Rentero and Kasparov together in Linares in 2005. / sur

Linares: The Wimbledon of Chess

The so-called Wimbledon of chess is not in London, but a few hundred kilometres from Malaga

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

This year marks the 170th anniversary since London hosted its first international chess tournament.

In 1851, the capital held their 'Great Exhibition', which was intended to showcase British industry and technology.

This event prompted the English chess master, Howard Staunton, to take the opportunity to launch the first ever international tournament where the best chess players in Europe could meet.

The 1851 London tournament as a whole was a success, though Staunton personally was disappointed as he was knocked out by the German Adolf Anderssen in the second round, who went on to convincingly won the tournament.

Though this was one of the most famous events in chess history, it remains one of the least known and almost forgotten, much like the annual chess tournament in Linares (Andalucía).

The story of The Linares International Chess Tournament (Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez Ciudad de Linares) started in 1978.

That year, the industrial town in Jaen province held its tournament thanks to a local enthusiast with a passionate love for the game.

The name of this Andalusian 'Staunton' is Luis Rentero Suárez.

He learnt the game when he was eight years old and loved the King's Gambit.

However, he used to describe himself as a bad loser, and eventually stopped playing.

It is believed that this visionary businessman began by dispatching groceries from town to town at the controls of his motorcycle and ended up with an important hotel company including the chess themed Hotel Anibal.

He owned 32 supermarkets which he sold to a Belgian multinational.

This meant he could afford to make his dream come true and introduce an International chess tournament in his town.

Luis Rentero didn't have foresee the first tournament in Linares turning into a regular event.

In 1978 he invited some relatively unknown players from Spain and other countries to play in Casa de la Cultura.

Amongst others, Viriato Pacheco was there as the only representative for Jaen. The Swede, Jaan Eslon, became the first winner.

In 1987 Linares was honoured to host the Candidates' Final, a match to determine a challenger for Kasparov's world title featuring Anatoly Karpov and Andrei Sokolov.

After that big event, the International Chess tournament in Linares became annual.

Additionally, it was gaining fame as one of the strongest tournaments held on the de facto chess tour, along with the 'Tata Steel' (Wijk aan Zee), Tal Memorial and Dortmund events.

In the 90s, the Andalusian tournament was of paramount importance. For example, the 1994 tournament had an average Elo rating of 2685, the highest ever at that time.

In 1996, the Women's World Chess Championship was held in Linares, and in 1998, the format of the tournament changed from a single round-robin tournament to a double round-robin event.

Luis Rentero managed to bring together the best chess players in the world in each of the tournament's editions.

One of the most famous participants was Garry Kasparov. From 1984 until his retirement, this great Soviet-Russian chess player was ranked world No. 1 and he won the Linares tournament nine times.

Kasparov became Rentero's favourite player, because he considered him to be a fighter.

Luis Rentero was a strong opponent of short draws in chess. He explained this by saying: “Chess can be very pretty, it can be a show but only if the players fight.”

Rentero stressed that he wanted chess players to play, to fight. It appears he even offered cash bonuses for those who played longer games.

Participants in these so-called 'grand master draws' were sometimes penalised with a no invitation for the next year's edition. Rentero actually withheld half a million pesetas from Kasparov.

It is believed that Kasparov didn't expect this from his Andalusian friend and angrily declared that he would never play in Linares again.

However, he returned next year, and in 2005, after his victory in Linares, the great chess player announced his retirement from professional chess.

As for English chess players, Nigel Short and Jon Speelman participated quite often, though they never won or showed a good result.

In 1997 Michael Adams became 3-4 and continually, but unsuccessfully, tried to win until 2005.

Luis Rentero sponsored all the events until eventually the event's organisation was passed to the local authorities, who decided to suspend the tournament for good for financial reasons. So the 27th edition, in 2010, was the last one to be held.