Six wins and one draw is a phenomenal result in a quest for a world chess title. This is what Veselin Topalov scored in the first half of the FIDE World Championship in San Luis, Argentina. The Bulgarian grandmaster cooled off in the second half, drawing the first three games. Still, with four games to go after yesterday's round, Topalov seems untouchable, leading his nearest rival, Peter Svidler of Russia, by two points.
Fortune goes with the brave ones and Topalov creates his own luck. He loves unbalancing the material on the board, forcing his opponents to find strong continuations move after move. The championship could have gone differently for him had he not escaped from a worse position in the first round against Hungary's Peter Leko in the English Attack Sicilian.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 b5 8.Qd2 b4 9.Na4 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 d5 11.exd5 Nxd5 12.Bc4 N7f6 13.Bg5 Qc7 14.Bxd5 Nxd5 15.Rhe1 Bb7 16.Qe2 Qd6 17.Kb1 (The computers suggested 17.f4! with the idea of undermining the pawn on e6 with the advance f4-f5. First, 17...Nxf4 is not playable because of 18.Qg4 Nd5 19.Nxe6! and white wins. Secondly, 17...g6 does not prevent 18.f5!, for example 18...gxf5 19.Nxe6! fxe6 20.Qh5+ Kd7 21.Qf7+ Kc8 22.Rxe6 Qd7 23.Nb6+ Nxb6 24.Rxd7 Nxd7 25.Qe8+ Kc7 26.Bf4+ wins; and after 18...Bg7 19.Nxe6! fxe6 20.Nc5! white wins either after 20...Bc8 21.Nxe6 Kf7 22.Qf3; or after 20...Qxc5 21.Qxe6+ Kf8 22.fxg6 hxg6 23.Rf1+ and white mates soon. The immediate17...Be7 loses to 18.Nf5!, but waiting one move, for example 17...Rc8 18.f5 Be7, is possible, although after 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.fxe6 0-0 21.exf7+ Qxf7 22.Qe6, white is a clear pawn up.) 17...h6 18.Bh4 Nf4 19.Qf2 Qc7 20.Nf5? (White misses 20.Nb6!, for example 20...Rb8 21.Nf5 Bc6 22.Qd4 Rh7 23.Bg3 g5 24.Nc4 Rd8 25.Ncd6+ Bxd6 26.Nxd6+ Kf8 27.Qc5 Kg8 28.Ne4 and wins; or 20...Qxb6 21.Nxe6 Qxe6 22.Qa7! is a pretty winning deflection.) 20...g5 21.Bg3 Rc8 22.Qd4 Rg8 23.c3? (By allowing the queen exchange, Leko was doomed.) 23...Rd8! 24.Qxd8+ Qxd8 25.Rxd8+ Kxd8 26.Ne3 Bc6 27.Nb6 bxc3 28.bxc3 Bg7 29.Bxf4 gxf4 30.Nd1 Bb5 31.a4 Bd3+ 32.Kc1 Kc7 33.a5 Bh8 34.Kd2 Bb5 35.Rg1 Bc6 36.Ke2 Be5 37.c4 Bd4 38.Nf2 Bc3 39.Ne4 Bxa5 40.c5 f5. White resigned.
Another key game in the first half of the championship was Svidler-Topalov. Winning that Najdorf Sicilian game would draw the Russian even with Topalov, a loss would set them apart.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Bg7 10.h3 Ne5 11.Nf5 Bxf5 12.exf5 Nbc6 13.Nd5 e6 14.Ne3 Qa5+! 15.c3 Nf3+! (A piercing combination that is sufficient for a draw. Topalov picked it up from a game of his second, Ivan Cheripanov. It was also suggested by the computer program Shredder.) 16.Qxf3 Bxc3+ 17.Kd1 Qa4+! (Shredder's idea.) 18.Nc2?! (White could have settled for a draw with 18.Kc1, because black does not have anything better than 18...Bxb2+ 19.Kxb2 Qb4+ 20.Kc1 Nd4 21.Qd1 and now 21...Qc3+ 22.Kb1 Qb4+ is a perpetual check.) 18...Bxb2 19.fxe6 fxe6 20.Qb3 Qxb3 21.axb3 Bxa1 22.Nxa1 (The corner square is the worst square for a knight. As long as it remains there, black has better chances with a rook and two pawns against white's two light pieces.)
22...Ke7 (Up to now all this could have been prepared by a computer program.) 23.Bd3 Rac8 24.Re1 (It was a good time to bring the knight back to the game. After 24.Nc2!? Na5 25.Re1! white gets a counterplay, since 25...Nxb3 is met by 26.Bf5! and after 25...Rc3 26.Bf5! e5 27.Bxe5! equalizes easily.) 24...Nd4 25.f3 (Too slow. Again white should have challenged black with 25.Nc2 Nxb3 26.Bf5!) 25...Rc3 26.Kd2 Rhc8 27.Rb1?! (White should have won the exchange with 27.Bc4! R8xc4 28.bxc4 Rxc4 29.Re4 with a good game.) 27...R3c5 28.b4 Rd5 29.Bf2 Kd7 30.Be3 Nf5 31.Bf2 Nh4?! (Topalov's fighting spirit takes over the game and he makes a bold and risky attempt to win. The repetition of moves 31...Nd4 32.Be3 would be too boring for him.) 32.Bxh4 gxh4 33.Nc2 h5 34.Re1?! (Svidler misses the counterplay with 34.b5!, for example 34...axb5 35.Ne3 Rdc5 36.Bxb5+ Kc7 37.Rb4; or 34...a5 35.Ra1! b6 36.Ra4 Ra8 37.Rxh4 a4 38.Na3 with a good game.) 34...Rg8 35.Kc3?! (A tactical defense that almost worked.) 35...a5! (After 35...Rxg2 36.Ne3 forks both black rooks.)
36.Bc4? (A decisive mistake. White still had a good chance to draw the game after 36.bxa5! Rxg2 37.Nd4!) 36...Rc8! (A deadly pin that wins another pawn.) 37.Ne3 (White also loses either after 37.bxa5 Rdc5 38.Ne3 d5; or after 37.Kb3 a4+ 38.Kc3 b5.) 37...Rb5! 38.Kd3 Rxb4 39.Bxe6+?! (White is desperate, but leaving black with two connected passed pawns on the queenside is hopeless anyway.) 39...Kxe6 40.Nc2+ Kd5 41.Nxb4+ axb4 42.Re7 (After 42.Re4 Rc3+ 43.Kd2 Rc4 wins.) 42...b5 43.Rh7 Rc3+ (The immediate 43...Rc4 was more precise.) 44.Kd2 Rc4 (After 45.Rxh5+ Kc6 46.g3 hxg3 47.Rg5 b3 48.Rxg3 Kc5! 49.Rg1 Kb4 the king helps to promote the b-pawn.) White resigned.
Solution to today's composition by A. Hildebrand (White: Kd3,Bd7,P:c6,e6; Black: Kd8,P:c7,e7): 1.Bc8! Kxc8 2.Ke4 Kd8 3.Kf5 Ke8 4.Kg6 Kf8 5.Kh7 and White wins.