Big Stories of 2008


Champions, old and new, were the biggest stories of 2008.


In January, Bobby Fischer, the mercurial former world champion, died at 64, his age matching the number of squares on a chess board.

In October, Viswanathan Anand of India retained his world title by handily defeating Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, a former champion.

The month before, Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia was crowned women’s world champion, and Lawrence Kaufman of the United States won the senior title in November, gaining the grandmaster title in the process.

It was a good month for the Kaufman family, as Lawrence’s son, Raymond, was awarded the international master title by the World Chess Federation. Other American players earning titles in 2008 included Joshua E. Friedel (grandmaster), Renier Gonzalez (grandmaster), Marc Arnold (international master) and Ray Robson (international master).

At the biennial Chess Olympiad, held in Germany, Armenia defended the title it won in 2006, and Georgia’s national team reaffirmed its status as a power in women’s chess by winning the gold medal for the first time since 1996. For Georgia, it was a bittersweet victory. Its players had boycotted the Women’s World Chess Championship, which was held in Russia only weeks after the Russian military action in Georgia.

Young stars began to assert themselves. Magnus Carlsen of Norway rose to No. 4 in the world and briefly took over the No. 1 ranking during a tournament in September. Hou Yifan of China became, at 14, the youngest girl to earn the grandmaster title. She also narrowly missed becoming women’s world champion, losing to Kosteniuk in the final. Fabiano Caruana, a 16-year-old who has United States and Italian citizenship, won his second consecutive Italian championship this month.

The year produced great games and great finishes. In the diagrammed position at top, from the third Grand Prix tournament that ends on Sunday in Elista, Russia, Peter Leko of Hungary, not sensing the danger, had just played 30 ... Qa2. His opponent, Etienne Bacrot of France, struck immediately with 31 Qh7, forcing resignation as Black cannot escape mate. For example, 31 ... Kf8 32 Bb4 c5 33 Bc5 Rfe7 34 hg7 Bg7 35 Qg7, mate. Or, 31 ... Kh7 32 hg7 Bh4 33 Rh4 Kg8 34 Rh8, mate.

On his way to defending his world title against Kramnik, Anand uncorked a nice combination in Game 5. In the bottom diagram, Kramnik had just blundered with 29 Nd4. The game ended 29 ... Qd4 30 Rd1 Nf6 31 Rd4 Ng4 32 Rd7 Kf6 33 Rb7 34 Rc1 Bf1 35 Ne3 fe3, and Kramnik resigned. The only way to stop 36 ... e2 is by giving up his rook with 36 Rc7.