Topalov pulls a comeback in Sofia
By Macauley Peterson   
May 21, 2007
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Photo Macauley Peterson

by Macauley Peterson

SOFIA, BULGARIA The atmosphere was charged going into the final round at the M-Tel Masters yesterday. Thunderstorms battered the city all weekend, and all but one of the six grandmasters could have won the event with a last round win. 

With a half point lead, Krishnan Sasikiran, the Indian number two, had the chance to be number one at M-Tel if he could hold a draw with black against Topalov, but the Bulgarian completed his resurgence with a nice piece sacrifice to win the game and leapfrog into clear first place. After a rocky start to the tournament, Topalov reversed his early losses in the second round-robin, much to the delight of the local fans, who applauded loudly after Sasikiran conceded defeat on Sunday evening.



Final Standings
1. 5.5-Veselin Topalov
2-5- 5.0- Gata Kamsky, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, Krishnan Sasikiran
6- 4.5- Michael Adams

In a live interview on Chess.FM, shortly after his win, Topalov circumspectly reminded me that Gata Kamsky was still playing, and could theoretically catch him – he's not one to eat his bob chorba before it’s cooked, so to speak. Topalov also isn't prone to brag about a +1 finish in a tournament with no real standouts, and plenty of erratic play.

The Adams-Kamsky game was unlikely to change the result with Adams pressing his pawn-up endgame until the very end, but ultimately yielding a draw. The English grandmaster is unaccustomed to finishing at the bottom of the results table, but aside from one dreadful blunder in round six he played quite well, with several promising positions he was unable to convert. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov even stated that he believed Adams played some of the best chess in the tournament, no matter what the results were.

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Gata Kamsky (left) and Veselin Topalov. Photo Macauley Peterson

For Kamsky, the last round draw meant meeting his goal of an even score, an important psychological boost heading into his FIDE candidates match with Etienne Bacrot later this week. Kamsky was cornered in several games, defending worse positions well but, according to him, getting into far too many of them. “I’m playing way too defensive[ly]. I’m getting these terrible positions and I defend them,” he told me after the final press conference. “Instead I should play like Veselin: go and attack.”

Another player “playing like Topalov” was Jason Juett from Iowa, who won a contest to guess Topalov’s moves during M-Tel by a wide margin. His successful prognostications, a record breaking 250 of them, earned him a trip to the 2008 M-Tel Masters a year from now.

Topalov credits his risky, attacking style of play for his ability to recover from disappointing games like his round three loss to Mamedyarov. “Vesko,” as he’s known in Bulgaria, pointed out that when you take chances you have to be used to losing, adding, “it was very important to strike back after the [Mamedyarov game] because it was really terrible the way I played, so I was a little bit lucky to immediately get a good position out of the opening with black against Sasikiran on the next day.”


Krishnan Sasikiran

Sasikiran lead the tournament by a half point for much of the second round-robin after a tumultuous win from the black side versus Mamedyarov, in the seventh round. “Shak” was clearly traumatized by his 41.d7, which lost the game in one move. He asked for permission to skip the post-game press conference, which are mandatory at the M-Tel Masters, and was given leave by the director Silvio Danailov – the first time this has been allowed in the tournament’s three year history.

The following day, Mamedyarov described the loss as the “worst day of his life,” and seemed shaken by it for the duration of the event. After being so determined and focused in the early going, it was as though he was “broken” by the back-to-back losses to Kamsky and Sasikiran in rounds six and seven.

Mamedyarov’s blunder wasn’t the only misstep to benefit Sasikiran – Adams round six gift of a full exchange also fell in the Indian’s lap – but on balance Krishnan exceeded the expectations of many, and thrilled some two hundred million fans back in India (according to the New Delhi journalists present).

In fact, even at the very end, he could possibly have escaped Topalov’s attack with 38…Qxd4, 39.Kg3 Kh6, but time pressure brought on by Veselin’s relentless play may have obscured this line from his mind’s eye.

The tournament was important to each player for different reasons. As Sasikiran’s trainer Lev Psakhis noted, Krishnan has been looking to break out from Vishy Anand’s shadow. Topalov, the perennial favorite, had all the eyes of Bulgaria upon him, where, according to his compatriot grandmaster Vladimir Georgiev, he is as well known as Madonna or Brad Pitt are in the U.S. Psakhis added, “it’s extremely important for Mamedyarov, to understand his position in the world and so on, for Micky, if he’s coming back to the elite and will get invitations,” and for Nisipeanu to show what he can do against 2700+ competition.

For Gata Kamsky, this was a warm up on the road to Elista, where he expects to find a well prepared opponent in French GM Etienne Bacrot. There is a chess cliché oft used by GM Jon Speelman in discussing hard to assess positions, that “we’ll let the players decide this one.” I asked Gata if he is ready, and in a twist on the Speelman-esque saying, he replied, "the result will show if I was ready or not. I can’t really say."

Macauley Peterson covered the M-Tel Masters tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria for, CLO and the Internet Chess Club, where his reports are available as on-demand video replays. His next event is Dortmund in late June, and he may be reached at MacauleyPeterson.com.