Game 11 — Positional battle, another draw

by admin on May 9, 2010

After a blazing start, with three decisive games in the first four, the last two-thirds of the Anand-Topalov match has turned into a war of nerves. Today’s game was no exception. It was played almost entirely on a strategic level, with tactics only in the footnotes. It did get a little bit exciting in the endgame, when Anand sacrificed a pawn on move 49 in order to get his pawns moving faster, but Topalov didn’t fall into any of his traps.

As before, I will give you an abridged translation of GM Sergei Shipov’s commentary on the game at www.crestbook.com. Note that their website has a Java program that lets you play through the game, in case you want to look at it as you read the notes. Enjoy! –DM

Happy Victory Day, dear readers! On this sunny day, with warm summery temperatures, grandmaster Sergei Shipov is once again with you. A deep bow to all those who fought in the war. And eternal memory to all those who gave their lives in the war for freedom. My grandfather died in the war in 1942, so it is a family holiday for me. With tears in our eyes … May all the wars henceforth be fought only over the chessboard.

[Translator’s note: Russians still celebrate their victory over Germany in World War II, which they call the Great Patriotic War. One could write volumes about why the meaning of World War II is so different for Russians and Americans, but I don’t have room for that here. However, it is ironic that on the same day that we are celebrating Mother’s Day here in America, in Russia they are remembering their grandfathers. — DM]

In essence, today we begin a new mini-match — the same kind of match that took place in the World Championships by the knockout system, as well as in the present-day World Cups. I was fortunate enough to participate twice in the world knockout tournaments, and I remember very well the monstrous pressure that reigned during the games. The responsibility presses on your nervous system with unbelievable force. With every move, every thought, every nervous tic, the outcome of the game can be decided. Multiply that by 10, and you have the condition of the titleseekers today in Sofia.

Anand is an experienced fighter in the world cups. He has won knockout tournaments, and his light and practical style of play, as well as his flexible nerves are perfectly suited for this format. Topalov has done worse in knockouts; usually he gets as far as playing Shirov and loses to him … But all that is in the past! And my analogy has its limits. The previous 10 games cannot be crossed out, if only because they have sapped a great deal of energy from the fighters. Now, to succeed, they have to turn on their willpower and seek a second wind for a sprint to the finish. If there are any powerful opening innovations still in reserve, now is the time to reveal them.

Anand, V. — Topalov, V.

World Championship Match (Game 11), Sofia 2010

1. c4 …

Already a surprise!

1. … e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cd Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6

Logical and strong. If 6. … Be6 7. O-O Be7 the advance 8. d4! gives White an advantage.

7. O-O Be7 8. a3 O-O 9. b4 Be6 10. d3 f6

A solid decision, with a little extra cushion of stability. Black sometimes plays 10. … a5 11. b5 Nd4 here, with a sharper game. White usually doesn’t take the pawn on e5, but plays 12. Nd2, setting up the trap 12. … Nd5? 13. Bxd5 Bxd5 14. e3 and on any retreat by the knight the move e3-e4 wins a piece. For that reason Black normally places his bishop on d5 on the 12th move, not the knight.

11. Ne4 Qe8

A clever trick of battle. A novelty! As you see, Veselin preferred not to put his queen on d7, as most of his predecessors did. The point is that the formulaic trade of bishops on h3 does not bother White at all. He will calmly continue his plan of pressure on the queenside. Meanwhile, Black’s mating  attack [on the kingside] is as far away as Alaska. For people who live in Alaska (where we have some fans), please replace this phrase with: “as far away as Moscow”!

[Here Shipov goes on to show us a game between Tony Miles and Jan Timman from Tilburg 1984, where Timman played 11. … Qd7 and White went on to win with a beautiful queen sac. But let’s continue with today’s game. — DM]

12. Nc5 Bxc5 13. bc Nd5 14. Bb2 Rd8 15. Qc2 Nde7 16. Rab1 Ba2

Veselin does not want to rush into changing the pawn structure [with … b6]. He simply chases the threatening rook away in advance from its fighting position. [This move begins the shadow-boxing, of which there is quite a bit in this game. Shipov points out on the following move that Black can’t really keep his bishop here, and the rook can come back to b1 eventually. — DM]

17. Rbc1 Qf7 18. Bc3 Rd7 19. Qb2 Rb8

The circumstances have forced Topalov once again to play carefully. Now the concentration of defenders in black is very high. It would appear that straightforward methods will not bring White success. He needs to broaden the attacking front! Maybe this would be a good time for a little hooliganism? For example, he could move the knight away from f3 and strike at the cener with f2-f4! An interesting idea, don’t you think? In case of a trade on f4, White will take with … I’m not sure. Anyway, by removing the granite pawn from e5, he has greatly strengthened his position in the center. Carlsen would play this way! Do you remember his game with Kramnik in London 2009? There we saw a similar picture …

20. Rfd1 …

No, Anand is too mature. It’s harder for him to act like a hooligan.

20. … Be6 21. Rd2 h6 22. Qb1 …

The bishop gains an escape route from the threatened exchange. But even more important to White is the resource Rd2-b2. It seems that Vishy is planning to put so much pressure on the pawn at b7 that it has to move forward. There is even a third idea behind White’s move. The queen on b1 eyes the square e4, where a Black pawn could go if White breaks with d3-d4.

Apparently Vishy considered 22. e4 too straightforward. Play could have continued 22. … Bg4 23. d4 Bxf3 24. Bxf3 ed 25. Bxd4 Nxd4  26. Rxd4 Rxd4 27. Qxd4 Nc6 — but I’m not sure Black can equalize here. The extra move … h7-h6 in this variation is clearly harmful to him.

22. … Nd5 23. Rb2 …

Just so! White develops unpleasant pressure. Topalov seemed to be defending accurately, but it appears he did not sufficiently appreciate the maneuver Rf1-d1-d2-b2!

23. … b6 24. cb cb 25. Bd2 Rd6

Woe from wit. Veselin worked long and hard over the board and came up with this baroque move. The arrangement of Black’s pieces is obviously unsteady. In a blitz game he would have played 25. … Nde7 in 5 seconds, and he would have been right.

[Translator’s note: “Woe From Wit” is the name of a comedy of manners written in 1823 by the playwright/diplomat Aleksandr Griboyedov. It was never performed during his lifetime, but became famous after his death; see the Wikipedia article I have just linked to for the whole sad story. — DM]

26. Rbc2 Qd7 27. h4 Rd8

All of Black’s pieces have formed into a Cross! Special thanks to Topalov for this …

28. Qb5 Nde7

A gross error would be 28. … Nbe7? because of 29. Qxd7 R6xd7 30. e4! and Black’s ambitious knight is lost.

29. Qb2 …

Anand takes his time — and justifiably so. He controls the only open file. Sooner or later he is going to penetrate to the 7th rank. But in order to do this he has to drive away Black’s defenders, which is not easy …

29. … Bd5 30. Bb4 …

Correct. The bishop was too passive.

30. … Nxb4 31. ab ..

Now the entry of the rook on c7 is threatened. White retains a small advantage. But Black is defending successfully. I called the move 25. … Rd6 “baroque,” but Veselin has managed to demonstrate the correctness of his cross-building. Still, there is a lot of fighting ahead. He still has to neutralize White’s pressure. As a first step, he should trade rooks on c6.

31. … Rc6 32. b5 …

This fixing of the queenside pawns, and the weak pawn on a7, begged to be played. I also liked 32. Rxc6 Bxc6 33. h5 with the idea of trading bishops by Nf3-h4!

32. … Rxc2 33. Rxc2 …

The downside [of 32. b5] is that now the White queen is stuck defending the pawn on b5. On the other hand, if he can open up some roads to the Black king, then he can survive a small loss of material… He still has the old, but still good idea of opening up the center with the thrusts e2-e4 and d3-d4. For that reason Black would be well-advised to retreat his bishop from d5.

33. … Be6

As soon as I wrote it, Topalov complied. He sees and understands everything. The fighers still have plenty of strength, and time also: 0:36-0:34.

34. d4 …

A brilliant stroke. Whie can win back the pawn, because in the variation 34. … ed 35. Rd2 Nf5 he has the powerful resource 36. e4! It is evidently better for Black to trade pawns by means of 34. … e4 35. Nd2 Qxd4. After the exchanges, I get the feeling that we arrive at a practically equal endgame.

34. … e4

Veselin plays precisely and quickly.

35. Nd2 Qxd4 36. Nxe4 Qxb2

Notice how far-sighted and literate the move 27. h4 turned out to be. Now the check on the first rank no longer creates any problems for White.

37. Rxb2 Kf7 38. e3 g5

[By the way, even though Shipov hasn’t given exclamation points to the moves 34. … e4 and 38. … g5, I really like the way that Black is playing. He keeps forcing Anand to make decisions before he is ready, and in this way he prevents Anand from consolidating his advantage. Very instructive! — DM]

39. hg …

Forced. If he pushed the pawn to h5 Black would win it in banal fashion with his bishop.

39. … hg 40. f4 …

A change of plans, in accordance with the situation. If Anand had tried to transfer his knight to d4, Black could prevent it. On 40. Nd2 the reply 40. … g4! would be good. Anand obviously did not like that possibility for his opponent, which would have made his pawn majority on the kingside worthless. And if 40. Nc3, Bc4!

40. … gf 41. ef …

By the way, for practically the first time in this match both opponents have made it past the time control without the least difficulty, without any nervous glances at the time display. I’m not even ready for my coffee yet… But I’ve got to have it! That’s the natural order.

[Translator’s note: In several previous games Shipov mentioned getting a cup of coffee after move 40. — DM]

41. … Rd4 42. Kf2 Nf5 43. Bf3 Bd5

The Black pieces have developed a menacing activity. It seems as if Anand underestimated this possibility when he played 40. f4. Even so, this is all superficial effects. The position is roughly equal.

44. Nd2 Bxf3 45. Nxf3 Ra4 46. g4 Nd6 47. Kg3 Ne4+ 48. Kh4 Nd6

Now Vishy is deep in thought. Should he repeat the position or sacrifice the b5 pawn with 49. Rd2 … ? That is the question. He still has oceans of time: 0:52 – 0:41.

49. Rd2 …

Very optimistically played! On the threshold of the last game of the match, in which he will have to defend with the Black pieces, the champion still wants to fight for a victory as White, notwithstanding the obvious risk …

49. … Nxb5

Accepting the challenge! Now Black has a pair of connected passed pawns. Yes, for now they are far from their goal, but if he is able to hold off the White onslaught on the kingside …

50. f5 Re4

The most natural reaction. The rook is ready to defend its monarch on the square e7. But now White marches forward with his king, creating a threat of g4-g5.

It’s not even worth mentioning the computer recommendation of 50. … Rf4! 51. Kg3 Rb4!! (51. … Re4 52. g5!) 52. Rd7+ Ke8 53. Rb7 Ra4! (with the idea of … Nd6). Such cold-bloodedness and disregard of obvious positional landmarks is not for human players. In fact, playing this way might even be grounds for disqualification!  🙂

51. Kh5 Re3

With the unsubtle threat of bringing the rook to h3 with mate!

52. Nh4 Nc3 53. Rd7+ …

The contours of the approaching draw are already visible. And this is not surprising.

53. … Re7 54. Rd3 Ne4 55. Ng6 Nc5 56. Ra3 …

Not yet! Anand keeps up the tension. I don’t recognize the statue of the commander. [Translator’s note: Strange wording (it makes me wonder if there is a reference here that I’m missing), but anyway, Shipov’s point is that it’s surprising to see Anand as the one who keeps pushing in a drawn position. — DM] A simple draw would come about after 56. Nxe7 Nxd3 57. Nc8, after which in case of 57. … b5 58. Nd6+! is probably the most accurate.

56. … Rd7 57. Re3 Kg7 58. g5 b5 59. Nf4 b4 60. g6 …

The most dangerous move! The threat is Kh5-g4 and check on h5.

60. … b3 

The second control has passed! The adversaries are balanced at the edge of a cliff. Both of them! But the evaluation of the position is still equal. With precise play it will still be a draw. If nobody makes a mistake…

61. Rc3 …

In order to take away the defender of the square e6. To practically “kill Bill”! Black can turn the pawn at b3 in to a queen — but then he suffers mate in two. [That is, 61. … b2?? 62. Rxc5 b1=Q 63. Ne6+ Kg8 64. Rc8+ and mate next move. — DM] The most reliable road to salvation is 61. … Rd4.

61. … Rd4

He found it. No one is to be allowed to the square e6. Anand is barely looking at the board any more…

62. Rxc5 …

The typhoon has cleared. The computer graciously offers to end the game with a stalemate after 62. Ne6+ Nxe6 63. Rc7+! Nxc7, but we’ll let it play that way in its own computer tournaments.

62. … Rxf4 63. Rc7+ Kg8 64. Rb7 Rf3 65. Rb8+ Kg7 ½-½

And here a miracle happened! The opponents AGREED TO A DRAW without the participation of the arbiter. Finally. The way ordinary people do.

In general, Anand had some pressure for the whole game. But there wasn’t a single moment when the position deviated seriously from equality. Immediately after the time control Topalov took the initiative, but then White played a good pawn sacrifice, and once again Black had to defend accurately — a task that he fulfilled. A deserved draw!

The score in the match is now 5½-5½. Tomorrow we will take a break, and then on May 11 we will watch the concluding game of the match. Thanks for your attention.

(Back to Dana.) Of course, Topalov will have White in the last game, and we’ll see if Anand can hold up under his pressure as well as Topalov held up under Anand’s. I would give Topalov about a 25 percent chance of winning the last game; I give Anand a 5 percent chance of winning; and I estimate a 70 percent chance that they will draw and the match will go to a tiebreak.

I haven’t mentioned the tiebreak procedure before, so here it is. If the match is tied 12-12, then the players will play four games at a time control of game in 25 minutes, with a 10-second increment each move. (To me this is a stupid way of determining a world champion, but it’s not up to me.)

If the match is still tied, then the players will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games each. They will get 5 minutes for the game, plus a 3-second increment each move. (To me, this is the only thing stupider than a 25-minute tiebreak, but again, it’s not up to me.)

Finally, if they are still tied after all that, there will be a single Armageddon game, with 5 minutes for White and 4 minutes for Black, but if Black draws then he wins the match. (In my opinion this is the stupidest tiebreaker of all!)

People who have followed my ChessLectures for a long time might know that I have already experienced something like this myself, and that I am dead set against the Armageddon format. In the 2007 Santa Cruz Cup we tried a similar format, with 2-game knockout matches. Everything worked fine until we got to the championship match between me and Juan Diego Perea. After two regular games, we were tied 1-1. Then we played two 25-minute games and split them 1-1. Then we played two 10-minute games and split them 1-1. Finally, we played two 5-minute games and split them 1-1! Curiously, up to this point Black had won every single game in the tiebreak phase. (White had won both of the regular games.)

According to the rules, Juande and I were now supposed to play an Armageddon game. But given the fact that Black had just won six games in a row, we both felt that the winner of the game would be decided by the coin flip — whoever won the toss would gain draw odds as well as the advantage of playing Black! We decided, why not just agree to be co-champions? So that’s what we did. (The tournament director, Yves Tan, had actually bought a small trophy, and so we flipped a coin to see who would take home the trophy. I won the coin flip. However, in my mind we were co-champions.)

That was probably one of the most pressure-packed moments of my chess career, and this was just for the championship of Santa Cruz, with an audience of literally two people! Multiply that pressure by at least 1000 for the World Championship.

Anyway, the reason I am against Armageddon games is that it is not chess any more. It’s a completely different game, with different strategies. If you must, just keep playing 5-minute games; eventually somebody will break through. Alternatively, why not agree to be co-champions? Is there really anything so wrong with that? After twelve full-length games, four action chess games, and ten blitz games, if the score is still tied, I really think that the players deserve to be co-champions.

Okay, end of rant. We’ll see what happens on Tuesday! — DM

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