Sofia R7: Topalov beats Kamsky, wins candidates match

by ChessBase
2/26/2009 – Veselin Topalov sacrificed a pawn in a Tarrasch, which Gata Kamsky took. By move 25 it looked like the American GM had winning chances. But in time trouble he blew a number of opportunities and went down to the counterplay of his opponent. That means Topalov has 4.5:2.5 points and is the winner of the eight-game match. Final report with commentary by GM 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.

Round seven report

Topalov,V (2796) - Kamsky,G (2725) [C07]
World Chess Challenge Sofia BUL (7), 26.02.2009 [Mihail Marin]

1.e4 e6. Kamsky's opening strategy in this match can be described quite simply: play on dark squares against 1.d4 and on light squares against 1.e4. From psychologycal point of view, it is interesting that he does not shy away from repeating the opening that caused him a defeat in the fifth game. 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5. Remarkably, it is Topalov who deviates from the previous game with white, despite the favourable result. 4...Qxd5 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 Qd6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Re1 Be7 9.Nb3 Nc6 10.Nbxd4 Nxd4 11.Nxd4 0-0 12.c3 Bd7 13.Qf3

This kind of position is difficult to evaluate on the basis of general principles. It all depends on piece activity and concrete details, since the centre is wide open and structures are mobile. 13...Qb6. This is a new move. Previously 13...Qc7 had been played. The placement of the queen on b6 and the whole plan based on a7-a5-a4 is typical for the lines with a black Isolani on d5, resulting after 4...exd5 instead of 4...Qxd5. 14.Bb3 a5 15.Be3 Bc5 16.Rad1 a4 17.Bc2 Qxb2

When sacrificing the b2-pawn for the sake of piece activity, Topalov might have been inspired by a famous game Karpov-Vaganian, Skopje 1976. Karpov, too, ignored Black's queenside plan and obtained a decisive attack on the other wing. In that game, Black had played ...exd5, though. 18.Bg5 Nd5 19.c4 Bxd4 20.Qd3 f5 21.Qxd4 Qxc2 22.cxd5 Qxa2

Despite White's strong centralisation and the weakness of the dark squares from the kingside, the situation is anything but clear. Kamsky's last move defends the e6-pawn and clears the path for the a4-pawn. Speaking about Kamsky's repertoire as a whole, we can notice certain similarity with one of the main lines of the Gruenfeld (8.Rb1, 10...Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qxa2). White's initiative in the centre and on the queenside looks dangerous, but the a-pawn can become a fast runner. 23.Qb6 a3 24.Be7. At this height of the game, Kamsky was getting short of time already. This explains why Topalov rejected the line 24.dxe6 Bc6 , when Black would stabilise the position, with good chances to reach the 40th move without any significant damage. 24...Rfe8 25.Qd6

25...Ba4. I am pretty sure that, even with lots of time on the clock, many grandmasters would choose precisely this move, which, according to the engines, spoils Black's advantage. Neither 25...Kf7!? 26.Rxe6; nor 25...Bc8!? look too inspiring for humans, but the computer evaluates the position as close to winning for Black. I suspect that deeper analysis will reveal that humans are right at least in one of the cases, but this is beyond the scope of an express report. 26.Qxe6+ Kh8 27.Ra1 Qc4

28.Rec1!? It is hard to give a final evaluation to this move. Objectively speaking, it may be said that it leads White on the verge of defeat, but from psychologycal point of view it defines an approach that eventually won the game for White. In severe time trouble, it would be simply impossible for Kamsky to find his way through the highly irrational variations. After the safer 28.Rxa3 a draw would be the most probable result, for instance 28...Bb3 (the elegant 28...Bc6?, relying on the weakness of the first rank, is refuted by the echo-move 29.Bf6!! after which it appears that the eighth rank is weak, too!) 29.Rxa8 Rxa8 30.Qxf5 Qxd5=. 28...Bc2! After this move, Black has a very dangerous plan: a3-a2 followed by b7-b5-b4-b3-b2... 29.Qd7 a2 30.d6 b5 31.Qb7

It may seem that White is one tempo ahead in the fierce pawn race... 31...Reb8? Kamsky moves his rook one move too early... After the correct 31...b4! 32.d7 he needs to play precisely 32...Reb8! in order to keep the b4-pawn defended. After 33.d8Q+ Rxd8 34.Bxd8 Rxd8 followed by b3 White is in trouble. 32.Qc7!

Suddenly, Black's pieces are hanging. 32...Rc8?! This move loses the game, but with little time left on the clock and with the clear feeling that something went wrong in a favourable position, it is almost impossible to find the saving move 32...Bd3!! The following more or less forced variation leads to a draw by perpetual: 33.Rxc4 bxc4 34.Qxb8+ Rxb8 35.h4 Rb1+ 36.Kh2 Rxa1 37.d7 Rh1+ 38.Kg3! h5 39.d8Q+ Kh7 40.Bf6! gxf6 41.Qe7+. 33.Qxc4 Rxc4 34.d7 Black is just lost now. 34...Bb1. Kamsky may have relied on 34...b4 , when 35.d8=Q? is met by 35...Rxd8 36.Bxd8 b3, overlooking the intermediate 35.Rxa2! which wins immediately. 35.Rd1 Kg8 36.d8Q+ Rxd8 37.Bxd8 Bc2 38.Rdc1 b4 39.Rxa2 b3 40.Ra8 Kf7 41.Rb8. Time trouble is over and Kamsky played a few more moves by pure inertia. 41...Ke6 42.Re1+ Kd5 43.Be7 Ra4 44.Bf8 Ra7 45.h4. 1-0.

A tragical game for Kamsky and, to a certain extent, a tragical match, too. We could say that he lost two games because of playing too slowly and another one because of playing too fast in the critical phase. This would be only half of the truth, though. One should also praise Topalov's excellent practical abilities, which allowed him take advantage of most of the favourable moments. Moves like 21...Rc7!! from the second game and the risks he took in the last game make him an entirely deserved winner of this hard fought match. [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:

Final standings

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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