Sweat and blood in paradise
13th Amber Blindfold and Rapid – Mar.20-Apr.1
Game download/replay: Rounds 1-3
After a record number of draws at last month's Linares we're like sharks looking for blood in the beautiful waters of Monaco. The world's best are there to cut loose in blindfold and rapid games at the annual spectacle of the Melody Amber tournament. (If you think it sounds like a burlesque stage name, bite your tongue. It was named for the sponsor's infant daughter back in 1992!)
Each day the players meet for a match of two games, one blindfold and one rapid. (The blindfold game is also played at a rapid time control.) The blindfold games are quite a sight, pardon the pun. The players sit across from one another but face computer screens instead of a chess board. They make their moves with a mouse on an empty chessboard. If the attempted move is illegal the computer rejects it and notifies the player to try again.
Leko-Moro blindfold. No, they aren't playing blitz at Playchess.com.
This curious display is accompanied by a regular rapid game. The blindfold event has long been the domain of Vladimir Kramnik, who has won or shared first in this event four times. Vishy Anand won his third title last year, but Kramnik still finished on top of the blindfold standings. Centuries have passed since Philidor made the front page by playing blindfold, but you can still be impressed at the level of chess these super-GMs can reach without sight of the pieces.
On the other hand, nobody is perfect. Fine games are ruined and occasionally full pieces are left hanging in the breeze. In fact, rooks have been quite slippery in the first few rounds.
In diagram one Boris Gelfand played the unforgettable 23.Kb1?? in the blindfold against Shirov. His opponent didn't return the favor and snapped up the rook. Gelfand thought his rook was on c2. In diagram two Bareev has white and will lose his h-pawn after he moves his rook. Instead he forgot where the black bishop was and played 53.Re5?? and resigned after Svidler's 53...Bxe5.
The defending champ, Vishy Anand.
It's somewhat of a shame to highlight the blunders, but really they are why everyone watches the blindfold games in the first place. Without them it's just very strong players playing handicap chess. It's an interesting struggle, an impressive feat, and a strain for the players, but as far as the games go all that is hard to transmit. But in the spirit of Philidor, Pillsbury, Alekhine, and other blindfold geniuses past, let's see a few of the pretty finishes so far in Monaco.
In diagram #3 Vishy Anand finished off a crushing attack against Amber newcomer Vallejo with 30.Qxh7+! Kxh7 31.Rh1+ 1-0. The Spaniard resigned before 31...Bh4 32.Rxh4 mate.
Svidler played a powerful queen sacrifice against Topalov and was closing in for the kill in diagram #4. A cute exchange of bishop sacs led to an elegant finish. 25.Bxb7! Bxh2+ 26.Kxh2 Qc7+ 27.Kg1 Qxb7 28.Rxf6 Kg8 29.Raf1 Rd8 30.R1f3 Qc7 31.R6f4 1-0
Topalov and van Wely, happy to see the pieces again.
With three rounds in the (Braille) books, Evgeny Bareev and Vladimir Kramnik are the joint leaders with 4.5 points. World #4 Peter Svidler is playing in his first Amber tournament and is more than coping with the blindfold play, scoring 2.5/3. The most notable result so far is that of Boris Gelfand. The poor Israeli has put up six consecutive zeroes. Unfortunately for him, the scoreboard isn't as hidden as the pieces!
Blindfold standings after round 3
Rapid standings after round 3