Linares: Topalov on the rebound?

3/3/2006 – He left Morelia in Mexico with a shocking minus two score. In the first round of the Linares (Spain) half of this Super-GM Veselin Topalov scored a fine victory over second seed Peter Svidler. Is this the start of a big comeback? Etienne Bacrot beat Vassily Ivanchuk with black. Now with pictures and full annotation.

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Round eight report

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

The main news of the round is Topalov's fine win over Svidler. The World Champion seems not to be affected by his poor score so far and I have the feeling that we should not discard him completely from the fight for the first places. Ivanchuk-Bacrot had a tragic end. The Ukrainian missed just one move to reach the time control in a more or less winning position. Even more surprising was the sudden end of the game Leko-Vallejo. Players agreed to a draw in a position where White had decisive attack. The pressure of the first place seems to start affecting Leko. Radjabov-Aronian was a relatively short, but eventful game. At a certain point, White's strategy seemed to have prevailed, but Black was just in time to force a draw by perpetual.

Standings

Leko,P (2740) - Vallejo Pons,F (2650) [B90]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (8), 03.03.2006
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Be3 Nbd7 9.g4 h6 10.Qd2 b5 11.0–0–0 Qc7 12.Nd5 Bxd5 13.exd5 Nb6 14.Bxb6 Qxb6 15.Qa5 Qb7 16.Qb4 Be7 17.h4 Rb8 18.Na5 Nxd5 19.Qe4 Qb6 20.Rxd5 Qxa5 21.Kb1.

White has excellent compensation for the pawn. The presence of opposite coloured bishops gives the central blockade a stable character. With his next move, Vallejo tries to prevent White's influence on light squares getting extended to the king side, too. 21...h5 22.f4. The immediate 22.g5 looks like a better way to consolidate White's advantage of space. 22...exf4. Black misses his chance to complicate matters with 22...Qa4! 23.g5 Now his position looks critical and the next move only things worse. 23...0–0 24.g6 Bf6.

White's decision to agree to a draw is at least questionable. After 24...Bf6 25.gxf7+ his attack would have been iresistible, something typical for middlegame positions with opposite coloured bishops, for instance 25...Rxf7 (could Leko have missed that in case of 25...Kxf7 he would have disposed over 26.Bc4?) 26.Bd3. ½–½. [Click to replay]

Ivanchuk,V (2729) - Bacrot,E (2717) [D43]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (8), 03.03.2006
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.g3!? The popularity of the Moscow variation has decreased over the past years as a result of the fact that Black has found reliable ways to reach a solid position with possibilities of counterplay in the main variation starting with 7.e3 Nd7 8.Rc1 g6 With his last move, Ivanchuk intends to give the position the character of a Catalan, which can lead to very interesting play, especially in the case Black opens the long diagonal by capturing on c4. 7...Nd7 8.Bg2 dxc4 9.0–0 Be7 10.Qc2!? This seems to be a new move and it certainly brings up a new approach. Usually, White tries to win back the sacrificed pawn as soon as possible, but this generally allows Black to obtain sufficient counterplay. One relatively recent game played at top level went 10.e3 0–0 11.Qe2 e5 12.Qxc4 Nb6 13.Qb3 Be6 14.dxe5 Qxf3 15.Bxf3 Bxb3 16.axb3 Nd7 with approximate equality, Kramnik-Vallejo, Linares 2003. 10...0–0 11.Rfd1

White's idea starts to cristalise. He develops in a natural way, relying on the fact that Black's useful neutral moves have more or less come to an end. With the queen isolated from the queen side, Black can hardly consider playing b5, which can be strongly answered by a4 or even Nh4!? 11...e5 This central break is probably the only way to justify Black's slightly unnatural way of development. However, WHite is perfectly prepared for it, which speaks about Ivanchuk's power of anticipation. 12.d5! Nc5 13.Nd2 Bf5 14.Qc1 Rad8 15.dxc6 bxc6 16.Nxc4 Qe6 17.Ne3 Bg6 18.b4 Na6 19.Rxd8 Rxd8 20.a3 White has obtained a more pleasant position, because of his better pawn structure. Ivanchuk's accurate manoeuvring in the next phase of the game will allow him to gradually amplify his minimal advantage. 20...Nc7 21.Na4 e4 22.Nc5 Qe5 23.Nb7 Rd7 24.Na5 Bf6 25.Bh3 Ne6 26.Ra2 Rc7 27.Bxe6 Qxe6 28.Rc2 Bh5 29.Ng2 Bg5 30.Nf4 Qd6 31.Kg2 Qd7 32.h4 Bxf4 33.Qxf4 Rc8 34.Rd2 Qe6 35.Nb7 Re8 36.Nc5 Qc4 37.g4 Bg6 38.h5 Bh7 39.e3 a5.

Just after having obtained a dream position, Ivanchuk unexpectedely overstepped the time limit, which deprived him of any chances to win (to quote Eduard Gufeld). After 40.Qc7 (threatening Rd8 with mate) 40...Kh8 41.Qxa5 he would have won an esential pawn, maintaining the positional superiority. 0–1. [Click to replay]

Radjabov,T (2700) - Aronian,L (2752) [D38]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (8), 03.03.2006
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.e3 c5 8.Bd3 Qa5 9.0–0 c4 10.Bf5 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Ne4 12.Qc2 Ndf6 13.Bxc8 Rxc8 14.Bxf6 Nxf6.

15.Rfb1 This is the start of interesting play on both wings. White is supposed to open the position in the centre by means of e4, but first he aims to retsrict Black's queen side activity. 15...b6 16.Rb4 Qa6 17.Nd2 0–0 18.f3 Nh5 19.g3 Rce8 20.e4 b5 Both players have effectuated their thematical pawn moves. We shall now see a sudden switch of the centre of interest to the king side. The fact that some of the white pieces (his queen and the b4-rook) will not be able to adapt to the new circumstances, will allow Black force a draw by perpetual. 21.Re1 Qg6 22.Rxb5 dxe4 23.fxe4 Nxg3 24.hxg3 Qxg3+ 25.Kf1 Qf4+ 26.Ke2 Qg4+ 27.Kf2 Qh4+ 28.Ke2 Qg4+ 29.Kf2 ½–½. [Click to replay]

Topalov,V (2801) - Svidler,P (2765) [D87]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (8), 03.03.2006
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5. During the break between the two parts of the tournament, Svidler might have spent some time looking for an antidote to the 4.Bg5 variation. However, the decision to play again an opening that led him to defeat twice already is quite risky from a psychologic point of view. 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0–0 10.0–0.

As expected, Topalov chose one of the most aggressive systems of development. Apart from his style of play, the tournament situation certainly recquired radical measures. 10...Na5. Svidler regularly avoids the old main lines 10...Bg4 11.f3 Na5; and 10...Qc7 11.Rc1 Rd8; His most frequent choice so far has been 10...Bd7 but he already employed the game continuation, too.11.Bd3 b6!? This was probably intended to be a surprise for Topalov. The game Van Wely-Svidler, Dortmund 2005 went 11...cxd4 12.cxd4 b6 13.Qd2 Bb7 14.Rad1 (14.Rac1 followed by Bh6 is more common and is supposed to give White a strong attack.) 14...Rc8 15.d5 Nc4 16.Bxc4 Rxc4 17.Bd4 Qd6 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Nd4 with a slightly more active position for White. 12.Rc1. Topalov wisely refrains from giving up his central domination for the sake of a mere pawn. 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.Bxc5 Qc7 14.Bd4 e5 15.Be3 Nc4 offers Black ample compensation, for instance 16.Bxc4 Qxc4 17.Qc2 Be6 18.Rfb1 a5 19.a4 Rfb8 20.Ng3 Bf8 Seres-Groszpeter, Zalakaros 2001. After 12.Rc1 Black could transpose to the structure from the game Van Wely-Svidler by echanging on d4, but Svidler had other plans. 12...e5!?

By increasing the pressure against the d4-pawn, Black forces his opponent to take a decision regarding the configuration in the centre. 13.dxc5! A strong novelty. The only game where 12...e5 has been played so far went 13.d5?! c4 14.Bc2 Bd7 15.Rb1 Nb7 16.Ba4 Bxa4 17.Qxa4 Nd6 18.f3 f5 with initiative for Black, Seifert-Zezulkin, Bayern 1999. In the Gruenfeld, Black has to work hard usually in order to determine White block the position with d5. Allowing Black to obtain this kind of structure too easily is an obvious concession, which makes 13.dxc5 White's best choice, by the simple method of elimination. 13...Be6 At the cost of one pawn, Black has dismantled White's impressive centre and made available the stable e6-square for his bishop. In order to fight for an advantage, White needs to find a way to activate his knight. 14.c4. Topalov clears the c4-square and strengthens the control of the d5-square in order to prepare Nc3-d5. Prematurely capturing on b6 would only open the a-file for Black's counterplay. 14...bxc5 15.Bxc5 Re8 16.Be3! The bishop was unstable on c5, blocking the own c-pawn at the same time. In case of a normal developing move such as 16.Qc2 Black could have played 16...Rc8 with strong initiative. 16...Re7. Now, 16...Rc8 would be met by 17.c5 with the strong threat Ba6, for instance 17...Bxa2 18.Ba6 Qxd1 19.Rfxd1 Rcd8 20.Rxd8 Rxd8 21.h3 and the c-pawn will be hard to stop. With his next moves, Svidler will try to maintain the initiative, precisely in order to prevent the c4-pawn from becoming too dangerous. 17.Qc2 Rd7 18.Rfd1 Nc6.

19.a3. This way of preventing Nb4 might look a bit unaesthetical, by placing the pawn on an exposed square. However, after 19.Rb1 Rc8 20.c5 (20.Nc3 is strongly met by 20...Nd4) it appears that the pawn is not really safe on a2 in view of 20...Bxa2 21.Qxa2 Rxd3 with reasonable play for Black because the c5-pawn is safely blocked. After Topalov's 19.a3, Black will need to lose much more time in order to capture the a-pawn, thus allowing the radical activation of the white forces. 19...Qa5 20.Nc3 Qxa3 21.Nd5. Finally, the generally restrained e2-knight has landed on this perfect square. White's more active position and the vulnerability od the a7-pawn ensure him better chances. 21...Rc8 22.Ra1 Qf8 23.Ra6. White immediately sets the a7-pawn under severe pressure. Preventing Black's next move with 23.Ra4 seems like taking half-measures. Black could eventually solve the problem of his backward a-pawn with a well timed a5. 23...Nb4. Black forces the exchange of the d5-knight on another square than d5, partially releasing White's pressure. 23...Bxd5 24.cxd5 Nb4 would have failed to win the exchange because of 25.Qa4 attacking the d7-rook.; The seemingly active jump 23...Nd4 is strongly met by 24.Qa4 when Black has no time to defend his a7-pawn because of the additional threat Rxe6. 24.Nxb4 Qxb4 25.Rb1 Qf8.

26.c5. We can see that both players give higher importance to positional factors than to the material balance, which makes this game highly instructive. In case of 26.Rxa7 Rxa7 27.Bxa7 Qa3 28.Bb6 Bf8 Black would have succeded in blocking the c4-pawn with Bc5, when the passivity of the white light squared bishop would have made the conversion of the minimal material advantage rather problematic. 26...Bh6. Having been pushed back on the queen side, Black looks for counterplay on the opposite wing. After the exchange of the darksquared bishops, the black queen will exert a basically unchallanged influence on the king side. 27.Bxh6 Qxh6 28.c6 Rdc7.

In spite of his impressive advantage of space on the queen side, White canot easily make further progress. The defence of the far advanced pawn partially restricts his piece activity. Besides, he has no obvious way to solve the problem of his back rank weakness. The advance of the f-pawn would only weaken the e3-square, while h3 and g3 would only partly solve the problem because of the possibility of Qf4 or Bh3 respectively. 29.Rb5. This looks a bit like rushing in. White intends to put the e5-pawn under pressure in order to provoke the weakening move f6, but completely neglects prophylaxis. He could have prevented Black's counterplay with 29.Bf1!? for instance 29...Rd8 30.Rb7 Rd2 31.Qc5 Rc8 32.c7 winning. In case of more neutral answers, White could have safely initiated the plan based on Rb5, Qc3, etc. I do not know whether Topalov missed Black's next move or simply evaluated the complications as favourable for White. 29...Rd8 Svidler does not wait for a second invitation to start his counterplay. 30.Rb7 Rxd3! 31.Qxd3. In spite of the slightly shaky course of events, Topalov finds the best way to keep things under control. 31.Rxc7 Rd2 32.Qc1 Qf4 33.Qe1 Qxe4! would have been rather double edged. 31...Qc1+ 32.Qf1 Rxc6 33.Ra1. Once again the best chance for White to maintain the tension. In case of 33.Rxc6 Qxc6 34.Rb8+ Kg7 35.Qe1 Black would dispose over 35...a5! when White would have to either allow a4 followed by Bb3 or give up his e4-pawn. In both cases, he would have practically no winning chances. 33...Qf4 34.Qe1 Rc4 35.Rb4 Rc2.

36.Rbb1. A somewhat mysterious move. Its main point will become clear in the next comment. 36...Bg4? The transfer of the bishop to e2 will allow White completely repell the attack. Black should have insisted on attacking the e4-pawn with 36...Rc4 although after 37.f3 Rc2 White could have already played 38.Qg3 not fearing back rank checks (the idea behind Rbb1). After 38...Qe3+ 39.Kh1 the pressure against the e5- and a7-pawns would have entitled White to count on a gradual activation of his position. 37.h3 Be2 38.Ra3! Svidler might have missed this move, which not only defends the e4-pawn in an indirect way, but also prepares to push the opponent's pieces back. 38...a6 39.Re3 Bb5 40.Rc1 Ra2?! By exchanging rooks, Black could have prolongued his resistance. He might have underestimated White's coming attack. 41.Rc8+ Kg7 42.Rc7 Be8 43.Rf3 Qg5 44.Qc3. The threats Qc4 or Qb3 followed by Rxf7 are impossible to parry. 1–0. [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 
  Peter Leko
Levon Aronian 
  Vassily Ivanchuk
Etienne Bacrot 
  Veselin Topalov
Peter Svidler 
  Francisco Vallejo
GamesReport

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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