Corus 2009 group B preview

article by Aviv Friedman for

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Krishnan Sasikiran

Date of Birth: 07/01/1981

Country: India

World Ranking: 35

Rating: 2694

Top seed in the ultra-strong GM B group is India’s second highest ranked player. Now only 4 points shy of his peak of 2700, Sasikiran is expected to climb comfortably over his peak when all is registered and calculated. A Grandmaster since 2000, Krishnan is a former Asian champion, who climbed through the ranks by placing high in strong events all over the world around the start of the Millennium. Recently the Grandmaster from Chennai played on board one for his country – substituting for his city-mate world champion Anand – and scoring a very respectable 6/10.

‘Sasi’ is a very solid player, and is well prepared in the openings. He learned how to play chess at the relatively late age of 9, and was initially coached by his dad. His quick progress brought him wins at the under age 18 championships of both India and the British Commonwealth. In 2002 he beat Anand at the World cup, in a strong showing. His most noted results this year were first place at the top group of the Mazovian tournament in Poland with 6.5/9, a tie for first at the strong Kolkata open with 8.5/10.

Krishnan is making his first appearance in Wijk aan Zee, and is surely one of the favorites to win his group.

Zahar Efimenko

Date of Birth: 03/07/1985

Country: Ukraine

World Ranking: 41

Rating: 2680

Zahar is a former world under 14 champion and is another debutant in Corus 2009. His sharp style of play often leads to exciting, tactical crowd-pleasing battles, especially from the white side of some Sicilians such as the Najdorf and the Dragon. Efimenko got his GM title in 2002; he is also a former champion of his homeland in 2006, and a winner of several strong events in the early 2000’s such as the Hastings challengers and Gibraltar.

Right now the Grandmaster from Kramatorsk is at the zenith of his rating, sporting a high of 2680 – a nice (temporary!) culmination to a 5-year climb that netted him 550 ELO points! In 2008 Zahar was very active in the European leagues, playing in Russia (a disappointing 3.5/10), Serbia (a solid 6.5/10), the Ukraine (a strong 6.5/8), and a plus 2 in the German Bundesliga. He tied for second at the strong-fielded Moscow open with 7/9, shared third at the Gib Telecom with 7.5/10, and finished highly at the European championships in Plovdiv with 7.5/11. Later in the year, Efimenko held the fourth board for his country at the Olympiad, scoring 6/9 with a 2726 performance. Can he step up his form and win a ticket to the A group for 2010?

Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Date of Birth: 05/12/1979

Country: Uzbekistan

World Ranking: 49-50

Rating: 2672

The closing years of the previous decade were also the blooming years for the talented Grandmaster from Tashkent: He almost won the world junior championship (ended second), and did win the Asian continental championship. After that he became active on the European opens circuit, leaving his mark by winning some of them – a few by a noticeable margin. He won an individual bronze medal on top board at the 2000 Olympiad, with a fantastic score of 9.5/12.

Rustam’s real claims to fame came in the grueling elimination competitions: in 2002 he made it all the way to the finals of the world cup, where it took no less than Vishy Anand to stop him. In 2004 he proved really unstoppable at the Tripoli FIDE world championship, where he advanced round by round and eliminating stars such as Ivanchuk, Topalov, Grischuk, and Adams (in the finals) to win it. In 2005 at the San Luis FIDE world championship tournament he tied for 6th place, and in 2007 was eliminated at the Mexico Candidates tournament in round one.

In 2008 Kasim wasn’t very active, playing in several leagues and again holding top board for his country at the Olympiad (6.5/9). He was one of the seconds of Vishy Anand in his match with Kramnik. He played twice before in Corus, in 1999 and 2002 – scoring only 5/13 and 4.5/13 respectively.

Alexander Motylev

Date of Birth: 17/06/1979

Country: Russia

World Ranking: 49-50

Rating: 2672

The quiet Grandmaster from Yekaterinburg could be a poster boy for the Russian chess education system. A son to a chess fan and a candidate master by his own right, Alexander picked up the game as early as it comes (4.5) and was quickly recognized as some with great potential. Regular coaching from a very young age brought him up the ranks: he was a strong master at his early teens, and then won his country’s present and future star studded junior championships under age 16 and 18.

Motylev’s biggest eye-catching result was his qualification to, and his eventual shared first place (and win on tie-breaks) at the always-strong Russian championship of 2001 – a tournament he later qualified to several times and having mixed results, scoring 6.5/11 in the last one. His successes in the mid-2000’s propelled his rating to a high of 2680, a record he is not far from today. In 2008 he shared second place in the Aeroflot open, tied for third at the Moscow A group, and played in several leagues.

He is no stranger in Corus, where in 2006 a fantastic score of 9/13 tied him for first place with Carlsen, sending both players to the Grandmaster A group in 2007, where he scored an unexciting 5/13.

Francisco Vallejo Pons

Date of Birth: 21/08/1982

Country: Spain

World ranking: 55

Rating: 2664

Spain’s second highest rated player (and top native born), Paco is his country’s current champion – an event he also won in 2006. He is a former world youth champion under age 18 (won in 2000). His first performance under the limelight was his participation at the 2002 edition of the Linares tournament, where he scored a very respectable 5/12 points – a score he repeated the following two years as well. Vallejo qualified to the 2004 FIDE world championships, but was knocked out in round one, but later that year had a strong showing on second board for his country at the Olympiad.

At the 2005 world cup in Russia, Paco finished around the middle with 7/14, and in the elimination version of the same event at the same venue, he made it to the second round, where he got knocked out. He is an active league and open tournaments player, with varying results, and although he may be 20 points off his all time high, he is expected to cross the 2700 milestone number after all recent events are calculated. His main success in 2008 has to be his outstanding 9/11 result on second board for his country, at the Olympiad. In addition to being a top class player, Valleo has been dabbling as a second to Veselin Topalov. This is his first playing visit to Wijk aan Zee.

Andrei Volokitin

Date of Birth: 18/06/1986

Country: Ukraine

World Ranking: 61

Rating: 2651

Andrei is another one of the new faces to play in Corus 2009, and is one of the youngest to achieve the Grandmaster title – he got it at age 15, in 2001. He is a two-time winner of his country’s championship (2001, 2004), and a former world under age 12 champion in 1998. Volokitin took part in the FIDE world championship knockouts in 2001, but was ousted in the first round, he made it one round further at the world cup in 2007. He has been a regular in the European league circuit, and played in a long list of open tournaments, with moderate success. Andrei has been a regular member of his country’s Olympic team, last scoring an undefeated 4.5/7 as first reserve at Dresden.

In 2008, the Grandmaster from Lviv finished with 50% in Aerosvit, a disappointing 3.5/9 at the Karpov International, and a very lukewarm 6/11 at the European championships. He was most active in the several leagues he participates in, playing most of the games.

Volokitin has yet to prove himself against top competition, and save for a few solid results (winning Biel 2005, for example) has had several sub par performances at the high end competitions, could Corus B be his time to shine?

Nigel Short

Date of Birth: 01/06/1965

Country: England

World ranking: 85

Rating: 2642

Nigel is one of the more seasoned participants in the GM B group, a former wunderkind whose illustrious career spans over three decades. Among his many achievements are being a candidate for the world championship several times, including runner up to Kasparov in 1993. He won countless open and closed tournaments since the early 1980’s, including twice in Corus (where he played many times) in 1986 and 1987. Grandmaster since age 19, the youngest to get the title at the time, Short is a multi time British and English champion, and British Commonwealth champion.

He is an author and a columnist, and has worked as a coach to several of the most contemporary talents around, including Harikrishna, Negi and Karjakin. In appreciation of his many accomplishments, he was appointed a Member of the British Empire in 1999. Currently Nigel is at an all time low rating wise, 70 ELO points down from his 2712 peak several years ago, but continuously keep showing he hasn’t lost the ability to sting. Last year in Corus he tied for second with a very good 8.5/13, and more points will be coming: a tie for second at the European championships (7.5/10), his clear first place finish at the Commonwealth championship (a dominating 9.5/11) and a fantastic 7/10 in the Olympiad.

Other notable results were a clear first at the King’s veterans tournament in Romania (7/10), a shared first in Baku (7/9).

Fabiano Caruana

Date of Birth: 30/07/1992

Country: Italy

World Ranking: 87

Rating: 2640

US born Fabiano (who also holds an Italian citizenship) left America for Europe in search of a more saturated chess scene. Initially moving to Spain for training, his family then moved to Hungary and is based there. At age 13 he changed his chess affiliation to Italy, where he is now the highest ranked player. A recognized talent the youngster caught fire and in no time fulfilled the required norms for the IM title. By age 14 he was already a Grandmaster – one of the world’s youngest ever, and the youngest either the US or Italy have ever produced.

Caruana is a two-time Pan American champion – in 2002 (boys under 10), and 2003 (boys under 12), and the current Italian champion (a tournament he also won last year, and tied for first in a year earlier). He is now at his rating peak, with even more points to arrive from events yet to register. Fab’s rating chart looks like the route of a ballistic missile: he rose over 600 ELO points in a span of 6 years or so!

The home schooled academically Fabiano is making his second trip to Corus, after a Carlsen-like routing victory in the GM C group last year (10.5/13), which earned him a place in GM group B – a place he could have also earned thanks to his rating. Will he pull another ‘Carlsen’ to advance to the top group in 2010?

David Navara
Date of Birth: 27/03/1985

Country: Czech Republic

World ranking: 99

Rating: 2633

David started playing chess at age 6, and was practically self-taught from a book he got from his grandma, since no one in his family really played. In no time he shows his gift for the game, when he won several national titles for boys, starting at age 8. He represented his country multiple times in world events, such as the world youth and the European youth, often finishing in the top five places. Navara was already an IM at age 14, and three years later already obtained his Grandmaster title. He played many times in his country’s national championship, winning it several times, and is a regular member and first board for his Olympic team.

The Grandmaster from Parague is making his third trip to Wijk aan Zee after a one-year break. He scored solidly in the GM B group in 2006 with 7.5/13, but his crossing over the 2700 mark got him invited to the top tournament where he ended with a respectable even score. He is down nearly 100 points from his all time high, and is a bit in a slump. His latest results in the several leagues he plays at were sub par, and he had a rather forgettable experience at the two world cup events he took part in: 5.5/13 in Baku, and only 4/13 in Sochi. Perhaps the sympathetic Navara could spring back to form in January!

Erwin L’Ami

Date of Birth: 05/04/1985

Country: the Netherlands

World Ranking:

Rating: 2610

Erwin’s ‘connection to chess’ started at age 5, with the encouragement of his father. He took to the game pretty quickly, and became a part of a talented group of youngsters who took part at national, and later world events. His first significant breakthrough was in 2004 when he achieved the IM title, following it quickly in 2005 when he fulfilled the requirements for Grandmaster. L’Ami’s rating rise was very impressive, climbing from the 2200’s to cross the 2600 mark in just a few years.

The Dutchman is a very active player, averaging 30 rated ELO games per rating period. He mostly plays in Western European open and closed events, and in several leagues as well. In 2008 some of his noted results were a solid performance on board four for his national team at the Olympiad, scoring 6/9, and a tie for second place with a fantastic 8/11 finish at the European championships in Plovdiv. Erwin also scored a very respectable 7/11 in the next such event in Liverpool, and aside from a few mediocre results his only poor showing was 2.5/8 at the Bundesliga.

At the M-Tel tournament earlier this year, L’Ami had his first experience as a second (to Bulgarian GM Cheparinov), a experience that was demanding and tiring, but also enriching and ‘inspiring’ for him. A regular at Corus, Erwi scored –1 in last year’s Corus B.

Jan Werle

Date of Birth: 15/01/1984

Country: the Netherlands

World Ranking:

Rating: 2582

When he was 5 years old Jan witnessed his dad engaging in a casual game of chess, and got hooked. He became an active youth player, playing in competitions domestically, and then internationally – collecting a bronze medal in the European youth championships for the boys under 16 in 2000, and a silver for the under 18 section in 2001, the same year he reached the IM title. Werle has described himself as a positional player who can handle tactical melees. Recognizing that he had opening issues, Jan associated himself with some of the top local Dutch players – a collaboration that proved fruitful.

In 2008 Jan who scored 3.5/5 as first reserve in the Olympiad, made headlines by winning clear first place in the super-strong European individual championship, scoring a very convincing 8/10. Not bad considering his decision to play was a last-minute one! When this event and others get calculated, the Grandmaster from Groningen will have the pleasure of seeing his ELO climb over 2600, to a new all time high.

Three years ago the Dutchman scored a fantastic 9/13 in the GM C group, promoting him to the B group for 2007, where he scored a disappointing 4.5/13. Now in much better form he will surely make this coming visit to Wijk aan Zee a much more memorable one.

Hou Yifan

Date of Birth: 27/09/1994

Country: China

World Ranking:

Rating: 2578

The youngest participant in Group B (all GM groups for that matter!) is now a household name in the chess circles. Despite her young age, Yifan already has an impressive resume of achievements and record-breakings. She is one of the world’s youngest to ever achieve the GM title at 14.5 years (she got it this year, not much after she got her IM title), and the youngest finalist to the women’s world championship (she is the sub-champion, having lost to Kosteniuk in the finals). Prior to that she was the first Chinese women’s champion to do it at age 13.

What started at age 3 as a kid’s visual fascination for glass chess pieces she saw at a local library quickly became a lot more than that. As soon as she started playing the game, no one in her family was a challenge, and recognizing her amazing talent she was soon under the care of strong professionals. After winning the world youth girls under 10 section in 2003, she decided to play in the boys/open section of that event from the next year on, winning the bronze on her first try in 2004.

Soon invitations started coming, and the young Chinese girl started playing extensively in women’s events, strong opens, and GM invitationals, increasing her results from event to event. Her first time in Corus in 2007 was a good one, finishing in fifth place in the C group and collecting her WGM title afterwards. Last year in group B she scored –1.

Hou’s rating skyrocketed over 400 points in about 3-4 years, and she is closing in on 2600. Maybe Corus 2009 would put her over?

Henrique Mecking

Date of Birth: 23/1/1952

Country: Brazil

World Ranking:

Rating: 2567

The Godfather of Brazil’s chess and its first grandmaster is the elder statesman of the GM B group in 2009. Henrique was a chess wunderkind with unusual talent, who in his teens was already taking part and holding his own in strong competitions such as the Interzonals. He got his Grandmaster title at age 19, and two years later made his first big mark when he won the very strong Petropolis Interzonal with an undefeated score of 12/17 – beating Smyslov and Reshevsky among others. It took none other than Viktor Kortchnoi to eliminate him in the quarterfinals of the Candidates 7.5-5.5.

In the next cycle Mecking repeated his achievement, taking first place in the Manila Interzonal scoring 13/19, and losing only one game (to Spassky). He lost his Candidates match with Polugaevsky by the narrowest of margins, 6.5-5.5 (one win and 11 draws). He reached his rating peak in 1977 with 2635 (when a 2600 ELO was like today’s 2700++!), and was ranked third in the world, behind only Karpov and Kortchnoi. His illustrious career came to a halt due to health issues, and he retired from chess for many years.

In the early 90’s Henrique made a comeback, and although he was past his prime, he proved to still be a formidable opponent. He isn’t very active nowadays, and his latest event was the King’s veterans’ tournament in Romania where he scored 50%. This will be his third visit to Wijk aan Zee, having played in 1971 and 1978, finishing in sixth and seventh place, respectively.

Dimitri Reinderman

Date of Birth: 12/08/1972

Country: the Netherlands

World Ranking:

Rating: 2543

A look at Dimitri’s ELO rating chart might make one raise one’s eyebrows: a relatively consistent rise for a long while, then a significant decline till mid-decade, and then a nice escalation. Perhaps the reason (or one of them) for that is that for many years the Dutch Grandmaster was gainfully employed in a ‘non-chessic job, and only relatively recently returned to full time play and coaching. He served as a coach for the Dutch youth team in world events, such as the world youth championships, and recently captained the South African women’s team for the Dresden Olympiad.

In 2008 Reinderman played in several European leagues with decent results, and his best event was the Dutch closed championship where he scored a very good 7/11, to share second place. He had two disappointing results: in Groningen where he had 5/9 against a low average of opposition, and the Limburg open.

Dimitri returns to Corus after his strong showing in the C group last year, tying for second place (and top Dutchman – his ticket into GM B) with 8/13. He is possibly the most colorful (literally) player in the GM B group: his hairdos have range from mainstream colors to blonde, orange, green, blue, if I haven’t missed more! Can this vegetarian ‘go for the flesh’ in January 2009?