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Russian takes grand master title in Biel

The Swiss have made little impact on the world chess scene

(Keystone Archive)

Russia’s Alexander Morozevich has won the grand master title at the annual chess festival in the Swiss town of Biel.

He claimed his second victory in as many years - a first in the history of the event - by outclassing hundreds of other professional and amateur players.

The 37th edition of the festival in the lakeside town in canton Bern wrapped up on Friday after two weeks of tournaments which attracted some of the world’s top chess players.

The event also served as a testing ground for those who play the game in Switzerland.

But Yannick Pelletier, one of only a handful of Swiss grand masters, admitted that his compatriots had failed to make their mark in Biel.

“We weren’t as well prepared as the others,” said Pelletier, who managed a fourth-place finish in the tournament.

“In the former eastern bloc countries, chess is a part of the education system.”

Low ranking

The 28-year-old Pelletier is Switzerland’s best chess player, but is only ranked 126 in world.

Two years ago, he climbed to 70th position in the rankings. But at the tournament in his home town he was no match for some of the game’s heavyweights.

Though he leaves Biel empty-handed, Pelletier received some consolation by beating Ruslan Ponomariov, the 2002 world champion from the Ukraine.

In the women’s competition, the 2002 and 2003 Swiss champion, Monika Seps, was outclassed by her younger rivals and lost all ten of the matches she played.

No competition

The disappointing overall performance suggests that Swiss chess has some way to go before the country’s players can compete successfully on the international circuit.

The World Chess Federation puts Switzerland 32nd in a global league table which is headed by Russia, the Ukraine, Hungary, the United States, Britain and France.

Observers of the game argue that chess has been given a boost in some countries – including Switzerland – by the presence of expatriate grand masters from the former eastern bloc.

Settled in Switzerland

Victor Korchnoï, considered one of the best players never to become world champion, settled in Switzerland a few years after defecting from the Soviet Union in 1976.

In 1992 he became a Swiss citizen and now lives in canton Aargau.

Three years ago he caused a sensation by swiping the grand prize at the Biel tournament from under the noses of the big players.

Switzerland will be hosting another international chess event this autumn.

Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik will face the Hungarian player, Peter Leko, in an unofficial world championship event scheduled to take place in the small town of Brissago in canton Ticino.

swissinfo, Jonathan Hirsch

Key facts

The Swiss Chess Federation has 5,100 members.
According to the World Chess Federation, Switzerland is ranked 32nd in the world.
The best Swiss player, Yannick Pelletier, is ranked 126th in the world.
An unofficial world championship event will take place in canton Ticino this autumn between Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko.

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