Ponomariov outlasts Topalov in León final

by ChessBase
6/9/2003 – It wasn't chess for the highlight reel but somehow his nerves were enough for Ruslan Ponomariov to pick up the winner's check. The Ukrainian FIDE champ won the final match when Veselin Topalov melted down in time pressure and let his flag fall with a repetition on the board. Diagrams and analysis of Topalov's missed opportunity plus photos here.

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Topalov hands match win to Ponomariov

León Final
Official siteEvent introSemi #1Semi #2
Game replay/download page

FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov won the champion's title in León, Spain this year after defeating Veselin Topalov by the minimal margin in the final match. Topalov arrived to the final by beating teen phenom Sergey Karjakin. Ponomariov demolished local hope Paco Vallejo in his semifinal.

The final won't go down as one of Ponomariov's finest moments at the board. Topalov had the better chances in most of the games and missed several clear wins in the third. The decisive moment of the match came later in that same game when Topalov was checking to see if he had more than a perpetual check and let his flag fall.

Not Vesselim?

This is the first of several critical positions from the decisive third game. Here Topalov with white missed a chance to put the game away immediately with 43.Rxg6+! instead of 43.Rg4? Black has to give up the queen to avoid mate after 43...hxg6 44.Qf6.

The game continued: 43...Qf5 44.Rg5 Qe4 45.Qh3 ? (again 45.Rxg6 wins) Rc6 46.hxg6 Bxg6 47.Qh6 Kf7 48.f3 Qe1?

But Topalov would get another chance a few moves later and he wouldn't miss it this time, at least not at first.

Here Topalov found the crusher: 49.Rxg6! and Ponomariov had to give up his queen or get mated after 49...hxg6 50.Qg7+ Ke8 51.Bf6.

So 49...Qxe5 50.dxe5 hxg6 was forced. White must be winning this despite the dangerous passed c-pawn. The plan is to can grab a few pawns with check and then plant his queen on c1 before walking his king over and capturing the pawn for a winning king and pawn endgame.

This could have been achieved after 51.Qh7+ Kf8 52.Qd7 Rc4 and now 53.Qxe6!. Instead Topalov played 53.Qd8+ and all he had was a perpetual check draw. Insult was then added to injury when the Bulgarian's brain got stuck in neutral and he let his clock run out even though he had a ten second increment after each move!

That was the difference in the match. Topalov had a few chances in the final game but Ponomariov played the tough defense that is his trademark and held the draw. The young Ukrainian adds his name to the illustrious list of León champions that includes Kasparov, Anand, and Kramnik.

See analysis and opening variations on the replay page.


Photos courtesy of León press officer GM Zenón Franco.


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