Elista 2006: Scandalous and unscandalous impressions

10/10/2006 – The match was not abandoned and the biggest meltdown in chess history averted. Games eight and nine brought a turn-around for FIDE champion Veselin Topalov. Game ten turned it back again in classical champion Vladimir Kramnik's favour. Our correspondent in Elista, Misha Savinov, send us his latest 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.

Scandalous and unscandalous impressions

By Misha Savinov (report and pictures)

It is really fortunate that the match in Elista was not abandoned. The unshakable position of both conflicting sides could easily have resulted in the greatest meltdown in the history of chess. However, at the last moment Vladimir Kramnik relented and showed up for the sixth game. That not only saved the match but also gained him tremendous popularity around the world. And vice versa – the constant complaints from Topalov’s manager Silvio Danailov only antagonized many people against the Bulgarian player.


Downtown Elista – a pagoda in a park


Many-tiered roofs in the well-know Asian style

Having said that, I would like to leave the conflict aside and focus on the chess events of the last two days. Having won the Game 8 as Black, Topalov leveled the score and, even more importantly, finally defeated Kramnik at the board, for the first time in this match. This suggested an exciting struggle in the 9th game. However, the reality surpassed all the expectations.


"Topalov arriving, entering the building" – the other photographers were with Kramnik


The obligatory handshake – but no love lost between these two

Topalov and Kramnik arrived simultaneously. Photographers migrated to Vladimir’s car – well, most of them… Veselin was again first to come to the board. He was clearly impatient to begin the fight, and waves of his energy easily reached the last tier of the playing hall. Such energy surges can lead to a number of incidents. In particular, a TV-man dropped his camera on my head a minute before the game started; the quality of cellular communications in the press room has clearly deteriorated; Russia failed to beat Israel in football, etc. I am sure Topalov is at least partly responsible for all these occurrences.


Gaining the advantage with pawn pushes: FIDE champions Veselin Topalov


Disheartened and pessimistic in game nine: classical champ Vladimir Kramnik

The Bulgarian’s energetic pawn pushes were clearly surprising for Kramnik. It seemed the classical champion found it difficult to believe that making mainly pawn moves in the opening, , as his opponent did, could produce and advantage. Once he had convinced himself that White’s advantage was genuine, Vladimir rushed to the other extreme, evaluating his position as completely hopeless. This confession at the press conference greatly surprised our new match commentator, Grandmaster Vladimir Belov. Belov. The ironic and vigorous young man, pupil of Sergey Shipov in both chess and chess commentary, was very surprised that it is possible to play in a championship match with such a low reserves of resistance…


Surprise new match commentator GM Vladimir Belov

It is easy to sum up chess content of the Game 9. Topalov played a novelty (credit to Vallejo); Kramnik reacted badly, and virtually threw in the towel in a poor position. It was an extremely one-sided game; a comfortable victory fir White, a disaster for Black. However, the non-chess content was richer, and I’ll try sharing my impressions with you.


Kramnik with his manager Carsten Hensel at the start of the press conference


Pick-a-caption: "Can we start now?" / "God, I love my Blancpain watch!"


Okay, so I lost. Can we pleeease watch Russia-Israel?


The classical champ (with Ilyumzhinov assistant Berik Balgabaev) in a good mood

At the press conference Kramnik once again repeated that he is unaffected by the loss, and blamed his opening preparation. He joked, smiled, and was not bothered by probing questions. He even added that, having lost the game before 7 p.m., he has time to watch the Russia-Israel football qualification match. Vladimir’s performance on the whole left a strong impression that the championship will be determined ahead of the schedule, as Topalov has good chances of winning all remaining games, like Fischer against Petrosian.


Strangely subdued after taking the lead: Veselin Topalov with Balgabaev


Attendees at the press conference

But this mirage was dispelled by Veselin in a few minutes. Somehow he looked worn out and diffident. I tried to imagine Kasparov recovering to 3-2 after 0-2: the Bulgarian looked nothing like that. He wasn’t talking about his excellent preparation, irresistible punch or great physical shape. He praised his team, expressed concerns about Kramnik’s ability to get better at the critical moments, and started talking about his lack of match experience. True, he added a few words about catching the right rhythm, but it sounded almost like a memorized lesson. In general, Veselin’s appearance raised many questions about his confidence.

So, before Game 10 I could hardly think of anything good coming for Kramnik, but I was even more skeptical about Topalov resisting the sudden pressure of being in the lead. How could this contradiction be resolved? The Game 10 gave a correct answer: by a blunder.


Determined stare – Kramnik arrives for game ten


Pre-game ritual of filling out names on the scoresheet


The setup in the playing venue, behind the glass "wall"


The audience begins to fill the theatre


And there it comes, ladies and gentlemen: 1.d4!

Kramnik played the game in his usual manner: avoiding any risky complications and creating small problems for the opponent. Maybe the problems were too small for 2700-2800 level, and Vladimir was taking more time in creating them than his opponent took for solving them. But this is his brand of chess; it can’t be helped. On that day it was Topalov’s play what made the difference: Veselin, as far as I can see, yielded to his nerves. First he avoided risk, but then slipped into a position that required patient defending, which is apparently foreign to his character.

By the way, there is a half-joking alternative explanation of Topalov’s breakdown in the Game 10. According to it the Russians used their secret psychological weapon: they brought in IM Barsky, the second of Morozevich and one of the most diligent supporters of the Topalov=Computer theory. Barsky arrived in Elista on that very day. But hush! I promised not to talk about scandals or encourage conspiracy theories…


IM Ilya Odessky of Sports Daily and IM Vladimir Barsky of ProSport

The score is now 5-5. Not many championship matches were level with just two games to go. If I remember correctly (sorry for not checking with Megabase), there were just two of them: Steinitz-Chigorin and Kasparov-Karpov 1987. One was won by defending champion, the other ended in a draw. So, is there a 50% chance to see tiebreaks in Elista? I would mind seeing the title determined in an Armageddon game.


The October 9th rest day moon


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