'All you need is luck!'

9/26/2006 – Two games have been played, discussed and dissected, Vladimir Kramnik is leading by an unprecedented 2-0 in the World Championship match. Our correspondent in Elista, Misha Savinov, may be exhausted from the excitement and the strain of producing the official bulletin, but he found time to send us some very interesting pictures and impressions.

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Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik

Twelve games, played from September 23 to October 12 in Elista, Kalmikia. The games start at 15:00h (3:00 p.m.) local Elista time, which translates to 11:00h GMT, 13:00h CEST, 12:00h London, 7 a.m. New York.

Live coverage is available on the official FIDE site and on Playchess.com (with live audio commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan for ten Ducats per day). You can buy them in the ChessBase Shop.

Savinov from Elista after round two

Impressions by Misha Savinov

The first day of the re-unification match was played on Saturday. Our job began early in the morning with a photographic session of the FIDE Presidential Board. The big bosses of chess looked somewhat sleepy. Later they will make an important decision about organizing the Candidates matches in Elista, play a football match and fly away from town (although some Board members stayed to see a few games).


The Presidential Board, with (left to right) Treasurer Nigel Freeman, General Secretary Ignatius Leong, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Honorary President Florencio Campomanes, Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos and Executive Director David Jarrett


During the meeting a Candidates Tournament in Elista was proposed

The press center was droning like an alarmed bee-hive. This stock phrase of Soviet-times journalism was used so many times that became banality.

As far as I remember from my behavioral ecology courses, a bee hive is a very organized body, which makes it clearly incomparable to press centers. Also, a hive drones rather monotonously, while press centers sound more like a traffic jam.

Should I try comparing the press center in Elista to a traffic jam? Everybody is impatient and demanding, and there are many traffic officers moving around, doing nothing. There were more hives than traffic jams in the Soviet Union, though.

Talking about traffic jams (jeez, what a topic to discuss in a chess-related article, when I do not even have a driver’s license!), there was a very busy one right below the playing stage, consisting of journalists and photographers. The security people did their best to prevent us from taking a picture of historical handshake of the players before the first game. Only when Vladimir and Veselin greeted each other and began shaking hands with VIP guests, the media were permitted to go onstage, angry as alarmed hive.


At the start of game one (Topalov shaking hands with President Ilyumzhinov)


The President of the Russian Chess Federation, and Deputy Chairman of the Government Russia, Alexander Zhukov, makes the first move of the match

Arbiter Geurt Gijssen was kind enough to allow us almost seven minutes of flash-work – maybe that was because the players were firing their moves almost instantly and pretty soon traded half the initial material. So the surrounding activity could not possibly distract them from recalling their preparation.

Vladimir Kramnik looks just great. Tall, aristocratic, impeccably dressed, he could make a successful career as a model. He seems being in good physical shape. At the board Vlad is relaxed and confident. Veselin looks more worn down. He takes off his jacket after a first move or two, his eyes are restless, and sometimes he jumps off the armchair and rushes to his rest room. Kramnik moves more calmly, and plays in the same fashion.

The same applies to the players’ teams. None of Topalov’s seconds were seen, while grandmasters Illescas and Rublevsky, and doctor Krylov are frequent visitors of the press center.


Kramnik second Sergey Rublevsky with Alexander Bach and Alexander Zhukov

Russian champion Sergey Rublevsky played the most active role in discussing the game with Alexander Zhukov, Russian Vice-Premier Minister and RCF President. Zhukov is a strong candidate master, no kidding! He made a symbolic first move 1.d2-d4, went for the press conference, and then settled at the press center, watching the game. The game was so captivating that he changed his schedule and did not go for the opening of a new tennis center in Elista. Later he took part in a football match at the Uralan stadium, and scored the winning goal. Yes, it was a penalty kick, but I was told by Evgeny Atarov that the penalty was just.


Veselin Topalov with Berik Balgabaev, Assistant to FIDE President Ilyumzhinov

As you are quite aware how the first game unfolded, I’ll skip it and just share my impressions about the press conference that followed. Topalov looked completely shocked. The journalists did not dare to bother him too much, and kept asking Vladimir.

Actually it looked as though both players had lost – Vladimir also seemed depressed. Only a provoking question about whether he feels sorry for the opponent cheered him up enough to produce a joke...

I’ll also skip on how Ernesto Inarkiev, Evgeny Atarov and I worked on the first tournament bulletin until 10 a.m. It was kind of tiring, but nobody promised us heaven anyway.


An exhausted bulletin editor in the press room

The second game started in a less crowded hall with much fewer security guards. No, the match hadn’t moved – it’s just that the high-ranking officials had left town. Veselin appeared onstage ten minutes before the start of the game.

Topalov sat down, adjusted his pieces, and suddenly we all heard an annoying beeping sound. Then again. It was loud and quite disturbing. Veselin approached Mr. Gijssen and talked to him for a few seconds. "Do everything you can to find the source and turn it off!" The Bulgarian rushed out, while Geurt, technicians and volunteers hastily started searching the stage. They succeeded – the beep was produced by supervision system that operated the cameras in the players’ rest rooms. The cameras were turned off to fix the problem. An alternative solution of transmitting the signal was found later that day.

Topalov returned at the table and meditated for a while. But where was his opponent. Veselin glanced at his watch, then called the arbiter.

No, Kramnik wasn’t late. He arrived 2:59 sharp, stylish like a king. Maybe he is a king.

Vlad did not take on c4 on the second move, as we expected due to Rublevsky’s presence in his team. After playing Bg6, he removed his jacket without standing up from the chair. The game was becoming hot.


Commentator GM Ernesto Inarkiev (photo Pufichek)

Grandmaster Ernesto Inarkiev, who just celebrated a solo victory the Russian Higher League, is an official commentator of the event. His work deserves greatest praise. Imagine: Ernesto begins together with the players at 3 p.m., doing express commentary for the official site of the match (available in pgn format) and for the spectators outside the playing hall. Then he attends the press conference, and begins working on detailed annotations. He finished writing analyzing the second game around 8 am.

"Of course, for average grandmaster like me, the knock-out championship is preferable," says Ernesto, "but only here I realized what the title match really is. The level of play is just unimaginable! A lot is said about blunders, but take my word – they are playing fantastic chess! I think the world champions should really be determined in matches."

By the way, a few words about the "blunder of the new millennium", when both contenders missed Rxg4+ and Qc7. The oversight was instantly spotted by those using a chess engine. However, there were quite a few grandmasters observing the game without computer aid, and they all missed Qc7 – Inarkiev, Azmaiparashvili, Dlugy, Sambuev... Mind you, this was not exactly an obvious move, at least for those using their own brains.

After the game Topalov looked disappointed but not shaken. This was nothing like his behavior after the first loss. The way both games developed is of course quite promising for the Bulgarian, as he has been outplaying Kramnik and gaining a certain psychological advantage. On the other hand, in the game for the European Supercup, Barcelona was also sort of outplaying Sevilla in terms of possession and attacking might, but the Sevilla players kept cool and counterattacked with devilish precision. The game ended 3-0 in their favor...

A paradox of the current 2-0 score is that had Kramnik calculated deeper at the critical moments, the match would have been tied. In the first game Vladimir underestimated the dangers of his position and went for an inferior ending instead of forcing a draw. In the second game he missed Rxg4 and played Bxf8, while Kxf8 would probably make Topalov force a draw, as the Bulgarian admitted at the press conference... Luck, luck, luck. All you need is luck?!

A lesson from John Nunn

Equipped with all the computer assistance technology has to offer, endgame and tablebase specialist (and chess grandmaster and chess publisher) John Nunn explains why in game two of the match the move 53...Re3 wins, while 53...Re1 does not.

Topalov,V (2813) - Kramnik,V (2743) [D19]
WCh Elista RUS (2), 24.09.2006 [John Nunn]

53...Re1? 53...Re3! The reason this move wins is that after 54.d5 Kf8 55.Kd7 b5 56.Ne6+ Kg8 57.d6 b4 58.Nc5 the rook controls b3 and is therefore ready to support the b-pawn without wasting a tempo. Then the continuation 58...Kf7 59.Kc6 Rc3 60.Kb5 b3 61.Na4 Rc2 62.d7 Ke7 leads to a clear win. It is interesting to note that all Black's moves from move 53 to move 62 are unique winning moves (apart from a possible repetition at one point). Of course this would be tough to find in a game. I think the hardest part is the manoeuvre ...Kg8-f8-g8-f7, which looks quite paradoxical. [Click to replay]

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