Wijk aan Zee 2008 – People and Personalities (part one)
Pictorial retrospect by Frederic Friedel
In the first part of our photo report we concentrate on the players of the A Group – the Category 20 tournament with an average rating of 2742 that was held in the Netherlands. Part two of this report, concentrating on the B and C groups (categories 15 and 10) will follow in a day or two. Promise.
Michael Adams, who overtook Nigel Short as Britain's top player many years ago. "Mickey" is now happily married to his girlfriend of many years, Tara, who accompanies him to such events. He is also famous for having had an unusual pet (you will never guess): a carp in a tank.
Veselin Topalov, former FIDE world champion, who got away with not shaking with his nemesis Vladimir Kramnik in their round nine encounter – both players simply ignored each other, something that FIDE does not punish. Veselin went on to play a daring novelty and beat Kramnik in a game which is going to give the current World Championship challenger bad dreams for a while. Whatever you think of him: Topalov is one of the bravest grandmasters in top level chess today. He will be playing Gata Kamsky in a special match to determine who will challenge the winner of the 2008 World Championship between Anand and Kramnik.
Viswanathan Anand, commonly known as விசுவநாதன் ஆனந்த் to folk back home in Tamil Nadu, India, goes by the invented first name of "Vishy" in the West. In truth he is simply "Anand" or "Mr Anand" – we explained the system some years ago in a special article. Anand is the current World Champion and, with challenger Vladimir Kramnik, the highest rated player in the world.
Aruna Anand, who has been married to the champ for just over ten years now, and who accompanies him to all his big tournaments. She also looks after his business affairs, freeing his mind for other things, like intricate chess openings and deep space astronomical observations. Did we mention that Aruna is an inspired cook who can russle up a mean rassam at a moment's notice. We have learnt some of the finest (south Indian vegetarian) dishes from her, and have been practically living on them ever since.
Just in case he has to face Veselin Topalov in a world championship in 2009 Anand took pains to defeat him in round eight of Wijk. This is one which will have Veselin tossing and turning for a while.
Watch this key eighth-round game unfold: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 and Anand plays 8.f3...
... to which Topalov plays the prophylactic move 8...h5, which prevents or, at least, slows down the standard attack based on g4-g5.
Vassily Ivanchuk, the veteran from Ukraine (38, nine months older than Vishy Anand), one of the deepest thinkers in chess. Vassily is quirky in his general behaviour, but universally liked and admired. Insiders (well Peter Svidler) tell us he is one of the wittiest human beings around.
In the October 2007 rating list Ivanchuk was second in the world. He plays more and (see picture) works harder than almost anyone around and has now dropped to place nine.
Judit Polgar – who can avoid mentioning that this is, by far, the strongest female player in the history of our galaxy. We have known Judit forever, and her rise to such heights did not really come as a surprise. Even when she was a little child her famous sister Susan told us that this was the Polgar sister to watch. Judit has been amongst the top ten in the world, and slipped a little after taking time off to have two lovely children, Oliver and Hanna.
Etienne Bacrot, former child prodigy, who became a grandmaster at the age of 14 years and two months – at the time the youngest in the history of the game. For years he battled it out with another prodigy, Joel Lautier, for the place as France's number one player. Lautier lost the battle when he went into a business career. Today Bacrot, who turned 25 during round nine in Wijk, reigns supreme.
Peter Leko, Hungary's top GM, who played for the World Championship in 2004, drawing their match in Brissago, Switzerland, 7:7, which left Kramnik retaining the title. Peter travels with his family which doubles up as his team. In Hungary his name has lots of accents and is always written in reverse: Lékó Péter.
Meet Sofi Leko (she prefers the first name to be spelled that way), Armenian polyglot, who married Peter some years ago. The two are inseparable. Sofi speaks German like a native, English very well, and we are told Hungarian, the most difficult language in this part of the world, fluently. Naturally she speaks Russian and a number of other languages. All of this has been too easy for this young lady, so now she is dabbling in Arabic. We warned her that that is spoken backwards.
Arshak Petrosian, 54, is the father-in-law. This is what his name looks like in his native Armenia: Արշակ Պետրոսյան. In spite of that, and the fact that he is (still) addicted to nicotine, he is a very pleasant, humorous man whose company we enjoy. Arshak is a grandmaster who has beaten the likes of Shirov, Vaganian and Morozevich in individual games. Apart from looking after Lékó Péter he also trains the Armenian Olympiad team, which he led to Gold in Turin in June 2006.
Rustam Kasimdzhanov, FIDE World Champion 2004-2005 and ChessBase author, was not in Wijk but in Bonn, Germany, where his beautiful wife Firuza had recently given birth to their second child. In spite of the baby care and in-laws visiting, the Uzbek with the incredible English vocabulary managed to do a few rounds of live commentary on Playchess (our regular commentator Yasser Seirawan did a few as well). Rustam has also produced a number of very successful training DVDs, with a batch of new ones to come soon.
Firuza Kasimdzhanova was also not present in Wijk, but we couldn't resist including this picture. In the above picture she is dressed in a local Uzbek costume for a photo shoot in a local magazine. Firuza is an exceptionally warm-hearted, affectionate person, always cheerful. She will be sorely missed at Rustam's tournaments during the baby-care years.