Game 12 — Shocker in Sofia!

by admin on May 11, 2010

The match for the world championship is over, and the new champion is the same as the old champion: Vishwanathan Anand!

In my last post I estimated that there was about a 5 percent chance that Anand would pull off a last-gasp victory as Black. That was surely a little bit too pessimistic; after all, in grandmaster play Black does win a little bit more than 25 percent of the time. However, in his previous five games with Black in this match, Anand had really never even come close to winning; he seemed content to subject himself to a tortuous Kramnik-style defense in order to get a draw. And in the last two games, even that strategy barely seemed to be working — in game 8 Anand lost, and in game 10 he had a near-death experience before escaping with a half point.

But two things happened today. First, Anand changed his defense again — this time playing the older-than-the-hills Lasker Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. A variation with a somewhat drawish reputation. But then Anand gave it a new tweak, with an interesting positional “sacrifice” — giving himself a weak isolated pawn in order to get great freedom of activity for his pieces.

Topalov should still have been completely safe, but in the key stages of the middle game he played recklessly (on the board) and hastily (on the clock), as if he were racing to catch a train. After his 34th move, GM Sergei Shipov writes, “Veselin is holding his head in his hands — of course, he has understood everything. But there is nothing he can change. The time for thinking was earlier!”

But one should not scold Topalov for his blunders, without recognizing that Anand played the attack in fine style. In both this game and game four, Anand proved that he is not just a mere technician — given the right circumstances, he can rip you apart!

As before, I now present to you an abridged translation of Shipov’s annotations for the final dramatic encounter between Topalov and Anand.

V. Topalov — V. Anand

World Championship Match, Game 12 (Sofia, 2010)

Greetings, esteemed viewers! Sergei Shipov, your expert at the site, will comment for you on the deciding, 12th game of the match for the world championship.

The situation is not completely classical. The score is even, but neither of the adversaries is forced to win. In case of a draw, the battle will continue to a tiebreak. [Translator’s note: Shipov’s “classical situation” refers to the championship matches of the pre-Fischer era, when the defending champion retained his title in case of a draw. — DM]

Anand, evidently, would not be against such a scenario. But Topalov, I am sure, does not intend to postpone the day of reckoning! He has White, and also he is not as sure on his feet in rapid chess and blitz as his opponent. So he undoubtedly intends to play a decisive battle today. One precise blow — and the title will be his! Veselin is younger, more energetic, and he has played the second half of the match more convincingly than Vishy. And in the end, the fact that he is playing on his home court works in his favor. And also the statistics of world championship matches, according to which the younger challenger wins more often than the champion. Everything speaks in favor of Topalov …

From this there is only one logical conclusion — one should not rush to make a prediction! Anything can happen. Anand is an experienced fighter who has come out of extreme situations with honor on many occasions. And he will show his colors again …

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 O-O 7. e3 Ne4

The Lasker Variation — Black forces early exchanges.

8. Bxe7 Qxe7 9. Rc1 c6

Black’s general idea is this: place the knight on d7, trade knights on c3, without fail wait for the bishop on f1 to develop first, before taking on c4, and then blow up the center with … e6-e5 or … c6-c5, depending on the situation.

10. Be2 Nxc3 11. Rxc3 dc 12. Bxc4 Nd7 13. O-O b6 14. Bd3 c5

Immediately! On 14. … Bb7 Black would have to deal with the pin on the c6 pawn after 15. Be4!

15. Be4 Rb8 16. Qc2 Nf6

A rare continuation which has been played only by the Polish grandmaster [Miroslaw] Grabarczyk. It’s worth remembering that Anand has another Polish grandmaster, [Radoslaw] Wojtaszek, on his team. In order to exchange or displace the strong White bishop, Black is willing to pay in the form of pawn weaknesses.

A more frequent continuation is 16. … Ba6. [Shipov gives an example, Grischuk – Jakovenko, Moscow 2009.] A little earlier, 16. … a5 was popular. [Shipov cites Van Wely-Azmaiparashvili, Calvia 2004.] And if one really goes back into the past, one can find the move 16. … b5 in Kramnik’s games, and the move 16. … Bb7 in Karpov’s. In sum, there is a broad range of choices. Just try to prepare for them all!

17. dc …

Accepting the challenge!

17. … Nxe4  18. Qxe4 bc

The pawn on c5 remains in isolation, without support from its friends. But at the same time the rook on b8 has been activated, and what is especially important is that the potentially powerful bishop on c8 will now be unopposed. Also, one can note the first small success of the world champion — he has forced his opponent to solve a problem in the opening.

19. Qc2 …

A novelty. The first game with this varaition continued 18. b3 Bb7 [etc.] with no problems for Black in the game Kulaots, K. – Grabarczyk, M. / Denmark 2008.

19. … Bb7

This is not a pawn sacrifice, but an invitation to trade. On 20. Rxc5?! Black would reply with captures on f3 and b2.

20. Nd2 Rfd8

Dynamic play! Black’s trump is a wide scope of action for his pieces. Primitive, passive defense of the pawn would have been hopeless. Now, again, White cannot take on c5 because of a capture on d2. The White queen is overloaded.

21. f3 …

Beginning to form the promised wedge [g2-f3-e4]. And it’s not just a flying wedge of geese. Now the Black bishop is no longer threatening g2, but on the other hand White’s second rank has become a little bit weak. For the moment that is immaterial, because Black still has to find a way to break through to it …

An immediate raid by the knight on the pawn would have lead to unexpected consequences: 21. Nb3 c4! 22. Rxc4 (not 22. Na5? Bxg2! 23. Kxg2 Qg5+) Ba6 23. Rc7 Rbc8! 24. Rxe7 Rxc2 and Black has a powerful initiative. 25. Rb1 is no good because of … Rxb2! — as you see, White’s king has back-rank weaknesses. After f2-f3 this is no longer a problem.

21. … Ba6

On this diagonal White cannot place any obstacles in front of the bishop.

22. Rf2 Rd7

For clarity, let me formulate the results of the opening: Black’s initiative fully compensates for the weakness of the pawn on c5. White has only one problem, but it is an unpleasant one — what can he do about his king? Hide it on h2? Then there will follow an unpleasant diagonal check by Black’s queen, which will force new weaknesses. Do you play g2-g3 and Kg1-g2? But then the ground on which the f3-e4 wedge stands (that is, will stand) starts to become wet. In this case Black can return his bishop to b7 and will have White’s king in his direct line of sight. And the blockade point e4 can be undermined by the move … f7-f5.

[Every now and then Shipov’s comments seem almost clairvoyant. Remember how he spotted how Anand was going to lose in game 8? He has just sketched out for you, in broad strokes, how Topalov is going to lose this game. But let’s not get too carried away. Any grandmaster could have seen this possibility. The trick is to keep it from happening — and unfortunately, Topalov was not careful enough. — DM]

23. g3 …

As soon as I sketched out the minuses of this decision, Topalov at that moment played it! Well, we’ll see who is right. By the way, I do not mean to criticize his move, because I cannot suggest a stronger, unambiguously good option. I was just noting the minuses … or, more precisely, the normal concerns that a player would have. Those are the concerns I would have if I were playing White.

For the umpteenth time, White could not play 23. Rxc5 because of 23. … Rxb2!

23. … Rbd8 24. Kg2 Bd3 25. Qc1 Ba6 26. Ra3 …

This is psychology. It would have been hard for Topalov to return his queen to c2, because he is not yet ready to openly admit that he would not be against a draw in this seemingly dangerous position for White. Again the “Sofia” rules are hindering him.

Again, 26. Rxc5? Rxd2! was bad. Even worse was 26. Nb3?? Rd1! checkmating White’s queen.

[Translator’s note: Huh? After 27. Qc2 White’s queen is alive and well. The computer suggests now 27. … Qb7! with equality. Although White’s queen is safe for the moment, on either capture on c5, Black will play … Bf1+. For example, 28. Rxc5 Bf1+ 29. Rxf1 Rxf1 30. Kxf1 Qxf3+ 31. Ke1 Qxe3+ 32. Kf1 with a draw by repetition, “Sofia rules” or no Sofia rules. Obviously this would be a dangerous line for White to go into, even though the computer says it’s equal. Shipov’s comment about checkmating the queen is about the first out-and-out mistake I have seen him make. Oh well, nobody’s perfect! — DM]

26. … Bb7 27. Nb3 …

This fearless move was made amazingly quickly. One only has to notice the curious position of the rook on a3 and look at the uncomfortable arrangement of White’s king’s home … But the challenger is not afraid of shadows. Of course, 27. Rxa7? would lose the exchange after 27. … Bxf3+!

27. … Rc7 28. Na5 …

Moving everything to the side of the board! Visually, this is a risky strategy. But in the concrete variations, for the moment there is nothing scary for White. But that doesn’t rule out the fact that it might get scary after the pawns on g7 and h6 start to roll …

28. … Ba8

The bishop, unlike the knight, can work on the whole board. The challenger is pondering, and the time is 0:50 – 0:43. Now on almost any White move one must look at the bold sally 29. … g5!, which creates the threat of … g5-g4. And this underscores the flaws of White’s placement of the king on g2.

29. Nc4 e5

Now this I didn’t expect! Anand aims — or at least he pretends to aim at playing the move … e5-e4. And on 30. e4 he unquestionably intends 30. … f5! 31. ef e4 with a powerful attack.

30. e4 …

A move played by reflex. Topalov wants to stop the march of the Black pawn. But what has he thought up in response to the undermining move … f7-f5? I thought that 30. Rc3 would be a little more reliable, in order to meet 30. … e4 (which, by the way, is not forced) with 31. f4.

30. … f5!

The champion asked himself the same question. He didn’t even think for one minute about his answer! The Black bishop is hammering at the door of the White king, who is already in poor health. One more drawback of the move e3-e4 is the fact that the Black rook has now received a luxurious base for operations on d4.

31. ef …

Unbelievable cold-bloodedness and self-confidence! Another player in his shoes would have shored up the defenses by means of 31. Nd2!, which, however, would also not have equalized.

31. … e4

The last shaky covering of the White king is removed. It’s nothing more than a fig leaf.

32. fe? …

It cannot be!! Allowing the queen to e4 with check? The shock is not just in the move itself, but also the rapidity with which it was played. Why is Topalov in such a hurry? White could continue to resist with 32. Re3 ef+ 33. Kg1, keeping the king in a relatively safe place. Of course, Black has an advantage, but there would still be plenty of fighting left.

32. … Qxe4+

Of course! Black could only have dreamed about such a white-square battery three moves ago.

33. Kh3 Rd4

Black has a winning attack. Without any qualifications or mitigating circumstances.

34. Ne3 Qe8

Precise and unforgiving, like a blade of steel! The only chance to prolong the agony is 35. g4, but then Black will destroy the White pawn by the undermining move 35. … h5! Veselin is holding his head in his hand — of course, he has understood everything. But there is nothing he can change. The time for thinking was earlier!

35. g4 h5 36. Kh4 g5+

One of the most effective routes to the goal. The second Black rook now enters the battle.

37. fg Qxg6 38. Qf1 …

The most stubborn defense. The move 38. h3 would not have helped because of 38. … hg 39. Nxg4 (39. hg Rh7+ 40. Kg3 Qd6+!) Rh7+ 40. Kg3 Rxh3+! 41. Kxh3 Qh5+ 42. Kg3 Rxg4#. Such combinations at the highest level are mere chestnuts.

38. … Rxg4+ 39. Kh3 …

Of course he cannot take the rook because of mate. Black has many routes to victory. But, it seems, none of them short. I would prefer 39. … Re7 here. If he can remove the White knight from e3, then he has a mate-in-two combination beginning with Rg4-h4+! Let’s look at the clocks: 0:19 – 0:12. Plenty of time for two moves.

39. … Re7

Correct, Vishy. The check of the White rook on f8 is only a check. He has survived worse than that. You won’t believe it, but in one variation I have found a win for Black … in a King-and-pawn endgame with three pawns against three!

40. Rf8+ Kg7

Yes! We are going precisely into that variation. [Translator’s note: There’s no point in my showing Shipov’s line to you here, because it’s exactly what happened in the game. Topalov only deviates on the 47th move, going into an equally hopeless endgame of rook and knight versus queen. — DM]

41. Nf5+ Kh7 42. Rg3 Rxg3+ 43. hg Qg4+ 44. Kh2 Re2+ 45. Kg1 Rg2+ 46. Kxg2 Bxg2 47. Kxg2 …

Topalov drags out his farewell to the match… I repeat the variation: 47. Rf7+ Kg6 48. Rg7+ Kxf5 49. Rxg4 hg! 50. Kxg2 Ke4 51. Kf2 Kd3 and Black wins.

[Translator’s note: This is the line that Shipov mentioned after move 39, where Black has a winning King-and-pawn endgame in spite of the even material. I think it’s pretty amazing that in spite of the apparently overwhelming attack Black had, in this line it all comes down to one tempo in the endgame.

Topalov, of course, could work all of this out, too. Instead of playing for material equality (which would lose the game as inevitably as by a mathematical proof) he chooses to keep some material on the board and hope for a miracle. But a rook and knight cannot compete with a queen on an open board. — DM]

47. … Qe2+

And here, in Garry Kasparov’s words, the queen “takes the queenside.”

48. Kh3 c4 49. a4 a5 50. Rf6 Kg8

Anand is getting a little bit too fancy here. Evidently he is terribly afraid of letting victory slip out of his hands. And he imagines difficulties where there are none. Nerves … Anyway, it’s still an easy win for Black.

51. Nh6+ Kg7 52. Rb6 Qe4

Not allowing the knight to f5, and threatening mate on h1.

53. Kh2 Kh7!

And this, comrades, is zugzwang. The end!

54. Rd6 Qe5

Threatens both the rook, and h5-h4! And as a trivial bonus, the pawn on b2.

55. Nf7 Qxb2+ 56. Kh3 Qg7!

Not allowing even one check against his king! And on 57. Rd7 Anand has prepared 57. … Qg4+ winning the rook.


White resigns! Anand has retained his title as world chess champion, winning the match by a score of 6½ – 5½. Bravo!

In the decisive game, Topalov, in my opinion, was betrayed by his own fighting spirit. He could not have failed to realize that his king was in a dangerous position. The position demanded him to strengthen his defenses and not to decline a repetition of moves. [See move 26. — DM] Instead Veselin overdid his activity, allowing the opponent to open up the center with completely predictable moves and attain a decisive attack!

In general, the match was an outstanding one, full of energetic and substantive games. Topalov demonstrated a reckless intensity and wonderful opening preparation, and Anand — a slightly higher level of play and calmness. Kasparov considers the events of the 10th and 11th games to be a turning point, when the Bulgarian challenger had the initiative and could have gone ahead on the scoreboard. Chess is not soccer, but those who don’t take advantage of their chances will lose … Also Garry said that he did not like Anand’s opening preparation. As Black, in his opinion, Vishy waited until the last game to choose a variation that he should have been playing for the whole match.

Nevertheless, Kasparov emphasized that Anand understands chess better than Topalov, and he was able to pull out the match because of his superior class. Veselin was tripped up by his computerlike style of thinking…

I would like to thank Garry Kimovich Kasparov for his valuable commentary during the match. I sincerely thank all the viewers who have watched the battle with me, read my online comments and listened to my webcasts. Grandmaster Sergei Shipov at your service. Thanks for your attention, and until we meet again!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

senthil May 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thanks Dana for your efforts in translating GM Shipov’s commentary. Your site was fortuitous find, but one I kept coming back to.


Iceberg May 11, 2010 at 10:46 am

Shipov’s commentary is like a breath of fresh air. Thank you Dana!


jaideepblue May 11, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Thank you Mr Mackenzie for these informative translations! keep up the good work.


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