Ponomariov leads in Champions League

11/8/2007 – It was Judit Polgar who broke the spell of the two leaders – by beating former FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov with the black pieces in the fourth round (after beating another former FIDE champion, Rustam Kasimdzhanov with the black pieces a round earlier). Meanwhile Ruslan Ponomariov coasted to sole first with his two black piece victories. Illustrated report.

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The "Chess Champions League – Playing for a better world" is taking place from November 1st to 15th, 2007, in Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain. The participants are former world champions plus Judit Polgar, with Romanian GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu standing in for Alexander Khalifman (FIDE world champion 1999) who took ill just before the start of the event. The other world champions are: Anatoly Karpov, who held the title from 1975 to 1985, and then the FIDE world championship title from 1993 to 1999; Ruslan Ponomariov, who held the FIDE title from 2002 to 2004; Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who was FIDE world champion from 2004 to 2005; and Veselin Topalov, who held the title from 2005 to 2006. The event is a double round robin, with the ten rounds being played on November 2,-4, 6,-7, 9- 11, and 13-14. It is a benefit event to raise funds for a hospital in Mbuji-Mayi, one of the poorest regions in Congo.


The setup in Vitoria: the players are in a glass cabin, the public can follow the games on the board display and video screens, and the commentary of chess journalist Leontxo Garcia (left)


The players – here Ruslan Ponomariov and Rustam Kasimdzhanov – in their glass cabin

"The main intention of this glass cabin," organiser David Llada tells us, "is to save the spectators from being in silence during the long hours of game: the chess fans can talk, they can ask questions, they can participate, the can listen to interviews... and everything within a few meters distance from the great players. The players are isolated from the public, as the glass can muffle any noise up to 60 decibels; which means that if you put this glass cabin in the middle of a traffic roundabout, the wouldn't hear any noise from the cars around them."


Veselin Topalov, organiser David Llada and Rustam Kasimdzhanov

There is another advantage to the setup: "The players are also visually isolated: due the special lighting, they can barely see anything further than the second row of spectators – apart from shadows." For this reason the organisers did not think it necessary to provide any additional anti-cheating features. In consideration was the use of a cell-phone "inhibitor", a device that block all telephone frecuencies and – sadly – is commonly used in the Basque Country to protect public buildings (Banks, Town Halls...) from terrorist attacks by ETA.

Round 3

After losing to Topalov in round one and drawing against Polgar in round two Anatoly Karpov suffered a second defeat in round three, this time against Ruslan Ponomariov, who punished Karpov's over-optimistic attack with a counterstrike that won him the full point.

Nisipeanu,LD (2668) - Topalov,V (2769) [B90]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (3), 04.11.2007
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.f4 Nbd7 9.f5 Bc4 10.Nc1 d5 11.Bxc4 dxc4 12.Qf3 b5 13.N1e2 b4 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.exd5 Nf6 16.0-0-0 Bd6 17.g4 b3 18.cxb3 cxb3 19.Kb1 bxa2+ 20.Ka1 e4 21.Qg2 Be5 22.Bd4 Bxd4 23.Nxd4 0-0 24.d6 Qb6 25.g5 Nd5 26.g6 fxg6 27.fxg6 Qxd6 28.gxh7+ Kh8 29.Rhg1 Qf6 30.Qxe4 Rad8 31.Ne6 Rfe8 32.Rxd5 ½-½. A complicated, hard-fought draw which is worthy of careful study. [Replay game]


Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu of Romania facing former FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov


Nisipeanu has by far the longest hair of any 2600+ player in the history of the game

Karpov,Ana (2670) – Ponomariov,R (2705) [D12]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (3), 04.11.2007
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Be4 7.f3 Bg6 8.g3 a6 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Kf2 b5 11.cxd5 cxd5 12.Bd2 Bd6 13.a4 b4 14.Na2 a5 15.Bb5+ Nbd7 16.Nc1 0-0 17.Nb3 e5 18.Rc1 g5 19.Kg2 e4 20.f4 gxf4 21.exf4 Nb6 22.Be3 Nc4 23.Qe2 Nxe3+ 24.Qxe3 g6 25.Rhf1 Kg7 26.h3 Rh8 27.f5 Nh5

28.g4? Qh4! 29.gxh5 Rxh5 30.f6+ Kh7 31.Kh1 Bg3 32.Bd7 Rd8 33.Rg1 Bf4 34.Rg4 Bxe3 35.Rxh4 Rxh4 36.Rc7 Bf4 37.Rb7 Rxd7 0-1. [Replay game]


Anatoly Karpov, Russia, vs Ruslan Ponomariov, Ukraine (Ponomariov won)

Kasimdzhanov,R (2690) - Polgar,Ju (2708) [C92]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (3), 04.11.2007
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a4 Na5 13.Bc2 b4 14.Bd3 d5 15.exd5 exd4 16.c4 c6 17.dxc6 Rxe1+ 18.Qxe1 Bxc6 19.Qd1 g6 20.Ne5 Bb7 21.Ndf3 Nd7 22.Bg5 Qc7 23.Nxd7 Qxd7 24.Ne5 Qd6 25.Ng4 Bg7 26.Nh6+ Kf8 27.Bd2 Re8 28.Rc1 Qc5 29.Qg4 Nc6 30.Qf4 Ne5

31.Be4? This leaves the white queen protecting two pieces. Black immediately uses this to his advantage: 31...g5 32.Qf5 Bxe4 33.Qxe4 Bxh6. Black is a piece up and the attempted counterplay by White cannot make up for this loss. 34.h4 Ng6 35.Qb7 a5 36.Qb5 Re5 0-1. [Replay game]


The director of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Ramón Torrelledo, makes the first move in the round three game beween Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Judit Polgar

Among all the spectators that come every afternoon to the halls of the Lakua Hotel to watch the games, there are some specially faithful and fervent: the members of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. They are performing a series of concerts in Vitoria, and the benefits – as well as the benefits of all the activities related to this event – go entirely to the construction of a hospital in Congo.

As good Russians, a number of members of the orchestra are also chess fans, and when they don’t have rehearsals, they go to watch the games. Because of this, a simultaneous chess exhibition was organised, with Rustam Khasimdzhanos and Judit Polgar taking on 15 members of the orchestra. The director of the orchestra, Ramón Torrelledo, played too, but although they did their best the masters won quite easily.


Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the simul against members of the Russian Symphony Orchestra

Round four

Topalov,V (2769) - Polgar,Ju (2708) [C42]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (4), 06.11.2007
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Nc3 Bf5 9.Re1 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 0-0 12.Rb1 Rb8 13.c4 Bf6 14.c3 dxc4 15.Qxc4 Qd7 16.Bf4 Rbd8 17.h3 b6 18.Re4

The game appears to be developing normally, so far, with White having an advantage, but certainly not enough to guarantee a win. Now suddenly things turn murkey: 18...Na5? 19.Qxc7 Qd5. Was Black expecting to capture on a2. The black pawn on a7 is not covered with the knight on a5. But of course this is just speculation. One never knows how these things happen. 20.Rbe1 Nc4. Now it is White's turn to hallucinate: 21.Qxa7? No, Mr Topalov, now you can't take it! 21...Ra8 22.Qc7 Bd8. The white queen is trapped and has no squares to retreat to. 23.Re5 Bxc7 24.Rxd5 Bxf4. White is a piece down for two pawns, with the a2 pawn "hanging". The strongest female player of all time knows exactly what to do. 25.Re2 Ra3 26.Rc2 Rfa8 27.Kf1 Kf8 28.Ke2 Rxa2 29.Rxa2 Rxa2+ 30.Kd3 Nd2 31.Ne5 Bxe5 32.Rxe5 Nb3 33.c4 Na5 34.c5 Nc6 0-1. “If it wasn’t for that terrible mistake," a shaken Topalov said after the game, "Judit would have suffered a lot, and it wouldn’t have been easy for her to save herself." [Replay game]

The other two games in this round were drawn, which meant that Ruslan Ponomariov took the lead with 3.0/4, with Polgar and Topalov following at 2.5/4.

Round five

All three games were drawn. Topalov tried to force the situation, and Ponomariov ended up with an extra pawn and same colored bishops on the board, but the game was a forced draw. Anatoly Karpov vs Rustam Kasimdzhanov ended after 23 moves and Judit Polgar vs LD Nisipeanu, a Berlin Defence, lasted four moves longer, both ending in draws. [Replay games]


In the lead: Ruslan Ponomariov, former FIDE world champion

The following cross table does not reflect the proper standings in this event, since one game, Kasimdzhanov vs Nisipeanu from round one, has still to be played. This will be done on tomorrow's rest day.

Statistics: the drawing quota so far is 57%. Interestingly there have been five black wins and just one with the white pieces. Something in the water?

Information and pictures by David Llada, translations by Aitziber Elejalde

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