Viswanathan Anand recently won the chess Oscar for the best player of 2003 and moved to the second spot on the FIDE rating list behind Garry Kasparov, but ahead of world champion Vladimir Kramnik. The Indian grandmaster is also one of many elite players who play in team club championships in different European countries. Sometimes the schedule is so hectic that the players can barely make it from one country to another.

Musical Chairs

On May 8, the French team championship finished in Belfort with the victory of the Paris NAO Chess Club led by Kramnik, Peter Svidler, Michael Adams and Alexander Grischuk. Their best player was the French grandmaster Etienne Bacrot, who won all 11 games. Anand played together with Alexei Shirov for the Cannes team, which only narrowly lost to the NAO club.

On May 9, some players moved across the border to Baden-Baden for the German Bundesliga playoff. Anand, Shirov and Svidler played on top boards for the team of Baden-Oos, but the match victory and the championship went to the team of Porz led by Christopher Lutz, Loek Van Wely and Ivan Sokolov. The final score was 41/2 to 31/2 , with Porz outplaying the formidable opponent on the lower boards.

Youth Over Experience

One of the heroes of both events was the 21-year-old Spanish grandmaster Francisco Vallejo Pons. In Belfort, he defeated English grandmaster Nigel Short, helping the NAO club to win the title. The next day, the talented Spaniard played on the fourth board for Baden-Oos, beating the solid Swedish grandmaster Ulf Andersson in the Taimanov Sicilian. Vallejo Pons came up with a new pawn sacrifice that Andersson found hard to handle. At the age of 52, the Swede is not one of the world's best defenders anymore. Still, to defeat him in a 24-move miniature is a remarkable feat.

Vallejo Pons-Andersson

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5!? (Played in the 1860s by German attacking master Max Lange, this pawn advance limits black's development and liberates the square e4 for the white knight.) 7...Qc7 8.f4 d6 (A logical, undermining move. Andersson perhaps thought that white has to take on d6, but the Spaniard has a different idea.)

9.Qf3!? (A new, bold pawn sacrifice for a rapid development. A previously known sacrifice 9.exd6 Bxd6 10.Ne4! is best met with 10...Be7, because it is too dangerous for black to accept it: 10...Bxf4? 11.Bxf4 Qxf4 12.Qd4! e5 13.Nd6+ Kf8 14.Qxf4!? exf4 15.Nxc8 Rxc8 16.Bxa6 leads to white's clear endgame advantage.) 9...dxe5 10.fxe5 Qxe5+ 11.Be2 Bb7 12.Bf4 Qa5 (Black spent most of his time on pawn and queen moves, neglecting other pieces.)

13.0-0-0 (White is miles ahead in development. Black's kingside is still dormant, but without obvious weaknesses.) 13...Nf6 14.Qg3 Be7!? (After 14...Nd5 15.Be5 Nxc3 16.Bxc3, black has problems either after 16...Qxa2 17.Qc7! Be7 18.h4! and white wins material; or after 16...Qb6 17.Rhf1! Rd8 18.Rxd8+ Qxd8 19.Bh5! wins.) 15.Be5! (Stronger than 15.Qxg7?! Rg8 16.Qh6 Rxg2 and the black pieces jump out of trouble.) 15...Rd8 (Castling short is a suicide: after 15...0-0 16.Ne4! Kh8 [on 16...Ne8 17.Rd7! wins] 17.Rd7! the double attack wins, e.g. 17...Qxa2 18.Nc3! Qa1+ 19.Nb1 and 17...Nxd7? fails to 18.Qxg7 mate. Interesting was 15...Nd7 to provoke an exchange sacrifice 16.Rxd7!? Kxd7 17.Rd1+ and now 17...Ke8? 18.Qxg7 Rf8 19.Bh5! gives white a powerful attack, but after 17...Kc8 18.Qxg7 Rd8! black survives.) 16.Bc7 Rxd1+ 17.Rxd1 Qc5 (Better defense seems 17...Qf5, for example 18.Bb6 e5 19.Rf1 Qe6 20.Bc7 and black can bail himself out with 20...0-0.)

18.Be5 (Even better seems 18.Bf4!, threatening 19.Be3 and allowing the white queen to penetrate black's position.) 18...Nd7 19.Bf4 g5?! (Andersson is getting impatient defending his g-pawn. But it creates weaknesses. On the other hand 19...Rg8 20.Ne4 is not pleasant for black either.) 20.Be3 Qa5 21.Kb1 (Leaving the c1-h6 diagonal, but more to the point was 21.Ne4!, for example 21...Bc8 [not 21...Qxa2 22.Qc7! and white wins] 22.Nd6+ Bxd6 23.Qxd6 and now after 23...Qxa2 24.Bd4 Rg8 25.b3 black is tied up and after 23...Qe5 24.Qxe5 Nxe5 25.Bxg5 white's endgame advantage is overwhelming.) 21...c5 (After 21...h6 22.Ne4! c5 23.Nd6+ Bxd6 24.Qxd6 Bd5 25.b3 black can't defend the weak dark squares and all his pawns at the same time.)

22.Bh5!? (The bishop slides into a strong attacking position, but white could have cashed the pawn immediately with 22.Bxg5, for example 22...Rg8 23.Qd3! Ne5 24.Qxh7 Rxg5 25.h4! Rf5 26.g4! overloading the rook on f5 since 26...Rf4 loses to 27.Qh8+ Bf8 28.Qxe5 etc.) 22...Bc6 (After 22...Qd8 23.h4 h6 24.Qg4 0-0 25.Qa4 black is tied up.) 23.Bxg5 Rg8 (The pin does not work, but after 23...Bxg5 24.Qd6!! Bb5 25.Qxe6+ Kd8 26.Qe5! white wins.) 24.Qf4 (After 24...Rxg5 25.Bxf7+ Kf8 [on 25...Kd8 26.Qb8 mates] 26.Bxe6+ Ke8 27.Bf7+ Kf8 28.Bd5+ wins.) Black resigned.

Solution to today's study by brothers Platov (White: Kh2,Rc3,Ba8; Black: Kh5,Ng1,P:d2,e4): 1.Rh3+! Nxh3 2.Bxe4 d1Q 3.Bf3+! Qxf3 stalemate.

White draws