Nice’s annual Amber tournament is a semi-vacation in a luxurious ambiance for the elite grandmaster corps. Its leisurely schedule requires half rapid chess, about one hour per game, and half blindfold, where the GMs sit in front of computers which each screen just an empty chessboard. Crucially, neither variant counts for the ranking list, the barometer which influences how much a GM can earn in tournament and exhibition appearance fees.
But Amber (named after its computer billionaire sponsor Joop van Oosterom’s daughter) has a €216,000 prize fund, and over the years it has become increasingly competitive. The last two world champions, Vishy Anand and Vlad Kramnik, have won 11 Ambers between them. Anand specializes in rapid, Kramnik in blindfold.
If this week’s Amber 2009 had required slow classical time limits, it would have gone down as the strongest 12-player event in chess history. Anand, Kramnik, the current No1 Veslin Topalov, and the teenage pretenders Magnus Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin were all in the field.
Armenia’s Levon Aronian repeated his 2008 success in a tight finish on Thursday, winning first prize with 14/22, narrowly ahead of Anand and Kramnik on 13.5 and the 18-year-old Norwegian Carlsen on 13.
Below, Kramnik shows how, even without sight of the board, a top GM can refute a dubious pawn structure. Black’s 6…Be6 provokes Ng5xe6 while 10…Rc8 (0-0-0) left Radjabov no counterplay. Kramnik gunned down the weak e6 pawn then crushed Black’s king defenses for an easy day at the office.
Blindfold Chess by Eliot Hearst and John Knott (McFarland, £49.95) is a recently published book which is sure to become the authoritative work on chess without sight of the board. Hearst is a fine writer and player who once beat Bobby Fischer, and this is a fascinatingly readable account of blindfold from Philidor through the record-breakers who took on 30+ opponents at once up to the current Amber events.
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– GM Susan Polgar