Peter Leko wins First ACP World Rapid Chess Cup
09.01.2007 – Rapid chess has its own special fascination. Players are more carefree, socialize with journalists and the public, comment on the games as they are being played. The atmosphere at the World Rapid Chess Cup in Odessa was congenial, and the games a pleasure to watch. Read about it in Misha Savinov's giant closing report.
First ACP World Rapid Chess Cup
This event took place in Odessa, Ukraine, from January 4th to 8th
2007, in the Hotel Londonskaya. The total prize fund was US $136,000.
16 grandmasters participate in the knockout tournament, with time control
or 20 min + 5 sec.
Odessa World Rapid Cup, Quarterfinals
By Misha Savinov
I am too young to have experienced the PCA Grand Prix firsthand. However,
I personally know many people who were so impressed by those events that they
started studying chess professionally, or at least follow it passionately. I
always wanted to know the spell. Now I think I know it.
First some impressions of Odessa.
The Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater, considered by many to be the second
best in the world (after the Vienna State Opera)
A Laocoön statue in front of the national museum
The atmosphere of a classical tournament, regardless of the formula, is very
different – dryer, more official, more pretentious. Each player is completely
alone, surrounded by rivals and tied down to a strict regimen. They have breakfast
in the morning, prepare, have lunch, play a six-hour game, answer a couple of
silly questions and go to bed. Players show their brighter side only after making
a quick draw. Then they are talkative and friendly. Exhaustion never helps.
The enthusiastic crowd in the playing hall just before the start of a game
Alexei Shirov waits on the stage for his opponent to arrive
A game under way in the festive playing hall
Rapid elimination events are different in all ways. No rating. No extended
pain (lose and you’re out). Much socializing. Finally, a lot of excitement
for the public – and you’re wrong if you don’t consider the
players as being part of the audience! One can’t become a chess professional
without a love for chess.
Viorel (a.k.a. Victor) and Margarita Bologan
Before Odessa, I have rarely seen players paying so much attention to each
other’s games, and getting so much pleasure from discussing it. They simply
had more free time to do so. Leko, for instance, was one of the most active
kibitzers in the press center, which did not prevent him from coming up with
atomic opening preparation against Rublevsky.
Peter Leko, Teimour Radjabov, Vladimir Tukmakov and Ilya Smirin kibitzing
Alexei Shirov and bank president Vadim Morokhovsky follow a game
Not only that; commenting rapid games is much livelier for both spectators
and commentators. It is dynamic and fun. The crowd in the hall of Londonskaya
literally blocks all entries and exits. People indifferent to chess can’t
pass through easily.
GMs Sokolov, Leko, Harikrishna and Bareev kibitzing
Somehow I came across the feeling that chess would do much better if there
was no classical chess at all (right, Vlad?). Rapid is a very genuine format
for chess, and we would certainly see more tournaments like this. It seems the
PCA had a golden formula: big Swiss qualification (a huge event by itself!)
followed by a 16-player elimination with stars and everything. It worked once,
and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work again.
Vassily Ivanchuk, striving for excellence in 20 minute games
Talking about creativity (and coming back to Odessa), two players generally
considered being the most creative in this tournament, Ivanchuk and Morozevich,
have distinctly opposite opinions on creative value of rapid games. Morozevich
said that rapid has none of it, and all he tries to do is not to blunder, while
Ivanchuk said the thought that rapid chess is much closer to classical than
to blitz, and playing a decent rapid game is definitely not a possibility that
should be ruled out. If professionals don’t have clear opinion on the
subject, the future of classical chess is in real trouble.
WGM Oksana Vozovic, 2006 Ukraine champion, WGM Alyona Goreskul, and yours
Final day: Peter Leko wins $40,000
The last day of the ACP World Rapid Cup included two semifinals and a final.
This looked a bit unfair for the player who qualifies from the second semifinal,
as he would have from just 10 to 50 minutes to recover before the concluding
match for $40,000.
Actually, the day began with an unexpected, or, in other words, not planned
event. A couple dozen of children arrived at the hotel somewhere around 11 am
"to meet grandmasters". Until the last minute it wasn’t decided
what this meeting is going to be like. Finally we came up with the blindfold
Children grilling the grandmasters at the World Cup in Odessa
But first there were questions. Children of Odessa were extremely impatient,
giving the players almost no time to answer questions of various degrees of
trickiness. They slowed down a bit only after Evgeny Bareev’s smart answer:
"What character traits are necessary for becoming a grandmaster? Patience!
You must not just learn to ask questions, but also how to listen to the answers."
Clearly Evgeny’s recent assignment to the Junior Chess Committee of the
RCF was not a mistake.
Rublevsky playing blindfold against youthful opponents
Then it came to blindfold games. Experienced Amber veteran Alexei Shirov was
first to test the children. He won easily. Then Sergey Rublevsky took the chair,
but his game wasn’t so smooth. As you can see on the picture, at some
point he was in quite a trouble, which provoked laughter from his colleagues.
However, at the critical moment Sergey focused, spent about a minute (which
looked like ages) on his defensive plan, and slowly turned the tables. But the
grandmaster who came to play third (let us not mention his name) lost to a girl.
To his excurse, the girl was daughter of a local master and experienced chess
After the excitement of blindfold we moved to rapid chess, once again brining
reminiscences of the Monaco private party. Leko and Gelfand came first. And
it was a big match, even if a bit cautious in the beginning. Two draws in rapid
games were not too eventful, although the quality of play was reasonable. The
opponents tried to sense weaknesses of each other.
Semi-final: Peter Leko, Hungary, vs Boris Gelfand, Israel
In blitz Leko had all the advantages, and it was only because of his nerves
– for some reason the Hungarian is not so good in key games – that
he needed a sudden death game to move on. The first blitz game was a disaster
for Gelfand, whose Sicilian fell apart with amazing quickness. Note that the
first try in a rapid game was okay, but when Boris repeated the opening, he
was swallowed without much trouble. In the second game Leko won a pawn and was
close to a positive score, but he suddenly started losing track, and automatic
endgame player Gelfand managed to regain the material and proceeded to a victory.
Another Armageddon, huh! Leko won the lot and took Black. This was a correct
strategy. Gelfand tried hard to win on time, speeding up right from the opening
as much as possible. However, this goes against his nature. Boris ended up in
a rather passive stand, and missed a simple and effective exchange sacrifice
– which was in fact winning, as the Black’s queen snatched all the
pawns she wanted. Leko advanced.
Start of a semifinal game between Vassily Ivanchuk and Teimour Radjabov
The second semifinal was another battle of giants. Ivanchuk and Radjabov both
impressed me quite a lot. Goes without saying that Vassily was in amazing form
in this tournament, but Teimour was quite sharp, too. The famous chess composer
Sergey Tkachenko was amazed to see the Azeri grandmaster solving his studies,
some of them being quite complicated, in a few minutes and without using the
board. Tkachenko tried to give the same problems to other players, but only
Alexei Shirov came close to Radja’s records, and only in certain studies
based on brilliant and creative tactics.
The key game of this match was the first one. Ivanchuk played very dry, technical
chess, obtaining two bishop advantage and acting like that was enough. Teimour’s
father Boris was later very unhappy about his son’s time management. While
Ivanchuk had about seven minutes in the ensuing endgame, Radjabov had seven
seconds. For me personally Teimour’s ability to hold an inferior position
for quite a while under such a time pressure was a serious indication of his
outstanding skill. But in the end Black cracked and Ivanchuk capitalized on
his bishop pair. Radja’s attempts to come back in the second game were
imaginative but in the end a bit too unsound for Ivanchuk. The Lvov genius has
vast experience against different players from Baku...
Radja explaining what had happened in his games against Ivanchuk
The final started in 50 minutes after Radjabov-Ivanchuk was over. Vassily Ivanchuk
got permission to miss the obligatory press conference, and Teimour Radjabov
(who lost 0-2, don’t forget it) patiently took all the media attention,
with three or four TV channels and many writing journalists. Radjabov enchanted
Odessa public with swift and detailed replies. We sort of got used to this guy,
but he is just 19, and continues to improve...
The final of the Inaugural World Rapid Chess Cup between Ivanchuk and Leko
The final challenge was Leko against Ivanchuk, and it developed in extremely
technical fashion. It seems queenless positions have come back into style after
the Elista match. Neither player was able to make any progress in the rapid
games and the first blitz game. The games were commented, first by Morozevich
and Beim, and then by Bareev, Gelfand and Tregubov. Of them, Morozevich was
the most original and brave in comments – and Bareev the most ironic and
subtle. He suggested the only way to beat Leko was: make four draws, win the
lot and choose Black in a sudden death game. Ivanchuk seemed being on the right
track, but repeating the Alekhine defense proved wrong, as he handled it much
worse than the first time. Leko got an overwhelming position, and it was over
– Chucky was simply squeezed, and even the exchange sacrifice didn’t
"I don't know how to beat this guy!" Ivanchuk in the press conference
At the final press conference Ivanchuk complained about his poor play in the
last game, which he handled like "a 1st category player". He denied
that having less time to rest affected his play in any way, mentioning that
Leko had a much more exhausting semifinal match... The Hungarian was asked what
could unite all leading players. He replied that more tournaments like this
in Odessa can certainly do a lot in this direction. I cannot but agree.
Young chess fans examine the exquisite trophy...
...which is then handed over to the winner: Peter Leko