After basketball, it is the turn of chess at the Spanish city of Bilbao. Situated on the bank of Nervion River, the historical city has already become a major tourist center in southern Europe. Until the other day, Bilbao attracted worldwide attention for hosting Group C round-robin matches of the FIBA sponsored basketball World Cup, when the locals were witness to the hooping skills of players representing the Dominican Republic, Finland, New-Zealand, Turkey, Ukraine and USA. It is in the news again for hosting four of the best chess players in the world in the Chess Masters Final and the best chess clubs in Europe in a simultaneous event called European Chess Club Cup. Both events are being held at the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall and attracting a large number of visitors from over thirty European countries, including players, members of the federation and chess enthusiasts.
After Bilbao Mayor Ibon Areso officially their clocks, the four participants began their games just after 3 PM local time on Sunday. Indian chess legend and five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand began his first encounter in the Bilbao Final Masters authoritatively. In the first round match, Anand handed out a crushing defeat to former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine. In a King’s Indian game, Anand finished the match after 61 moves. On a nearby table, Anand’s closest challenger, Levon Aronian of Armenia could only manage a draw against Spain’s Francisco Vallejo Pons after playing out 46 moves in a Nimzo-Indian defense. Thus, at the end of day 1, Anand obtained a crucial early lead with five more matches remaining.
In his second round match on Monday, Vishy consolidated his tournament lead with another victory and this time his opponent was Spain’s Francisco Vallejo Pons. Anand needed only 35 moves from a Ragozin Defense and finished the match decisively. Levon Aronian also recorded his first victory in the event by beating Ruslan Ponomariov in a King’s Indian. For Ponomariov, it was the second loss in two matches. It was the best start in a tournament for Vishy Anand in recent times. With the use of football scoring system in the tournament, the Indian ace increased his lead to 6 points in 2 games. Monday’s game began Vallejo had an opportunity but he spoilt an interesting scenario in the next few moves. With a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Anand chose another system pioneered by the Soviet grandmaster Viacheslav Ragozin and Vallejo was faced with insurmountable difficulty. In the other game on Monday, Ukrainian GM Ruslan Ponomariov was unlucky against the formidable Aronian. In the King’s Indian, against the Armenian, Ponomariov ran into trouble as Aronian went for a safe piece setup that involved a kingside fianchetto.
On Tuesday, however, Ruslan Ponomariov was back to the winning ways in the only match that produced an outright decision. After two losses with the black pieces, Ponomariov played with Whites in round three and defeated Francisco Vallejo Pons. The Ukrainan began well, maintained the initiative, kept looking at the enemy king and scored an easy victory over Francisco Vallejo. But the second game on Wednesday was the most eagerly awaited and it featured Vishy Anand playing with Levon Aronian. For spectators, the big third round clash became an anti-climax as it came to a draw in next to no time. The start followed Caruana-Aronian from the recent Sinquefield Cup with Anand stepping into Caruana’s shoes but didn’t swap on e6. Anand said later that he didn’t continue because he believed Aronian might have thought of an improvement. Also since such game could be better played with Blacks and Anand had the Whites, he decided to settle for a draw.
After Wednesday’s rest day the Masters Final will move on to the remaining round-robin beginning Thursday. Anand leads withs 7 points to Aronians 5 but the Indian will be determined to finish the tournament to his advantage ahead of the World Championship re-match against Magnus Carlsen in November.