Game 9 — Another dramatic draw

by admin on May 6, 2010

Here’s the thing about Veselin Topalov — he just can’t play it safe. For today’s game, Vishwanathan Anand prepared a variation of the Nimzo-Indian where he gives up a queen for two rooks. Topalov didn’t have to venture into the dragon’s lair, but he did. And throughout Anand’s long-lasting attack on his king, Topalov stubbornly kept snatching pawns, counting on salvation in the endgame. Forget defense. Forget trying to draw. Topalov was playing for only two possible results: 1-0 or 0-1.

Anand, for his part, seemed a little bit unsure of himself and got in real time trouble for the first time. He had Topalov’s king on the ropes twice, pinned to the back rank with all sorts of mating threats gathering about him, but both times he let him escape.

For any student of the game it was a fascinating battle, a case study in how two rooks can outplay a queen. But in the end, it was the slowest pieces on the board — Black’s queenside pawns — that eventually came to the queen’s aid. Anand had to relax his grasp on the Black king’s throat for just a moment to stop the pawns, and that enabled Topalov to set up a perpetual check and — against all odds — draw the game. But it was a draw that, in GM Sergei Shipov’s words, “was equivalent to a win for Topalov.” In the last two games, Topalov has won a game that should have been drawn, and drawn a game that should have been lost. He could have been two points behind by now. Instead, the players are even, and Topalov has the momentum (if that is worth anything).

As before, here is an abridged and translated version of Shipov’s commentary (with former world champion Garry Kasparov obviously contributing to it). It’s interesting that this time Shipov has given the translator almost no riddles to solve. Clearly he was too absorbed in the complex and exciting battle to make up his usual clever puns and witticisms and allusions. No fancy word play this time, just drama on the chess board! — DM

Hello, dear friends! Grandmaster Sergei Shipov presents for your attention the next and ninth game of the world championship match. The score is even: 4-4, but the mood of the competitors is quite different. Topalov is clearly on his horse, and Anand, of course, must be disappointed by his defeat. Physical fatigue, frustration at his awkward mistake, high tension, opening difficulties — all of this piled onto Vishy at once! For that reason the rest day came along at the most opportune time.

After the eighth game I could not get to sleep for a long time. In the silence of the night, closing my eyes, I analyzed that saving continuation that I recommended for Anand with the words “one and a half moves that would be understandable even to a first-grader.” Everything was really a little bit more complicated than that, but anyway it was at least within the grasp of … a candidate master! Black really could have saved himself. But that is already ancient history. We have to think about the new game.

[Translator’s note: I’m glad to see this admission by Shipov. As I commented in the last entry, the “first-grader” comment was really unfair. I don’t think Shipov meant to insult Anand. I think he made that comment simply because he was dismayed to see the game end on a blunder like that. — DM]

During the last game Garry Kasparov said point blank that Anand would have to win the ninth game. And that was when we still thought that he would hold the eighth. Now it’s even more imperative for him to win! The only question is whether the world champion can prepare himself mentally for a decisive battle. After all, there is always the fear of going overboard and making the situation worse.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 …

Something different! Finally an alternative to the boring fields of the Catalan. Although I personally love Barcelona and root for its soccer team, still we need some variety in the openings.

3. … Nc6 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 c5 6. Nf3 d5 7. O-O cd

The other routes are 7. … Nc6 and 7. … Nbd7.

8. ed dc 9. Bxc4 b6 10. Bg5 …

As compensation for his weakness in the center, White receives open space for his pieces. In particular, the bishop on c1 has moved to a fighting position, while in other variations it stews on c1 and gets in the way of White’s rook on a1.

10. … Bb7 11. Re1 Nbd7 12. Rc1 Rc8 13. Bd3 …

An important nuance — White leaves the point d5 under Black’s control, but starts to create pressure on the Black king. In the future the bishop will go to b1 and the queen will move out to d3 with concrete threats.

The move of the bishop to d3 has been known for a long time, since the end of the 1960s. However, in our days it is not played very often. Judging from Veselin’s thoughtful pose, he prepared primarily for other possibilities…

More popular is 13. Qb3, and how can one fail to mention in this connection the fateful game Kramnik, V. – Kasparov, G. /London 2000, in which after 13. … Be7 14. Bxf6 Nxf6 15. Bxe6! Black ran into serious problems and finally lost. [I’ll skip the rest of the moves, but this is a great game and you should check it out. Shipov goes on to say that 13. … Bxc3 is now considered better. — DM]

13. … Re8 14. Qe2 Bxc3 15. bc Qc7 16. Bh4 …

A known maneuver. The bishop is going to g3. Black can stop this move by playing 16. … Nh5 (this has been played many times) but then he has to reckon with the sharp sacrifice of the bishop on h7. By the way, it is also possible to start the attack without a sacrifice, by the move 17. Ng5. “Did Vishy find some kind of important improvement for White in his analysis?” — That’s what Veselin must be thinking about now. The clocks read 1:41 – 1:25. Today the opening initiative seems to be palpably on Anand’s side. This is confirmed by the video footage. The challenger is sitting and working intensely at the board. The champion is strolling around the side…

16. … Nh5

Anyway! Topalov believes in himself and in his homework.

17. Ng5 …

The more consequential continuation. The sacrifice 17. Bxh7+ has been studied down to the ground. And even farther! In most commentaries the variation ends with an evaluation of -/+, in other words a serious advantage for Black. [He gives one such line, which I will skip. — DM]

17. … g6 18. Nh3 …

A rapid answer! Vishy previously played quite deliberately, as if he was uncertain — but now he has thrown off the mask! He has clearly prepared exactly this variation. The text move prevents the threat of … Nh5-f4. I should point out that this is a novelty. Previously the move 18. Qd2 was seen in the game Psakhis, L. – Hillarp Persson, T. / Torshavn 2000, and the complications led to a draw.

18. … e5

A logical and positionally well-motivated blow. Topalov understands that on passive play his opponent will soon develop a serious attack, and therefore he strikes first in the center, while the White knight is away.

19. f3 …

It is obvious that Anand has all the moves written down. At home. On the computer. He has not yet had to start fighting at the board. Should Black take on d4? Then there will be a trade of a queen for two rooks, with sharp play. The consequences are unclear for now…

19. … Qd6

A conscious sidestep from all the barbs. I don’t mean jokes, but complications, which will make my jokes bad. 🙂

[Translator’s note: I think this was Shipov’s only pun today, and not really up to his usual standards … — DM]

Now the champion has to work a little bit at the board. It’s unpleasant, of course, but he couldn’t seriously hope that the whole game would go according to his prepared text… The clocks show 1:22 – 1:00.

20. Bf2 ed

Don’t judge Topalov too quickly. It only seems that he is going along with his opponent’s intentions. In fact, he has a concrete consideration in mind — he will attack the White bishop on d4 with the time-gaining maneuver Nh5-g7-e6! Of course, after all the possible exchanges.

21. Qxe8+ Rxe8 22. Rxe8+ …

Which is stronger — two rooks or a queen? Everything depends on the concrete circumstances. For example, the weakness of the kings, the presence or absence of coordination between the rooks and so on. Here there are some grounds for believing that the rooks will be stronger.

22. … Nf8

Just so. With the bishop on h4 [as it would have been if Black had taken on d4 right away, on move 19 — DM] this move would have been bad because of Be7. Now he doesn’t have to put his king under attack on the long diagonal. Take that!

I’m not sure whether White needs to take on d4 with his bishop. Well, we have to analyze deeper. Keeping his bishop on f2, leaning against its own pawn on d4 is also unpleasant. Yes! In my analysis 23. Bxd4 does lead to some advantage for White. That is how White should play. The problem is that Vishy has to make a few accurate defensive moves, after which the Black initiative will dry up and the White attack will start.

23. cd …

No, he didn’t risk it. Now Black has hope of solidifying the d5 square and organizing a solid defense. Here is the line that I was referring to: 23. Bxd4 Ng7 24. Re3! (only thus) 24. … Nge6 25. Be5 Qc5 26. Rce1 Nd7 (this sort of activity could scare anyone, but let’s continue) 27. Bg3! Nf6 28. c4! (we won’t allow the enemy to d5, and meantime we will toss out some bait) 28. … Ba6 29. Nf4! Nxf4 30. Bxf4 Bxc4? 31. Bxc4 Qxc4 32. Bh6! and Black cannot cope with White’s threats on the back rank. Of course, one could strengthen Black’s play, but I am only illustrating the possibilities for White.

23. … Nf6 24. Ree1 Ne6 25. Bc4 Bd5

There is no other way. It’s not good to allow the exchange on e6. On 25. … Nd5, strong is 26. Bg3 Qd8 27. Be5! And, of course, we don’t even need to talk about the blunder 25. … Nxd4? 26. Rcd1.

White has two problems — to activate the dark-squared bishop and to bring the knight on h3 back in the game. When he solves both of them, it will start to look bad for Black.

26. Bg3 Qb4

Answering a punch with a punch — that is Topalov’s principle.

27. Be5! …

The battle has begun! Now Black has only one road to salvation — through tactics.

27. … Nd7

Everything is hanging for both players! This move was suggested from far away by Kasparov. In certain variations the knight goes via e5 to create a fork on d3. Garry and I were discussing the consequences and came to the conclusion that White’s chances are still better… White can choose between an immediate capture on d5 and the subtle interposition 28. a3!? There’s plenty here to wrack one’s brains. The time is now 0:33 – 0:38.

28. a3 …

And once again, for the umpteenth time I observe the telepathic link between the world champions. In this move one can see the instinctive desire of the practical player to confuse the opponent, to surprise him, and force him once again to compute complicated variations.

[I wonder how different the game would have been if White had not made this little move, a3? Later on that pawn hangs, and it would not have if it had still been on a2. I guess we’ll never know. — DM]

28. … Qa4 29. Bxd5 Nxe5 30. Bxe6 Qxd4+?

Now this is, it seems, an inaccuracy. No, I will even say more precisely — a serious mistake! [Shipov gives some lengthy analysis of 30. … Nd3! and concludes that Black holds.]

31. Kh1 fe 32. Ng5! …

The exile returns to the world. Now White develops a very dangerous initiative. Black’s counterplay now does not work. Evidently Veselin banally hurried his 30th move, and overlooked the elementary variation 32. … Nd3? 33. Rc8+! Kg7 34. Nxe6+ with a fork. Now he has a difficult position. The king is weak, the White rooks are strong… The clock for the moment does not cause any alarm: 0:22 – 0:23.

32. … Qd6 33. Ne4 …

Anand did not bother computing the sharp variations [e.g., 33. Red1 or 33. Nxe6 or 33. Rc8+!, all of which Shipov thinks are good, and the latter is winning — DM], preferring to keep the bird in his hand. Having put the coordination of his pieces in order, White can now prepare his attack without rushing. However, I am a little bothered by the capture of the pawn on a3. I wonder why this didn’t bother Vishy?

33. … Qxa3!

Played without hesitation. And correctly! This is Black’s only chance for salvation. In other words, if you’re going to suffer, make sure that it is not for free. Of course, the two extra pawns will hardly save the Black king, if White’s threats turn out to be very serious. But if not, then …

34. Rc3 Qb2 35. h4 …

Vishy weaves a mating net for his opponent.

35. … b5

But Veselin ignores all the threats! Astounding. I would have instinctively tried to “shore up” my position with a move like 35. … Nf7, which, however, would not have given any guarantees.

[It’s almost like a dare. Topalov is just saying, first I’m going to eat your pawns and then I’m going to get another queen. If you can checkmate me first, then more power to you! If not, then too bad! — DM]

36. Rc8+ Kg7 37. Rc7+ Kf8

Already losing is 37. … Kh6 38. Nf6 and there is no flight square on g5. And on 38. … g5 comes 39. h4 g4 40. f4! — and it’s over. The grave has been dug.

[In time trouble, would you have fallen for 40. Rxe5??, setting up a fork on g4, only to lose both rooks to 40. … Qa1+ 41. Kh2 Qxe5+? I’ll bet I would have. — DM]

38. Ng5 …

With a king cut off on the seventh rank it is hard to survive. Apparently impossible! Anand’s mild time trouble is not likely to help Topalov: 0:07 – 0:14.

38. … Ke8 39. Rxh7 …

The more solid move — in order not to overlook something. Now practically everyone and everything in White’s position is defended. On 39. Nxe6 Black would have played 39. … Nxf3! with the idea 40. gf? Qf2!

However, after 39. Ne6 (Kasparov insists on this move) 39. … Nxf3 White wins with 40. Rd1! Nd2 41. Rxa7! and then the rook returns to e1 with an unstoppable threat of mate in two.

39. … Qc3 40. Rh8+? …

Is this nerves? Why, one has to ask, would you let Black’s king out of his trap? 40. Re4 would have preserved a decisive advantage, for example, 40. … b4 41. Rxa7 b3 42. Rb7 b2 43. Kh2! Garry and I got to this position in our analysis. Personally, I think that the curtain can be lowered here. Black is powerless to do anything. On 43. … Qc1, 44. Ra4! decides.

40…. Kd7

Now the battle flares up with renewed strength. The Black king takes a deep breath, and the passed pawns on the queenside race to their promised goal. Perhaps, in fact most likely Anand in the heat of time pressure simply overlooked the fact that on 41. Rd1+ Black is not obliged to run away with his king. He has the strong answer 41. … Nd3!, and White cannot do anything with the pin. And his rooks have been separated… But now there is time to calm down and think seriously.

41. Rh7+ Kc6 42. Re4 b4

In principle, one could have expected exactly this move from Topalov, who always looks first at the direct attacking continuations. However, the text move makes his opponent’s life easier. Anand is vacillating for a long time … He has to take with his knight on e6 and terrorize Black’s king. Vishy will miss these wasted minutes in the second time pressure, which is already not beyond the mountains: 0:40 – 0:55.

More subtle and stronger was 42. … Kb6!, freeing the square c6 for the knight, and not allowing White to take on e6. (43. Nxe6? Nxf3!)

43. Nxe6 …

One senses that it requires an effort for the world champion to make every decision, even the obvious ones. He is very tired … It looks as if Anand just found something like a fly on the board. In order to get rid of it, he called the arbiter! The latter was able to cope with this not-so-simple problem.

43. … Kb6 44. Nf4 Qa1+ 45. Kh2 a5

A massive attack. But slow. It was impossible to speed it up with 45. … b3? because of 46. Rb4+!

46. h5! …

Vishy sweeps the sixth rank clear in order to attack the enemy king. And this was the right decision. Veselin’s only chance for resistance lies in 46. … g5! Yes, it’s scary to allow White a passed pawn on h5. But allowing him to knock his king silly is even worse.

46. … gh

I will not give this any punctuation for a dubious move or a mistake. In such positions it is simply impossible for a tired human to play precisely.

47. Rxh5 …

The knight will be evicted from e5.

47. … Nc6 48. Nd5+ Kb7

The Black king again moves towards the fatal edge of the board. His time in freedom has ended… By the way, once again the time is becoming a factor: 0:13 – 0:39. The players have to get through move 60 [in that time]. I remind you that the addition of 30 seconds per move does not start until the 61st move. Vishy can’t force himself to make a move! Even though there are two winning continuations.

49. Rh7+ …

That’s one of them.

49. … Ka6 50. Re6 …

The harmonious attack of White’s pieces will soon bring its first reward — Black will lose his knight. But Anand has only 7 minutes left for 10 moves. On 50. … Kb5 he plans 51. Rh5! On 50. … Qc1 51. Ne7 Qf4+ 52. Kh3! From a purely chess point of view, the evaluation of the position in all variations is that White is easily winning. But in practice anything can happen …

50. … Kb5 51. Rh5 Nd4 52. Nb6+ Ka6 53. Rd6 Kb7 54. Nc4 Nxf3+

A desperation move. My premonitions did not deceive me!

55. gf Qa2+ 56. Nd2 …

The knight cannot be won back. The pawns will not run far. The finish is near …

56. … Kc7 57. Rhd5 …

More accurate was 57. Rhh6, but Anand has to blitz out his moves, and so he is deliberately playing more solidly.

57. … b3 58. Rd7+ Kc8 59. Rd8+ Kc7 60. R8d7+ Kc8

Whew! Now the champion receives 15 more minutes as a present, and a pleasant [30-second] bonus each move. Kasparov proposes 61. Rg7, and he is hardly likely to be badly mistaken… The idea is to finish the game with 61. … b2? 62. Rh5!, and Black can only avoid mate by sacrificing his queen. And if 61. … Qa1, the Black queen is no longer attacking the knight, and therefore White gains freedom of action for his rook on d5. And if Black plays unhurriedly, say by moving his pawn on a5, then White can unhurriedly get out of the pin and set up the same linear mate. There is no doubt that White will soon win, but Anand still has to find a couple of subtle moves.

61. Rg7 a4 62. Rc5+ Kb8 63. Rd5 Kc8 64. Kg3? …

A serious blunder. Here is the route to victory, which, by the way, is not simple: 64. Rdd7! a3 (64. … b2 65. Rdf7!) 65. Kg3 Qa1 66. Ra7 Qg1+ and there is no reason to move the king ahead first. One must first make a loop: 67. Kh3! (67. Kf4? Qd4+ 68. Ne4 Qxg7! only leads to equality) Qh1+ 68. Kg4 Qg1+ 69. Kf5 Qc5+ 70. Ke4 Qc2 71. Ke3 Qc5+ 72. Kd3 Qd5+ 73. Kc3 — and soon the White wanderer will make off with both Black pawns and then hide from its persecutor.

[What an amazing line! I could never think of something like this. White calmly waits for Black to advance his pawns to a3 and b3 — where they are seemingly on the brink of promotion — and then ten moves later takes them with his king! That would truly have been world champion-level play. — DM]

64. … Qa1!

An instantaneous and very unpleasant reply. The Black queen escapes to freedom.

65. Rg4 …

And again, for the umpteenth time, the Black king receives a pardon. Nothing is astonishing any more. The battle is going on to the verge of exhaustion …

65. … b2

And White has no win!

66. Rc4+ Kb7 67. Kf2 b1Q 68. Nxb1 Qxb1 69. Rdd4 Qa2+ 70. Kg3 a3 71. Rc3 Qa1 72. Rb4+ Ka6 73. Ra4+ Kb5 74. Rcxa3 Qg1+ 75. Kf4 Qc1+ 76. Kf5 Qc5+ 77. Ke4 …

I wanted so badly to write, “He’s trying to get to Sokolniki, the skunk! There are places to hide there!” But I won’t write it. Here there are no Sokolnikis. There are no places to hide. The rooks are badly placed on the edge of the board, and do not have the ability to shelter their king.

[Translator’s note: Finally a riddle! It’s interesting that Shipov only starts with the references after the drama has left the game. This is a line from a movie called “Can’t Change the Meeting Place,” (Mesto vstrechi izmenit’ nel’zya), which came out in 1979. It was actually a five-part miniseries that appeared on TV. It’s a Russian gangster film (believe it or not!) that stars one of the most famous Russian singers, Vladimir Vysotsky. I have never seen it, but apparently if you grew up in a certain era you watched it over and over and learned all the lines by heart. Sokolniki is a park in central Moscow with a labyrinth of hedges and alleyways — certainly an excellent place for a bad guy in a movie, or a White king, to hide! — DM]

77. … Qc2+ 78. Ke3 Qc1+ 79. Kf2 Qd2+ 80. Kg3 Qe1+ 81. Kf4 Qc1+ 82. Kg3 Qg1+ 83. Kf4 ½-½

That’s all, a draw! For Topalov it is equivalent to a victory. For Anand, another bitter disappointment. It turns out that Kasparov was right in his articles. He said that Anand had to cardinally change his openings — and Vishy did that today, achieving a clear advantage. Garry also said that he had to win the ninth game, and his follower in the champion’s post nearly did that. He had everything in his hands. Several times he could have won by force. But he was lacking in the smallest trifles — a couple of minutes on the clock, a couple joules of energy …

Topalov defended heroically and and literally snatched a half point right out of Anand’s jaws! Of course he was lucky, but beyond a shadow of a doubt he deserved that luck. And so, after the ninth game the score remains even, 4.5-4.5. There are only three games left, and the challenger will be White in two of them. His chances of winning the match (considering also the difference in energy) are better. However, of course, nothing is decided yet. Goodbye until tomorrow!

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