The World Championship Finals

By Ants Soosõrv (translated by Ando Meritee), 1997

During World Championship I heard opinions from different people that this time the level of the finals higher than ever. It is hard to say, because Nakamura was absent. But on the other hand the qualification system for selecting 12 best to the finals was surely the fairest and all the finalists were equally good.
There were lots of theoretically interesting games in WC. I have often heard Meritee or Reims saying about some tournament that it was "nothing special" in played games there. This time it can not be said. True, one reason is obviously that there have not been played many tournaments yet with the new opening rules and comparing with openings i10 or i11 there are so much to investigate in direct openings.
This championship was the demonstration of Japanese power. After the WC in 1993, where it was obvious setback for Japanese, we could soon expect the European renju to became to the first position in the world. WC in 1995 rehabilitated Japanese only partly because Nara’s play didn’t make any impression. In 1996 in team competition they were very weak, even their leaders Nara and Hasegawa couldn’t show anything special. In my dreams I expected the European domination also in WC-5 in Sankt-Petersburg but my hopes failed completely. Japanese could get even 4 players to top 5. The only player who got positive result against them was Aldis Reims (2½ from 4). Ando Meritee had to accept the 50% score, the Russian main hope Mihail Kozhin got only ½ point against Japanese.
Before the championship Meritee and Kawamura were considered as the main favorites. Ando himself considered Sagara’s chances the best comparing the other competitors. People thought that medal chances have also Kozhin, Hasegawa, Reims and Nara. The sure Russian Champion of this year, the 16 years old Klimashin seemed to have too little experience in order to conquer for top places. GardstrÖm’s, Sinyov’s, Karlsson’s and my hopes were aimed to get a place among top seven.

In the first round the main favorites met each other - Meritee and Kawamura. Kawamura lost and it influenced a lot his further games. In the 2nd round he showed up extraordinary weakness in his games with Klimashin. Kozhin got two very simple points in the first day. In the first round Gardström played against him completely without sense and it was hard to understand why both players wasted many hours for this game. The incorrect variant brought success to Kozhin against Reims. Meritee and Hasegawa had also two points after 2 rounds. Sagara won in the first round in impressively powerful style against Karlsson, but in the next round he played poorly against me and lost. In the next day Meritee and Hasegawa went on with full score. Ando won against Reims and cheated Karlsson. Hasegawa won against me after my big mistake and beat also Kawamura. Sagara performed also successfully, he even caught Kozhin by winning against him.

The leading group after 4 rounds:
1.-2. Meritee and Hasegawa 4p
3.-4. Kozhin and Sagara 3p

The third day was Sunday. For Ando Meritee it was "black" Sunday. Two losses dropped him to 3.-4. place. Meantime Hasegawa used skilfully the opponents’ mistakes (GardstrÖm and Reims) and kept the full score. Takashi Sagara reached to the second place who after victory against Meritee beat also Klimashin. Kozhin still kept himself up in leading group.

The standings after the 6th round:
1. Hasegawa 6p
2. Sagara 5p
3.-4. Kozhin and Meritee 4p
5. Nara 3½p

In 7th round the leader was forced to give away half point. The taker was Stefan Karlsson. Sagara approached to Hasegawa dangerously after cheating Sinyov. In the 8th round leaders met and this game was supposed to solve the question about first place. Hasgawa put the opening - direct 11 was favorite for both players. Sagara chose black color but he didn’t get any advantage from the opening. After that he defended long time but was finally forced to give up. Now Hasegawa was leading with 1½ point gap and only the "Ilyin complex" could stop him becoming a champion. (As you remember, in WC in 1995 Dmitri Ilyin had also 7½ points after 8 rounds but his nerves let him down and he lost last three games.) The fourth day was dramatic for Kozhin who lost both games in 18 moves!

The standings after the 8th round:
1. Hasegawa 7½p
2. Sagara 6p
3. Meritee 5½p
4. Nara 4½p

In the 9th round Hasegawa met Nara. Nara played d11 as black and since there was no change of color, his party ended soon. Meritee overplayed Klimashin and caught Sagara since the latter made a draw with Kawamura. For the places 4 and down there was also hard competition.

The 10th round. Hasegawa managed to get a draw against Kozhin and guaranteed the World Champion title! Disappointed Meritee couldn’t beat Sinyov after that and dropped to the third place. Sagara beat Gardström.

The standings after the 10th round:
1. Hasegawa 9p
2. Sagara 7½p
3. Meritee 7p
4. Nara 5½p
5.-7. Kozhin, Reims, Soosõrv 5p

The game of last round between Meritee and Hasegawa was hardly began when Hasegawa stopped the clocks. Obviously he wasn’t ready to play this game anymore.
As usually, the Ando Meritee’s final place didn’t depend only on himself. As in 1993, he had to put hopes on Reims who this time was supposed to get at least a draw against Sagara. Aldis went to bed at 6 a.m. as professional player usually does and thanks to this he had no problems with winning (J). The 4th place was taken by Nara who overplayed Gardström.

Kazuto Hasegawa.
Afterwards we can say indeed that Hasgawa’s win was deserved. Once it had to end his relative failure in World Championships. Besides, Japanese meijins have never lost in WC before. Perhaps Ando Meritee won in 1993 only because of absence of meijin (Nakamura)!

Ando Meritee.
For Ando the 2nd place was undoubtfully disappointment, but I hope that it will stimulate him to prepare better for the next time and so he can perform in his maximum level. In last three World Championships Ando has got every time at least 8 points, it has made up the excitement of expecting the future battles between him and Nakamura.

Takashi Sagara.
I met Sagara in Arjeplog in 1993 just as obviously the other Europeans. In that time his performace was not so impressive - 5½ points and the 7th place. In St.Petersburg he was like another man, meantime it looked that he was close to reaching to the first place with his powerful play. Quite possible that he became tired and therefore failed in the end.

Hideki Nara.
Nara is such a "wise" player. It is impossible to pull him down under 4th place in any World Championship. By the way, Nara is the only player who has taken part in all five WCs.

Ants Soosõrv.
I can be very satisfied with my 5th place. Besides, I was after the 6th round in the 11th place with 1½ points.!

Aldis Reims.
Aldis Reims doesn’t play renju as seriously as before, but he is still in the world top. Aldis is the "demon" for Japanese. Even Hasegawa considered his game with Reims as a key-match.

Norihiko Kawamura.
The 7th place wasn’t definitely the result that Kawamura expected. It is not so fair that such players like Soosõrv and Nara got better places. But the tournament is the tournament.

Mihail Kozhin.
Although Kozhin has written big and clever book about opening theory, he had no use of it. Again and again Misha faced problems in choosing openings. Ando forecasted right that Kozhin will be the best Russian in finals, but his 8th place...

Stefan Karlsson.
Stefan Karlsson doesn’t belong to the group of remarkable world top players. But as true fighter he is very dangerous to everybody and he always takes his 3-3½ points in WC finals and manages to avoid the last place.

Aleksander Klimashin.
It is all very obvious with Klimashin. People hoped too early too much from him and this pressure seemed to be hard for him.

Petter Gardström.
For Gardström it was the painful lesson. In the previous time in Tallinn he was quite successful and he even won Swedish Qualification with 9½points from 10. But those variants, which worked successfully in Swedish tournaments, didn’t work in WC finals. Consecutive losses only raised Gardström’s unstability and it caused even longer chain of losses. But I believe that Petter will proove that he is able to fight for high places.

I finish with that. And I hope to find Nakamura’s name in next World Championship’s table.