|Anand on Top so Far in Sofia
|By GM Ian Rogers
|April 28, 2010
Modern World Championship chess is a sophisticated business.
In the old days, just a few years ago, a player in a world title match would prepare openings with his seconds. If one player was lucky, he would find the position on the board in front of him matched the position on the board at home, and an opening advantage might be achieved. The rest of the battle was head-to-head combat and may the better player win.
Today, it seems, using computer aids plus seconds - both physical and virtual** - winning a complete game through home analysis is the rule rather than the exception.
The ability to play good chess is a given but may not be necessary in a particular game if the opening is analysed well and deeply enough, by seconds and computers.
The current World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and challenger Veselin Topalov, the two players who have spent the bulk of the last five years battling for top spot in the world rankings, is very much a modern world title match.
Notably, in 2010 both players have added computer chess experts to their teams as well as regular Grandmaster seconds and it is already hard to know who is more useful.
After four games in the lavish surrounds of the Military Club near the centre of the Bulgarian capital, Anand leads Topalov 2.5-1.5.
The games have certainly been entertaining yet in two of the games it seems that one player needed only to remember their home analysis to win the game. Sad to say, these have been the two most spectacular games of the match!
Topalov started the match with a bang.
Up to here each player had used only 10 minutes, and Topalov doubled that tally before he played:
Anand's reply, played after 26 minutes' thought, was a disaster.
"I must have mixed up my moves," admitted Anand, who had likely prepared 23...Bd7 24.Rg3 Kf7! and played the moves in the wrong order.
Perhaps so, but it is possible that this position is already bad for Black; later analysis indicated that knight sacrifices on f6 were possible even here on move 24 or 25. Perhaps in one line Black can hang on to a draw, but unless you have worked the best defence out at home, your chances of finding the saving line over the board are close to nil.
"This is a typical sacrifice," explained Topalov. "The moves are quite natural and White never has any risk so I was not worried."
24...Qxf6 25.Rc7+ Ke8 (25...Kg8 26.e5) 26.Bb5+ Kd8 27.Rfc3! also gives White an overwhelming attack.
25.Rh3! Rg8 26.Rh6+ Kf7 27.Rh7+ Ke8
27...Rg7 28.Rxg7+ Kxg7 29.Qxg5+ Kf8 30.Qd8+ Qe8 31.Qxd4 is also hopeless.
28.Rcc7 Kd8 29.Bb5!
"The final moves were my own," said Topalov, though his clock was still showing only 40 minutes used.
29...Nb7 loses to 30.Rc4!.
After 30...Kxc8 31.Qc1+ decides.
Fantastic chess by Topalov. Does it detract from Topalov's achievement that the key sacrifice was found at home, perhaps by a second or even a computer? A little, but to beat the World Champion in this way, in just over two hours, is a massive achievement.
The next day, Anand returned to a more traditional form of opening novelty - a new move - admittedly a remarkable and unorthodox novelty - which gave White an edge but not more.
Here Anand played
White went on to prove, as his preparation had shown, that his active pieces were more than enough for the pawn. "I think he should be able to hold," said Anand, "but I am not sure exactly how - maybe an ...e5 break at some time."
The following day Anand effectively neutralized Topalov's first serve by playing as boringly as possible.
The ploy worked far more effectively than Anand could have imagined. Not only did Anand neutralise Topalov's pressure but, when the position was hopelessly drawn with R+4 pawns v R+4 pawns, he forced Topalov to choose between abandoning his self-declared ‘no speaking to the opponent' policy - which included ignoring all draw offers - or looking silly.
Topalov chose looking silly, calling over the chief arbiter to offer the draw for him after the players had repeated three different positions three times. (Why Topalov did not just claim a triple repetition draw is a mystery.)
A bemused Panagiotis Nikolopoulos decided to humor Topalov and offer the draw to Anand, who accepted with a shrug but the incident seemed excruciatingly awkward to all who witnessed it.
Much was later made of the fact that the game also ended without a handshake but it seems that in his embarrassment Topalov simply forgot, as the challenger later admitted, while Anand couldn't be bothered against an opponent who was behaving so bizarrely, later joking that perhaps handshakes should now also go through the arbiter.
The next day, instant karma hit Topalov with a vengeance when he suffered the same fate as Anand in game one; losing to his opponent's fine preparation.
"This really surprised me," said Anand. "OK, after 21...Qg5 I have 22.h4 or 22.f4 but still..."
"Now if he goes 22...h5 I just go back to 23.Ne5," explained Anand, "while on other moves I have the sacrifice on h6."
22...Rad8 23.Nxh6+! gxh6
"On 23...Kh7 24.Ng4 followed by 25.e5 is over too," said Anand
24.Qxh6 f6 25.e5! Bxg2 26.exf6! Rxd6 27.Rxd6 Be4
"Only when I saw the variation 27...Bd5 28.Rc4!! Bxc4 29.Rd4! was I sure that I was winning," Anand admitted - though he didn't mention whether he first saw this variation at home or during the game.
28.Rxe6 Nd3 29.Rc2 Qh7 30.f7+ Qxf7 31.Rxe4 Qf5 32.Re7
So far Anand is leading the opening novelty arms race and the match, but of course Topalov is only one good piece of preparation away from equalizing the score.
Much was made before the match of Anand's understanding versus Topalov's determination and attacking flair but at the moment it seems what really counts in this world title contests is deep opening preparation against your opponent's favorite systems and the technique to finish off the game after you have achieved an advantage.
Just as at Wimbledon, a big first serve is crucial and the rallies will look after themselves. Yet if the remaining games are half as entertaining as the first four, who cares?
**What is a virtual second?, I hear you cry. Well, the advent of Skype means that a second need no longer be on-site; help could be offered from, say, Moscow or Chennai or perhaps ... Oslo!?