The first week of February 2014, brought the news about two important chess tournaments, played in different parts of the world. In the Zurich Chess Challenge, which concluded on Tuesday February 4, the newly-crowned World Champion, Magnus Carlsen put the stamp of his authority on the game. It was Carlsen’s first truly serious tournament, after capturing the world title in Chennai last November. The other tournament was the 2014 Tradewise Gibralter Chess Festival, which was organized during 27th January to 6th February at the Caleta Hotel in Gibralter, where the Bulgarian Ivan Cheparinov was a surprise winner.
In the Zurich event, five rounds of classical chess were played. Some chess experts opined that it was an uncharacteristically low number. Anyway, the classical games were followed by five rounds of rapid chess, to be finished within 15 minutes. A grace period of 10 seconds increment for every move was allowed. Then the players were required to play another five rounds, with reversed colors.
The Zurich classic was the highest category tournament in the history of chess, contested amongst world’s six best players. On top of the pack was Magnus Carlsen, followed by Armenian world number 2, Levon Aronian; Italian Fabiano Caruana; American Hikaru Nakamura; Israeli superstar Boris Gelfand and India’s Vishy Anand. For Anand, whose world ranking has slipped to number nine, it was the first time in many years that he participated as the lowest ranked player in any tournament. In part, Carlsen was a bit lucky in his five matches of the classical category. He had a really tough time against Hikaru Nakamura in the third game. If he had lost that game, he might not have emerged the overall champion because his performance in the rapids was quite disappointing. As per the tournament format, classical games’ points counted double of the rapids and since Carlsen had won 4 out of 5 classical games, he went into the rapids with a built-in advantage. In the rapid play, however, Carlsen could only manage 2 out of 5 points, as against the second-placed Armenian Levon Aronian, who scored 3 out of 5. Despite his great performance in the rapid section, Aronian was still one full point behind Carlsen in overall standings. The best play in the rapids was recorded by Italy’s Fabiano Caruana, who scored 4 out of 5 points. Unfortunately, the man, who was once regarded as the master of rapid play, yielded a very disheartening performance. You guessed right if you thought of Vishy Anand, who finished last in the rapid play section. Anand could only muster an extremely poor score of 1 out of 5. Despite Carlsen’s collapse in the rapid games, he simply needed a draw against Vishy Anand for the first prize. Though Anand could not have won the tournament, he was in position to deny Carlsen the championship. But with his current bad form, Anand could not raise his game. While Carlsen was the champion, Aronian and Caruana tied for second spot at Zurich. They both had one point less than Carlsen. Caruana, however, played fantastically in the rapids and everyone applauded the feats of the 21-year-old Italian.
The Gibraltar event showcased five different categories, which were; Masters, two Challengers Wk1 (U2250) & Challengers Wk2 (U2250) and two Amateurs Wk1 (U1900) & Amateurs Wk2 (U1900). But the Masters was a focal event in which 256 players from 48 nations participated. There were 76 Grandmasters with 10 players rated above 2700 FIDE. Three Grandmasters had identical score of 8.0 after 10 rounds of play and it was difficult to predict the winner until that time, though the performance of the Ukrainian, Vassily Ivanchuk was the most impressive. The other two; Ivan Cheparinov of Bulgaria and defending champion Nikita Vitiugov of Russia also had 8 points. As per the tournament format and rules, it came necessary to go for a tie-break, so that the winner could be decided. Lots were drawn and as luck would have it, Cheparinov went into the final without playing another match and waited for the game between Ivanchuk and Vitiugov.
The first two rapid-play games were drawn, but in the two blitz games, Vitiugov beat Ivanchuk and met Cheparinov in the final. In the final, Cheparinov defeated Vitiugov to win the tournament. Cheparinov’s victory was surprising since Ivanchuk held the leader position after many rounds and he looked the most impressive player. But in the end, the 27-year old world no. 75, Ivan Cheparinov from Bulgaria rode his luck, scored a string of victories in the last three stages and emerged a winner from an unfancied position.