.Kf1 Rc3 44.Rd2 and White held on.

Things are critically different if Black plays 41...Qc7 instead, as Kasparov pointed out to us on the phone. Now after 42.Rg2 Rxc2+ 43.Kf1 Rc3 44.Rd2 Black has 44...Bf4! because the knight can't give up control of c1 without losing the queen after 45.Nxf4 Rc1+. And 45.Rd1 loses to a vicious attack starting with 45...Qc8! and the white king is toast.

Pictures from round fourteen


Kasparov at the start of a frustrating last-round game


Vladimir Kramnik starts his 20-mover against Topalov


In the press conference after the end of the tournament

Pictures by Jesús J. Boyero Gabarre

All results

Round 1 (Thursday, February 19, 2004)
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Teimour Radjabov
0-1
Peter Leko
Round 2 (Friday, February 20, 2004)
Kasparov, Garry
½-½
Teimour Radjabov
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Alexei Shirov
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Round 3 (Saturday, February 21, 2004)
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Teimour Radjabov
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik
Peter Leko
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Round 4 (Sunday, February 22, 2004)
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Peter Leko
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Teimour Radjabov
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Alexei Shirov
Round 5 (Monday, February 23, 2004)
Teimour Radjabov
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Peter Leko
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Garry Kasparov
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik
Round 6 (Wednesday, February 25, 2004)
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Peter Leko
Alexei Shirov
1-0
Teimour Radjabov
Round 7 (Thursday, February 26, 2004)
Peter Leko
1-0
Alexei Shirov
Garry Kasparov
1-0
Francisco Vallejo
Vladimir Kramnik
1-0
Veselin Topalov
Round 8 (Friday, February 27, 2004)
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Garry Kasparov
½-½
Alexei Shirov
Peter Leko
½-½
Teimour Radjabov
Round 9 (Saturday, February 28, 2004)
Teimour Radjabov
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Round 10 (Sunday, February 29, 2004)
Veselin Topalov
1-0
Alexei Shirov
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Teimour Radjabov
Garry Kasparov
½-½
Peter Leko
Round 11 (Tuesday, March 2, 2004)
Peter Leko
0-1
Vladimir Kramnik
Teimour Radjabov
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Round 12 (Wednesday, March 3, 2004)
Francisco Vallejo
0-1
Teimour Radjabov
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Peter Leko
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Round 13 (Thursday, March 4, 2004)
Garry Kasparov
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Peter Leko
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Teimour Radjabov
1-0
Alexei Shirov
Round 14 (Friday, March 5, 2004)
Alexei Shirov
½-½
Peter Leko
Francisco Vallejo
½-½
Garry Kasparov
Veselin Topalov
½-½
Vladimir Kramnik
Games – Report
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