Topalov V. - Kramnik V.

Hello, dear readers of! I am grandmaster Sergei Shipov, wishing you the best on this latest chess holiday. The day of the decisive encounter has arrived! The two strongest players in the world will cross swords at the finish of the supertournament at Wijk aan Zee 2007. Their battles in the world championship match--both on and off the board--are still fresh in the memory. Chess is a game from the gods, and has, throughout the ages, been associated with nobility and wisdom. These days, alas, this reputation is in danger. The rivalry between the two outstanding masters of today is constantly being ramped up by the media, who are ready to seize upon any incautious statement or hint of scandal in order to generate interest among readers. I call upon those who know and love chess to turn away from muckraking and focus on the main event: a struggle between two chess titans, two thinkers, two sportsmen! I am sure that Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik will take an honoured place in chess history. One must remember that things are seen more clearly from a distance! It is possible that in the next century they will be remembered with the same deep respect that today is accorded to Steinitz and Chigorin. As the contemporaries of these future legends, we have an opportunity to see their games with our own eyes, to suffer with them, experience with them, to analyse variations and enjoy the depth of chess. This is the most important thing! And it will stay with us forever... Today I will not be able to pay much attention to other games, and will only give you brief comments. Also meeting in today's round are Motylev-Radjabov, Van Wely-Svidler, Karjakin-Carlsen, Shirov-Aronian, Tiviakov-Anand and Navara-Ponomariov.
1.d4 We're underway! The two rivals are testing each other in a closed opening, continuing the tradition established in their match in Elista. For the time being Topalov is not ready to storm Black's bastions in the Russian Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6!)
1...Nf6 2.c4 e6 But here is a substantial change! The Slav Defence, the main opening in the champion's defensive repertoire, has been set aside..
3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 Transposing to the Queen's Gambit Declined.
5.Bf4 In the last 20 years this development of the bishop has been more popular than the ancient move 5.Bg5.
5...O-O 6.e3 c5 Black opens up the centre. His purpose is to clear some space for the free movement of his pieces. The motivation for such sharp action is the delay of the White king in leaving the centre.
7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qc2 The queen makes way for the rook. In a number of variations White will actually castle queenside.
8...Nc6 9.a3 Veselin prepares to win some space on the queenside.
9...Qa5 Vladimir interferes with his opponent's plan.
10.O-O-O We are now guaranteed a sharp struggle - the kings are on opposite flanks! Notice that White has so far not exchanged pawns on d5, so that Black cannot bring out his light-squared bishop to an active position. advantage.
[As practice has demonstrated, the old continuation
10.Nd2 does not promise White any advantage.]
10...Be7 11.h4 Announcing the organisation of a mating attack. Here the two players stopped blitzing their moves, and Kramnik fell into a long think.
[The last time he had this position he had to deal with another fashionable continuation:
11.g4 dxc4 12.Bxc4 e5 13.g5 exf4 14.gxf6 Bxf6 15.Nd5 Ne7 16.Nxf6+ gxf6 17.Rhg1+ Kh8 18.e4 b5 19.Bd5 Nxd5 20.exd5 b4 21.axb4 Qa1+ 22.Kd2 Qa6 23.Qc6 Rd8 24.Kc3 Bb7 25.Qxa6 Bxa6 26.Rd4 and White had obtained a slight endgame advantage, which, however, was not enough for victory (Anand-Kramnik, Leon 2002.)]
11...Rd8 For the time being Black cannot meet White's flank attack with a flank attack of his own. So he undertakes action in the centre, where the tension between pawns is still in effect. An exchange on c4 will take place only when the moment is right.
[In the game Gelfand-Karpov, Wijk aan Zee 1998 there followed
11...a6 12.Ng5 Rd8 13.cxd5 exd5 14.e4 Nxe4 15.Ngxe4 dxe4 16.Rxd8+ Qxd8 17.Qxe4 g6 18.Bc4 Bf5 19.Qe3 Qd4 20.Qxd4 Nxd4 21.Rd1 Ne6 and Black had equalised.]
12.Nd2 An interesting combination of ideas! Visually, the moves h2-h4 and Nf3-d2 belong to separate plans. In positions of this kind grandmasters usually play a wide-open game, not caring about pawns--or the nerves of their fans. And suddenly, a very cunning move... White unexpectedly withdraws his knight from the front lines. Instead of attacking the Black king he takes aim at the Black queen--on the other side of the board. This piece, incidentally, has in fact very little breathing room, especially after Black's own rook has taken away the square d8. White has set up a concreate threat: 13.Nb3 Qb6 14.c5! Bxc5 15.Na4 winning the queen. I had a look in the big database and dispelled my visual impressions--the move has been played before. That means Vladimir must know what Black's best reaction is... For the time being he is thinking. He is remembering! It is interesting that in the four games with this line, Black chose four different replies: 12...Rd7 (what they won't do to save the queen!), 12...e5 (tempting!), 12...dxc4 (simple and sound), 12...a6 (making a spot for the queen on a7.) Let's see which path Vladimir takes.
[In the game Kasparov-Ehlvest, Novgorod 1995, there followed
12.g4 Bd7 13.Kb1 dxc4 14.Bxc4 Rac8
(Clearly more accurate is
14...Be8! 15.g5 Nh5 16.Bh2 Rac8 , Goldin-Mikhalevski, Israel 1997)
15.g5 Nh5 16.Bd6 g6 17.Be2 Bxd6 18.Rxd6 Ne7 19.Qb3 Bc6 20.Rxd8+ Rxd8 21.Rd1 Qf5+ 22.Ka1 Rf8 23.e4 Qc5 24.Qb4 Qxb4 25.axb4 and White obtained a positional advantage but could not win.]
12...dxc4 Kramnik plays in his usual style - he strives for positions that are promising, simple, and solid. He avoids unclear complications, even when they are tempting.
[Let me show you how the other variations go:
12...Rd7 13.Bd3 Qd8 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Nf3 Qf8 16.g4 Ne4 17.Ne5 Nxe5 18.Bxe5 f6?!
19.Bd4 Rc7 20.f3 Nxc3 21.Bxh7+ Kh8 22.Bxc3 Bxa3 23.Rxd5 Bxg4 24.fxg4 Rxc3 25.Qxc3 Rc8 26.Qxc8 Qxc8+ 27.Bc2 Be7 28.Rhd1 and White's pair of rooks outmatch the Black queen; Agdestein-Short, Isle of Lewis 1995.]
[12...e5 13.Bg5 d4 14.Nb3 Qb6 15.c5 Qc7 16.Nb5 Qb8 17.exd4 a6 18.Nd6 Bxd6 19.cxd6 Qxd6 20.dxe5 Qxd1+ 21.Qxd1 Rxd1+ 22.Kxd1 Nxe5 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Nd4 Bd7 and White's minimal advantage is not enough for a win; Cifuentes Parada-Van der Sterren, Nederland 1995.]
[12...a6 13.Nb3 Qb6 14.c5 Qa7 15.Bc7 Rf8 16.Na4 Ne8 17.Bh2 Bd8 18.Bd3 h6 19.g4 e5 and by some miracle Black got out of his deep pit and even managed to win; Arnold-Gaunas, Austria 2000.]
13.Nxc4 Rxd1+ 14.Qxd1 Qd8 Vladimir exchanges everything he can. The possible intrusion of White's pieces on d6 does not rattle him. He believes in his ability to defend slightly worse positions!
15.Qxd8+ Nxd8 A novelty, but one that will not seriously alter chess theory. In this position it would be difficult to make any fundamental changes. It appears that Kramnik's move is a slight improvement. Black keeps the possibility of exchanging one of White's assailants on d6.
[In the game Peng-A.Maric, Groningen 1997, there followed:
15...Bxd8 16.Be2 Nd5 17.Nxd5 exd5 18.Nd6 Bc7 19.Rd1 Bxd6 20.Bxd6 Be6 21.b4 White has obtained a small and durable advantage, but could not convert it to a win.]
16.Be2 Bd7 Move by move Black is managing to put up a barrier on c6. On 17.Bf3 he has prepared the reply 17...Bc6. Therefore it is worth taking a look at the preliminary attacking move 17.Ne5!?... I think one can now weigh up the results of the opening. Topalov has obtained a slight advantage, while Kramnik has excellent chances of eventually neutralising it. The position is quiet, with a manoeuvring character. Flashy effects are not anticipated...
17.e4 Veselin shows that he is ambitious. He captures some space and is evidently planning to station his dark-squared bishop on e3 with the aim of putting pressure on Black's queenside. From which there follows the first candidate move for Black: 17...Bc5. And knowing Topalov's aggressive style, one can assume that in that case he will sacrifice a pawn by playing 18.Rd1!? with unclear complications... To put the bishop on c6 in this position would not be desirable from the psychological perspective. White will certainly play his pawn to f3 and then Black's bishop will be gazing at a solid wall on e4. On top of that, at any moment one can expect a White knight to land on e5 or c5... Vladimir continues to study the position. The clock display reminds me of the match in Elista: 1.35h - 1.00h! I'd like to take advantage of this lull in the action to recommend that readers check out the work of one of our site's new authors, who is using the handle Manowar. Right now he is covering the online game Karjakin-Carlsen. See the link on the site.
17...Bc6 Anyway! One Black knight has been stranded on d8 for a long time, but the other one has gained a convenient waystation on the square d7.
[After 17...Bc5 18.Rd1 I came up with the following sample line:
18...Bxf2 19.g4 Be8 20.g5 Nd7 21.Nd6 Kf8 22.Nxe8 Kxe8 23.Nb5 e5 24.Nc7+ Ke7 25.Nxa8 exf4 26.Nc7 Bxh4 27.Nd5+ Ke8 28.Nc7+ Ke7 29.Nd5+ Ke8 when the logical outcome is a draw.]
18.f3 Nh5 Vladimir strives to exploit the weakened dark squares in his opponent's camp. If he manages to exchange a pair of pieces, then he will certainly gain equality... Therefore Veselin should not allow the Black knight onto g3.
19.Bc7 A non-trivial manoeuvre. Why does Veselin draw the Black rook onto c8? Obviously so that a White knight landing on d6 will win a tempo, for example, after 19...Rc8 20.Be5 f6.
[Here I was also looking at this continuation:
19.Be5 f6 20.Bh2 e5 21.Rd1 (or 21.Na5!?) which gives White a slight advantage.]
19...Rc8 Of course one should not allow the bishop to remain undisturbed. White was threatening the positional advance g2-g4!
20.Be5 Topalov is playing quickly and confidently!
20...Bf6 Kramnik decides to deviate from the variations that his opponent has calculated. He continues to strive for the exchange of parallel pieces... Now in the event of 21.Bh2 Black can coolly take the pawn on h4, since the possibility of a check on g5 allows him to avoid losing a piece.
[After 20...f6 21.Nd6 Rc7 22.Bh2 e5 23.Nf5 Bf8 24.Rd1 Nf7 25.Bc4 White would have unpleasant pressure.]
21.Nd6 Ra8 Thus the manoeuve of the White bishop to c7 has achieved its aim - White has won an important tempo.
[For some reason, the most principled reply
21...Rc7! did not appeal to Vladimir, even though none of the variations promise any danger for Black. I hope you agree that a rook on c7 (or d7) is much more useful than a rook on a8.]
22.Bxf6 Nxf6 A powerful knight on d6, a space advantage, and an awkward arrangement of Black's pieces - it all adds up to a positional advantage for White. And it is gradually increasing... Topalov has several promising plans here. He could carry out a pawn advance on either side, and also bring his king out to e3. A pleasant choice! The clocks are still displaying the habitual time handicap: 1.11h - 0.43h.
23.Rd1 Kf8 He must bring the king to e7 in order to challenge White's advantage.
24.Kd2 Veselin copies Vladimir's manoeuvre and brings his king to the centre.
24...Ne8 An attempt to simplify the game even further...
25.Nc4 ... , which of course does not come about. At the moment White's knights are noticeably better than Black's... Meanwhile, there has been a result on another board - the first of the round - and a sensational one at that! Van Wely has defeated Svidler with a direct mating attack! It appears Svidler was exhausted by his struggle with the tournament leader and had not managed to recuperate. And the game Tiviakov-Anand has ended in a draw.
25...f6 In a position with light squared bishops it is a good idea to station one's pawns on dark squares. And even more important, it is high time to get the knight off its comical position on d8.
26.Ke3 Topalov continues the methodical strengthening of his position.
26...b6 Kramnik stops a White knight from coming to a5.
[On 26...Nf7 White has the very strong reply
27.f4 White's intentions are becoming clearer. He advances his pawns on the kingside and attempts to create weaknesses in Black's position there.
27...Nf7 Nevertheless I think White should switch back to the queenside at a certain moment. There are practically no Black pieces there, and therefore it should be easier to attack. But for the moment he can carry on with the diversion: 28.g4!? Topalov is spending a lot of time in thought and is gradually catching up in that department: 0.47h - 0.39h.
28.g4 h6 Black's fortifications are quite strong. Now White either has to switch to the queenside, or think about the advance e4-e5. And that is an interesting idea! The square e4 would then become an excellent transfer point for White's pieces. The move 29.e5!? looks quite good. Besides everything else, it is also nice to restrict the Black knight on e8.
29.g5 Well, well... an unexpected attack on the most fortified point in Black's defences. Topalov's idea is quite understandable - the full series of captures on g5 will let him bring his knight to e5 and develop a strong initiative. But this is chess, not draughts...
29...hxg5 30.hxg5 Veselin has opened the h-file, which may be useful for his rook.
[Also possible was the asymmetrical reply
30.fxg5 , after which the capture
30...fxg5? is very bad because of
30...Ke7 The reaction of the experienced defender is quite predictable. Vladimir is not tempted by poisoned pawns. He narrows the defensive front and digs in. The following step taken by the experienced attacker is also enticing - exchange pawns and penetrate with the rook to h7.
[In the variation
30...fxg5 31.fxg5 Nxg5?! 32.Ne5 Bb7 33.Rd7 Bc8 34.Ng6+ Kg8 35.Ne7+ Kf8 36.Nxc8 Rxc8 37.Rxa7 White would obtain a noticeable advantage.]
31.gxf6+ Nxf6 Kramnik's sense of danger is phenomenal! He is clearly foreseeing his opponent's threats.
[Here is one of the disaster variations he has managed to avoid:
31...gxf6 32.Rh1 Ned6 33.Nxd6 Kxd6 34.Rh7 Rf8 35.Bh5 Ke7 36.f5! and Black is caught in a steel trap.]
32.Rg1 Unfortunately, everything comes at a price. For not allowing the White rook onto h7, Vladimir has had to noticeably weaken his pawn position...
32...Rg8 However, the weak pawn is securely defended for the time being. With his last move Balck has created the positional threat 33...g5! Naturally, such a pawn exchange would be very helpful for him.
33.Rg6 Mechanically preventing his opponent's idea . White continues to exert unpleasant pressure on Black's position. There won't be any serious time pressure: 0.29h - 0.26h.
33...Bb7 An unexpected decision. The square b5 is now available to a White knight, and on top of that White gets an extra tempo for organising his attack.
[It was tempting to move his knight in the manner of a pendulum:
33...Nh8 and after any retreat of the rook - 33...Nf7.]
34.a4 And so the attacking front is broadened.
[The move
34.Bd3 , looked strong here. It defends the pawn on e4 and prepares the same thrust Nc3-b5!]
34...Nh8 One cannot tolerate such an unpleasant White piece forever.
35.Rg1 Nf7 For the second time Black threatens to play g7-g5. Topalov is clearly not interested in a repetition of moves. Therefore he must choose the direction and method of attack: 36.a6 or 36.e5.
36.a5 The decision is made. White allows simplification on one side of the board, but at the same time he creates complications on the other side.
[Let's have a look at the other variation:
36.e5 Nd5+ 37.Nxd5+ Bxd5 38.Kd4!? g5 39.f5! Rh8 40.f6+ Kf8 41.Ne3 - here it seems Black still has a few problems.]
36...g5 Of course! Black rids himself of his weakness.
[Black's defences would also hold after
37.Ra1 gxf4+ 38.Kxf4 Nd7 39.axb6 axb6 40.Ra7 Rb8 etc.]
37...Rxg5 38.Rxg5 Nxg5 Now the pawn on b6 can be taken, but then the pawn on e4 falls as well. The position is simplifying towards equality. After the exchange of rooks the tension has noticeably decreased.
39.e5 Keeping a pawn on the board for both sides. Veselin is obviously intending to play his knight to b5 next move. However, Black has a defence in all variations... Meanwhile, the head-to-head struggle between future champions (Karjakin-Carlsen) has ended in a draw.
39...Nd7 It is hard to see what Kramnik was thinking about for so long.
[Clearly bad was
39...Nd5+ in view of 40.Nxd5+ Bxd5
(40...exd5 41.Nd6!)
41.axb6 Bxc4 42.b7! and wins.]
40.Nd6 Ah, I didn't pick up on that! Veselin makes a last attempt to confuse his opponent. Now Vladimir is obliged to find and play the elegant move 40...Bf3!! All other continuations lead to a serious advantage for White, who can advance his pawn to a6 and then eliminate the barriers on the way to promotion...
[After 40.Nb5 Black secures equality with
40...bxa5! 41.Nxa7 Bd5]
40...Bf3! He found it! If the bishops are exchanged a White pawn on a6 will be without a defender and sponsor. And as we have already noted, 40...Bg2 is no good because of 41.a6! Time control has now been reached. Black has excellent chances of making a draw. There are very few pawns left on the board... Let's take a moment to study the situation. Navara has a huge advantage in his game with Ponomariov. Radjabov has seized the initiative and worked up serious pressure on Motylev's defences... And I can add that he has already won! So in case of a draw in today's main encounter, which is very likely, Radjabov will move into a tie with Topalov! And in the last round they will be playing each other... Shirov has a very dubious-looking position in his game with Aronian. It is possible that Levon has let a couple of good opportunities go by, but his advantage is still obvious.
[As already noted, bad is
40...Bg2 in view of 41.a6!]
[Not winning a piece is:
41.Bxf3 Nxf3 42.Kxf3
(42.Nc8+ Kd8)
42...Nxe5+ 43.Ke4 Kxd6 44.Nb5+ Kc5 and in all variations Black miraculously saves himself with his own counterattack. ]
[And on 41.a6 he would play
41...Bxe2 42.Kxe2 Nc5! , eliminating the dangerous White foot soldier.]
41...axb6 42.Bxf3 The series of exchanges is taking the game closer to its logical outcome... Navara has won against Ponomariov and seriously improved his standing.
42...Nxf3 43.Nc8+ There is no escape from here.
43...Kd8 44.Kxf3 Nxe5+ The most exact way of ending the struggle.
45.Ke4 Nc4 White simply runs out of pawns. Veselin is spending a lot of time studying this boring position. Such a pity to let his opponent get away!
46.Kd4 The expected signing of the peace treaty has not materialised. Topalov is going to continue the struggle...
46...Nxb2 47.Nxb6 Kc7 White cannot track down and capture the Black knight.
48.Nc4 Nxc4 49.Kxc4 DRAW! This was an interesting struggle between two equal opponents. Topalov had the advantage throughout the game, but Kramnik defended himself very accurately. In this latest encounter between supergrandmasters, the shield proved to be mightier than the sword. The last game of the day is the one between Shirov and Aronian, in which Black's winning chances are very substantial. It is quite possible that in the last round there will be three players tied for first. And with this, I, grandmaster Sergei Shipov, bid you farewell, dear readers! Tomorrow at 14:30h Moscow time (an hour earlier than usual!) the last round will begin. I will be commenting on the game Radjabov-Topalov for you. Thank you for joining us. Until tomorrow!
[Translated from Russian by Dan Scoones.]

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