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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fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 2/6/2021 06:08
Nothing wrong with the organizers' decision, and it is unfair to criticise them because they are putting up the money for the event. If someone wants to see invitations based on rating instead of gender, let them put up the money and organise the event. There are plenty of events that do that already.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 2/5/2021 12:29
Girls do not "lose interest" at a certain age. Sweeping generalisations such as this do not help , especially when they are wrong. So let's focus on a specific Indian lady, Tania Sachdev (FIDE rating 2392). You say that such girls only take up chess "as a way to change their lives". I'll let Tania speak for herself:

"It started with my father. He didn’t know how to play, but he taught himself from one of those instructional booklets that came with a set we were given. It’s funny because he first tried to teach my older brother how to play.

I guess he didn’t think that a five year-old would be interested, but I sat there watching them and I thought that it looked like a really interesting game. I picked up the rules, and two or three days after that I asked my dad for a game and I beat him. A friend of my parents came over and started giving me lessons once a week, and he said, 'There’s something interesting here.'"

Still maintain that girls from developing countries only take up chess as a way to change their lives?

Please note: her father prioritised her older brother for chess lessons.

Please further note: her online chess commentary is first class whereas the sexist comments she receives during her commentaries are a disgrace.
karban karban 2/4/2021 09:44
@Mr Toad
Girls and Boys play together until they are 13-15 then they naturally separate as relatively more girls lose interest in chess around that age.

And fact is also that the more the country is 'gender equal' the more girls give up chess as they are free to choose their way. In contrary in developing countries like India, China more girls play as chess is a way for them to change their lifes. I know it's difficult to accept but things are just that straightforward.

That's not exclude the possibility of showing up talent on Polgar's scale.
chessgod0 chessgod0 2/4/2021 07:44
@ Mr Toad

How many of the currently active women grandmasters and IMs will consent to ending sex segregated titles and tournaments? That is the only number that matters.

I bet it's a lot less than 50 pct.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 2/4/2021 07:37
Mr Toad Just now
@Karban, chessgogo
"Judit Polgár, the highest-rated woman of all time who at her peak in 2005 was ranked #8 in the world, wrote that she makes it a point to never separate girls and boys — nor award special prizes for girls — in the children’s tournaments that she organizes. “Meanwhile, national federations use their resources, and public subsidies are creating more female-only competitions,” Polgár wrote. “It is high time to consider the consequences of this segregation — because in the end, our goal must be that women and men compete with one another on an equal footing.”"

(Chessbase post "why-there-s-a-separate-world-chess-championship-for-women")
karban karban 2/4/2021 06:12
In every invitational tournament putting together players separated by 300 ELO would be seen as a fancy deed from organizers. Not sure what they want to achieve, except confirming the ELO gap by the results. Seriously, seeing women massacred here is so desirable? Or do they hope that higher ELO players will graciously give some draws away and thus proving that lower rated players donre not so badly? To be honest, it's also strange that higher rated participants signed up for this kind of exhibition too.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 2/4/2021 04:42
@Somewhat Experienced
Not sure what you are getting at here. 'Gender equality' and 'intellect' are two different different concepts. And what have hormones got to do with the price of fish?
chessgod0 chessgod0 2/4/2021 04:24
I wouldn't mind eliminating womens' titles and tournaments---it's women who oppose the end of sex segregation. Nothing can be done until women players change their minds on this.
Somewhat Experienced Somewhat Experienced 2/4/2021 02:59
"Four men and four women were invited to the tournament, ensuring gender equality."
So now you are measuring intellectual results by hormones????