Thursday, January 8, 2009


by GM Susan Polgar

Happy New Year! I wish all of you a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2009! In this column, I will briefly recap some of the biggest chess events of 2008.

The first big tournament of 2008 was the Corus event. This year, Carlsen and Aronian tied for first with a +3 score. Radjabov took third. One of the big battles of this tournament was the game between Topalov and Kramnik.

Following Corus was the prestigious Morelia/Linares super tournament, where half of the event was played in Morelia, Mexico and the other half was played in Linares, Spain. The 2008 winner was Anand with a +3 score. Carlsen placed second with a +2 score while Topalov and Aronian tied for third with a +1 score. Another major event in 2008 was the Baku Grand Prix. In this tournament, we saw the emergence of Gashimov as a world class player. He tied for first with Wang Yue and Carlsen with a +3 score. The M-tel Masters is now an annual super tournament. Ivanchuk ran away with the tournament with a whopping +6! Topalov came in at a distance second at +3. Ivanchuk’s performance was nearly 3000 for the tournament!

The Bosna tournament was also quite strong. Morozevich won this one with a +5 score, while Cuban top GM Dominguez came in second at +2. Carlsen made his mark in 2008 by winning the Foros Aerosvit tournament with a hefty +5 score, which was a full point ahead of Ivanchuk at +3. Leko joined the winner circle by capturing Dortmund in 2008 with a solid +2 score. The big story here was Kramnik’s minus score, which is quite rare. Four players tied for first at the 2008 Karpov Poikovsky tournament. Shirov, Jakovenko, Gashimov, and Rublevsky were all at +2.

Dominguez of Cuba had a breakout year in 2008. After coming in second place in Bosna, he tied for first in Biel with Alekseev at +3, ahead of Carlsen by a ½-point.

Aronian won Sochi, the second Grand Prix event of the year. He scored +4, while Radjabov logged in second with +3.

Ivanchuk won again at the 2008 Tal Memorial. His +3 score was good enough to win this one by a full point over Kramnik and Morozevich.

The highest rated tournament of the year, as well as highest rated tournament in history, was the Bilbao Grand Slam. I was there as the official commentator with my friend Leontxo Garcia. Topalov won the event by 1½ point over Aronian, Carlsen, and Ivanchuk. Anand finished at –2, but this was his last big event before the match in Bonn against Kramnik.

In Bonn, Anand jumped out to a +3 score in the twelve game match, and ended up winning by the score of 6½ – 4½.

Peter Svidler won his fifth Russian Championship title. He won the playoff after tying for first with Jakovenko and Alekseev with a +3 score.

The 2008 Dresden Olympiad was the largest chess Olympiad in history. Armenia won Gold again, while Georgia returned to super power status in women’s chess by winning Gold in the women’s Olympiad. The U.S. came in third in both Olympiads.

China hosted its most prestigious tournament ever in Nanjing. Topolov won another super event by a 1½ point margin with his +4 score and a hefty performance of nearly 2900. Aronian finished at a distant second with a +1 score.

The third Grand Prix of the year moved from Doha to Elista, Carlsen and Adams jumped ship because of changes to the cycle. Radjabov notched another win under his belt by tying for first with Grischuk and Jakovenko. All three were at +1.

In the U.S., the 2008 SPICE Cup (average rating over 2605) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX was the first ever category 15 tournament in the United States. GMs Harikrishna, Onischuk, Akobian, and Kritz shared first place. In 2009, I expect the SPICE Cup to reach a historic category 16 (perhaps even 17), something which has never been seen in the U.S. Please check out and for updates.

The 2009 Susan Polgar National Open for Boys and Girls will have over $250,000 in scholarships and chess prizes! It will be held on February 13-15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The winner of each scholastic section will receive a state-of-the-art laptop computer (eight altogether). More information can be found here. There have been quite a few changes in the top ten rating list in 2008:

January 2008: Kramnik and Anand share the top honor.

  • Kramnik, Vladimir 2799
  • Anand, Viswanathan 2799
  • Topalov, Veselin 2780
  • Morozevich, Alexander 2765
  • Svidler, Peter 2763
  • Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2760
  • Shirov, Alexei 2755
  • Leko, Peter 2753
  • Ivanchuk, Vassily 2751
  • Aronian, Levon 2739

April 2008: Anand took over the #1 spot while breaking 2800.

  • Anand, Viswanathan 2803
  • Kramnik, Vladimir 2788
  • Morozevich, Alexander 2774
  • Topalov, Veselin 2767
  • Carlsen, Magnus 2765
  • Aronian, Levon 2763
  • Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2752
  • Radjabov, Teimour 2751
  • Svidler, Peter 2746
  • Leko, Peter 2741

July 2008: Anand maintained the #1 spot, but fell just below 2800. Morozevich moved up to a tie for second with Kramnik.

  • Anand, Viswanathan 2798
  • Morozevich, Alexander 2788
  • Kramnik, Vladimir 2788
  • Ivanchuk, Vassily 2781
  • Topalov, Veselin 2777
  • Carlsen, Magnus 2775
  • Radjabov, Teimour 2744
  • Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2742
  • Shirov, Alexei 2741
  • Leko, Peter 2741

October 2008: Topalov regained the #1 spot. The top five were separated by eight points!

  • Topalov, Veselin 2791
  • Morozevich, Alexander 2787
  • Ivanchuk, Vassily 2786
  • Carlsen, Magnus 2786
  • Anand, Viswanathan 2783
  • Kramnik, Vladimir 2772
  • Aronian, Levon 2757
  • Radjabov, Teimour 2752
  • Leko, Peter 2747

Closing out 2008: Topalov maintains his #1 ranking at year end in spite of FIDE not counting Nanjing. He would have been at 2809 if Nanjing had been rated. Jakovenko and Movsesian are the two new faces in the top ten.

  • Topalov, Veselin 2796
  • Anand, Viswanathan 2791
  • Ivanchuk, Vassily 2779
  • Carlsen, Magnus 2776
  • Morozevich, Alexander 2771
  • Radjabov, Teimour 2761
  • Jakovenko, Dmitry 2760
  • Kramnik, Vladimir 2759
  • Leko, Peter 2751
  • Movsesian, Sergei 2751

The top five rating performances of the year were:

  • Ivanchuk 2981 in Sofia
  • Topalov 2892 in Nanjing
  • Carlsen 2877 in Foros
  • Topalov 2876 in Bilbao
  • Morozevich 2872 in Sarajevo

Below are two games from 2008 that received votes by the fans as games of the year:

Veselin Topalov (2780) – Vladimir Kramnik (2799)
Wijk aan Zee, Corus A (9), 22.01.2008


A very impressive positional knight sacrifice in this popular variation of the Moscow gambit. White has no immediate forced win, but has long-term strong compensation.

12...Kxf7 13.e5 Nd5 14.Ne4 Ke7 15.Nd6 Qb6 16.Bg4

Black is up a full piece, but his position is not easy to defend. His king is in a very vulnerable position and the white knight on d6 is scary.

16...Raf8 17.Qc2 Qxd4?

Better was 17...Rhg8.

18.Qg6! Qxg4 19.Qxg7+ Kd8 20.Nxb7+

White has recaptured the piece and maintained a strong attack.

20...Kc8 21.a4! b4 22.Rac1 c3 23.bxc3 b3 24.c4 Rfg8 25.Nd6+ Kc7 26.Qf7 Rf8

Here Topalov should have played the simpler 27.h3, but I can understand that it may be hard to resist the temptations of another spectacular sacrifice.


This is certainly beautiful, but objectively speaking it gives Black hope.

27...Rxf7 28.Rxc6+ Kb8 29.Nxf7


Missing the opportunity for 29...Qe2! and if 30.Nxh8? Qxf1+! 31.Kxf1 b2.

30.Nd6 Rh8 31.Rc4

Now Black’s position becomes hopeless as White’s rook gets behind the b-pawn.

31...Qe2 32.dxe6 Nb6 33.Rb4 Ka8 34.e7 Nd5 35.Rxb3 Nxe7 36.Rfb1 Nd5 37.h3! h5 38.Nf7 Rc8 39.e6! a6 40.Nxg5 h4 41.Bd6 Rg8 42.R3b2 Qd3 43.e7 Nf6 44.Be5 Nd7 45.Ne6 1–0

Black resigned, because if 45…Nxe5 46.Nc7+ Ka7 47.Rb7#.

Vladimir Akopian (Armenia) – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France)
Dresden Chess Olympiad (8), November 21, 2008

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.Be2 Qc7 8.a4 b6 9.f4 Bb7 10.Bf3 Nbd7 11.Qe2 g6 12.0–0 e5 13.Rad1!

Amazingly White can ignore the threat against the attacked knight.


If black accepts the sacrifice by 13...exd4, White gets an excellent position after 14.Bxd4 Bg7 15.e5.

14.fxe5 Nxe5

Perhaps 14...dxe5 would have been better.


A good move to prevent Black from castling kingside.

15...Bf8 16.Bxf8 Kxf8 17.Qe3 h6?

This is a mistake. Better would have been 17...Kg7, and if 18.Qg5 Qc5 19.Kh1 Nxf3 20.Qf4 Qe5.

18.Bh5! Qe7

Of course 18...Nxh5? would not work, because of the fork with 19.Ne6+, thanks to the pin on the f-file.


A nice combination!


If 19...fxg6, 20.Rxf6+! Qxf6 21.Rf1 Qxf1+ 22.Kxf1 with a clearly better endgame for White.

20.Nf5 Qe5 21.Qxb6

White gets a number of pawns for the sacrificed bishop, plus the black king is in danger.

21...Bxe4 22.Qxd6+ Qxd6 23.Nxd6 Bxc2


This is another elegant move, sacrificing the rook on d1 to end the game in a few more moves.


If 24...Bxd1 25.Rxf7+ Kg8 and after the quiet 26.Nd5, Black is helpless against the checkmate threat with Nd5-f6.

25.Rd2 Kg7 26.Rf3 1–0

Black resigned as the material loss is unavoidable. For example, if 26...Bb3 27.Nf5+ Kh7 (or 27...Kg8) 28.Ne4, while after 27...Kf6 28.Nd4+ wins.

Paul Truong assisted Susan Polgar in the preparation of this column. Susan Polgar is the director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) at Texas Tech University. For more information, visit or email:

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