Morozevich is master of Amber tourney

CHENNAI MARCH 29. Russia's emerging chess star Alexander Morozevich became the first debutant to win the Amber chess tournament by excelling in the blindfold games at the Metropole Palace Hotel in Monte Carlo in Monaco on Thursday night.

By winning the blindfold section with a impressive score of nine points from eleven games, 24-year old Morozevich totalled 15 points from 22 games in his combined tally to win his first major tournament ahead of fancied names in an elite setting. Alexei Shirov, who led the event for most of the length was placed second second with 14.5 points. Last year's debutant Peter Leko of Hungary gave a better balanced display to take the third place with 13.5 points.

The Amber tournament, now in its eleventh edition is played with 25 minutes and ten seconds per player at the start and for every move the players make they gain an additional ten seconds on the Fischer clock principle. This is the only elite event for rapid and blindfold chess sponsored by the retired Dutch billionaire Mr. J.J. Van Oosterom. It is held in the name of his elder daughter Melody Amber.

The blindfold games have a time control of 25 minutes and twenty seconds per player at the start and they get twenty seconds for making each move. The interesting part of the event was that all three medal winners were new. Morozevich, Shirov and Leko replaced joint champions of last year

Kramnik and Topalov and Anand at the podium.

Viswanathan Anand opted out personally from the event this year to start the year with a less crowded schedule. Morozevich, the World No. 4-ranked player had a huge 2957 Elo performance in the blindfold section where he also remained undefeated, winning seven games and drawing four. His rapid score had a modest beginning of two defeats after four successive draws. But he clawed back with a 4/5 score towards the tape to gain lost ground and finish with 6/11 in rapid chess.

Morozevich becomes the eighth player to win the Amber tournament and joins the likes of V. Ivanchuk (1992), L. Ljubojevic (1993), V. Anand (1994, 1997), A. Karpov (1995), V. Kramnik (1996, 1998 [tied], 1999, 2001 [tied]), A. Shirov (1998 [tied], 2000), V. Topalov (2001 [tied]).

Strangely, the title race was mainly between Morozevich and Shirov, the two players who took last place at the last two super category tournaments at Cannes in France and at Linares in Spain earlier in March.

After leading for long, Shirov paused with two draws in round ten against Leko, which let the Russian jump into lead with a 2-0 shock over his countryman Bareev. In the final round on Thursday, Shirov needed to win against Kramnik to bridge the half-point deficit. He managed to win with the black pieces when Kramnik lost on time in a difficult position but decided to play it safe with white for a 1.5-0.5 win on the day.

But Morozevich too matched that score with his 1.5-0.5 victory over Van Wely to finish half a point ahead and win the tournament. Round ten, which spun Morozevich into lead, was dramatic. Two other title aspirants, Ivanchuk and Gelfand suffered big defeats to Almasi and Van Wely. Van Wely won only two games in the tournament and both were against Gelfand, one rapid and one blindfold. Despite that lone defeat, Gelfand won the closely fought rapid section with 7.5/11.

The winner of the tournament is one who scores most totalling both eleven rapid and eleven blindfold games. It was like always a 12-player double round robin held from March 15-28.The event was a big failure for Braingames World Champion Kramnik who had finished first in four of the previous ten editions and was one of the most prolific performers here. He managed only eighth place and finished in the bottom half of the standings.

Kramnik is experimenting new openings including the king pawn and should be lucky that rapid and blindfold games do not get rated in the next Elo list. However, six defeats (last year, one defeat) in a single tournament only signifies that something is seriously wrong.

In the past World's No. 1-ranked Garry Kasparov has tried to play if the rapid tournament is separated from the blindfold as he was certainly unwilling to risk loss on account of blunder in the blindfold games.

Morozevich's golden debut might make the king of the world to rethink this option to play here.

The Association Max Euwe, which organises this event each year should be, delighted that despite the absence of former world champions Anatoly Karpov and Anand, their replacements, Morozevich and Bareev finished at the top and also helped the cause of more decisive games.

Final combined standings: 1 Alexander Morozevich (Rus) 15/22; 2 Alexei Shirov (Esp) 14.5; 3 Peter Leko (Hun) 13.5; 4 Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukr) 13; 5-7 Boris Gelfand (Isr), Veselin Topalov (Bul), Evgeny Bareev (Rus) 12 each; 8 Vladimir Kramnik (Rus) 11; 9-10 Zoltan Almasi (Hun), Jeroen Piket (Ned) 9 each; 11 Loek Van Wely (Ned) 6; 12 Ljubomir Ljubojevic (Yug) 5.

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