A look back at 2014

by Albert Silver
1/3/2015 – 2014 was a remarkable year, with tales of woe and celebration, tales of rising young stars and comeback stories to warm your heart. Throughout all this, ChessBase was always at the fore, trying to bring you the highest quality reporting, images, and analysis so you the reader never missed a thing. Here is a quick look at some of the headlines and stories that defined the year.

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The passing of a gentle giant

The year started with news that shook the chess community like no other: one of its brightest stars, at the very height of his ability and creativity was taken away. On January 10-11, 2014, the elite player from Azerbaijan, Vugar Gashimov passed away after struggling with the most merciless of issues, a brain tumor he was trying to treat.

GM Vugar Gashimov, 1986 – 2014 

1/11/2014 – Vugar Gashimov was one of the leading chess players of Azerbaijan, playing for his country in four Chess Olympiads, as well as winning gold for the Azeri team at the European Team Championship 2009. During the past decade he suffered from a brain tumor and, during treatment for this in a hospital in Germany, Vugar Gashmimov died on the night of 10-11 January 2014. He was just 27.

It was a tribute to the respect, admiration and love of his peers that a memorial tournament was organized with the best players in the world, including Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and others, just months later, in spite of bustling schedules that need to be rearranged at the last minute.

Gashimov R1: Carlsen with a flying start

4/21/2014 – The Gashimov Memorial has started in Azerbaijan, with six very strong players, all under 30 years of age. The average Elo is 2780, making it a category 22. In the first round Magnus Carlsen not surprisingly won his game, the other two were drawn. The B group, with ten players, is a category 17 with an average 2662 (more on it later). We bring you extensive analysis of the three Group A games.

Anand's comeback

After a disheartening loss of his title to Magnus Carlsen, and years without winning a tournament, many were announcing the imminent retirement of Vishy Anand. Even his participation in the Candidates tournament of 2014 was up in the air and many speculated he would not even bother.

Anand: will he, won't he? He will! 

1/21/2014 – We recently informed you that former World Champion Viswanathan Anand appeared to be vacillating on a decision whether to play in the March Candidates Tournament for the next WC cycle. At least that is the way the media portrayed it. Decision day was January 20, and today FIDE published the official list of participants, which is topped by Anand. Participants and regulations.

Even after he had made it clear he would participate, the result of a pep talk by colleague, friend, and rival Vladimir Kramnik, few others gave him a chance and most prognosticated he would do well just to have a 'decent result'. Alexander Grischuk said it best though:

"I think whoever wins, will have a real chance in a world championship match. The fact that the winner of this tournament will be a different person than he was before the start of the competition. So even if we take, for example, Anand, this "other" Anand would definitely not be easy for Carlsen."

Anand set the tone right from the get-go, when he trounced top-seed Levon Aronian in the first round. He stormed away with a huge lead and never looked back.

Candidates Rd9: Decisive Round?!

3/23/2014 – It could all be decided in Khanty-Mansiysk. Anand holds an effective 1.5 point lead over the field as he beat Topalov while Mamedyarov bested Aronian in a crazy game and Kramnik self-destructed easily against Karjakin. With Aronian being down one point with the worse tiebreak, it seems very unlikely that someone can catch the Indian player. A rematch seems in the works.

It was not his only tournament win of the year, and though he failed to recapture the world title, he made the World Champion sweat and walked away with at least one win with chances for more.

The Triple Crown

No one doubted he had it in him, but until then, Magnus Carlsen's results in rapid and blitz were not as domineering as his classical chess. Could his squeeze-water-from-a-rock approach work at the fastest time controls?

World Blitz: Triple Crown Achieved! 

6/20/2014 – It was not clear that it would happen until the last leg of the tournament, actually Carlsen was even trailing by half point for a significant portion of the day, but at the end of it the Norwegian holds the titles of World Champion, World Rapid Champion and World Blitz Champion! Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura were his only true competitors for the title. Full report.

The answer was a resounding 'yes' as he played all the best players in the world, and added the World Champion titles in blitz and rapid.

Russian Women out of Olympiad?!

This was the news just weeks before the start of the largest Chess Olympiad on record in Tromsø, Norway. The Russian Federation had failed to follow all the protocols laid out by the organizers and in a highly controversial decision announced the Russian Women's team would not be allowed to participate.

Russian Women's team out of Olympiad

7/17/2014 – Shocking news: the organisers of the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø have informed FIDE that federations that did not meet the June 1st deadline for registration had been excluded from the Olympiad. One of these is the Russian Women's team! FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer has mysteriously blamed Garry Kasparov for this development and advocates cancelling the Olympiad.

Fortunately, after talks on all sides, the organizers relented, and as if to vindicate this decision, the Russian women took the gold ahead of the all-powerful Chinese women's team led by Hou Yifan.

Chinese men win Olympic gold

It was easily one of the most incredible results of the year, albeit one we all saw coming. The Chinese men's team had shed their older top stars and instead fielded one of the youngest teams in the competition, certainly the youngest in the top ten, with an average age of 21 years. Among them were Ding Liren, who had been three times Chinese champion by the age of 19, and teen wonder Yu Yangyi.

China Wins Gold at Chess Olympiad in Norway

8/18/2014 – For the third time in this century the Russian men's team did not win any medals at the Olympiad – and for the first time, ever, two Asian teams did. The young Chinese team – average age 21! – won Gold in the open section and Silver in the women's. In his Olympiad wrap-up Huffington Post chess columnist GM Lubomir Kavalek annotates a very exciting and instructive game from Tromsø.

Though everyone produced their best, the top two outshone the other stars, and Yu Yangyi even produced the highest tournament performance of the event.

The Millionaire Chess event

Aside from the singular efforts of Rex Sinquefield in St. Louis to promote and elevate chess in the United States, few other events seem to actually make an impact on the American media. That all ended when Maurice Ashley with his partner Amy Lee came through with an event few had believed they could actually pull off: the Millionaire Chess event.

A 2500 in a Millionaire Event (1/2)

10/18/2014 – $100,000. For a grandmaster that has not breached the top 100, let alone the top 20, and besides the World Cup, when can a grandmaster compete in a tournament that has $100,000 as its first prize? GM Alejandro Ramirez took his risk of $1,000 to participate in a unique tournament in Las Vegas. He brings us his unique Millionaire Chess impressions.

Considering the daunting numbers and promises, it seemed a stretch, but in the end it materialized in Las Vegas exactly as promised, and deservedly garnered headlines throughout the world. 21-year-old GM Wesley So was the fortunate winner and took home the first prize of $100,000. We look forward to future editions.

Judit Polgar announces retirement

There is very little one can say that could overstate the impact Judit Polgar has had on women's chess and chess in general. While her sister Susan Polgar certainly spearheaded the movement for equality of sexes in chess, by competing head-on against male players, Judit broke all the gender barriers by climbing into the absolute Top Ten.

Judit Polgar to retire from competitive chess

8/13/2014 – It came pretty much out of the blue: the most successful, easily the strongest female chess player in the history of the game today announced her retirement in the London Times. Judit, who at one stage was number eight among all chess players in the world, is 38 and has two children. She is also working intensely on chess for children. We look back at a remarkable career.

Her announced retirement was foreseeable, as she had barely competed recently as she dedicated time to her family and children, but it was one her fans still hoped would be delayed just a bit more. Her legacy is one by example, and tirelessly promoting the game.

Judit Polgar: the greatest prodigy ever

8/15/2014 – Judit Polgar's announced retirement from competitive chess at the 41st Chess Olympiad marks the end of an era the likes of which none could foresee, but that galvanized women chess for all time. She did not simply break the barriers of a highly prejudiced establishment, she shattered them with records that no male has come close to. Here is a profile with videos of her greatest triumphs.

Fabulous Fabiano

It was quite simply beyond belief. It isn't that we have not seen great starts before, but the level of competition plays a big factor. Fabiano Caruana's talent was always known, but who could imagine he would start a tournament with a perfect seven in seven, including wins over the world champion and imperial no.1, Magnus Carlsen, as well as other top ten stars?

Sinquefield 05: Is he human!?

9/1/2014 – He must be, because Caruana finally made his first mistake of the tournament - but not one that mattered. His position was so crushing against Nakamura that the Italian won his fifth game in a row anyways and goes into half-time with a 2.5 point lead, +25 rating points, and an incalculable performance. Topalov beat MVL to join Carlsen in second as he beat Aronian.

In the end, he actually attained an unbelievable virtual rating of 2851, tying Kasparov's legendary rating, and appeared on the ratings list with 2844. Though his results after have not been quite as sterling, he is certainly the man everyone will be watching for in 2015.

October 2014 ratings: Faby! Faby! Faby!

10/2/2014 – The month of September was somewhat breathtaking to follow as a change in the guard took place so swiftly and aggressively that fans and pundits were left scratching their heads. After two super results, Fabiano Caruana added 43 Elo, moved to world no.2 and is within 19 Elo of Magnus Carlsen. No less impressive is Hou Yifan who is now within two Elo of ending a 25-year domination.

Defending the title

Defending the title against the greatest challenger is always special, particularly when it was against the previous holder. Even though Magnus Carlsen was still the favorite on paper against Vishy Anand, there was one significant difference that was underscored by previous champions: the burden of favoritism.

When a champion defends his title, especially as the favorite, the burden is far greater on him than the challenger because psychologically he has everything to lose and little to nothing to gain. If he wins, he did nothing more than his duty, his job, but there is no added glory beyond the defense. He was already world champion after all. If he loses, it is a fall from grace, and his immortality and seeming invulnerability is then questioned by all.

Sochi WCh G1: Climbing back up Mount Olympus

11/9/2014 – The World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand has finally started and what a match we are in for. The first game was an exciting draw with ups and downs and drama aplenty. Nevertheless, the very idea of this match was already a long shot, if not an impossibility, in the eyes of many, even in the challenger's. Consider how we got to this point.

When the challenger assails the title, even if he was a previous champion as Anand was, he is still no longer the title-holder. If he wins, it is glory times two, since regaining a title lost is in many ways more glorious than just winning it as it is so much rarer. If he loses, he merely continues to not be the champion, so everything to gain, but nothing to lose.

Anand was not merely a challenger: his rise to the position of challenger was not only unexpected, but described as nothing less than heroic by Anatoly Karpov himself in the opening press conference.

After describing Magnus Carlsen's defense as 'little to gain', it bears reminding readers that is the psychological baggage they carry, but is not the reality of the situation. As we all know too well, expectation and reality do not always coincide. Though every world champion is special, those who defend their titles are still in a category of their own, and Magnus is now one of them.

Sochi G11: In dramatic finale, Carlsen retains title

11/23/2014 – The game was all the fans could hope with dramatic play throughout. Vishy Anand played the Berlin to groans but after a critical 23...b5! the situation looked very promising. Whether due to nerves or fatigue, he followed this up with a dubious plan that gave up the exchange with no obvious counterplay. This was the death knell as Magnus Carlsen capitalized. Full report.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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