Vladimir Kramnik. Photo by Misha Savinov
By Ian Rogers
Only 24 hours ago, Vladimir Kramnik seemed to be down and out in his world title match against Veselin Topalov in Elista.
The Russian had lost two consecutive games and had not looked at a real winning chance since game 3, 10 days earlier.
Yet on Sunday Kramnik somehow found the energy to defeat world number one Topalov in the tenth game of the best-of-12 contest.
"Today I just tried to keep the tension," explained Kramnik after the game, "and I created a position where I could just play."
Such a strategy would seem almost bizarre against an opponent who previously had seemed more confident and in better control of his nerves.
Yet Kramnik knows something about how to play trailing in a world title match, having come from behind to retain his BGN title against Peter Leko in 2004.
However he could hardly have expected the enormous blunder produced by Topalov on move 24:
Position after 24...f6??
Topalov tried to explain 24...f6 by saying the "I had seen the knight fork but I had missed something later."
Apart from not saying what precisely he had overlooked – probably the fact that 28...Rxd4 would be fatal – Topalov did not say what he was intending against a second refutation of 24...f6 - 25.Qg4!?.
This may have been the first game where Topalov's strategy of playing quickly, to prevent Kramnik retreating to his rest room, has boomeranged. In previous games, when holding the initiative, Topalov produced a lot of quick, strong moves but when defending on Sunday all Topalov could come up with was quick but weak ideas.
With the tension rising in Elista, the number of journalists assembling in the press room has risen to two dozen, including a journalist from the Washington Post.
Another visitor, who some have suggested might have helped Kramnik in Sunday's game, was Vladimir Barsky.
Barsky, a Russian IM, was a second to Alexander Morozevich at the World Championship tournament in Argentina in 2005, won by Topalov. Barsky later wrote an article accusing Topalov of using computer assistance during that tournament – the first of a number of mostly Russian accusations against Topalov which were never substantiated (or even backed by evidence).
No doubt Barsky is not on Topalov's Christmas card list so his arrival in Elista would have been at least slightly unsettling for the Bulgarian.
Whether it was unsettling enough to cause Topalov to play 24...f6?? is unlikely but in such a contest, with nerves jangling, every little psychological advantage helps – as Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov knows well.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Bf4 Nbd7 9.Qc2 a5!? 10.Rd1 Nh5 11.Bc1 b5 12.cxd5
As usual in this match, Topalov was still following his opening preparation while Kramnik already seemed to be on his own. 12.c5 has been played previously but after 12...f5 Black's position is quite comfortable.
12...cxd5 13.e4!? dxe4 14.Qxe4 Rb8 15.Qe2!
By now Kramnik was more than half an hour behind on the clock, but the time spent on this move was well worthwhile. Due to the threat of 16.Ne5, Black's next few moves are almost forced and White has a chance to win a pawn, even if only temporarily.
15...Nhf6 16.Bf4 Rb6 17.Ne5 Nd5 18.Bxd5 exd5 19.Nc3 Nf6 20.Nxb5 Ba6 21.a4 Ne4!
Played quickly by Topalov, as has become his trademark in the second half of the match. Attempting to win back the pawn with 21...Qe8 would leave White well on top after 22.Bd2! e.g. 22...Bxb5 23.axb5 Qxb5 24.Qxb5 Rxb5 25.Nc6 Bb4 26.Bxb4 axb4 27.Ra4 b3 28.Rd3 and White is probably winning a pawn.
22.Rdc1 Qe8 23.Rc7 Bd8 24.Ra7 f6??
This is an extraordinary blunder, explicable only by the building tension in the match. After 24...Bxb5 25.axb5 Qxb5 26.Qxb5 Rxb5 "Black is closer to a draw," said Kramnik, "but I have a practical advantage - only White can play for a win."
Kramnik spent some time considering 25.Qg4, which is also strong, but eventually decided to take a safe second pawn rather than grant Black counterplay in variations such as 25...Rb7!? 26.Rxa6 fxe5 27.dxe5 Bb6.
25...Rf7 26.Nxb6 Rxa7 27.Nxd5 Rd7 28.Ndc3 Rxd4?
Another fast move, but this time it is a very weak one. However 28...Re7 29.Qc4+ Kh8 30.Nd5 is also horrible for Black.
The spectators were expecting 29.f3 but Kramnik finds an even safer way to win material.
29...f5 30.Qc2! Rb4 31.Nd5
Once again 31.f3 was fine, but Kramnik does not wish to give his opponent a shred of counterplay.
31...Rxb5 32.axb5 Qxb5 33.Nc7 Qc4 34.Qd1!
The final finesse - now Black does not even get to keep his bishop pair.
34...Bxc7 35.Qd7 h6 36.Qxc7 Qb4 37.Qb8+ Qxb8 38.Bxb8 Nd2 39.Ra1 g5 40.f4 Nb3 41.Ra3 Bc4 42.Bc7 g4 43.Bxa5 1-0