Sofia R5: Topalov wins game five, leads 3:2

2/23/2009 – Gata Kamsky played the French with an isolated d-pawn, but was holding out well until move 35, when disaster struck in form of a blunder with a pawn loss. Veselin Topalov did not let the opportunity pass and netted a full point. The Bulgarian is now in the lead at 3.0:2:0, with three rounds to go. Our report today has tidbits from Sofia and GM commentary by Mihail Marin.

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The Kamsky-Topalov FIDE World Championship Qualifier is taking place from February 16th to 28th in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Match consists of eight games and if necessary tie-breaks. It has a prize find of US $250,000 which will be shared equally by the players. The winner qualifies for a World Championship Match against Viswanathan Anand, scheduled for later this year.

Tidbits from Sofia

Yuri Vasiliev of ChessPro mentions that a "glushilki" (electronic jamming devices) are installed in the auditorium ceiling in Sofia, at the insistence of Gata Kamsky's manager Emil Suovsky, and that there is a technician brought in by the Kamsky team to maintain "radio silence". Vasiliev mentions that he and Radislav Atanasov tried using their cell-phones to call friends, but it did not work. Good to know that none of the players will be able to make or take cell-phone calls during the games. "Well, that's life in our anti-computer times!" Yuri remarks.

GM Ian Rogers reports on Emil Sutovsky's remark that the organisation "do not even try to pretend they are neutral" – a comment, Rogers says, "which became more understandable when one entered the press room before the game to see a How Topalov was Robbed in Elista documentary about the 2006 world title match between Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik running on the video screen."

Emil Sutovsky denied rumors spread by Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov that Kamsky would be bringing in "an expert from the Mossad (Israel Intelligence Agency) to check the playing venue". Not so, said Sutovsky, Mossad currently has other more urgent things to do. The Kamsky team does have a very competent security expert named Alex...

Colours in game five? In the original contract rule 3.4.1 stated: "The draw for colors will be conducted during the opening ceremony. The colors shall be reversed after game 4. (The player getting the white color in game 1 shall play game 5 with the black color)." However after having black in game four Topalov had white in game five. Kamsky's manager Emil Sutovsky told us that the decision to alternate colours throughout the match was taken in November at the Olympiad in Dresden.

Round five report

Topalov,V (2796) - Kamsky,G (2725) [C07]
World Chess Challenge Sofia BUL (5), 23.02.2009 [Mihail Marin]

1.e4. After two unsuccessful attempts to break the Gruenfeld Defence, Topalov switches to the generally sharper king's pawn move. 1...e6. An opening surprise on the very first move! Despite his relatively wide opening repertoire, Kamsky had never played the French opening in a recorded game. 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2. Surprise for surprise! Topalov's main weapon against the French is 3.Nc3 . He had employed the text move in his youth frequently, but only twice over the past 15 years. 3...c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.Nxc6 Bxc6 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.c4 Bd6

The structure resembles that from the famous seventh game of the Candidate's match Fischer-Petrosian, in which a Paulsen Sicilian had been played. The only difference is that in the current game Black has managed to exchange the potentially "/portals/all/_for_legal_reasons.jpg" bishop. 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.exd5 exd5. General exchanges on d5 is the solution chosen by Fischer, too, but with a different idea. 12.0-0 Ne7

13.Nf3. Fischer provoked the exchange of queens with 13.Qa4+ Qd7 14.Qxd7+ Kxd7 and went on winning a model ending. In the current game, this would be a less effective plan. In the absence of the light-squared bishops, the black king feels safe in the centre, being ready for further centralization in case of additional simplification. 13...0-0 14.Qd3

This is the move that justifies Topalov's strategy. His queen is optimally placed here, keeping both wings under observation. It should be noticed that, if Fischer had refrained from the check on a4, his queen and bishop would have competed for the d3-square, causing him problems of coordination. At this height of the game, I had a strange feeling. After each move by Topalov, I tended to evaluate the position as +/=, but when Kamsky answered, my barometer dropped to = or even =/+. The position is probably level, but both opponents played strong moves, parrying the enemy threats and creating threats (in a more general sense) themselves. 14...Qd7. For the time being, the threat Ng5 is not dangerous because of ...Qf5. 15.Rd1 Rfd8. This is an illustrative move for Black's general plan in this phase of the game. He over-defends the d5-pawn, hoping that in the long run it will become more of a strength than a weakness. From this point of view, one important element is the invulnerability of the e7-knight. 16.Be3. Topalov played this after a long thought. White had other tempting, but less effective, possibilities. The immediate occupation of the d4-square with 16.Nd4 allows the activation of the bishop with 16...Be5 . If necessary, the bishop may retreat to f6.; 16.Bg5 is inaccurate for the same reason: 16...f6 17.Be3 Be5. 16...a5. A useful move, aiming to get rid of this potentially weak pawn with a5-a4 in case White plays b2-b3. The tempting 16...Nf5 , causes Black some tactical problems. True, the immediate capture on d5 is impossible because of ...Bxh2+, but after 17.Bg5! Black cannot play 17...f6? because of 18.Qxd5+ Kh8 19.Bf4 with a solid extra-pawn. 17.g3 h6 18.Bb6 Rdc8 19.Bd4

19...Bc5. Black is interested in exchanging the bishops for two main reasons. First of all, his king feels a bit unsafe under the pressure of the enemy bishop. After the bishop will have disappeared, there would be eliminated the slightest danger that the e7-knight is attacked somehow. However, exchanges in general are more than just the elimination of the respective pieces from the board. It is always one of the players who carries out the exchange and this usually causes significant modification of the piece placement and the general dynamics of the position. In our case, the obstinate pursue of the bishop along the d6-b4 diagonal will allow White take over the initiative. 19...a4 would have been an alternative and there is no obvious way for White to start a kingside attack. It is hard to say whether Black is worse after Kamsky manoeuvre, but I believe that around this moment he started playing superficially. Watching the video of the official site, I noticed that he was walking a lot during the first 30 moves or so, something he did not do in the previous games. It is easy to understand that he felt happy after the previous game and also that he felt no danger in the position of today, but this attitude may have caused him miss the critical moments of the game. I know how dangerous this whole situation is from my own experience, although at a completely different level, of course. 20.Bc3 Bb4 21.Be5 Bd6 22.Rd2 Bxe5 23.Nxe5. This is an illustration of my previous abstract comment. The exchange of bishops has improved the white knight's placement with gain of time. Although the knight may seem unstable in the centre, it will help White gain space on the kingside and is ready to jump to an excellent square, to d3. 23...Qd6. One of the consequences of the exchange is that the d6-square has become available to the queen, which makes this move look natural. However, the clearing of the 6th rank is an equally important transformation and, given the kingside problems experienced by Black in the game, 23...Qb7 , intending Ra6-e6 or Ra6-f6 is worth mentioning, for instance 24.Qf3 Rf8 25.Re1 Ra6 and the white queen is not stable on f3. 24.Re1 Rc7 25.Qf3

In the absence of the threat Ra6-f6, the white queen is very well placed here. 25...Rf8 26.Kg2. This looks like a good consolidating move, but it gives Black the time to arrange his kingside pawns in optimal way. Therefore, the immediate 26.h4!? may have been more precise. 26...Rb7?! Kamsky lets his chance slip away. 26...g6!? 27.h4 h5 would have absolved Black from any kingside problems. In certain endgames, this would make the difference between "/portals/all/_for_legal_reasons.jpg" and "lost". 27.h4! Qb4 28.Ree2 Qa4 29.b3 Qb4. Black has provoked the move b2-b3, but will never get to play a5-a4, which makes his queen manoeuvre look like a loss of time. 30.Nd3 Qd6 31.h5 Rc7 32.Nf4

White has regrouped in optimal way and Black will have to endure long lasting pressure. 32...d4? This move makes Black's position even more difficult, because it weakens the pawn and also the surrounding squares. 32...Rd8 would have been more solid. 33.Re4 Nc6. Black needs to defend the pawn from this square, which causes obvious problems of coordination, by obstructing the c7-rook. Besides, the knight is not too stable on c6. 34.Nd3 Rd8 35.Rc2

The pin is more unpleasant that may seem at first sight. Black's problem is that any exchange of rooks and queens would lead him closer to a knight ending, which would be dead lost because of the more centralzied white king and the possibility of creating an outside passed pawn on the b-file. 35...Nb4? "/portals/all/_for_legal_reasons.jpg" is a famous quote from Dr. Tarrasch. Kamsky's last move is a terrible blunder. 36.Nxb4 axb4 37.Rxd4! Qf8? He may have overlooked that 37...Rxc2? is impossible because of 38.Rxd6 Rxd6 39.Qa8+ Kh7 40.Qe4+ winning the c2-rook.; Still, 37...Qxd4 would have been more stubborn than the game continuation, although after 38.Rxc7 Qd5 the rook ending is probably lost because of White's advantage of space on the kingside. 38.Rxd8 Qxd8 39.Rxc7 Qxc7 40.Qa8+ Kh7 41.Qe4+ Kg8 42.Qxb4

The game is basically over. White has two extra-pawns and there is no perpetual check for Black. 42...Qc6+ 43.Kg1 Qc1+ 44.Kh2 Qc2 45.Qe1 Kf8 46.a3 Qb2 47.Qb4+ Kg8 48.Kg2 Qe5 49.Qg4 Qb2 50.Qc8+ Kh7 51.Qc4 Qxa3 52.Qxf7 Qb4 53.Qc4 Qb7+ 54.Kg1 Qf3 55.g4 1-0. [Click to replay]

Do you speak Romanian – i.e. are you from Romania or Moldova, or are you for some reason learning the language? I that case you can read Mihail Marin's commentary in Romanian. The chess site "Sah cu Ceausescu" (nothing to do with a distasteful historical figure) is publishing translations of these commentaries, including JavaScript replay. This is naturally taking place with the permission of ChessBase and the author, GM Mihail Marin (photo left by Janis Nisii), who happens to be Romanian. You can find the games here:


Kamsky, Gata
Topalov, Veselin


Monday February 16: 18:00h Opening
GM Commentary
Tuesday February 17: 15:00h Game 1
Wednesday February 18: 15:00h Game 2
Thursday February 19 Rest day    
Friday February 20: 15:00h Game 3
Saturday February 21: 15:00h Game 4
Sunday February 22 Rest day


February 23: 15:00h Game 5
Tuesday February 24: 15:00h Game 6
Wednesday February 25 Rest day
Thursday February 26: 15:00h Game 7
Friday February 27: 15:00h Game 8
Saturday February 28 Tiebreaks


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