Looking forward to Linares

2/17/2004 – In two days the “Wimbledon of chess”, begins in Linares (Spain). Starring in it are seven of the strongest GMs in the world, including Kasparov, Kramnik, Shirov, Topalov and Leko. Ram Prasad gets us in the mood by looking back at previous tournaments.

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21st International Chess Tournament
Linares Feb. 19 – March 5, 2004

Looking Forward to Linares 2004

By Ram Prasad

Starting February 19th, seven of the world’s strongest GMs will be battling in the 21st Linares super-tournament in Spain. And that makes this the perfect time to take a closer look at the format, the players, their past performances, and even some notable absences in order to get ourselves mentally prepared to enjoy this “supertorneo.”

Every major chess tournament has something unique to offer. Wijk Aan Zee never deviates from its tradition of everyone in the same playing hall and with pea soup served on the final day. Monaco Amber has its blind-and-rapid combination. And Linares with its classical double-round robin offers us fighting chess games of the highest quality, which is why it is so often dubbed the “Wimbledon of chess.”

Linares Trivia

Let’s start with a few random facts about Linares that even some chess-crazy aficionados may not be aware of.

  • The only reason that the town of Linares in Andalusia has made it on the chess map is because it is the hometown of the sponsor -- millionaire Luis Rentero.


    Luis Rentero

  • The first Linares tournament was held in 1978. It was a category 5 tournament and was won by a Swede – Jaan Eslon. Jaan has since, unfortunately, passed away in a car accident.

  • In 1987, Linares was the venue of candidates match between Karpov and Sokolov to decide the challenger to Garry Kasparov.

  • The tournament was not held in 1996, which is the only gap in its continuous yearly run since 1988.
  • In 2001, a book was written focusing exclusively on this tournament. New In Chess editor, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam authored “Linares! Linares! A journey into the heart of Chess.”
  • Every year, the Anibal hotel creates a permanent photo display with all the participants.

  • Kramnik has never won the tournament outright.

  • Kasparov has claimed that Linares is where “the who is who in chess in the coming year” gets decided. In 2000, Vladimir proved Kasparov’s statement right by sharing a joint first place in Linares with Garry, and then going on to win the Braingames title that same year.

  • Last year, local star Paco managed to draw all of his games against the top three GMs in the world – Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand!

Fighting Linares

Linares has always encouraged fighting chess and wins are what count. The number of wins is what decides the tiebreaks. In the years when Luis Rentero was running the show, he very effectively employed the carrot-and-stick approach to actively discourage “unsporting grandmaster draws.” His carrot was usually an envelope stuffed with money that he would show to one player just before a game, saying it was theirs if only they played aggressively that day. For the stick, he made it well-known that if a GM accepted too many draws, that person wouldn’t be invited back the next year.

The Tournament Format

After having experimented with several different combinations, Linares seems to have settled into a very equitable and workable format. This year, as in the last two, seven super-grandmasters have been invited. Everyone will play everyone, twice, in a double-round robin with the colors reversed. (It doesn’t get any fairer than this.) The fact that there are seven participants means that there will be three games every day, while one player by rotation will get a bye. In such a high-pressure tournament, this bye could come in real handy, especially if the player needs time to recover from a bad loss, or for some extra preparation against the next opponent.

Notable Absences in 2004

In his colorful prose in Linares! Linares! author “D.J.” Geuzendam tells us that “time comes to a standstill in this provincial Spanish town when the chess players arrive.” Before we look at who will be arriving in 2004, let’s take a look at who will not be present in Linares this year. As it turns out, five of the world’s top ten players will be absent this year.

  • Typically, every year begins with two tournaments for Viswanathan Anand (World #3). He unfailingly puts in a tremendous performance in Wijk Aan Zee and then comes down to Spain for the Linares super-tournament. However, this year, he is not among the seven players. Anand didn’t also play in Linares in 2001. He has won this tournament once, back in 1998, ahead of Kasparov and Kramnik.

  • One super-GM who doesn’t seem too fond of Linares is Peter Svidler (World #4). He has played there twice, in 1998 & 1999 and hasn’t been back since. In both years, he finished with an overall negative score, –1 and –3 respectively.

  • Curiously, it looks like Alexander Morozevich (#7) has never played in Linares.

  • Judit Polgar (#8) has played occasionally in Linares. It was in her game against Garry that he might have violated the touch-move rule. (It was her first appearance in the tournament, Judit was only seventeen, and she was under time pressure. She didn’t formally lodge a protest, and ended up losing the game. It was claimed that she later accosted Kasparov in the lobby of Anibal hotel with a “how could you do this to me?”) GM Polgar is not playing this year, possibly for personal reasons.

  • Ruslan Ponomariov (#9) has been to Linares twice, in 2002 and 2003. Last year, he lost one game to each of the Big-3 (Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand). And in turn, he defeated Paco with both colors. It appears that Ruslan has never ever managed to defeat Garry, and the fact that he lost one game to Kasparov in both years couldn’t have helped his confidence for the unification title match that never took place.

  • Though Vassily Ivanchuk is not currently ranked in the top 10 in the world (#13), his absence is also a notable one. His previous appearance was in 2002, but he used to be a very regular in the early days of Linares, appearing in almost all the tournaments in the 90’s. It may be surprising to some that he has won the most Linares tournaments other than Kasparov. Ivanchuk has won the title three times, compared to Kasparov’s eight.

The Players in attendance

So those were some of the absentees. Now, let’s turn our attention to those who will be showing up. Let’s go in the order of increasing rating and work our way up to Garry Kasparov.

Teimour Radjabov 2656: Yes, Radjabov (#35) managed to put up some stiff resistance and he beat Garry last year. But let’s look beyond that. 2003 was Teimour’s first Linares, and it turns out that he didn’t do much else other than that one famous win. In fact, he lost to all the other big guns --Anand, Kramnik and both games to Leko. In 2004, Garry will be hoping to get his revenge, and Teimour will surely be hoping to better his Linares debut.
Francisco “Paco” Vallejo Pons 2663 -- The local favorite, Vallejo Pons has been playing in the supertorneo for two years now and this will be his third appearance. What is interesting is that Vallejo has had an identical score in both his previous appearances. In 2002 and 2003, he finished with a –2. (3 losses and 1 win each year. In 2002, be defeated Shirov, and in 2003, he won a game against Peter Leko. (Peter won the other game, and the tournament.) Not many people have paid attention to a laudable feat by Vallejo Pons in 2003. He managed to draw all of his games against the top three GMs in the world – Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand!
Peter Leko 2722: Leko is currently ranked #10 in the world. He started in Linares back in 1999 and his performance has steadily improved. In 2003, he finished first among the stellar cast of players. Peter won the 2001 Dortmund tournament which gave him the right to challenge Kramnik to a title match. This happened three years ago, but thanks to the interesting twists that are part of chess, we now learn that this long-overdue match is going to take place later this year. And since this might be the last time that these two meet before that match, Peter will be looking to score a psychological victory.
Veselin Topalov 2735: Veselin (#6) comes back to Linares after a five year absence. He has never won the tournament, and his performance has had him usually end up in the middle of the pack. He must be hoping that 2004 will be his best-ever Linares thus far.
Alexei Shirov 2737: Shirov (#5) has appeared with reasonable regularity at Linares. But the one thing Alexei has been consistent about is his inconsistent performance. Great one year, towards the bottom of the pack the next. He used to finish just behind Kasparov and Karpov in the early 90’s, but in 1997 he was last. He finished second in 1998, but was dead last in his next appearance. In 2002, his last appearance, he was again last. So 2004 should be a year where he does well.
Vladimir Kramnik 2777: In Linares, Kramnik (#2) has finished with the same score as the eventual winner on more than one year. However, he usually loses out with the tie-break criteria, which rewards the number of wins. Vladimir, as always, puts in a solid performance and he did win in 2000, along with Garry.
Garry Kasparov 2831: Eight first-place finishes in twelve Linares appearances. Garry (#1) first showed up in Linares in 1990, and with the exception of one year (1995) he has always been there since. In fact, Linares 2003 was the only planned tournament in his calendar for all of 2003. (Later, after his match with Ruslan failed to materialize, Garry signed up and played in the European Cup.) Given his Linares record, it is easier to list the years that he participated and did not win: 1991 (Ivanchuk), 1994 (Karpov), 1998 (Anand), and 2003 (Leko).

Kasparov’s Linares Losses

Unfortunately for Garry, no matter how well he does for the rest of his life in Linares, people will always remember his loss to Radjabov last year. Ironically, that loss became well-entrenched in everyone’s minds mainly because Kasparov vocally opposed the best game prize being given to that game.

But we shouldn’t let this one loss eclipse a very impressive fact: Kasparov has been playing in Linares since 1990 and has lost only one other game with white (that was back in 1994 to the French GM Joel Lautier).

Some might think that with the black pieces, Kasparov may not possess as impressive a record. Turns out that he has only lost four times with black in all his Linares appearances, and his last loss was to Ivanchuk, way back in 1997.

One thing that all of us have learned over the years is that when Garry shows up to play, he is there to win. To his way of thinking, 2003 is a blemish that he must be hoping to erase and set right this year.

So let’s finish up all the other things in our lives, and clear our calendars so that for the fourteen game days (with 42 games), we can give Linares 2004 the full attention it so rightfully deserves. It is not just the players, we fans have to get ready, too.

Ram Prasad is a Chicago-based chess junkie
who is addicted to super-tournaments.

Links to previous Linares reports


Topics Linares
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