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Alex Onischuk's Letter from Elista Print E-mail
By Alexander Onischuk   
November 4, 2006
Alex Onischuk in his cottage in Chess City

I was invited to work with Topalov a few months before the match. I did not know Veselin at that time very well, and in some ways the invitation came as a surprise to me. I did not hesitate to accept since I supported him before this match and of course I was interested in working with the number one chess player in the world.

I went to Europe two times this summer for training sessions. We lived in a small Spanish village where most of the inhabitants work on the field. We worked quite a lot on chess; I and Veselin's permanent second, Ivan Cheparinov, looked mostly at openings. We were trying to predict what Kramnik was going to prepare for the match and trying to find some novelties in those openings. Veselin occupied himself with chess by analyzing different games, solving problems and looking for new ideas in openings.

Veselin Topalov, on the way to Elista.

Of course we also had some time for sport. Usually it was swimming or long walks around the village or we played table soccer. Because the place was so small there was only one restaurant there. Usually we had a lunch in the restaurant and the dinner we cooked at home. Sometimes, when we ran out of 50 cents coins that we needed for the machine to play table soccer, we drove Veselin's car to some nearby village to exchange money and to eat. The training sessions were a lot of fun.

One week before the match I flew to Moscow from where we had a charter flight to Elista. Our chess team consisted of Topalov, me, Ivan Cheparinov, and Francisco Vallejo. In Kramnik's team there were also three grandmasters: Miguel Illescas, Alexander Motylev and the current Russian champion Sergej Rublevsky. The only surprise for us was Sergej, who has never worked with Kramnik before. Both teams met the first and the last time together at the VIP hall of Sheremetevo 1 airport. In the next month I did not see any of the members of Kramnik's team.

Ivan Cheparinov in high spirits.

The flight from Moscow to Elista was just over two hours. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of Kalmykia and FIDE was on the plane too. When we came to Elista it turned out that it was a big local holiday there, The Day of the City. Instead of going to the place where we had to stay, we went directly from the airport to the city center. There was a huge crowd of people there waiting for the arrival of Kirsan and the Champions. From there we went to visit a new Buddhist temple and only then to the chess city.

The chess city is located in a suburb of Elista. The territory of the "city" is not big; you can cross it in a maximum of 10 minutes. Since 1998, when I first stayed in the chess city during the chess Olympiad, not very much has changed. Most of the buildings are still empty waiting for buyers. Both teams stayed in big cottages which were about 100 yards away from each other. In our house there was a lot of space. I for example, stayed alone in a two floor apartment with five rooms and a kitchen. I had only one bathroom and of course it was upstairs, so to take a shower, for example, I always climbed a narrow winding staircase.

In our cottage we had anything we needed. We had a service team who cleaned and made laundry. Two older women cooked us everything we asked for. The food was good; everyone liked it, only Paco preferred to eat chips and chocolate from the local store. They became so sincerely attached to our team and wished us to win, that when Veselin lost the match, they were crying.

A routine day for us, if you can call any day in such a match a routine, was mostly dedicated to chess. Sometimes we worked together, sometimes separately. There were days that we stayed awake until 4 am checking opening lines. If there was not so much work then the schedule was normal and I, for example, could go to bed at 2 am. While walking past Kramnik's house at night, we saw light in most of the windows. I suspect that Kramnik's team did not have less work than us. The best time for coaches, by the way, is when the game is played. Then you can really rest. None of our seconds went even a single time to the playing hall to see the game. Sometimes we watched it on-line just to know what was going on.

The chess players spent most of their free time together. We never ate separately, the four of us always waited for each other. On the free days we went to see some local attractions and on the days of the game we took walks in the chess city chatting about some random stuff. In our chess team there were four people and four languages spoken depending on the situation and who was present. Only one of us Veselin speaks all the languages English, Spanish, Bulgarian and Russian.

Well, I think it is time to tell about the games. The match was extremely interesting. Eight out of fifteen games ended with result. The level was very high. Topalov looked better in classical chess. He was better prepared and he often overplayed his opponent. However, three terrible blunders he made in the first, second, and the tenth games did not let him to achieve more than a tie break.

Kramnik was as always good in defense. In contrast to Topalov he didn't blunder at all. His technique was great.

It was hard to choose the most interesting games; for me they all are interesting, and I decided to annotate all fifteen games of the match. I did not try to deeply analyze the games, all of them were already very well annotated by GMs. I also did not use any chess engines. I believe anyone can see a computer and see what move was good and what was bad. My goal is to stop at the most interesting moments of the games and to share my point of view.
CLO is happy to present an improved gameplayer. Press the "Enlarge Board" button for better reading!

Game 1

With White Kramnik played the Catalan whenever he got a chance. In this opening it is very difficult to get any active positions with Black. If Black tries to play aggressively, he risks getting very unsafe positions, otherwise he has to play solid and slightly worse lines. This is exactly what Kramnik wanted to get: positions with minimum advantage and no chances for the opponent for counter play.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 7.Qc2 Bxd2+ 8.Qxd2 c6 9.a4 b5 10.axb5 cxb5 11.Qg5 0-0 12.Qxb5 Ba6 13.Qa4 Qb6 14.0-0 Qxb2 15.Nbd2 Bb5 16.Nxc4 Bxa4 17.Nxb2 Bb5 18.Ne5 Ra7 19.Bf3 Nbd7
Until this moment everything was analyzed by Topalov. The position is about equal. White has a better pawn structure, on the other hand the "a" pawn can also become dangerous.
20.Nec4 Rb8 21.Rfb1 g5 22.e3 g4 23.Bd1 Bc6 24.Rc1 Be4 25.Na4 Rb4 26.Nd6 Bf3

This part of the game Topalov played very well. His last move is very strong. After the exchange of the bishops he will get a very strong pawn on f3. White might manage to win it, but he will lose a lot of time doing this. I also like the whole plan with, g5 and g4
.27.Bxf3 gxf3 28.Nc8 Ra8 29.Ne7+ Kg7 30.Nc6 Rb3 31.Nc5 Rb5 32.h3 Nxc5 33.Rxc5 Rb2 34.Rg5+ Kh6 35.Rgxa5 Rxa5 36.Nxa5 Ne4 37.Rf1 Nd2 38.Rc1 Ne4 39.Rf1
I saw this game on-line and I thought that opponents will soon agree for a draw. Kramnik probably also thought so and he even offered it here, but Topalov played
and it turned out that it is very difficult to play this position with White. The only piece that can move in the knight, and it also does not have so many squares.
40.Nc6 Nd2 41.Rd1 Ne4 42.Rf1 Kg6 43.Nd8 Rb6 44.Rc1 h5 45.Ra1 h4 46.gxh4 Kh5 47.Ra2 Kxh4 48.Kh2 Kh5 49.Rc2 Kh6 50.Ra2 Kg6 51.Rc2 Kf5 52.Ra2 Rb5 53.Nc6 Rb7 54.Ra5+ Kg6 55.Ra2 Kh5 56.d5 e5 57.Ra4
Topalov did not use all his chances and in this position he already had to find a precise move not to get a worse position [57...Nxf2 58.Kg3 e4 59.Kxf2 Rb2+ 60.Kf1 Rb1+ with perpetual check]
58.Nxe5 Rb2 59.Nd3 Rb7
Veselin probably missed that after 59...Rd2 White can play 60.Rd4
60.Rd4 Rb6 61.d6 Nxd6 62.Kg3 Ne4+ 63.Kxf3 Kg5 64.h4+ Kf6 65.Rd5 Nc3 66.Rd8 Rb1 67.Rf8+ Ke6 68.Nf4+ Ke5 69.Re8+ Kf6 70.Nh5+ Kg6 71.Ng3 Rb2 72.h5+ Kf7 73.Re5 Nd1 74.Ne2 Kf6 75.Rd5


Game 2

The second game is definitely the most interesting of the match.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4

It was not very difficult to predict that Kramnik might play Slav with 4...dc. He has already played this opening many times with both colors. In addition, all of his seconds play Slav with dc either with Black or with White. I was surprised that Kramnik had never changed openings in the match. He had always repeated what he already played in previous games.
5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Qe2 Bg6 10.e4 0-0 11.Bd3 Bh5 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Qe3 Bg6 15.Ng5 Re8 16.f4 Bxd3 17.Qxd3 f5 18.Be3 Nf8

Until now Kramnik played very quickly; it all was his preparation. Black's position is quite solid, but too passive. In the first rapid game Vladimir did not repeat this move order and played slightly differently.19.Kh1 Rc8 20.g4 Qd7 21.Rg1 Be7 22.Nf3 Rc4 23.Rg2 fxg4 24.Rxg4 Rxa4 25.Rag1 g6 26.h4 Rb4 27.h5 Qb5 28.Qc2 Rxb2 29.hxg6!! h5 30.g7 hxg4 31.gxf8Q+ Bxf8??
[31...Kxf8 would have held]
Now Topalov misses a win in three moves 32.Rg4 Bg7 33. Qc7 Qf1 34. Ng1 +- Bg7
33.f5 Re7 34.f6 Qe2 35.Qxg4 Rf7 36.Rc1
36.Qh5 was another win that Topalov missed. But to be honest this move is very difficult to find over the board.
36...Rc2 37.Rxc2 Qd1+ 38.Kg2 Qxc2+ 39.Kg3 Qe4 40.Bf4?
The final mistake. 40.Qe4 fe 41. Ng5 would be still won for White. Qf5
41.Qxf5 exf5 42.Bg5 a5 43.Kf4 a4 44.Kxf5 a3
First we thought that 45.Nd2 allows White to hold draw, but unfortunately it's also losing 45...a2 46.Nb3 Rc7!
45.Bc1 Bf8 46.e6 Rc7 47.Bxa3 Bxa3 48.Ke5 Rc1 49.Ng5 Rf1 50.e7 Re1+ 51.Kxd5 Bxe7 52.fxe7 Rxe7 53.Kd6 Re1 54.d5 Kf8 55.Ne6+ Ke8 56.Nc7+ Kd8 57.Ne6+ Kc8 58.Ke7 Rh1 59.Ng5 b5 60.d6 Rd1 61.Ne6 b4 62.Nc5 Re1+ 63.Kf6 Re3

After this, we told Topalov that it is clear he is playing better, and he just needs to avoid terrible blunders.

Game 3

The result in the match 0:2 was not in our favor and many had expected that after two losses Topalov would try to play the next game safely. However, Veselin did not think about draw and he set a task for us to find a line in the Catalan where Black can try to play for a win. To be honest we found something, but not what he was asking for...
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Qa4 Bd7 7.Qxc4 Na5
looks suspicious, but how else you can win with Black?
8.Qd3 c5 9.0-0 Bc6 10.Nc3 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Bc5 12.Rd1
Kramnik plays very solid and now 12...Bxd4 was a normal move for Black, after which he gets a slightly worse endgame with draw as the most possible result.  12...Bxg2 13.Qb5+ Nd7 14.Kxg2 a6 15.Qd3 Rc8 16.Bg5 Be7 17.Bxe7
Many commentators suggested 17.Ne4 here, and Black's position seems to be very unpleasant
17...Qxe7 18.Rac1 Nc4 19.Na4 b5 20.b3 0-0 21.bxc4 bxa4 22.Nc6 Rxc6 23.Qxd7 Qc5 24.Rc3 g6 25.Rb1 h5 26.Rb7 e5 27.e4 Rf6 28.Rc2 Qa3 29.Qd1 Rd6 30.Rd2 Rfd8 31.Rd5 Rxd5 32.cxd5
32.exd5 was much better in his position. In fact I believe Blacks position is lost now, for example 32...Qxa2 33.Qd3 Qa1 34.d6 Qd4 35.Qxd4 exd4 36.c5 d3 (36...a3 37.Ra7) 37.c6+-
32...Qxa2 33.Qf3 Rf8 34.Qd3 a3 35.Rb3 f5 36.Qxa6 Qxb3 37.Qxg6+ Kh8 38.Qh6+ Kg8

Game 4

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.a3 b4 10.Ne4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 bxa3 12.0-0 Bd6 13.b3 Nf6 14.Nd2
A novelty. The whole idea of sacrificing the h2 pawn was found by Paco Vallejo.
14...Qc7 15.Bf3 Bxh2+ 16.Kh1 Bd6 17.Nc4 Be7 18.Bxa3 0-0 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.Ra5 Rfd8 21.Kg1
I like this move a lot. White has many useful moves in this position and he makes a very modest move with the king! With his next move Kramnik gives back a pawn and opens his bishop, but his position remains slightly worse anyway.
21...c5 22.Rxc5 Ne4
In this position Vladimir offered a draw.
23.Bxe4 Bxe4 24.Qg4 Bd3 25.Ra1 Rac8 26.Raa5 Rb8 27.Qd1 Be4 28.Qa1 Rb7 29.Nd2 Bg6 30.Qc3 h6 31.Ra6 Kh7 32.Nc4 Be4 33.f3 Bd5 34.Nd2 Rdb8 35.Qd3+ f5 36.Rc3 Qh4 37.Ra1 Qg3 38.Qc2 Rf7 39.Rf1 Qg6 40.Qd3 Qg3 41.Rfc1 Rfb7 42.Qc2 Qg5 43.Ra1 Qf6 44.Qd3 Rd7 45.Ra4 Rbd8 46.Rc5 Kg8 47.Nc4 Bxc4 48.Raxc4?
48.Qxc4 would give White some better play. Now 48...f4 fails to 49.Re5 with problems for Black
48...f4 49.Rc6 fxe3 50.Qxe3 Rxd4 51.Rxe6 Qh4 52.Rxd4 Qxd4 53.Re8+ Kh7 54.Qxd4

At the press conference after the game Vladimir was asked if he finds it ethical to offer a draw in a worse position playing with Black on the 20th move and leading in the match plus two. He said something like "the position was already equal and at that moment I already cared more about the soccer champions league," that was supposed to start about 7pm on TV. In my opinion, this answer was inappropriate.

In the next installment of Alex Onischuk's Letter from Elista, he will discuss games 5-9, as well as the bathroom scandal that climaxed in Round 5.