Linares R9: Topalov's great comeback

3/5/2006 – After dismal results in Morelia – he ended up with minus two – Veselin Topalov seems to have found back to old form in Spanish Linares. He won his second game in a row, with black against Bacrot, narrowing the gap to the leading Peter Leko to 1.5 points. Updated report with commentary by GM Mihail Marin.

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Round nine report

Round 9: Saturday, March 4th

Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Peter Leko
Levon Aronian 
½-½
Vassily Ivanchuk
Etienne Bacrot 
0-1
Veselin Topalov
Peter Svidler 
½-½
Francisco Vallejo

The World Champion seems to be back in business. He outplayed Bacrot by apparently simple means in a relatively peacefull variation. Aronian-Ivanchuk featured interesting complications, which eventually led to simplifications and inevitable draw. In Svidler-Vallejo a draw was achieved by calmer means, but this was just the top of the iceberg: several moments of the game deserve further investigation. Leko had to suffer for a long time against Radjabov, but never got in real danger of losing.

Standings

Aronian,L (2752) - Ivanchuk,V (2729) [E15]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (9), 04.03.2006
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Rc1 This move has been recently popularised by Topalov. His main achievement with it was the spectacular win over Ponomariov, in Sofia 2005. 8...d5 9.cxd5 exd5 Ivanchuk does not intend to "refute" the slightly unusual move order chosen by White, but transposes to one of the relatively solid, but not very popular lines of the Queen's Indian. 10.Bg2 Bb7

White's two extra-tempi (generated by the moving around of the black bishops) are not really useful. The advance of the pawn on b3 deprives the own queen of this square and slightly weakens the queen side at the same time, while the d2-bishop will have to be transferred to a more active square anyway. 11.0–0 Na6 12.Bf4 Re8 13.Ne5 h6 14.Nb5 c5 15.Nc4

The activity displayed by the white minor pieces looks threatening, but Black's central pawns offer him entirely adequate defence. 15...Bc6 16.Ncd6 Rf8 17.dxc5 bxc5 18.Nd4 cxd4 19.Rxc6 Nb4 20.Nb7 Qe8 21.Rc7 Na6 22.Rc1 Qb5 23.Nd6 Qd7

Did White blunder? 24.Qd3 Bxd6. Not really. 24...Nb4 is met by 25.Qf5! 25.Qxa6 Bxf4 26.gxf4 Qg4 27.Qd3 Qxf4 28.Rcd1 Rfe8 29.Rfe1 Rac8 Both sides have completed now the mobilisation of their remaining forces. In the next phase of the game, each side will eliminate the enemy's weaknesses, simplifying to a dead draw. 30.Qxd4 Qxd4 31.Rxd4 Rc2 32.a4 Rexe2 33.Rxe2 Rxe2 34.Bxd5 Nxd5 35.Rxd5 Rb2 ½–½. [Click to replay]

Svidler,P (2765) - Vallejo Pons,F (2650) [C83]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (9), 04.03.2006
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Be7

The interest towards this move was awaked recently by two games between Shirov and Kortschnoj. Although White won this "mini-match" by 1.5–0.5, the games were far from one-sided. 10.c3. Now play transpsoes to one of the classical variations of the Open Ruy Lopez. Decades ago, the normal move order to reach it was 9.c3 Be7 10.Nbd2. The capture on e4 with 10.Nxe4 is supposed to offer White no advantage after 10...dxe4 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Ng5 Bxg5 13.Qh5+ g6 14.Qxg5 0–0. 10...0–0 11.Bc2 f5 This variation was so well-forgoten a couple of years ago that, according to Kortschnoj's comments, Shirov did not even know that it existed! 12.exf6. I have the feeling that White has better prospects for an advantage in the variation that was almost invariably played in the past: 12.Nb3 Qd7 13.Nfd4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 c5 15.Nxe6 Qxe6 16.f3 Ng5 17.a4


Analysis diagram

The position is quite tricky, which can be seen from the fact that the biggest specialist of the variation once allowed a simple combination after 17...c4? 18.axb5 axb5 19.Rxa8 Rxa8 20.Bxg5 Bxg5 21.f4 Be7 22.Bxf5! Gheorghiu-Kortschnoj, Bucharest 1968. Nevertheless, Kortschnoj managed to save the game. 12...Nxf6 The positions arising in the Open Ruy Lopez after the en passant capture on f6 are enormously complicated. Black is slightly better developed, but his position contains several weaknesses (such as e6, e5 and c5)

13.Nb3 Bg4 14.Qd3 Qd7. This seems to be Black's best continuation. Old theory considered 14...Ne4 to be playable as well, but after the slightly paradoxical knight retreat 15.Nbd2 Black faced unexpected problems in Shirov-Kortschnoj, Reykjavik 2003, the first one between these players in this line.

15.Bf4. This seems to be a novelty. WHite immediately takes the e5-square under control. 15.a4 was tested in Shirov-Kortschnoj, Plovdiv 2003. 15...Ne4. Bravely sacrificing a pawn. 15...Rae8 looks like a worthy alternative. 16.Ne5. There is no clear refutation of 16.Bxc7 but Svidler might have disliked the perspective of getting his king side pawns doubled. 16...Nxe5 17.Bxe5 Bf5 18.Qd4 c5 19.Qe3 Rae8 20.f4

20...c4. Quite unexpected. Black could have maintained the flexibility of his pawns with 20...Qc6 , retaining a pleasant position. 21.Bxe4. Also an atypical decision. 21.Nd4 looks more natural when Black should probably question White's domination in the centre with 21...Bf6. 21...Bxe4 22.Nd2 Qc6 This leads to drawish simplifications. To more interesting play would have led any bishop move along the d3-g6 diagonal. 23.Nxe4 dxe4 24.Rad1 Rd8 25.Bd4 Rfe8 26.Rd2 Bf6 27.Rfd1 Bxd4 28.Rxd4 Rxd4 29.Rxd4 Qe6 30.a3 h5 31.h3 ½–½. [Click to replay]

Bacrot,E (2717) - Topalov,V (2801) [D11]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (9), 04.03.2006
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 Topalov obtained his only win in Morelia with the 4...a6-Slav, which can be a partial explanation for his opening choice in this game. 5.Bd3 Bg4 6.Nbd2 e6 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.b3.

8...c5!? The fashion of pushing the pawn to c5 in two moves was initiated by Morezevich and is a proof of the flexibility of Black's position in the Slav. With 4...a6 Black has induced the white queen's knight to develop to d2, overdefending the c4-square for the eventuality of a further ...b5. This resulted in a lack of pressure against the d5-pawn, which justifies Black'a last move. To a certain extent this is similar with some Queen's Indian variations, where Black willingly loses a tempo with his queen's bishop : 4.g3 Ba6 5.Nbd2 Bb7 later followed by ...d5.

9.cxd5. This looks like a significant concession. White's previous play does will hardly be justified in the symmetrical position with open centre that will arise now. More consistent would have been 9.Bb2 aiming for a position with hanging pawns, when White's extra tempi in development (consequence of ...c6-c5 and ...a6) might have made themselves felt. If Black would ignore the tension in the centre and develop normally, with 9...Be7 10.Qc2 0–0 White could already start active operations in the centre with 11.Ne5.

9...Nxd5! Underlining the drawbacks of White's plan: the relative weakness of the c3-square, the exposed position of the d3-bishop and the difficulty of finding a good square for the queen. 10.Bb2 Be7 11.Qb1

The queen avoids the unpleasant pin along the d1–h5 diagonal and the fork on b4 at the same time, but with such unnatural development White can hardly claim an advantage. 11...cxd4 12.Bxd4 Bf6 The exchange of the dark-squared bishops makes part of Black's general plan. He releases the pressure against his king side while accentuating the weakness of the c3-square, which will require permanent surveillance from White. 13.Rc1. The h7-pawn is posisoned: 13.Bxh7 Bxd4 14.exd4 (14.Nxd4 is even worse in view of 14...Qh4) 14...f5 15.Bg6+ Kf8 and the bishop is trapped.

13...Bh5. In this phase of the game, the absence of concrete threats gives play a rather abstract character. With his last move, White retreats the bishop to a less exposed square and prepares an eventual interference of the b1–h7 diagonal with ...Bg6 in order to enable castling short. In case of the immediate 13...Qe7 White could face his opponent with a difficult choice with 14.Bxf6 when 14...Qxf6 looks like a mere loss of tempo, while 14...N7xf6 is strongly met by 15.Ne5 with certain initiative.; The exchange on d4 looks slightly premature, too. After 13...Bxd4 14.Nxd4 N7f6 15.Ne4 0–0 16.Ng3 Black had to resort to extreme measures in order to save his bishop in Tregubov-Morozevich, Sochi 2005.

14.Rc4 Qe7 15.h3. It is not easy for White to make use of his minimal advance in development, but his last move does not seem to be useful in any way at this stage of the game. More to the point seems to be 15.a4 followed by a5, winning space on the queen side and indirectly developing the a1–rook without moving it. 15...Rd8 Probably feeling White's indecision, Black makes his last useful, half-waiting move. 16.Be4?! Finally, White loses patience and decides to threaten something concrete. However, his last move only helps Black complete his development. 16...Bxd4 17.Nxd4 N7f6 18.Bxd5 Nxd5 19.Qb2 0–0 20.Rac1 Bg6.

Black's position already looks more pleasant. His bishop is quite strong, while the enemy knights are somewhat restricted in their actions. However, White's authoritary control of the c-file should enable him to maintain the balance even. 21.N4f3 f6! Continuing to restrict the white knights. 22.g3?! White takes the f4-square under control in order to prepare the advance of the e-pawn. In doing so, he probably wanted to reduce the activity of the black minor pieces, thus answering with the same method as that employed by his opponent. However, the last move has the serious drawback of weakening the light squares around the own king. Instead of this, he could have continued his "own play" with 22.a4 , winning space on the wing where he has concentrated such important forces as the major pieces. 22...e5 23.a3. The necessity of this additional prophylactic move speaks about the eroneous character of White's plan. The immediate 23.e4 would be strongly answered by 23...b5! 24.Rc6 Nb4 25.Rc7 Rd7 26.Rxd7 Qxd7 27.Rc3 Nd3 28.Qc2 Rd8 with active play for Black. 23...Qe6 A multi-purpose move. White takes under observation the weak h3- and b3-pawns while clearing the e7-square for the knight in view of its further transfer to c6.

24.e4 Ne7 25.Rc7 Rd7 26.h4 Rfd8 27.b4 h6 Clearing the safe h7-square for the king. 28.Rxd7 Rxd7 Black's advantage is obvious. All his pieces are more active than White's. The enemy knights have little chance to get active, mainly because of the weakness of the e4-pawn. 29.b5 axb5 30.Qxb5 Nc6 31.Kg2 Kh7 32.Qc4 Qxc4 33.Rxc4 Rd3.

Simplifications did not bring White any relief. His knights are still hopelessly passive. 34.a4. 34.Ra4 would leave the rook out of play after 34...b5 35.Ra6 allowing 35...Nd4 36.Nxd4 exd4 with a more or less decisive advantage for Black. 34...Ra3 Black threatens to win the a4-pawn with ...Bf7. White's attempts to prevent this simple plan will only shorten his suffering. 35.Nb1 Ra2 36.Nc3 Rc2 37.Rc5 Defending against the threat ...Bxe4+, but allowing Black to set a stronger one. 37...Nb4. Threatening ...Nd3 or ...Na2. White cannot avoid important material losses. 38.Ne1 Rc1. The apparent simplicity of this game is induced by the fact that Topalov won mainly by parrying White's one- or two- move threats. The difficult (and instructive) part consisted of combining this prophylactic play with the permanent improvement of his own position. 0–1. [Click to replay]

Radjabov,T (2700) - Leko,P (2740) [E15]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (9), 04.03.2006
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Bg2 c6 8.Bc3 d5 9.Ne5 Nfd7 10.Nxd7 Nxd7 11.Nd2 0–0 12.0–0 Rc8 13.e4 c5 14.exd5 exd5 15.dxc5 dxc4

16.cxb6!? Until now, this move has been seen only in a couple of correspondence games. White partly releases the queen side tension hoping that the slightly more active placement of his minor pieces will ensure him a long term advantage. 16...Nxb6 17.Re1 Bf6 18.Bxf6 Qxf6 19.Ne4 Qg6 20.Qd6 White does not hurry to capture on c4, relying on the fact that Black cannot easily release the tension. The capture on b3 would open the a-file and put the a7-pawn in immediate danger, while the advance to c3 would most probably lead to the loss of the pawn. 20...Qxd6 21.Nxd6 Rcd8 22.Nf5 g6 23.Ne3 Rfe8 24.Bf1 Re5 25.bxc4

White finally managed to win the pawn, but he will not manage to advance it for the next 50 moves. 25...Rc5 26.Rec1 Rdc8 27.Rc2 Kg7 28.Rac1 R8c7 29.Rc3 Bc8 30.Nc2 Na4 31.Ra3 Bd7 32.Nd4 Re5 33.Rd1 Nb2 34.Rb1 Re4 35.Rxb2 Rxd4 36.f3 Be6 37.Kf2 Rd6 38.Rc3 Rdc6 39.Rbc2 Bf5 40.Rc1 Rc5 41.h4 h5 42.Ra3 Rd7 43.Be2 Rdc7 44.Rcc3 Be6 45.Rc2 Bf5 46.Rb2 Be6 47.Rc3 Kf6 48.Bd3 Bf5 49.Bf1 Ra5 50.Be2 Be6 51.Bd3 Bf5 52.Bf1 Be6 53.a3 Bf5 54.Be2 Rac5 55.Ke3 Re5+ 56.Kf2 Rec5 57.Rd2 Be6 58.Bd3 Bf5 59.Ke3 Bxd3 60.Kxd3 g5 61.Rh2 Rd7+ 62.Kc2 Rd4 63.hxg5+ Kxg5 64.Kb3 a5 65.Rh1 f6 66.Rh2 Rd1 67.Ka4 Rd4 68.Kb3 Rd1 69.Re2 Rg1 70.Ree3 Kf5 71.f4 Rh1 72.Re8 h4 73.gxh4 Rxh4 74.Rb8 Rxf4 75.Rb5 Rxb5+ 76.cxb5

Finally, this pawn was unblocked, but the draw is inevitable already. 76...a4+ 77.Kc2 Rd4 78.b6 Rd8 79.Rf3+ Ke6 80.Re3+ Kd6 ½–½. [Click to replay]

Commentary by GM Mihail Marin
Pictures by Jesús J. Boyero

Schedule and results

Round 8: Friday, March 3rd

Peter Leko 
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Veselin Topalov 
1-0
Peter Svidler
Vassily Ivanchuk 
0-1
Etienne Bacrot
Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Levon Aronian

Round 9: Saturday, March 4th

Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Peter Leko
Levon Aronian 
½-½
Vassily Ivanchuk
Etienne Bacrot 
0-1
Veselin Topalov
Peter Svidler 
½-½
Francisco Vallejo

Round 10: Sunday, March 5th

Peter Leko 
  Peter Svidler
Francisco Vallejo 
  Etienne Bacrot
Veselin Topalov 
  Levon Aronian
Vassily Ivanchuk 
  Teimour Radjabov
GamesReport
Free day: Monday, March 6th

Round 11: Tuesday, March 7th

Vassily Ivanchuk 
  Peter Leko
Teimour Radjabov 
  Veselin Topalov
Levon Aronian 
  Francisco Vallejo
Etienne Bacrot 
  Peter Svidler
GamesReport

Round 12: Wednesday, March 8th

Peter Leko 
  Etienne Bacrot
Peter Svidler 
  Levon Aronian
Francisco Vallejo 
  Teimour Radjabov
Veselin Topalov 
  Vassily Ivanchuk
GamesReport
Free day: Thursday, March 9th

Round 13: Friday, March 10th

Veselin Topalov 
  Peter Leko
Vassily Ivanchuk 
  Francisco Vallejo
Teimour Radjabov 
  Peter Svidler
Levon Aronian 
  Etienne Bacrot
GamesReport

Round 14: Saturday, March 11th

Peter Leko 
  Levon Aronian
Etienne Bacrot 
  Teimour Radjabov
Peter Svidler 
  Vassily Ivanchuk
Francisco Vallejo 
  Veselin Topalov
GamesReport
End of Tournament

Topics: Linares 2006
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