by Macauley Peterson
I brought a tennis racquet with me to Spain. It has been a while, but I was inspired by photos of Magnus Carlsen and Peter Leko battling it out off the chessboard, in Morelia, during the first leg of the annual super tournament, known simply by it's older half: Linares. Tennis is often a favored sport among chess players. Something about the intense head-to-head competition both games share. And Linares is "the Wimbledon of chess."
In 1991, at 15 years old, Jennifer Capriati became the youngest player ever to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. Yesterday morning at brunch, a Spanish journalist and veteran of many Linares tournaments remarked that we were witnessing arguably the most spectacular chess performance by a youth in history. Carlsen, just 16, was tied for first place after nine rounds.
After winning his first round game against Alexander Morozevich, Carlsen went on to lead the tournament in 7 of the 9 rounds, faltering only with a loss to Anand in round 3. At the turn, the two of them shared the lead with +2 scores (4.5/7).
But in the 9th round, Carlsen, playing white, contented himself with repeating verbatim the game Topalov – Leko from round 3, just two weeks before. Speculation after the game was that he was playing it safe, and at least one player was very critical of his choice, saying, "why is he here, if he's going to play this way?"
It was clear that Carlsen's black on Sunday against co-leader Anand would be critical. Anand, whom many commentators picked to win the tournament, would surely try to press with the white pieces and momentum from his win over Magnus the week before.
Carlsen arrived at the board well after Anand. The gong signaling the official beginning of the round had already sounded. When he finally took his seat, he spent several minutes settling himself, and, perhaps, waiting for the initial din of photographers to subside, before joining the game with 1...e5.
Anand told me after the game that Carlsen should not have taken 24.Bxg5, and added, "maybe Qd8 is forced." When asked if he thought Carlsen was playing at all tentatively, hoping for a draw, he said no, adding coyly, "he played an opening." Anand had no special preparation for the line. "He hasn't played it before – at least I don't think so."
Carlsen was seemingly outplayed, and Anand pursued his kingside advantage relentlessly until black was forced to resign. Leko casually told Anand in the restaurant this afternoon that it appeared Carlsen didn't understand the danger to his kingside. As for Anand, GM Joel, commenting on the ICC Chess.FM webcast said during the middle game, "it's impossible to really argue with any of White's moves," calling them "very logical" and "typical of Vishy's style."
The loss must come as a blow to the sixteen-year old whose persistent share of the lead has finally come to an end, and may be more difficult to regain this time around. Such a big splash in the first half can wreck havoc with one's nerves, and Carlsen must be feeling the pressure of his first Linares appearance. He has been the hardest player for me to find around the Hotel Anibal, twice rushing past me despite my warmest, "hi!"
Sunday was full of lively play, despite the lone decisive result, as the grandmasters were leaving it all out on the table heading into the first rest day on Monday.
Peter Leko again played long into the second time control, taking Veselin Topalov into a rich rook and pawn ending that remains a topic of conversation among the grandmasters today.
The game ran so long, the Bulgarians' regular table in the hotel restaurant was occupied when they arrived at around 11 PM, so they sat across the room, where they were joined by Russian journalist Yuri Vassiliev. When I came by to say, "hola," Silvio Danailov, Topalov's manager, whom I had interviewed on the ICC Chess.FM webcast that afternoon, lamented the scandal-ridden press that has plagued his and Topalov's recent past. He blames ChessBase for fanning the flames by publishing articles and commentary notable more for its PR value than journalistic content.
Clockwise left to right: Ivan Cheparinov, Silvio Danailov, Veselin Topalov and Yuri Vassiliev.
The Leko – Topalov ending stayed on the brain of the Hungarian 2003 Linares winner, long after the draw was reached. At midnight he found Veselin in the hotel lobby where they continued discussing the multitude variations with all the glee of the schoolchildren in the playground across the street.
Topalov looked extremely tired after dinner. He said he had no plans for the rest day other than to, well, rest.
Leko, meanwhile, is bowling as I write this along with colleagues Peter Svidler, Levon Aronian, and their seconds, GMs Alexander Motylev, and Vladimir Potkin. Plans were struck late last night, when Leko joined the quartet relaxing with a game of belot.
Between tricks, jovial barbs and mandarin oranges, Svidler noted the importance of the first move in both belot and chess. Four rounds remain this week to see who will have the last word, at the chessboard.
Macauley Peterson is reporting live from Linares all this week on the Internet Chess Club's Chess.fm webcast. He can be reached at MacauleyPeterson.com.