Game 10: Analysis by GM Vladimir Belov

 Catalan Opening E08

1.d4 Nf6 (Topalov rejects traditional Slav Defense) 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3. I will not shock you saying that the Catalan is one of the favorite openings of Vladimir.

4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7. Veselin plays it safe – the lines associated with taking on c4 and holding an extra pawn are sensible under different match circumstances (although the opinions on the subject may vary).

6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Bf4 Nbd7 9.Qc2 a5. It is not easy to assess pluses and minuses of this move. Earlier Black continued 9...Nh5 and 9...b6.

10.Rd1 Nh5 11.Bc1 b5. With a couple of pawn advances, Topalov once again forces his opponent consuming time in the opening. However, in this case I am not sure about objective strength of his idea. Vladimir reacted confidently and strongly.

12.cxd5 cxd5 13.e4 dxe4 (otherwise the e-pawn moves forward, puzzling a poor knight on h5) 14.Qxe4 Rb8. The alternative – 14...Ra7 – looks weaker, because after 15.Qe2 the b5-pawn is attacked.

15.Qe2 Nhf6. Black loses a pawn after 15...Bb7 16.Ne5! Nhf6 (16...Bxg2 is even worse – 17.Kxg2 Nhf6 18.Nc6) 17.Bxb7 Rxb7 18.Nc6 Qe8 19.Nxa5.

16.Bf4! It is difficult to abstain from making such move, especially with tempo. Actually, 16.Ne5 looks even more tempting, albeit it is not obvious whether White can claim any advantage in this case: 16...Nxe5 17.dxe5 Nd5 18.Nd2 (18.Bxd5 exd5 19.Nc3 d4 20.Be3 Bc5 21.Ne4 Ba7 leads nowhere) 18...Bb7 – Black arranges his pieces with comfort, and meets 19.Qxb5 with 19...Ne3!

16...Rb6 17.Ne5 (the knight licks his lips in anticipation of coming to c6) 17...Nd5. The only sensible move. One wants to add another adjective, ‘sufficient’, but White’s reply revives the struggle.

18.Bxd5! It is scary to part with a bishop, having his kingside weakened, but in this case Kramnik shows concrete approach to the position.

18...exd5 19.Nc3 Nf6. It is late for Black to care about even amount of pawns at the board. However, obtaining decent compensation is realistic. For instance, interesting is 19...Nxe5 20.dxe5 d4 21.Be3 (21.Nxb5? Qd5 22.Nxd4 Bb7 23.f3 Bc5) 21...dxe3 22.Rxd8 exf2+ 23.Qxf2 Bxd8, and the bishop pair combined with White’s weakened king give Black good counterchances.

20.Nxb5 Ba6 21.a4 Ne4!? 22.Rdc1 Qe8 (Veselin prepares to regain a pawn by capturing on b5, but will it solve Black’s problems?) 23.Rc7. For conscience sake, let us examine other possibilities. 23.f3 Nd6 24.Qd2 Nxb5 (24...Bxb5 25.axb5 Rxb5 26.Rxa5 Ne4 fails to 27.fxe4 Bb4 28.Qe2 Rxa5 29.Nc6 Ra4 30.Qb5+–) 25.Qxa5 Bd8 (it is early to give away the material: 25...Nxd4 26.Qxb6 Ne2+ 27.Kh1 Nxc1 28.Qxa6) 26.axb5 Bxb5, and Black’s compensation is obvious. It is interesting to consider a cultured-looking 23.Rc2!?, protecting the b2-pawn, which becomes important after mass exchanges on b5: 23...Bxb5 (more tenacious is 23...Nd6 24.Nxd6 Bxd6 25.Qf3 Bxe5 26.Bxe5, and drawing tendencies of opposite-colored bishops improves Black’s mood) 24.axb5 Qxb5 25.Qxb5 Rxb5 26.Nc6 with clear advantage.

 23...Bd8 24.Ra7. It is difficult to find adequate reply to 24.Rd7. In my opinion, the best try is 24…Re6. Bad is 24...f6 25.Qg4 g6 26.Qh3 h5 27.Rxd8 Qxd8 28.Nxg6 with undisputable advantage to White. He is also much better after 24...Nf6 25.Ra7 Bxb5 26.axb5 Rxb5 (26...Qxb5 27.Qxb5 Rxb5 28.Nc6 Bb6 29.Rb7 Rxb2 30.Bc1 Rb3 31.Ba3 Bxd4 32.Rxb3 Bxa1 33.Bxf8 Kxf8 34.Ra3) 27.Ra8.

After 24…Re6 one may continue 25.Qf3 (25.Rxd5? Nf6 26.Rc5 Nd7 27.Rcc1 f6–+, and if 25.Ra7, then 25...Bxb5 26.Qxb5 Bb6) 25...Rxe5 26.Rxd8 Qxd8 27.Bxe5 Qd7, and White’s extra pawn does not tell.

24...f6?? We have come to the most astonishing and exciting moment of today’s encounter. After the game Topalov was unable to explain this huge blunder, which immediately determined the outcome. Kramnik was also perplexed. He had several ways of refuting the Bulgarian’s careless pawn push.

As both grandmasters pointed out, Black should play 24...Bxb5 25.axb5 Qxb5 26.Qxb5 Rxb5, and White enjoys slight initiative in the ending. It evaporates after a couple of accurate moves: 27.Nd7 Re8 28.Ra8 (on 28.Re1 Black must see 28...g5! 29.Bc1 g4) 28...Rxb2 29.Re1 (29.Bc7 is useless due to 29...Rb7) 29...Rb7 30.Nc5 Rbe7 31.f3 Nd6! 32.Rb1 Bc7 33.Bxd6 Bxd6 34.Rxa5, and the game ends in a logical way.

25.Nd7. White can also play 25.Qg4 Bb7 26.Bh6 Qe7 27.Nd7 Rf7 28.Nxb6 Bxb6 29.Rxb7 Qxb7 30.Be3 – Black is a pawn down in an inferior position.

25...Rf7 26.Nxb6 Rxa7 27.Nxd5 Rd7 28.Ndc3.

28...Rxd4? A banal blunder – Black loses a piece! On the other hand, the move was played instantly! White’s progress could be slowed down a bit by 28...Re7.

29.Re1. Prolonging the pleasure. Primitive 29.f3! wins a piece: 29...Bb6 (29...Nd6 30.Qxe8+ Nxe8 31.Nxd4, and White’s extra rook gives him reasonable winning chances) 30.Kg2, and Black’s activity lasted exactly one move.

29...f5 30.Qc2. Taking two: 30.f3! Bb6 31.Kg2 with the only difference that Black can play two more moves: 31...Rxa4 32.fxe4 Rb4 33.Nd6, and the story ends.

30...Rb4 31.Nd5. For the third time Vladimir refuses winning a piece (31.f3! Bb6+ 32.Kg2), preferring to sharpen his technique in converting an extra exchange.

31...Rxb5 32.axb5 Qxb5 33.Nc7 Qc4.

34.Qd1. An elegant move which pleased the crowd, albeit 34.Qxc4+ Bxc4 35.Ra1 Bf6 36.Rxa5 Bxb2 37.Rxf5 was simpler.

34...Bxc7 35.Qd7 h6 36.Qxc7 Qb4 37.Qb8+ Qxb8 38.Bxb8 Nd2 39.Ra1 g5 40.f4! (confidently utilizing the advantage) 40...Nb3 41.Ra3 Bc4 42.Bc7 g4 43.Bxa5. Black resigns.

It is hard to explain such a breakdown of Topalov, who looked playing at full capacity recently. Let us give Kramnik his due for breaking his sad streak with a win.

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