Remember the line used by all those players who believe they are the world champions? "I never lost the title in a match," we heard from Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and even Anatoly Karpov and the women's champ Zsuzsa Polgar. The current FIDE world champion Alexander Khalifman has never said it, but lost a six-game match this month in Budapest against the young Hungarian Peter Leko with the score 4.5 to 1.5.
It was not for the title and according to ratings Leko should have won anyway, but the win was impressive nevertheless. Leko stood ground, drawing all his games with the black pieces in the Gruenfeld defense. With the white pieces, the Hungarian played almost with a surgical precision. Opening with his king pawn Leko won all his games thanks to good opening preparation and overall technique. Khalifman might have helped him by jumping from one defense to another, something he had advised Boris Gelfand to do against Nigel Short in the 1991 Candidates Quarterfinal match in Brussels. It was a disaster there, too.
Leko fought throughout the match and won even in the last game with nothing at stake, since the match was already decided. Simplifying his task in the Open Spanish, Leko used the same winning pattern as in game two: after gaining a long term advantage of a bishop pair, the Hungarian was ready for a slow squeeze. Khalifman made an unfortunate 20th move, played the defense too softly and collapsed rather easily.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Nc5 10.c3 Be7 11.Bc2 d4 12.cxd4 (Leko solves the opening simply. The world champion Capablanca played 12.Ne4 in a few games in New York in 1924, but nobody challenged him with a strong 12...d3!?, that should equalize the game, e.g. 13.Nxc5 dxc2 14.Qxd8+ Rxd8 15.Nxe6 fxe6 16.Be3 Rd517. Rfc1 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Rxe5 19.Rxc2 0-0 as played in the game Sutovsky-Krasenkov, Shenyang 1999, the latest unsuccessful attempt to win with white. More dangerous for black seems 12.Nb3 d3 13.Bb1 Nxb3 14.axb3 Bf5 15.Be3 0-0 16.Bd4! Qd5 17.Re1 with the threat 18.Re3. But black can try either the logical 17...Rfd8, or the entertaining 17...d2!?, suggested by Mikhalevski, e.g. 18.Re2 Bxb1 19.Rxb1 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Bg5 21.Nf3 Bh6. Whatever Khalifman had in mind does not matter.) 12...Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Nf3 (White does not have to fear the queen exchange.) 14...Qxd1 15.Rxd1 Bg4 16.Be3 (In the game Onischuk-Tong Yuanming, Beijing 1998 white was better after 16.h3 Bxf3 17.gxf3 g5 18.f4 gxf4 19.Bxf4 thanks to his bishop pair and more space.) 16...0-0 17.h3 Bxf3 (After 17...Bh5 18.g4 Bg6 19.Bxg6 hxg6 20.Nd4 the knight leaps to a dominant square c6.) 18.gxf3 Rfd8 19.f4 g6 20.Kg2 Na4?! (The beginning of a downfall.) 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8
22.Bxa4! (The advantage of a bishop pair is simple: one can often profit from exchanging one bishop. This is precisely the case here. Black will be left with weak pawn islands on the queenside.) 22...bxa4 23.Rc1 c5 24.Rc4!? (White does not have to hurry. Black pawns are not running away. After 24.Bxc5 black can either build a fortress 24...Rc8 25.Be3 Rxc1 26.Bxc1 f5 27.Kf3 Kf7 28.Ke2 Ke6 29.Kd3 Kd5 or try a rook endgame 24...Bxc5 25.Rxc5 Rd2 26.Ra5 Rxb2 27.Rxa4 Rb6. In either case it will be difficult for white to win.) 24...a3?! (Blocking the queenside leaves black without counterplay. He should have tried his luck with 24...Rb8!? 25.Rxa4 Rxb2 26.Rxa6 c4.) 25.b3 Kf8 26.Kf3 Ke8 27.Ke4 (Centralizing the king and preparing the f4-f5 advance. Black loses patience.) 27...Rd1 28.Rc1 f5+?! (Loses outright, but even after 28...Rd8 29.f5 black's position is unpleasant. Not 29.Bxc5? Rd2 with counterchances.) 29.exf6 Rxc1 30.Bxc1 Bxf6 31.Bxa3 Bd4 32.f3 Kd7 33.Kd5 Be3 34.f5 gxf5 35.Bxc5 (A passed pawn and a dominant king seal black's fate.) 35...Bf4 36.b4 Bd2 37.Bd6 Bc1 38.a4 Ba3 39.Bc5 Bb2 40.Bd4 Ba3 41.b5 axb5 42.axb5 Be7 43.b6 (There is no defense against 44.Be5 followed by b6-b7.) Black resigned.
New FIDE ratings
The top ten grandmasters on the January FIDE rating list are: 1. Garry Kasparov 2851 points, 2.Vishy Anand 2769, 3. Vladimir Kramnik 2758, 4. Alexei Shirov 2751, 5. Alexander Morozevic 2748, 6. Peter Leko 2725, 7. Michael Adams 2715, 8. Vassily Ivanchuk, Vassily 2709, 9. Evgeny Bareev 2709, 10. Veselin Topalov 2702. Alexander Khalifman is 31st with 2656 points, one place behind the best woman, Judit Polgar, with 2658. The best rated American is again Yasser Seirawan, 34th overall with 2647 points.
Solution to today's study by M. Neumann (White:Ka1,Bc4,Ne3,Ne4,P:a3,h5; Black:Ka4,Qe8,Na7): 1.Bb5+!! Qxb5 (1...Nxb5 2.Nc5+ Kxa3 3.Nc2 mate or 2...Ka5 3.Nc4mate.) 2.Nc3+ Kxa3 3.Nxb5+ Nxb5 4.h6 Nd6 5.Nc4+! wins.