Champions League: Topalov beats Ponomariov, takes the lead

11/14/2007 – We know why Vesselin Topalov is feared by his colleagues. Like Kasparov the Bulgarian will try to win when really necessary, he will make heroic efforts at the end of a tournament and grab the point when it really matters. That is what happened in the penultimate round in Vitoria, where Topalov defeated the tournament leader Ruslan Ponomariov to take the sole lead. Illustrated report.

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The "Chess Champions League – Playing for a better world" is taking place from November 1st to 15th, 2007, in Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain. The participants are former world champions plus Judit Polgar, with Romanian GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu standing in for Alexander Khalifman (FIDE world champion 1999) who took ill just before the start of the event. The other world champions are: Anatoly Karpov, who held the title from 1975 to 1985, and then the FIDE world championship title from 1993 to 1999; Ruslan Ponomariov, who held the FIDE title from 2002 to 2004; Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who was FIDE world champion from 2004 to 2005; and Veselin Topalov, who held the title from 2005 to 2006. The event is a double round robin, with the ten rounds being played on November 2,-4, 6,-7, 9-11, and 13-14. It is a benefit event to raise funds for a hospital in Mbuji-Mayi, one of the poorest regions in Congo.

Round eight report

Veselin Topalov defeated Romanian GM Liviu Nisipeanu, and since the tournament leader Ruslan Ponomariov drew in his white game against Anatoly Karpov, Topalov is now just half a point behind Ponomariov.


Behind glass walls: the playing venue in Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain

Topalov won a very vibrant game that enthralled the audience in the playing venue and on the Internet. The encounter was complex, full of intelligent moves and surprises. Topalov and Nisipeanu each made several attacks on the opponent's king, but in the end the Bulgarian, who lives in Salamanca, was the one to succeed.

Topalov,V (2769) - Nisipeanu,LD (2668) [D20]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (8), 11.11.2007
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 e5 4.Nf3 exd4 5.Bxc4 Nc6 6.0-0 Be6 7.Bb5 Bc5 8.b4 Bb6 9.a4 a6 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 11.Bb2 Nf6 12.a5 Ba7 13.Nbd2 0-0 14.Qc2 Ng4 15.h3 Nf6 16.Ne5 Bd7 17.Rfe1 Qe7 18.Ndf3 c5 19.bxc5 Qxc5 20.Qd2 Qe7 21.Ba3 c5 22.Qxd4 Bb5 23.Qc3 Rfd8 24.Bb2 Nh5 25.Nc4 Rab8 26.Ne3 Qxe4 27.Ng4 Qg6? 28.Nh4 Qd3 29.Qe5 Qd5

30.Nh6+ Kh8 31.Qe7 Bc4 32.Rad1 Qxd1 33.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 34.Kh2 Ra8 35.N4f5 f6 36.f4 Bd5 37.Nf7+ Bxf7 38.Qxf7 c4 39.Qxh5

Bg1+ 40.Kg3 Rd3+ 41.Kg4 Rf8 42.Ne7 Bf2 43.Ng6+ Kg8 44.Ne7+ Kh8 45.Ng6+ Kg8

46.Nxf8 Rg3+ 47.Kf5 g6+ 48.Nxg6 hxg6+ 49.Qxg6+ Rxg6 50.Kxg6 Be1 51.Bxf6 1-0. One spectacular, exciting, attacking game. [Click to replay]

The other two games of the day were much more relaxed. Ponomariov, the youngest player in the tournament, opened the game calmly, trying to play safe and keep his position on the score table. Karpov, with the black pieces, wasn’t able to do much to avoid a draw, although he played with a certain degree of ambition.

Ponomariov,R (2705) - Karpov,Ana (2670) [D37]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (8), 11.11.2007
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.a3 c5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Be5 Bf6 12.Bxf6 Qxf6 13.Qd4 Qd6 14.Bd3 Rd8 15.Bc2 b6 16.0-0 Ba6 17.Rfe1 Rac8 18.Bf5 Rc7 19.Rad1 g6 20.Bb1 Bc4 21.h3 a5 22.Nd2 Rcd7 23.Qh4 b5 24.Nf3 Qe7 25.Qd4 Re8 26.Qf4 Qd6 27.Qh4 Qe7 28.Qf4 Qd6 29.Qh4 ½-½. [Click to replay]

Rustam Kasimdzhanov seemed to be happy with his draw, playing with the black pieces, against Judit Polgar. The game lasted 69 moves and was played down to bare kings.


Commentary for the public: GM Alfonso Romero and journalist Leontxo Garcia

Standings after eight rounds


Round nine report

Vesselin Topalov has shown why he is feared by all his elite colleagues. The Bulgarian has the quality that makes a player one of the great champions, and that is to win when really necessary, as Kasparov did in his time. He is also known for his heroic efforts right up to the end of his tournaments, his great competitiveness, his psychological strength or his exceptional stamina. Veselin gives his best whilst playing the last rounds of the tournaments. His rivals are often too self-confident, or prone to the dangerous estimation “if I draw two more games, I will be the winner”.

Yesterday’s game against Ponomariov was a clear example. His position after the opening, calmed and well-balanced, was not an omen of the strong emotions that came later. But Topalov pressed more and his body language showed that he was looking for a win. On the other side of the chessboard Ruslan, who had not lost a single game in the tournament, was suffering. Due to the moves of Vesselin, Ponomariov started to spend more time thinking about his moves, and so had time problems, which did nothing but aggravate the situation. While the audience stood up better see the end of the game, he was sweating, without a jacket, and more and more confused. Finally, the audience burst into a big round of applause for the winner, the player living in Salamanca.

Topalov,V (2769) - Ponomariov,R (2705) [E55]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (9), 13.11.2007
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 c5 6.Nf3 d5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nbd7 9.Qb3 cxd4 10.exd4 Bxc3 11.bxc3 b6 12.Ng5 Re8 13.Re1 Nf8 14.f3 Bb7 15.Bf1 Rc8 16.Bb2 Qc7 17.c4 Red8 18.Rac1 Qf4 19.Nh3 Qc7 20.Nf2 Rd7 21.Ne4 Qd8 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 23.d5 Qg5 24.Re4 Qd8 25.Qc3 f6 26.dxe6 Re7 27.Rg4 Rxe6 28.Qa3 h5 29.Rd4 Qe7 30.Rcd1 Qxa3 31.Bxa3 Ree8 32.c5 bxc5 33.Rh4 g6 34.Ra4 a6 35.Bc4+ Kg7 36.Rb1 Rc7 37.Bxc5 Rxc5 38.Rxb7+ Kh6 39.h4 a5 40.Ra7 Re1+ 41.Kh2 Ree5 42.Rf7 Nh7 43.Bb3 Re8 44.Rd4 Rf8 45.Ra7 f5 46.Rd6 Nf6 47.a4 f4 48.Rb6 Rc1 49.Bf7 Kg7 50.Be6+ Kh6 51.Rxa5 Rd8 52.Rb4 Rd6 53.Bb3 Rb1 54.Rab5 Rd3 55.Bc2 Rxb4 56.Rxb4 Rd2 57.Bb3 Rb2 58.Rb7 g5 1-0. [Click to replay]

Topalov’s victory – his second in a row – allows him to go up to the first position on the score table. He has now half a point ahead of the Ukranian and one point more that Judit Polgar, who drew against Nisipeanu and still can win the tournament, because her next game is against the leader. If she defeats Topalov the two will have an equal number of points, but as she would have won in their individual games, she would be the final winner.

In the duel between the last players on the table – who had not won any games so far – Rustam Kasimdzhanov broke the spell by defeating Anatoli Karpov, who is suffering under his age and his lack of competitive preparation. Although his chess knowledge is prodigious, he’d probably better forget his performance in this tournament.

Kasimdzhanov,R (2690) - Karpov,Ana (2670) [E37]
Chess Champions League Vitoria Gasteiz ESP (9), 13.11.2007
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 Ne4 7.Qc2 c5 8.dxc5 Nc6 9.cxd5 exd5 10.e3 Qa5+ 11.b4

11...Nxb4 12.axb4 Qxa1 13.Bb5+ Kf8 14.Ne2 a5 15.f3 Nf6 16.0-0 Qe5 17.e4 dxe4 18.Bf4 Qf5 19.g4 Qg6 20.Qd2 Be6

21.Bb8! Clever. Black cannot take the bishop because of 21...Rxb8 22.Qd6+ Kg8 23.Qxb8+ with mate to follow. 21...Nd5 22.Nf4 Qh6 23.Nxe6+ Qxe6 24.Bd6+ Kg8 25.Bc4 exf3 26.Bxd5 Qxg4+ 27.Kh1 axb4 28.Bxf3 Qc4 29.Qg2 h5 30.Bd5 Qg4 31.Bxf7+ Kh7 32.Qc2+ g6 33.Bxg6+ 1-0. [Click to replay]


12th world champion Anatoly Karpov in a tournament to forget

Standings after nine rounds

Pictures by Nadja Woisin, information by David Llada, translations by Aitziber Elejalde

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