Salamanca: Topalov and Salimova start strong

by André Schulz
2/4/2021 – Four men and four women are playing at the Masters Tournament in Salamanca. Bulgarians Veselin Topalov and Nurgyul Salimova had a perfect start on day 1, as they scored back-to-back victories to take the lead in the standings table. | Photos: Official site

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4 out of 4 for Bulgaria

Despite the corona pandemic, the organizers in Salamanca are holding a six-day chess festival with the necessary precautions. It is not all about the sportive side of chess, as the event is more of a cultural gathering. The master tournament is the main event, but daily lectures and round tables dealing with various cultural and social topics are also featured in the historical edifice where the festival is taking place.

The Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca was founded in 1519 by Alonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, in order to allow Galician students to study at the University of Salamanca. At the end of the 16th century, Irish Catholic students who had been persecuted in their homeland for religious reasons were also admitted here. Originally, the university consisted of four buildings, one of which has survived the test of time. The magnificent edifice provides a beautiful setting for the festival, which is being held for the third time this year.

One of the lectures, by Sabrina Vega, dealt with the role of women in chess. Four men and four women were invited to the tournament, ensuring gender equality.

Sabrina Vega facing David Antón

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However, the balance of (rating) power is quite uneven, as Veselin Topalov, Alexei Shirov, David Antón and Eduardo Iturrizaga have markedly higher ratings than their female counterparts. Five-time Spanish women’s champion Sabrina Vega, the young Bulgarian Nurgyul Salimova, Elisabeth Paehtz and Almira Skripchenko are players of considerable strength, but will have a hard time facing the strong grandmasters.

Nevertheless, many chess enthusiasts consider that creating separate women tournaments hinders the level in women’s chess, so this event also serves as an experiment to see how the women players perform under the circumstances.

The playing hall

The difference in playing strength was immediately apparent on the first day of play. Rapid games with a time control of 40 minutes for the game plus an extra 5 seconds per move are being played. 

Three of the four women — Elisabeth Paehtz, Almira Skripchenko and Sabrina Vega — started with 0 out of 2. On the other hand, Nurgyul Salimova had a perfect start, as she defeated Skripchenko and Vega. Veselin Topalov also started the tournament with two wins — he defeated Paehtz and Skripchenko.

Paehtz kept the game balanced for a very long time,  but was outplayed by the Bulgarian in a complicated knight ending.

Topalov, V. - Paehtz, E
Salamanca Masters, Round 1

White has perhaps a somewhat easier position to deal with, as the a5-pawn is weak and the pawn majority on the queenside is easier to mobilize, whereby the backward b-pawn is somewhat of a hindrance. That should not be enough to win, however.


33.Kd3 Kf8 34.Kc4 Ke7 35.Kc5 [The white king intends to approach the a-pawn, but the knight on c6 does a good work in covering the entrance.]

35...Kd7 36.Na8 g5 [Black starts advancing his majority on the other wing. White needs to be careful.]

37.Nb6+ Kc7 38.Nc4 f5


39.exf5 exf5 40.Kd5 [Not 40.Kb5 f4 41.Nxa5 Nxa5 42.Kxa5 g4 and Black wins; 40.Nd6!? f4 41.Nf7 g4 42.Nxh6 Se5 (42...f3? 43.gxf3 gxf3 44.Ng4 wins.) 43.Nf5 f3 44.gxf3 Nxf3=]

40...f4 41.Ke4 Kd7 42.h4 Ke6 43.h5 Kf6 44.Nd6 Ne5 45.Nf5 Nd7


White no longer has an objective advantage here. However, in knight endgames you always need to calculate precisely — and also quickly in this case. [45...Nf7 46.Nd4 Nd8= was also okay.]

46.Nxh6 Nc5+ 47.Kd5 Nxb3 48.Ng4+ Kf5 [48...Kg7=. It is a better idea to stay in front of the h-pawn.]

49.Ne5 Blocking the g6-square.


49...Kf6? The crucial mistake. [Better was 49...Nd2 50.h6 Ne4 and, for example: 51.Nc6 Nf6+ 52.Kc4 g4 53.Nxa5 f3 54.gxf3 gxf3 55.Kd3 Kg6 56.Nc4 Kxh6 57.a5 f2 58.Ke2 Nd5 59.a6 f1Q+ 60.Kxf1 Kg6 61.a7 Nc7 62.Nb6 Kf5 63.Ke2 Ke5]

50.h6 Nd2 51.Kc6 Nb3 [51...Kxe5 52.h7]

52.Kb5 Nd4+ 53.Kxa5 Ne6 54.Kb6 Kxe5 55.h7 Kd5 1–0

Round 1 results


Round 2 results


Standings after Round 2


All games



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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