Looking back at Dortmund

7/26/2003 – The Chess Meeting 2003 in Dortmund is the 31st edition of Germany's strongest tournament. Ram Prasad, a Chicago-based software engineer and chess junkie, gets us into the mood for this year's action with an illustrated year-by-year look at the Chess Meetings of recent past. A must-read article.

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Dortmund Chess Daze

A Look Back – by Ram Prasad

If things had turned out a little differently, the name of the "sport temple" city of Dortmund would have been forever etched into the memories of chess aficionados the world over. The city made a bid to host the 1972 Fischer-Spassky championship, which eventually went to Reykjavik. This year, the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting starts on July 31st. Let's take this opportunity to look back at a few Dortmund tournaments of the past, and to recollect the stories behind the scores.

Dortmund is a chess-crazed city, reputed to have 5000 active chess players rated by the German system, over two dozen chess clubs in the area, including one "chess club built around a pub" – Haus Bisplinghoff – run by a WGM.

These days, there are only two ways to get to play in the highest category classical tournament in Dortmund. The tournament director sends out an invite to a handful of the very top super grandmasters in the world. Or, one top GM from Germany might get a host invitation and the rare opportunity to lock horns with the most elite of grandmasters.

Before we take a year-by-year look at the Chess Meetings of recent past, here are some interesting sidebars about Dortmund.

Many may be surprised to learn that way back in 1928, Fritz won the very first Dortmund tournament! Yes, Fritz in 1928 and that is not a typo. This was the flesh-and-blood master Fritz Samisch, whose biggest rival in the tournament was Reti. In fact, one opening that Fritz used in that tournament is what we now know as the Samisch Variation. Fritz didn't lose a single game and went on to win 700 Marks as the first prize money.

Garry Kasparov has not been seen playing in Dortumund for over a decade, but he does have a history with the city. He played in and won the World Junior Championships there in 1980. He has also played in the classical tournament once, back in 1992. Unfortunately for Kasparov, it is always his losses that are invariably mentioned since they are such rarities. In Dortmund 1992, Garry lost two games, one to Gata Kamsky and another to local grandmaster Robert Hubner. He emerged the joint winner along with Ivanchuk in '92 and hasn't played there since.

Also, many people don't know that Alexander Alekhine (above) has been visiting the tournament every year for the last ten years now. Alekhine Jr., the son of the world champ (who doesn't play chess, because his dad was too busy to teach him) is a regular presence at the Sparkenssen Chess Meetings.

Let's take a look at the last four Chess Meetings.

1999

The 1999 Dortmund tournament belonged to Peter Leko. The Hungarian GM has such a good history with Dortmund that the city is sometimes referred to as being his "second home." He met his wife Sofie Petrosian in Dortmund.


Sophie and Peter Leko

Young Peter first came to the city to play in 1991, as a 11-year old prodigy and started winning fans. They still tell stories of how in 1992, as a 12-year old, in an interview he stated that he wanted to be "the world champion." When asked who he thought his opponent would be, he replied "Vishwanathan Anand." This was at a time when Garry was the world champion. Peter Leko has been gunning after the Dortmund title ever since. In 1998, he finished fourth with one loss. But in 1999, he finished first ahead of Kramnik, Anand, Adams and Karpov, thereby becoming the first teenager ever to win a tournament ranked Category XIX tournament or above.

2000

We must hand it to Carsten Hensel and the Dortmund organizers for always keeping things lively. In 2000, they threw in a computer program into the mix! Junior 6 was the one of the 10 participants. Junior did a tremendous job, putting in a stunning 2700+ performance. It even managed to beat the previous year's Dortmund winner Peter Leko.


Kramnik vs the computer at Dortmund 2002

The following sounds like one of those tough logic puzzles, but it really happened. In 2000, the top three players – Kramnik, Anand and Adams – didn't lose to any of the other seven players. In a very interesting loop, Kramnik beat Anand, Anand beat Adams, and Adams beat Kramnik. When the dust cleared Kramnik and Anand had the same score (6.0/9), and Kramnik was the winner since he had beaten Anand.

2001

In 2001, the format of the 29th Dortmunder Schachtage was changed into a Linares-like double round robin. That year, Kramnik was the Braingames world champ; Vishy Anand was the FIDE champ. Many chess fans looked forward to this unofficial battle of the world champions. Six of world's top ten superGMs showed up to compete. In addition to Vladimir and Vishy, the others were Topalov, Adams, Morozevich and Leko.


Dortmund 2001, with three Sputer-GM games and two subsidiary matches

While the 2001 tournament was in progress, an announcement was made saying that the next edition of Dortmund would be converted into a candidate's tournament. Especially to Anand, the news that he would have to participate and fight in a qualifier to meet Kramnik must have come as a rude shock. He declined his invitation to play in Dortmuind 2002.

Dortmund has never really been Anand's forte, and in that Meeting he crashed spectacularly. Anand didn't win a single game and suffered four losses. Upon completing his games, he was reputed to have left after saying "See you in 2003" to the director, Carsten Hensel.


Photographers doing their work befort the start of a critical game

In contrast, Kramnik didn't lose a single game (three wins). Topalov came second while Kramnik emerged the winner for a record sixth time.

2002

So, when Dortmund 2002 rolled around, both Kramnik and Anand weren't playing in the tournament. There was a very good reason why Kramnik didn't play in Dortmund to try and collect his seventh winner's plaque.


Madame Nahed Ojjeh, the benefactor of Dortmund, at the press conference with Vladimir Kramnik.

As mentioned earlier, the 30th anniversary of the International Dortmund Chess Days also became the World Championship Candidates' Tournament, to find a challenger for the Einstein Group Chess title-holder – Vladimir Kramnik. In addition to Anand, Garry Kasparov and Ivanchuk also refused their invitations. Kasparov certainly didn't want to play to qualify to be a challenger. He believed that he deserved a direct match against Kramnik. Anand, as the reigning FIDE champ had contractual obligations, which explicitly prohibited him from playing in any other Candidates match.

Chess politics aside, Dortmund had an excellent field in 2002. The eight participating GMs were divided into two groups. Group 1 was comprised of Veselin Topalov, Boris Gelfand, Alexei Shirov, and Christopher Lutz. In Group 2 there were Alexander Morozevich, Michael Adams, Peter Leko and Evgeny Bareev.

Adams, Lutz, Morozevich and Gelfand didn't advance past the initial round. In the semifinal round, Leko played Shirov and moved on to the finals relatively easily. Topalov and Bareev battled long and hard (no draws in the first four games) and finally, in the tiebreaker Topalov triumphed.

Even in such an exciting tournament, there were some negatives. Christopher Lutz, being from the home country had been given a spot as the host entry. Lutz didn't fare well (no wins, one loss and one draw against each opponent in Group 1) and some felt that the spot might have been better used by Vassily Ivanchuk. There was also a general feeling that the various rounds were packed together too close. Scheduling the games in matches such as these is always tougher than many people realize. The format with multiple knock-out rounds (and the tie-breakers) meant that Topalov had to play every day of the event towards the end. In contrast, Peter got a couple of days off to rest thanks to his early dispatch of Shirov. In the end, Topalov's tiredness must certainly have been one factor as to why he lost to Leko.


Star-studded final: Veselin Topalov vs Peter Leko

Before his Dortmund 2002 performance, Leko's play was viewed as being lackluster by some, and his popularity rating was beginning to lag. He was seeded sixth among the eight GMs, ahead only of Bareev and Lutz. But in the event, he surprised everyone and played such good chess that Mig Greengard dubbed him Leko 2.0 ("Leko 2.0 has sharper openings and can play to win with both colors.") Peter shrugged off the competition in Group 2, crushed Alexei Shirov (2.5-0.5) in the semifinals, earned himself two days of rest. In the finals he defeated Topalov to win the tournament and qualify to play Kramnik.

2003

And all of this history gives us a context to look at this year. Six top GMs will be there, and just like in 2001, the format will be a double round robin with colors reversed. Interestingly, each GM is coming to Dortmund with something to prove, with their own personal missions.

Teimour Radjabov from Azerbaijan: Sure, we all remember that he defeated Kasparov in Linares and the ensuing controversy. Teimour's accomplishments are many, no doubt. Dortmund is his chance to show the world that he is much more than the little kid from Baku who managed to steal one game from Garry the giant.

Arkadi Naiditsch from Germany: In the Ordix Open in 2001, he scored 8.0 in 11 rounds. This year, he finished second in the B tournament in Wijk Aan Zee. He is only 17 and has been called the German rising star for long, and this is his opportunity to convert his potential into reality.

Viorel Bologan from Moldavia: His world rankings have been remarkably inconsistent. He was ranked number 11 in the world back in 1991, but then he fell to become around #250. This February, he won the Aeroflot Open on strength of tiebreaks and clinched a spot to play in the Dortmunder. But then, in April in the 4th Karpov Tournament, he finished in the middle of the pack. Dortmund is his chance to use his experience and show the world that he is among those who must be counted.

Viswanathan Anand from India: We hear about Kasparov-Ponomariov, and about Kramnik-Leko, but where does the world's number 3 figure in all of this? Anand has never really shined in Dortmund, and his 2001 tournament was a nightmare he would love to erase. 2003 could be his opportunity to show everyone that venue is secondary to good solid chess.

Vladimir Kramnik from Russia: It will be a long time before anyone can surpass Kramnik's record number of six Dortmund titles. He is coming and hoping for his seventh trophy. But if he wins, he will also be sending a strong message to his challenger Leko.

Peter Leko from Hungary: Peter, in turn, has to prove a few things to Vladimir. In the last four Dortmunds, these two have won two titles apiece. If he emerges the champion, Peter will also be scoring a psychological win over Kramnik.

Whatever the outcome in 2003, there will be ten great rounds, and chess fans everywhere can put everything else aside and enjoy once more that unique Dortmund Chess daze.

Ram Prasad is a Chicago-based software engineer, originally from India. He is a part-time writer and a full time chess junkie who is fascinated by super GMs and mega tournaments. His interests include chess-playing computers and all aspects of chess improvement.


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