(1) Topalov,V (2780) - Ivanchuk,V (2751) [B90]

Topalov and Anand are marching through in Morelia. The Bulgarian is leading with 2,5 points out of three (3000+ Elo performance!), the world champion has half a point less. Together they scored four wins so far. No one else has a plus score after the first three rounds. Another impressive victory for the ex-world champion. Just like in the first round win against Aronian, Topalov used opponent's few inaccuracies in the opening to take over the initiative, after which at no point of the game there were any doubts left about the final result.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6

Ivanchuk chooses the always combative Najdorf Variation, which used to be Kasparov's preferred weapon against 1.e4. It is curious that in the last game before his retirement from active chess (March 2005), Kasparov facing Topalov didn't go for his favourite variation, deciding to play 2...Nc6 instead.

6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Nbd7
[Earlier this year Topalov himself preferred to prevent the advance of White's g-pawn: 8...h5 9.Nd5 (9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.a4 Be7 11.Be2 Qc7 12.0-0 0-0 Leko,P (2753)-Topalov,V (2780)/Wijk aan Zee 2008) 9...Bxd5 10.exd5 Nbd7 11.Qd2 g6 12.0-0-0 Nb6 13.Qa5 Bh6 14.Bxh6 Rxh6 15.Kb1 Anand,V (2799)-Topalov,V (2780)/Wijk aan Zee 2008]

9.g4 b5 10.g5 b4 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.exd5 Bf5 13.Bd3 Bxd3 14.Qxd3 Be7 15.h4 a5
Taking into consideration that White is going to hide his king on the queenside, Black starts active actions there before castling short. But the move has a drawback too: it turns out that White is happy to play on the queenside.

[The main continuation is 15...0-0 used among others by Kasparov and Anand. White continues 16.0-0-0 with a sharp game.]

This somewhat surprising decision is typical for the ex-world champion though: he doesn't seem to care about finding a secure place for his king in the future. A quick initiative in order to put an immediate and concrete pressure on the opponent is more important for Topalov. The justification of 16.a3 is that White can quickly build pressure after opening the files on the queenside.

[Considering that White doesn't have a safe king, Black should rather seek for counterplay by playing at some moment f7-f6. From this point of view preferable looks 16...0-0 17.axb4 axb4 18.Rxa8 Qxa8 after which most likely White must castle as well: 19.0-0 (19.Qb5?! Nc5 points out the weaknesses in white structure: the pawn d5 is hanging.) 19...f6 20.Qf5 Qe8 with a complete mess and chances for both sides.]

17.Nd2 Rb8 18.axb4 Rxb4 19.Qa3

White can be happy: the queenside is open and Black must solve concrete problems.

Ivanchuk protects the rook and attacks pawn b2 at the same time. But as mentioned before, opening the files on the queenside favours White. [19...Qa5 keeps an eye on a much more important pawn d5. A possible follow up is 20.c3 (20.c4? Rxc4 and the knight is pinned) 20...Rb8 21.c4 (after 21.Qxa4 Qxd5 White's king will soon become more vulnerable than his black colleague) 21...Ra8 (the computer prefers 21...Rb4 but for a human is scary to pin the pieces like that. After 22.Qc3 threatening Nb3 22...Nc5 23.b3 0-0 24.Ke2 followed by Rhb1 White is slightly better) 22.b4 Qc7 23.h5 is again a position where any result is possible.]

20.c3! Rxb2 21.Qxa4 Rb7 22.Ke2

Possibly Vassily underestimated White's possibilities here. Topalov's play is very simple: the rook from h1 comes to b1, the queen goes to c6 and the knight to c4. Due to White's pressure and very active queen Black will have to exchange pieces, but the endgame will be difficult anyway.

In a bad position all moves are bad. [22...0-0 23.Rhb1 Rc8 24.Rxb7 Qxb7 25.Qa7 with a clear advantage in endgame]

23.Rhb1 Qc8

The Ukrainian succeeded avoiding the exchange of rooks. The rook on c7 is very important for defense: it controls the seventh rank and the important c-file. White must find a way to exchange the rook c7. How to do it? Watch the next two elegant moves:

24.Bb6! Rb7
[The alternative was to open another file: 24...Rxc3 25.Ne4 Rc4 (or 25...Rc2+ 26.Kd3!+- Rh2 27.Rc1 Qb8 28.Bc7 followed by the winning check on a8.) 26.Rc1! Rxc1 27.Rxc1 Qb8 28.Rc7 and White wins a piece.]


The rook cannot retreat to c7 again due to 26.Rb8. Which means that White achieves his plan. Which means that Black can't avoid a bad endgame. Which means that is in deep troubles.

Having understood the situation, Ivanchuk tries to get at least some squares for his pieces. But... see above the comment after Black's 22nd move. [25...0-0 26.Rxb7 Qxb7 27.Qc6 Qc8 28.Rb1 followed by Rb7 is also hopeless.]

26.fxe4 Rxb1 27.Rxb1 0-0 28.Qc6 Ne5 29.Qxc8 Rxc8 30.Rb8! Rxb8 31.Bxb8
Mission completed. A pawn up, poor king and bishop for Black, plus the fact that the knight e5 can be always challenged by White means that the rest is an easy technical matter for Topalov.

31...Kf8 32.Nf3 Ng6 33.c4 Ke8 34.e5 Kd7 35.Kd3 h6 36.exd6 Bxd6 37.Bxd6 Kxd6 38.gxh6 gxh6 39.Kd4 f6 40.c5+ Kd7 41.Ke4 h5 42.d6 Ke6 43.Nd4+ Kd7 44.Nf5 Ne5 45.Kd5 Nc6 46.Nd4
In the past two years everybody got used to the fact that Topalov starts tournaments badly and finishes them in force. Unfortunately, this highly intriguing, but at the same time risky "strategy" can't last forever, as the Corus tournament showed recently. It is great to see that in Morelia Topalov found a good form right from the start. After the World Championship in 2005 Topalov never started a tournament so strongly again. However, the temptation to make a parallel with the San Luis tournament will have to wait. In Argentina scoring 2,5 points out of three was just a prelude for the future world champion, who in the next rounds produced four consecutive wins. So let's wait a little bit to see if in Morelia Topalov will continue in the same impressive fashion. 1-0