Game 9: Analysis by GM Vladimir Belov
It transpires that Topalov (and his team) approached the match with greater stock of interesting and fresh
ideas. Maybe Kramnik is just being unlucky, coming into one opening surprise after another. As Vladimir himself put
it, “it is difficult to play good chess and achieve favorable results by getting bad opening positions”. Let us not
rush with conclusions – there are three games left to play.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3. Veselin is satisfied with the course of events in the Game 7, and he is ready to
repeat the variation.
4...Bf5 (being led by the opponent is depressing, and Vladimir is first to change the tune) 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4. The
only way to get an advantage in this line.
6...Bg6 (sometimes Black plays 6...Be4 to provoke 7.f3, but it is difficult to say who benefits from it) 7.Nxg6
hxg6. This position is well-studied and not uncommon in practice of the leading players. There are a number of
plans in it, but Topalov again finds a fresh idea.
8.a3. First mysterious pawn move, and it is not a novelty. White prepares to build a pawn chain by ñ5-b4. Other
continuations are also plausible. Here is how Kramnik handled this position as White: 8.g3 Nbd7 9.Bg2 dxc4 10.Qe2
Nb6 11.0-0 Be7 12.Rd1 Nfd5 13.e4 Nb4 14.Be3 0-0 15.a3 Na6 16.d5 exd5 17.exd5 Qe8 18.Bxb6 axb6 19.Re1 Bf6 20.Qxc4 b5
21.Rxe8 bxc4 22.Rxa8 Rxa8, and a draw was agreed soon, Kramnik-Anand, Frankfurt 2000).
8...Nbd7 9.g3. At the first Russian Superfinal, two strong grandmasters with rhyming surnames discussed the
difference between 9.g3 and 9.h3 after their game. Of course, Topalov’s idea requires the pawn on g3.
Formally White played a novelty on the previous move, but the only conceptual innovation in this game is 10.f4.
With this move he shows fresh approach to the position. As we found out at the press conference, the idea was
invented by Francisco Vallejo. White gains space and prevents a standard e6-e5 break. Veselin wants now to play
c4-c5 to establish greater control over the situation. Black must open the game – but how?
10...dxc4. According to all chess laws, opening the game favors the side with the bishop pair, but here we have
an exception – Black should clearly avoid falling under positional pressure.
11.Bxc4 0-0 12.e4 b5?!
Neither spectators nor the players liked this move. Kramnik said he suspected it being wrong, but could not find
anything satisfactory. One could recommend the following: 12...Nb6 13.Be2 c5 14.Be3 Qc8!? (14...Rc8 leads to an
inferior ending after 15.0-0 cxd4 16.Bxd4 Bc5 17.Bxc5 Rxc5 18.Qxd8 Rxd8 19.Rfd1) 15.Rc1 Rd8, and the position is
difficult to assess.
13.Be2 b4 14.axb4 Bxb4 15.Bf3 (there is no reason to sacrifice more: 15.0-0 Bxc3 16.bxc3 Nxe4, although White’s
compensation is obvious) 15...Qb6?
This looks like the only mistake in the game. And this was enough! After the game I got an impression that
Vladimir was too pessimistic assessing his chances after the opening. White’s novelty had a tremendous
psychological effect. Meanwhile, there was no reason to throw the towel, and even more, the complications after
correct 15...c5 are by no means fruitless for Black. For example, 16.e5 (the Russian was worried about this move)
is strongly met by 16...cxd4! (an interesting intermediate move overlooked by mighty Kramnik) 17.Qxd4 Nd5 18.Bxd5
(maybe White should go for irrational 18.Ke2) 18...Bc5. White will have to suffer for a pawn, e.g., 19.Qe4 exd5
20.Qxd5 (20.Nxd5 Nf6!) 20...Qe7 21.Kf1 Nb6 22.Qe4 Rad8 with lively game.
16.0-0 e5?! This is Kramnik’s point. However, White confidently holds his center, after which his strategic
advantage becomes even more significant. Better is 16...Rfd8 17.Be3 c5 – this line favors White, but his advantage
is incomparable to what happened in the game – 18.e5 Bxc3 19.bxc3 Nd5 20.Bxd5 exd5 21.Qg4, etc.
17.Be3 Rad8. Maybe Vladimir just missed that after 17...exd4 White has an intermediate 18.Na4, preventing the
bishop trade on c5.
18.Na4. After the game Kramnik said that he continued to resist only because it was inconvenient to resign so
early. Is such a mood at the decisive stage of the world championship match acceptable? Although the position is
18...Qb8. Maybe Black should have placed his queen more actively: 18...Qb5 19.Qc2 exf4, although after 20.Be2
Qb7 21.Rxf4 Rde8 22.Bf3 he is in trouble.
19.Qc2 exf4 20.Bxf4 Qb7 21.Rad1. One cannot but note practical attitude of the Bulgarian grandmaster. Having got
a dream position, get does not try hard finding objectively strongest moves. His play can be called good, confident
and quick. This allows him putting Kramnik into time pressure.
21...Rfe8 22.Bg5 Be7 23.Kh1 Nh7. The following maneuver did not bring Black any relief. Despite his position
already being quite desperate, 23...Nf8 24.Nc3 Ne6 25.Be3 Bb4 is clearly more tenacious.
24.Be3. Played at lightning speed. Veselin is not tempted by the c6-pawn – 24.Bxe7 Rxe7 25.e5 Rc8 26.Rc1.
24...Bg5 25.Bg1 Nhf8 26.h4! (questioning the bishop) 26...Be7 27.e5 Nb8 28.Nc3. There was another
self-suggesting idea 28.Qc4, planning to hit on f7 and announce a killing double-check by Bd5. The attack on the
h-file deserved attention on the next moves, too.
28...Bb4 29.Qg2. During the game it looked like Topalov prepares to attack the king: 29.Ne4 Ne6 30.h5 gxh5
(30...g5 31.h6) 31.Qh2! Nd7 32.Qxh5, and Black is defenseless.
29...Qc8. 29...Ne6 loses to 30.d5 cxd5 31.Nxd5 Qb5 32.Be2 Qa5 33.Bc4 followed by Ra1, and the Black’s queen
faces severe difficulties.
30.Rc1 Bxc3 31.bxc3 Ne6 32.Bg4 (the Bulgarian arranges his pieces for a decisive battle with predictable
outcome) 32...Qc7 33.Rcd1 Nd7 34.Qa2! Nb6 35.Rf3 Nf8 36.Rdf1. It looks like Black is more impatient to see this
36...Re7 37.Be3 Nh7 (37...Ne6 is also replied by 38.Rxf7) 38.Rxf7!
38...Nd5 (38...Rxf7 39.Rxf7 Qxf7 40.Be6) 39.R7f3. One could display computer cruelty:
39.Be6! Kh8 40.Bg5! and Black collapses. However, quoting a famous joke, ‘this was also good’. Black
Concluding, one can say the match situation has reversed. Had I not witnessed the game, I would never believe it
was Vladimir Kramnik who played Black. I don’t think such play can be explained by Topalov’s team being more
efficient is cooking opening surprises. As we saw, Kramnik had a couple of interesting ideas at the early stage of
the game… Now we can only hope for some real struggle at the finish.