PLAYERS’ PORTRAITS 2011 AMBER CHESS TOURNAMENT

1. Viswanathan Anand - India

Elo rating: 2817
World ranking: 1
Date of birth: December 11, 1969
Amber highlights: Overall winner in 1994, 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2006 (shared with Morozevich). Shared first in the rapid and shard overall second in 2009.

Viswanathan Anand is one of the most successful players in chess history. His list of victories is dazzling and his Amber record is no exception. Five times he won the tournament and his overall score of 235 points from 374 games (62,83 %) is the highest of all. Only on two occasions he didn't take part. The last time was last year, when he was preparing for the World Championship match against Veselin Topalov in Sofia. The result of that match seemed to confirm the correctness of his decision, as after a tense fight he successfully defended his world title.
Anand became the 'undisputed' World Champion after he brilliantly defeated Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn in 2008. With that victory the Indian grandmaster became the first chess player to win the World Championship in all the formats we have seen in recent years. In 2000 he won the FIDE knock-out World Championship that started in New Delhi and was decided in the final in Tehran, where he trounced Shirov 3,5-0,5. In 2007 Anand triumphed in the World Championship Tournament in Mexico. And finally he was successful in the traditional match format as well.
Briefly recapping Anand's splendid career is impossible but we might single out his wins in Linares in 1998, 2007 and 2008, his triumphs in the World Cup tournaments in Shenyang 2000 and Hyderabad 2002 and his win in Dortmund in 2004. His achievements in Wijk aan Zee are unparalleled. With five wins between 1989(!) and 2006 he is the most successful player in the rich history of this classic event.
In rapid chess Anand is in a class of his own and listing his victories there would come close to giving an overview of the events held in the past years. But we might single out the Chess Classic in Mainz, where he won an amazing eleven times.
The first time Anand skipped the Amber tournament, in 2002, he returned to claim a convincing victory. Let's see what he will do in this jubilee edition. His most recent performances show that he is in great shape. Both in London and Wijk aan Zee he remained unbeaten and collected enough rating points to reclaim the top spot in the world rankings.

 

2. Magnus Carlsen – Norway

Elo rating: 2815
World ranking: 2
Date of birth: November 30, 1990
Amber highlights: Shared second in the rapid in his 2007 debut, shared second in 2008, shared first in the blindfold in 2009, shared first in the rapid and shared overall first in 2010.

Magnus Carlsen returns to Monaco, where he made his Amber debut in 2007, bursting with ambitions. Following his disappointing performance in Wijk aan Zee he is eager to repeat last year's triumph or even do better. After all last year he had to share first place after a gripping neck-and-neck race with Vasily Ivanchuk.
Carlsen began the year as the number one in the world rankings after another phenomenal final sprint at the London Chess Classic last December, where he fought back from a seemingly hopeless position to claim first prize. Nevertheless, he summed up 2010 as 'not such a great year'. That almost humoristic assessment was a clear reference to his poor play at the Olympiad and the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao. But how could it not be a great year if you win all other tournaments you take part in, including three Grand Slam tournaments in Wijk aan Zee, Bazna and Nanjing? And a rapid tournament in Norway where he beat Anand in the final? Carlsen's conclusion was evidently a further sign of his search for perfection and an indirect reference to the second half of 2009 when he won the Pearl Spring tournament in Nanjing with the unbelievable score of 8 out of 10 (winning all his white games), the London Chess Classic and the World Blitz Championship. As a result he conquered the top spot in the FIDE rating list for the first time on January 1, 2010. Aged 19, he was the youngest chess player ever to achieve this feat.
Carlsen has been making headlines worldwide ever since he began his race for the grandmaster title. In the first month of 2004 he took the Corus C Group by storm and only three months later he made his third and final GM norm in Dubai. At the age of 13 years, 4 months and 26 days he was (at that time) the youngest grandmaster in the world. In the years that followed this historic moment Carlsen didn't disappoint his followers.
Journalists all over the world have not failed to notice his successes and their attention has not gotten less after he started a side-career as a model for G-Star Raw.

Carlsen has said he thinks it's important to have a life beyond chess. In his free time he likes to chat with his friends or play online poker. For money. Here's the link to that interview. If only he knew that some of the online casinos even offer chess themed slots games. Then he'd probably want to pick out one from here, and try his luck at those slots as well.

 

3. Levon Aronian – Armenia

Elo rating: 2808
World ranking: 3
Date of birth: October 6, 1982
Amber highlights: shared 2nd in the rapid in 2006, overall winner in 2008 and 2009.

With a 2800+ rating and two Amber victories under his belt, Levon Aronian is one of the hot favourites in this 20th Amber. In 2008 the Armenian GM was truly on a rampage, when he claimed first place 2½(!) points ahead of Kramnik, Topalov, Leko and Carlsen. One year later he edged out Anand and Kramnik by half a point to take overall first. Last year his role was more modest, which was doubly puzzling as at the start of the event he had said that he'd be happy to see someone else win, as he had already won twice. With Aronian you never know, and 2010 was definitely not a year of modesty. He won the silver medal on Board 1 at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, shared first place in the Tal Memorial and became Blitz World Champion.
Aronian had his international break-through in 2005 when he shot up to the fifth place in the world rankings. His successes in that revelatory year included a shared first place in Gibraltar, first place in Nagorno-Karabakh, and first place in the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. Of course, these results didn't come completely unexpected. After all he was already World Junior Champion U-12 as long ago as 1994 and overall World Junior Champion in 2002.
Aronian continued to be successful in 2006, claiming first prize in the Morelia-Linares tournament, tying for first in the Tal Memorial and winning gold with Armenia at the Turin Olympiad. In 2007 Aronian shared first place in Wijk aan Zee, a feat he repeated in 2008. In that year he also won the Karen Asrian Memorial, the Grand Prix tournament in Sochi, and again led his country to gold at the Dresden Olympiad. His biggest successes in 2009 were his overall victory in the FIDE Grand Prix, and his first place in the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao.
Aronian's current rating and his stable play in Wijk aan Zee indicate that he is in great shape. His ultimate aim this year is being successful in the Candidates' matches, but we wouldn't be surprised if he seriously tested his current strength in the Amber tournament.

 

4. Vladimir Kramnik -Russia
Elo rating: 2785
World ranking: 4
Date of birth: June 25, 1975
Amber highlights: Overall winner in 1996, 1998 (shared with Shirov), 1999, 2001 (shared with Topalov), 2004 (shared with Morozevich) and 2007. Shared second in 2008 and 2009. Overall second in 2010.

No player can boast a better Amber record than Vladimir Kramnik, who over the years won the event an amazing six times. His total score of 219½ from 352 (62,36%) is astounding and practically equal to Anand's. Kramnik is exceptionally strong in the blindfold part. Some years ago he even considered asking the arbiter if he could also play the rapid games without sight of the board. His blindfold win against Topalov in the 2003 edition ranks as one of the most brilliant achievements in Amber history.
Kramnik has been among the world elite ever since he burst upon the scene at the Manila Olympiad in 1992, where as a 17-year-old youngster he had a baffling 8,5 out of 9 debut on the Russian team. Over the years he's won practically everything that there is to be won, including the super-tournaments in Wijk aan Zee in 1998 and Linares in 2000 and 2004. In Dortmund he lifted the winner's trophy no fewer than nine times! His tie for first with Kasparov in Linares in 2000 turned out to be the prologue of the biggest success in his rich career, his World Championship match victory over the same Kasparov later that year in London. Kramnik successfully defended his world title in Brissago in 2004 against Peter Leko when in a must-win situation he won the last game, and in Elista in 2006 against Topalov, when he struck in the rapid play-off. He lost the title in 2007 in the World Championship Tournament in Mexico where he finished shared second behind the new champion, Anand. In Bonn 2008 he got a chance to reclaim the title in a match against Anand, but the Indian proved better prepared and won convincingly.
Following the loss of the world title, Kramnik has been playing impressive chess. Among his best recent results are his wins in the 2009 Tal Memorial and the 2010 Bilbao Grand Slam Final. He could have been even more successful if he had been more efficient at crucial moments. He is working on that in view of the Candidates matches. He will want to show the first results of his work in Monaco.

 

5. Vasily Ivanchuk - Ukraine

Elo rating: 2779
World ranking: 5
Date of birth: March 18, 1969
Amber highlights: Second in 1996, 1997, 2000 (shared) and 2002. Overall winner in 1992 and (shared) 2010.

Rarely was a winner treated to a warmer applause than last year, when Vasily Ivanchuk shared tournament victory with Magnus Carlsen, 18(!) years after he had won the very first Amber tournament in 1992. Ivanchuk is the only player who has taken part in all twenty Amber tournaments, which says two things. To begin with that the Ukrainian grandmaster has been a member of the world elite for some twenty years already and secondly that the affection is mutual. 'Chuky', as his colleagues and fans call him, loves the unique atmosphere of the event, as he expressed in a touching speech at last year's prize-giving.
Ivanchuk is one of the greatest players of modern time, both adored by chess lovers and admired by his fellow-grandmasters, who speak about 'Planet Chuky', to indicate that sometimes he is moving in different spheres. The Ukrainian number one is one of the most active players on the circuit, tirelessly travelling the globe and taking part in one tournament after the other. At 41 (he will celebrate his 42nd birthday in Monaco!) he is also living proof that 'older' players can still play a prominent role at the top of the chess Olympus.
Ivanchuk's international career took off after he had won the Junior World Championship in 1988. Already the next year he won the Linares super-tournament for the first time, a win he would repeat in 1991 and 1995. He also won the Tilburg super-tournament in 1990 and in the years that followed he won so many tournaments that even a selection produces a long list: Munich 1994, Horgen 1995, Wijk aan Zee 1996, Belgrade 1997, Tallinn 2000, Malmö 2003, European Championship 2004, Havana 2005, Odessa 2006, Merida 2006, Foros 2007, MTel Masters Sofia 2008, Tal Memorial Moscow 2008, Bazna 2009, Jermuk 2009 and Havana 2010.
This year he got off to a flying start with a superb win in Gibraltar. Fully concentrated Ivanchuk crushed the opposition, scoring 9 out of 10, a 2968(!) performance.

 

6. Sergey Karjakin- Russia

Elo rating: 2776
World ranking: 6
Date of birth: January 12, 1990
Amber highlights: In his second Amber in 2009 he finished in 7th place. In 2010 he finished overall fifth.

Within a couple of years Sergey Karjakin has developed from a promising prodigy into a world class player who has comfortably settled among the very best. An important contribution to his progress may have been his remarkable career move two years ago when he decided that henceforth he'd represent Russia instead of Ukraine. With the support of the Russian Chess Federation he moved to Moscow and he also 'completed' his team. Assisted by Kasparov's former coach Yury Dokhoian and Russia's team coach Alexander Motylev, Karjakin can now safely be called one of the best organized grandmasters around.
Although he's 'already' 21 years old, Karjakin is often reminded of the fact that once he was the youngest grandmaster of all time. Which is understandable, as he holds a unique record. He was only twelve years and seven months old when in 2002 he earned the highest chess title.
Karjakin won countless junior championships in Ukraine and in 2001 he became U-12 Junior World Champion in Oropesa del Mar, Spain. His development was fast and impressive. In 2004 he was one of the pillars of the Ukrainian team that claimed gold at the Calvia Olympiad. His score of 6,5 out of 7 on Board 4 was the best individual performance of the event. Two years later, in Turin, Karjakin again chalked up one of the highest scores. Last September he made his Olympiad debut on the Russian team with a gold medal on Board 4 (8/10, a 2859 performance).
His individual breakthrough to the world elite was his win in Wijk aan Zee in 2009. One of his finest achievements in 2010 was his shared first place at the Tal Memorial in Moscow.
Karjakin made his Amber debut three years ago. His first performance, ninth overall, was decent, but it came as no surprise that he finished in 7th place in 2009 and 5th last year. Let's see if there is room for further improvement.

 

7. Veselin Topalov – Bulgaria

Elo rating: 2775
World ranking: 7
Date of birth: March 15, 1975
Amber highlights: Overall winner (shared with Kramnik) in 2001, shared second 2008.

Veselin Topalov comes to Monaco after a four-months' break from chess that he used to get married and to recover from the exertions of the lost World Championship match against Anand in Sofia last April. The toll that match had taken became visible in the following months at the Olympiad and in Nanjing, where he posted lacklustre results. But Topalov's play in the years leading up to the match had been awe-inspiring. At the end of 2008 he won both the Bilbao Grand Slam Final and the Pearl Spring tournament in Nanjing, in early 2009 he defeated Gata Kamsky 4½-2 ½ to qualify for the match against Anand and shortly before that match he took first prize in Linares. Fighting in every game he managed to obtain the initiative in his match against Anand, but a loss in the 12th game put an end to his hopes.
Topalov's most successful year so far was 2005, when he shared first place in Linares, won Sofia for the first time and then wrote history in the World Championship Tournament in San Luis. With a dashing 6,5 out of 7 in the first half he tore the field apart and coasted home in the second half. Often World Champions find it hard to show their excellence when they first appear in their new capacity. Therefore many pundits feared that Topalov would not live up to expectations in Wijk aan Zee in 2007. However, after a fascinating duel with Vishy Anand he shared tournament victory with the Indian.
When in the mid-1990s Topalov burst into the world's top-twenty few people had ever heard of him. The Bulgarian had amassed his Elo-points on the Spanish circuit of open tournaments where he was incredibly successful. Was he really that strong? He was and he soon grew even stronger. At the Moscow Olympiad in Moscow Topalov made headlines with his win over Kasparov and he started winning top tournaments. His first annus mirabilis was 1996 when he took first prize in Amsterdam (together with Kasparov), Dos Hermanas, Madrid and Novgorod. The hallmarks of Topalov are his total concentration at the board, his aggressive play and his deep preparation.

 

8. Hikaru Nakamura - United States

Elo rating: 2774
World ranking: 8
Date of birth: December 9, 1987
Amber highlights: This is his Amber debut.

Hikaru Nakamura arrives in Monaco fresh from his greatest success to date, his superb victory at the Tata Steel Tournament. Everyone could have seen the American's recent progress at the Tal Memorial and the London Chess Classic, and he himself had already expressed his dream of winning a Grand Slam event, but still his confident and fully deserved win in Wijk aan Zee was a true sensation. Because of this win his invitation to Amber looks logical, but in fact he earned the invitation the hard way. Following his dramatic result in the 2009 NH Tournament, where he was ill all through the event, Nakamura accepted the challenge to have another go at the Amber ticket in the 2010 NH Tournament. And this time it worked, although he needed some help from Anish Giri, who ruined a great performance with a collapse in the final rounds.
Nakamura learned to play chess when he was seven years old and soon he was having his first successes. At the age of ten years and 79 days he became the youngest American International Master in history. Exactly five years later he broke the legendary record of Bobby Fischer when at the age of 15 years and 79 days he became the youngest American International Grandmaster of all time. In 2004, when he was only 16 years old he became American champion for the first time.
Nakamura's play is characterized by deep concentration and an enormous will to win. Playing for the American team he won a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympiad in Turin and one year later he finished in shared first place in Gibraltar and won the Magistral d'Escacs in Barcelona. In 2009 he scored 7½ points from 8 games (TPR 3028) in the French League, won the US championship for the second time and also scored a fine tournament win in San Sebastian. Last year he excelled at the Team World Championship in Bursa and seemed to make progress in every event he took part in. Of late Nakamura has been focusing on classical chess and given less attention to rapid and blitz play, but there seems to be every reason to look forward to his Amber debut.

 

9. Alexander Grischuk – Russia

Elo rating: 2747
World ranking: 10
Date of birth: October 31, 1983
Amber highlights: overall fourth in 2006. First in blindfold and overall fourth in 2010.

Alexander Grischuk occupies a unique place amongst the leading grandmasters of today, as he is one of very few and perhaps even the only one who clearly prefers quicker time-controls over classical games. Without any reservation he rates his win at the Blitz World Championship in Rishon-Le-Zion in 2006 as one of the finest achievements in his career. Not surprisingly he has named the Amber tournament as his favourite event. The first time he took part, in 2006, he ended in a creditable overall fourth place. Last year, he again finished fourth, but claimed his first big prize by topping the blindfold competition, 1½ (!) points ahead of runners-up Kramnik, Carlsen and Ivanchuk.
Grischuk likes tournaments where there is a high first prize at stake and perhaps that explains why he did well at the FIDE knock-out world championships. In 2000 in New Delhi, he reached the semi-finals, while in 2004 in Libya he proceeded to the quarter finals. In 2005 his result in the FIDE World Cup qualified him for the Candidates matches, where thanks to victories over Malakhov and Rublevsky he earned a spot in the World Championship in Mexico (where he finished 8th).
With his talent and experience Grischuk was also a valuable member in many team events, winning numerous prizes with club teams and the Russian national team. Still, one might say that his real 'international' breakthrough only came in 2009. To begin with he won the €100,000 first prize in Linares and at the end of the year there was a new highlight when in Moscow he won the Super Final of the Russian Championship. Next Grischuk carried his good form into the new year and in January 2010 he led the Russian team to victory in the World Team Championship in Bursa, Turkey.
Last year he finished second in Linares and third in the 2008-2010 FIDE Grand Prix, which qualified him as the first reserve for the Candidates matches in Kazan. Upon Carlsen's withdrawal from the Candidates' matches Grischuk was in invited. His first opponent in May will be Levon Aronian.

 

10. Vugar Gashimov – Azerbaijan

Elo rating: 2746
World ranking: 11
Date of birth: July 24, 1986
Amber highlights: Overall sixth in his debut in 2010.

When he made his debut last year Vugar Gashimov quickly felt at home in the Amber tournament. He won five 'mini-matches', lost three and shared sixth place in the overall standings. Still, there is good reason to believe that this time he will be hoping for more after the excellent start of the year he had in Reggio Emilia. In the traditional New Year's tournament Gashimov shared first place with Paco Vallejo and took first prize on tiebreak.
Gashimov was born in Baku, where at an early age his prodigious talent for chess was discovered. Playing sparkling, carefree chess he excelled in junior tournaments, mostly beating his closest rivals Radjabov and Guseinov. When he was 12 he took first place in the U-16 section of the Kasparov Cup in Moscow and earned encouraging praise from the Master Himself. And then fate struck. He was treated for epileptic spasms and twice he underwent brain surgery, but nothing helped. Only years later his life took another dramatic turn, this time for the better, when he was operated upon a third time in Bonn, Germany, and a benign tumour was successfully removed from his brain.
In the meantime Gashimov had developed into a more strategic player, although one of his favourite openings remains the razor-sharp Benoni. Now things went rapidly. In the spring of 2007 he was still ranked 61st with a rating of 2644, one year on he had already made the jump to number 20 with a rating of 2717. Before the chess world knew it he peaked on the January list of 2010 with a formidable 2759 rating.
In 2008 Gashimov won the inaugural Grand Prix tournament in Baku together with Wang Yue and Magnus Carlsen. He continued to play well in the Grand Prix to finish overall fifth. Gashimov is also a great team player as his outstanding results in team competitions show. At the Dresden Olympiad he won a silver medal on second board, while at the 2009 European Team Championships in Novi Sad his win in the final round brought Azerbaijan the gold medals.

 

11. Boris Gelfand – Israel

Elo rating: 2733
World ranking: 16
Date of birth: June 24, 1968
Amber highlights: first in rapid (and overall 5th) in 2001 and 2002.

As the new stars are getting younger and younger, it's becoming unclear what is the ideal age for a chess grandmaster. Most probably not around 40, as used to be the conviction not so long ago. Unless you're Boris Gelfand, of course. At the most recent World Cup, in Khanty-Mansiysk in December 2009, the oldest participant, 41-year-old Boris Gelfand, topped a field of 128 eager players. Once again he had shown that motivation and discipline can rival youth and energy.
Gelfand was born in Minsk when Belarus still belonged to the Soviet Union. The first big step in his impressive career was his win in the 1985 Soviet Junior Championship, which he followed up with winning the European Junior Championship. Easily the most memorable achievement in his early career was his win, ahead of 139(!) grandmasters at the Palma de Mallorca GMA World Cup qualifier in 1989.
Gelfand confidently continued to develop into a seasoned world class player who spent most of the time in the world's top ten. He's won countless first prizes in international competitions, including top honours in Biel 1993, Dos Hermanas 1994, Belgrade 1995, Vienna 1996, Tilburg 1996 (shared with Jeroen Piket), Polanica Zdroj 1998 and 2000, and Cannes 2002. In 2003 he led the Israeli team to the silver medals at the European Team Championship. Further victories we can mention are his wins in Ashdod 2004, Pamplona 2004, Bermuda 2005 and Biel 2005. In the super-tournaments in Dortmund and Moscow in 2006 he finished half a point behind the winners.
Last year Gelfand finished shared sixth in the combined Amber classification. For the rest it was a relatively quiet year. His best results were third place with Israel at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk and his impressive 7 out of 10 (1½ points ahead of Peter Svidler) on the Experience team in Amsterdam. A decent amount of time was spent at home in his study, preparing for the Candidates' matches in Kazan where he will play Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

 

12. Anish Giri – The Netherlands

Elo rating: 2690
World ranking: 43
Date of birth: June 28, 1994
Amber highlights: This is his Amber debut.

Anish Giri makes his Amber debut at the age of 16 years, 8 months and some days, which is only five months short of the record of the youngest debutant in Amber history, Magnus Carlsen. The young Dutchman's progress has been explosive of late and it is hard to predict how high he can reach. In hindsight everything is easy to explain, but who had expected him to perform so impressively in the top group of the Tata Steel tournament last January? Optimists believed that he might do well, but had they also foreseen that Giri would beat Carlsen, get World Champion Anand on the ropes and play all his games with ambition and self-confidence?
When three years ago, Anish Giri, together with his Russian mother, Nepalese father and two sisters, settled in the Netherlands, it was clear that Dutch chess life had been enriched by a remarkable talent. After all Giri had already won the Russian U-12 Junior Championship. Still, no one could have expected at the time how remarkable his talent really was and that he would storm the world rankings with giant leaps of more than 100 points a year.
In 2009 Giri became Dutch champion (true, many favourites were absent) and one month later he held his own (and remained unbeaten) in the double round-robin in Hoogeveen against Ivanchuk, Judit Polgar and Tiviakov. The year 2010 started with a bang when in Wijk aan Zee he won the strong B-Group and qualified for this year's top group in the process. A further highlight was his tour de force in the Sigeman Tournament in Malmö, Sweden, where he only dropped half a point and reached a Performance Rating of 2920.
The first set-back he experienced at the NH Tournament in Amsterdam. Giri had a brilliant start but a shaky finish and a loss in the blitz-play-off against Nakamura cost him the coveted ticket to the Amber tournament. Or so it seemed. At the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk he remained unbeaten, won the bronze medal on Board 4 (TPR 2730) and was invited after all.