Ian on Fischer and Forfeits in Wijk
By GM Ian Rogers   
January 20, 2008
Nigel Short in Corus. Photo Cathy Rogers
For the first week of the Corus Chess festival in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, attention was firmly centred on the chessboards of the world’s elite players.

Then the chess world began to spin off its axis.

The off-board drama began a couple of hours before the start of the sixth round when a buzz went around the press room – Bobby Fischer had died the previous evening.

Mark Crowther of The Week in Chess posted the information first, but within minutes news services such as the BBC and CNN were picking up on the story.

The news hit the world’s greatest chess festival hard, especially with the opening ceremony for the Veterans Tournament, featuring many of Fischer’s old rivals, due to be held that afternoon.

Ljubomir Ljubojevic firmly pronounced Fischer “the greatest”, while Lajos Portisch talked of the difficulties in being friends with Fischer – even as he related stories of spas and Fischer Random games with the former World Champion during Fischer’s time in Budapest in the early 1990s.

Portisch also provided one of the best quotes: “Fischer was the first player to break the Soviet hegemony and he did it alone. [Coming from Hungary] I know how difficult that was. We were both in the same boat, although he was sitting at the front of the boat and I was sitting at the back.”

Before the sixth round started, the arbiters announced a minute’s silence in memory of Fischer. It was the most silent minute’s silence I have ever heard, respected by the thousand-plus players in the playing hall and even by the paparazzi. (Video of the minute can be seen on ChessVibes.com .)

Over the board, round six was the day that Magnus Carlsen took the tournament lead for the first time, with the following win against Judit Polgar.


 At his press conference after the game at which Carlsen explained his win , the press seemed almost as interested in the teenage Norwegian’s opinion on Fischer as on the game. Carlsen expressed admiration for Fischer’s direct playing style, a style which he was happy to admit trying to emulate.

In the same round, Carlsen’s co-leader Levon Aronian dropped back after failing to defend a basic R+h+f  pawn v R endgame against Vladimir Kramnik, who moved into second place.


Thanks to Wijk aan Zee’s use of a traditional time control without increments, Aronian lost on time some time after move 100 in a position that was by then hopeless but which had been trivially drawn a couple of frantic moves earlier. Aronian later blamed himself for playing too slowly; in particular, for taking too long to find and set up the perfect defensive structure. However it was an absurd finish to a fascinating game, which featured preparation by Kramnik running to move 30+ and then surprisingly poor technique by the Russian in a winning double rook endgame. In the press room Ljubojevic was busily explaining the winning method to anyone who would listen, only to watch in horror as Kramnik reached the zugzwang position with the wrong person to move and then exchanged into the drawn R+2 v R endgame.
Aronian in Wijk ann Zee. Photo Cathy Rogers

The next day was obviously less eventful, but it did see Levon Aronian not only bounce back into second place but also adroitly defuse a potentially nasty racism row.


Some months earlier, Teimour Radjabov had given an interview, presumably intended for local consumption in Azerbaijan only, in which he explained that he and all Azeri players were extra motivated when playing Armenians because Armenians were the enemies of the Azeris. (For some historical context, after a war late last century Armenia currently occupies a part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh.  The rights and wrongs of the war are still debated; it should be noted that Azeris and Armenians differ in both religion and race. However, whether due in part to ethnic cleansing or not, post-war most current Karabakhites consider themselves Armenian and are apparently not too unhappy with the status quo.)

Once his interview had been published internationally, Radjabov back-pedalled, claiming his comments had been misinterpreted, though Radjabov’s ‘clarification’ only served to confirm suspicions that he meant was he was reported to have said.

In any case, at the post-game press conference, Aronian admitted that he had been extra-motivated for his game against Radjabov. When asked why, Aronian, who hails from Armenia, avoided the minefield of politics by saying “Because he had more points than me!” Aronian admitted later that there was a second reason for his motivation being high, but this was directed personally at Radjabov for his provocative comments rather than any generic anti-Azeri feeling.

If the tournament organisers had hoped that peace on earth and goodwill to all men would return to the tournament the next day, they were to be sadly disappointed.

At the start of the eighth round, when Nigel Short sat down to play Ivan Cheparinov in the B group, the Bulgarian refused to shake Short’s hand, despite two offers from the Englishman.

Some more historical context might be in order.

At the 2005 World Championship tournament in San Luis, Argentina, the winner Veselin Topalov and his second Cheparinov regularly shared a meal table with Short.
Short later wrote that his breaking bread with the Bulgarians was considered in some ways a lucky charm for Topalov so the tradition could not be broken.

However after the controversial 2006 World Championship match between Topalov and Kramnik, at which Topalov accused Kramnik of cheating, Short apparently took Kramnik's side, going as far as to claim that cheating would have been feasible by Topalov's team in San Luis. (After the San Luis tournament, Topalov had been directly accused by one of Alexander Morozevich's seconds of receiving computer assistance, probably, so the allegations went, through signalling by his manager Silvio Danailov.)
And had I forgotten to mention that Danailov, now the most polarising figure in world chess, had turned up at Wijk aan Zee just a day before the Cheparinov-Short game? Did I also not mention that Danailov has repeatedly stated, again on the night of the Short-Cheparinov game, that Topalov would again not shake Kramnik's hand at the start of their next Wijk aan Zee encounter?)
Although Short, like Radjabov, later claimed that he his words had been misinterpreted, the thought that Short was giving any credence whatsoever to the allegations against Topalov must have stung the Topalov camp. Cheparinov's reaction was to refuse to shake hands with Short, just as Kramnik and Topalov had refused to shake hands with each other in Wijk aan Zee 2007, a few months after their world title match.
Unfortunately the world had changed between the two Wijk aan Zee tournaments and FIDE had introduced a recommendation that players be forfeited if they refuse to shake hands when asked by the arbiter or if they insult their opponent.

After having this clause brought to his attention by Short’s complaint to the arbiters, Cheparinov eventually agreed to shake Short’s hand. However Short claimed that his concentration had been destroyed by Cheparinov’s actions, and the arbiters agreed, forfeiting Cheparinov.

Danailov and Cheparinov quickly framed an official protest to be heard by an appeals committee including noted supporter of non-handshaking….Vladimir Kramnik!

The Appeals Committee, which also included Polgar and Mikhail Krasenkow, ruled that Cheparinov’s forfeit be overturned and the game be replayed the next afternoon. To salve Short’s hurt feelings, Cheparinov would also be required to furnish a written apology by 11am the next morning. There the matter stands, though with the Kramnik-Topalov game coming soon, we may just have been witnessing a proxy preview of the main event.

While these battles raged, there was also some fine chess played in Wijk aan Zee, though the best game to date was to be found in the B group, where Etienne Bacrot could be found in the lead alongside Nigel ‘Shake It’ Short. In the following game, Bacrot showed just how incredible modern opening preparation can be…

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qh4 15.g3 Qh3 16.Bxd5 cxd5 17.Qxd5
The young Dutch GMs Smeets and Stellwagen have been trying to show that Greed is Good with this move for some time, and their idea was picked up and used with success by Alexey Shirov in the recent World Cup.
Notably, on the same day that this game was being played, Judit Polgar essayed the more prudent 17.Nd2 against Peter Leko and secured a slight advantage (which she was unable to convert into a full point).
17…Rad8 18.Qg2 Qh5 19.Be3 Bh3!?
Bacrot’s new idea, though the Frenchman shares the credit for the find with his second Arkadij Naiditsch. (Yes, super-GM Arkadij Naiditsch, the man who won Dortmund 2005 ahead of Kramnik and Topalov now works as a second for a player in the B group of Wijk aan Zee!) In earlier games Black had always bothered to recapture one of the sacrificed pawns through 19...Bxd3.
20.Qh1 f5 21.Bb6 Rd7 22.Qd5+ Kh8 23.Nd2 Bxg3!! 24.Qxd7 Bf4!
Because of the threat of 24...Qg5+, White has no time to save his knight.
25.Qb7 Bxd2 26.Bd4 Rg8 27.Re7?
The obvious choice, but Bacrot had had this position in front of him on the morning of the game and had already worked out the refutation. (Or is it beyond the realm of possibility that the bolt from the blue which follows was discovered by whatever computer assistant Bacrot was using at the time….)
27…Bc1!! 28.Re1
This humble retreat is forced due to the threat of 28…Qd1+ and the fact that 28.Rxc1 allows mate after 28…Qg5+.
28…Bf4! 29.Re3
Returning the exchange is the only chance given Black’s threat of 29…Bxh2+! 30.Kxh2 Bg4+ with a winning attack.
29…Bxe3 30.Bxe3
30.fxe3 was a slightly better chance but Bacrot was intending 30…Qe2 31.Rg1 h6 with White still horribly tied up.
30...Re8! 31.Bd4 Qg4+ 32.Kh1 h6! 33.f4
There is nothing to be done, since 33.Rg1 allows 33…Qxg1+ and mate.
33…Re7! 34.Qa8+ Kh7 35.Be5 Qe2 36.Rg1 Bg4 37.Rxg4 fxg4 38.d4
Shortening the agony.
38…Qf1# 0-1

Corus A 2008
Scores after 8 rounds

1.Carlsen 5.5/8;

 2.Kramnik, Aronian 5;
 4.Radjabov, Anand 4.5;
 6.Mamedyarov, Adams, Ivanchuk, van Wely 4;
 10.Polgar, Topalov, Leko 3.5;
 13.Eljanov, Gelfand 2.5.

For complete standings in the B and C sections and more details, go to the official website. This is Ian's last blog from Corus as he is leaving the scene. Read Ian's first blog from Wijk . Also check CLO this week for live video from Corus by Macauley Peterson.