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Peter Leko wins First ACP World Rapid Chess Cup

1/9/2007 – Rapid chess has its own special fascination. Players are more carefree, socialize with journalists and the public, comment on the games as they are being played. The atmosphere at the World Rapid Chess Cup in Odessa was congenial, and the games a pleasure to watch. Read about it in Misha Savinov's giant closing report.
 

First ACP World Rapid Chess Cup

This event took place in Odessa, Ukraine, from January 4th to 8th 2007, in the Hotel Londonskaya. The total prize fund was US $136,000. 16 grandmasters participate in the knockout tournament, with time control or 20 min + 5 sec.

Odessa World Rapid Cup, Quarterfinals

By Misha Savinov

I am too young to have experienced the PCA Grand Prix firsthand. However, I personally know many people who were so impressed by those events that they started studying chess professionally, or at least follow it passionately. I always wanted to know the spell. Now I think I know it.

First some impressions of Odessa.


The Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater, considered by many to be the second
best in the world (after the Vienna State Opera)


A Laocoön statue in front of the national museum

The atmosphere of a classical tournament, regardless of the formula, is very different – dryer, more official, more pretentious. Each player is completely alone, surrounded by rivals and tied down to a strict regimen. They have breakfast in the morning, prepare, have lunch, play a six-hour game, answer a couple of silly questions and go to bed. Players show their brighter side only after making a quick draw. Then they are talkative and friendly. Exhaustion never helps.


The enthusiastic crowd in the playing hall just before the start of a game


Alexei Shirov waits on the stage for his opponent to arrive


A game under way in the festive playing hall

Rapid elimination events are different in all ways. No rating. No extended pain (lose and you’re out). Much socializing. Finally, a lot of excitement for the public – and you’re wrong if you don’t consider the players as being part of the audience! One can’t become a chess professional without a love for chess.


Viorel (a.k.a. Victor) and Margarita Bologan

Before Odessa, I have rarely seen players paying so much attention to each other’s games, and getting so much pleasure from discussing it. They simply had more free time to do so. Leko, for instance, was one of the most active kibitzers in the press center, which did not prevent him from coming up with atomic opening preparation against Rublevsky.


Peter Leko, Teimour Radjabov, Vladimir Tukmakov and Ilya Smirin kibitzing


Alexei Shirov and bank president Vadim Morokhovsky follow a game

Not only that; commenting rapid games is much livelier for both spectators and commentators. It is dynamic and fun. The crowd in the hall of Londonskaya literally blocks all entries and exits. People indifferent to chess can’t pass through easily.


GMs Sokolov, Leko, Harikrishna and Bareev kibitzing

Somehow I came across the feeling that chess would do much better if there was no classical chess at all (right, Vlad?). Rapid is a very genuine format for chess, and we would certainly see more tournaments like this. It seems the PCA had a golden formula: big Swiss qualification (a huge event by itself!) followed by a 16-player elimination with stars and everything. It worked once, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work again.


Vassily Ivanchuk, striving for excellence in 20 minute games

Talking about creativity (and coming back to Odessa), two players generally considered being the most creative in this tournament, Ivanchuk and Morozevich, have distinctly opposite opinions on creative value of rapid games. Morozevich said that rapid has none of it, and all he tries to do is not to blunder, while Ivanchuk said the thought that rapid chess is much closer to classical than to blitz, and playing a decent rapid game is definitely not a possibility that should be ruled out. If professionals don’t have clear opinion on the subject, the future of classical chess is in real trouble.


WGM Oksana Vozovic, 2006 Ukraine champion, WGM Alyona Goreskul, and yours truly

Final day: Peter Leko wins $40,000

The last day of the ACP World Rapid Cup included two semifinals and a final. This looked a bit unfair for the player who qualifies from the second semifinal, as he would have from just 10 to 50 minutes to recover before the concluding match for $40,000.

Actually, the day began with an unexpected, or, in other words, not planned event. A couple dozen of children arrived at the hotel somewhere around 11 am "to meet grandmasters". Until the last minute it wasn’t decided what this meeting is going to be like. Finally we came up with the blindfold chess idea.


Children grilling the grandmasters at the World Cup in Odessa

But first there were questions. Children of Odessa were extremely impatient, giving the players almost no time to answer questions of various degrees of trickiness. They slowed down a bit only after Evgeny Bareev’s smart answer: "What character traits are necessary for becoming a grandmaster? Patience! You must not just learn to ask questions, but also how to listen to the answers." Clearly Evgeny’s recent assignment to the Junior Chess Committee of the RCF was not a mistake.


Rublevsky playing blindfold against youthful opponents

Then it came to blindfold games. Experienced Amber veteran Alexei Shirov was first to test the children. He won easily. Then Sergey Rublevsky took the chair, but his game wasn’t so smooth. As you can see on the picture, at some point he was in quite a trouble, which provoked laughter from his colleagues. However, at the critical moment Sergey focused, spent about a minute (which looked like ages) on his defensive plan, and slowly turned the tables. But the grandmaster who came to play third (let us not mention his name) lost to a girl. To his excurse, the girl was daughter of a local master and experienced chess teacher.

After the excitement of blindfold we moved to rapid chess, once again brining reminiscences of the Monaco private party. Leko and Gelfand came first. And it was a big match, even if a bit cautious in the beginning. Two draws in rapid games were not too eventful, although the quality of play was reasonable. The opponents tried to sense weaknesses of each other.


Semi-final: Peter Leko, Hungary, vs Boris Gelfand, Israel

In blitz Leko had all the advantages, and it was only because of his nerves – for some reason the Hungarian is not so good in key games – that he needed a sudden death game to move on. The first blitz game was a disaster for Gelfand, whose Sicilian fell apart with amazing quickness. Note that the first try in a rapid game was okay, but when Boris repeated the opening, he was swallowed without much trouble. In the second game Leko won a pawn and was close to a positive score, but he suddenly started losing track, and automatic endgame player Gelfand managed to regain the material and proceeded to a victory.

Another Armageddon, huh! Leko won the lot and took Black. This was a correct strategy. Gelfand tried hard to win on time, speeding up right from the opening as much as possible. However, this goes against his nature. Boris ended up in a rather passive stand, and missed a simple and effective exchange sacrifice – which was in fact winning, as the Black’s queen snatched all the pawns she wanted. Leko advanced.


Start of a semifinal game between Vassily Ivanchuk and Teimour Radjabov

The second semifinal was another battle of giants. Ivanchuk and Radjabov both impressed me quite a lot. Goes without saying that Vassily was in amazing form in this tournament, but Teimour was quite sharp, too. The famous chess composer Sergey Tkachenko was amazed to see the Azeri grandmaster solving his studies, some of them being quite complicated, in a few minutes and without using the board. Tkachenko tried to give the same problems to other players, but only Alexei Shirov came close to Radja’s records, and only in certain studies based on brilliant and creative tactics.

The key game of this match was the first one. Ivanchuk played very dry, technical chess, obtaining two bishop advantage and acting like that was enough. Teimour’s father Boris was later very unhappy about his son’s time management. While Ivanchuk had about seven minutes in the ensuing endgame, Radjabov had seven seconds. For me personally Teimour’s ability to hold an inferior position for quite a while under such a time pressure was a serious indication of his outstanding skill. But in the end Black cracked and Ivanchuk capitalized on his bishop pair. Radja’s attempts to come back in the second game were imaginative but in the end a bit too unsound for Ivanchuk. The Lvov genius has vast experience against different players from Baku...


Radja explaining what had happened in his games against Ivanchuk

The final started in 50 minutes after Radjabov-Ivanchuk was over. Vassily Ivanchuk got permission to miss the obligatory press conference, and Teimour Radjabov (who lost 0-2, don’t forget it) patiently took all the media attention, with three or four TV channels and many writing journalists. Radjabov enchanted Odessa public with swift and detailed replies. We sort of got used to this guy, but he is just 19, and continues to improve...


The final of the Inaugural World Rapid Chess Cup between Ivanchuk and Leko

The final challenge was Leko against Ivanchuk, and it developed in extremely technical fashion. It seems queenless positions have come back into style after the Elista match. Neither player was able to make any progress in the rapid games and the first blitz game. The games were commented, first by Morozevich and Beim, and then by Bareev, Gelfand and Tregubov. Of them, Morozevich was the most original and brave in comments – and Bareev the most ironic and subtle. He suggested the only way to beat Leko was: make four draws, win the lot and choose Black in a sudden death game. Ivanchuk seemed being on the right track, but repeating the Alekhine defense proved wrong, as he handled it much worse than the first time. Leko got an overwhelming position, and it was over – Chucky was simply squeezed, and even the exchange sacrifice didn’t help.


"I don't know how to beat this guy!" Ivanchuk in the press conference

At the final press conference Ivanchuk complained about his poor play in the last game, which he handled like "a 1st category player". He denied that having less time to rest affected his play in any way, mentioning that Leko had a much more exhausting semifinal match... The Hungarian was asked what could unite all leading players. He replied that more tournaments like this in Odessa can certainly do a lot in this direction. I cannot but agree.


Young chess fans examine the exquisite trophy...


...which is then handed over to the winner: Peter Leko

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