And on the fifth day they rested

3/19/2003 – How much hotter can Peter Leko get? Right on the heels of his Linares win, the Hungarian is leading the Melody Amber tournament in Monaco. He tops the combined standings in a very tight field with 5.5/8. Kramnik leads the blindfold and is part of the large pack of players chasing Leko after four rounds. More..

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Leko Leads Melody Amber Rapid/Blindfold

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Today is the first rest day in Monaco and it's time to take a look at the first four rounds of this most curious of chess events. It's really two tournaments in one, a blindfold event and a rapid event. The winner is the one with the best combined score.

Right now that's Peter Leko of Hungary. His good form has overcome any tiredness he might be experiencing after winning Linares equal first with Kramnik just a few weeks ago. In a very strong field (Category 19, a 2709 average), Leko is the only undefeated player after four rounds. He has a narrow lead in the combined standings with 5.5/8. Right behind him with five points are Anand, Gelfand, Morozevich, and Kramnik.

Strangely enough, Leko isn't leading in either category. Kramnik is at his traditional spot atop the blindfold table with 3.5/4. Anand, Bareev, and Morozevich are the rapid leaders with 3/4. Habitual guest of honor Ljubomir Ljubojevic is struggling and trails the field with 1.5 combined. Spain's Shirov was also having trouble until the fourth round, when he won his first mini-match by beating Bareev.

Combined standings after round four (blindfold | rapid)

There have been a few of of the usual blindfold blunders (Bareev allowing mate in two, Shirov hanging his queen), but also several very nice games and a brilliancy by Kramnik that must stand as one of the great achievements of blindfold chess. Admittedly Kramnik already had a piece for two pawns, but the combination is so charming and the final position so attractive that there would be no beauty prize arguments this time!

Topalov had missed a few opportunities to increase his survival chances and was struggling to stay alive. Expected moves like 28.a4 or 28.h4 by Kramnik would have left grovelling possibilities.

Kramnik instead decided on the flashy route with 28.Nxb5! If Topalov captures the knight the pathetic nature of the black king's position is made clear. 28..axb5 29.Bxb5+ Nd7 30.Rc1 Rc5 31.Rxc5! dxc5 32.Nc6! (keeping the a8 bishop out of d5) 32...Nxb6 33.Ne5+ Kd8 34.Nxf7+.

Topalov was up to the task and the complications were played with remarkable accuracy on both sides. 28...Kd7 29.Bd4 Bd5+ 30.Ka4 axb5+ 31.Bxb5+ Bc6 32.Bxe5 Bxb5+ 33.Kxb5 Rc5+ 34.Kb6 The white king is the hero of the tale. 34...Rxe5 35.Rc1 Rxa5 36.Rc7+ Kd8 37.Rfc1!

Kramnik ignores the rook to threaten mate in two. 37...Ra8 loses to 38.Kb7 and the rook has nowhere to go. But Topalov had seen the saving block with (diagram) 37...Rc5, forcing the exchange of rooks.

But what he hadn't seen is that Kramnik only needed one rook to do the job. 38.R1xc5 dxc5 39.Kc6 1-0 and Black has no reasonable defense against 40.Ra7 and mate on a8. Spectacular. Blindfold.

The game immediately brought to mind Kramnik's rapid chess win over Kasparov in the Korchnoi Anniversary tournament in 2001, with its themes of sacrifice and domination on the back rank.

Both of those games and a selection of others from this year's Melody Amber are here for online replay and download.

 

 


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