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    Entries in Veselin Topalov (22)

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    Norway Chess 2015, Final Round: Topalov Draws, Wins the Tournament; Hammer Beats Carlsen

    Another exciting super-tournament is now history, and the winner of the Norway Chess tournament of 2015 is the resurgent Veselin Topalov. Coming into the round he only needed a draw with Viswanathan Anand to clinch clear first, and he got it with ease as they played a known variation resulting in a draw by repetition.

    As Anand could have taken (clear) first place with a win, it would be easy to criticize this choice. But this was not a match and he was not in a zero-sum game situation. If he lost - and he had the black pieces - he would slip from at worst a three-way tie for second to potentially fourth place. Moreover, Anand's style and repertoire with black is generally classical and not based on strategically risky lines against 1.d4 like the King's Indian or the Modern Benoni. So while it would have been entertaining for us as spectators to see him go for broke in the last round, it's hard to criticize his decision to bring a successful tournament to a conclusion and to see if anyone would join him in a tie for second, half a point behind the winner.

    Two players had their chances, and one succeeded. If Hikaru Nakamura could defeat Levon Aronian with black, he'd catch Anand; likewise if Anish Giri could upend Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces. Remarkably, both had their chances, but only Nakamura reeled in the full point. Giri drew and finished in clear fourth, a point and a half ahead of Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Vachier-Lagrave drew with Alexander Grischuk.)

    The fifth game featured two players having bad tournaments, but bad in different ways and for different reasons. The player with the white pieces, Jon Ludwig Hammer, was alone in last place coming into the last round with just two points out of eight. This wasn't really a shock, as he was the lowest-rated player by a considerable margin, but as he had squandered many opportunities along the way he still had serious grounds for regret. The other player was the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. His score of 3.5/8 was terrible by his standards, but it seemed that he was playing his way into form after the catastrophe in round 1 and his getting clobbered in rounds 2 and 4. He had won convincingly in rounds 5 and 8, and looked good in round 6 as well even though that game only finished in a draw. With a win over his countryman and regular second, Carlsen could at least end the tournament with an even score and +3 over the last five rounds.

    But Hammer had his own ambitions. Before and during the tournament he offered two statements about what a good tournament would look like. The (probably) more serious statement was that he wanted to score at least three points; more jocularly, he said he'd be willing to lose every game as long as he beat Carlsen. In the end, then, it was a success: he got exactly three points out of nine and beat Carlsen - without having to lose the remaining games. He didn't even come in clear last place, but finished tied for last with Aronian, only half a point behind Carlsen and Grischuk.

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the final standings (the player listed first in case of a tie had the better tiebreak score):

    • 1. Topalov 6.5 (of 9)
    • 2-3. Anand, Nakamura 6
    • 4. Giri 5.5
    • 5-6. Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave 4
    • 7-8. Carlsen, Grischuk 3.5
    • 9-10. Aronian, Hammer 3

    Next stop: Dortmund, which starts on Saturday.

    Monday
    Jun222015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 6: Topalov Wins Again!

    The score (5.5/6!) and the all-time high rating suggest that the Veselin Topalov of the mid-2000s is back. Is he? I have my doubts, but he's still playing at a very high level and showing his best chess in at least the past five years. In today's round 6 action he won, though with an undue amount of help from Alexander Grischuk. Not all the "credit" goes to Grischuk, however. Topalov obtained an edge with Black, but 16.Nb5 was a gift horse without any hidden soldiers inside. (Perhaps next Grischuk could have offered a large wooden badger...) Topalov accepted the gift and won the game, though it took the further error (which should not be thought of as a gift) 28.Rxg3 to turn Black's advantage into a decisive one.

    There was one other winner on the day, and that was Viswanathan Anand. The ex-champ is looking like he could be headed for a third match with Carlsen, with his convincing victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave being only the latest bit of evidence. It seemed that Vachier-Lagrave was poorly prepared for Anand's opening choice, There was an earlier game between David Navara and the aforementioned Grischuk in the same line and in which the same Bxh6 sac occurred, and there too White won. Maybe MVL was overly trusting of his computer's evaluation (see my notes for more details) and maybe he missed the earlier game because it came about through a slightly different move order. Whatever the story, Black had to be ready for Anand's 19.Bxh6, and he wasn't. The result was a smooth victory for White.

    Magnus Carlsen needed a win to remain mathematically alive in the race for first, and with the white pieces against Hikaru Nakamura he couldn't have picked a more convenient opponent - at least in theory, based on their lopsided score in classical chess. (It's something like 11-0 in Carlsen's favor, not counting draws.) Carlsen was slightly careless in the opening, allowing Nakamura to equalize fully, but as as is usually the case in Carlsen's games that wasn't the end of the story. Carlsen managed to win a pawn and get his fans (and the engines) revved up about his chances. This was only an illusion, however. Nakamura was able to reach a rook and three vs. rook and four scenario with all the pawns on the same side and the defender's pawns arranged in the ideal f7/g6/h5 formation. The game went 95 moves, of which the last 50 or so were unnecessary. (Carlsen was right to try; I'm merely noting that he never came close to posing Black any real problems.)

    The other two games were drawn. Fabiano Caruana had a huge advantage early in the game against Jon Ludwig Hammer, but slipped up and let his opponent escape. Anish Giri tested Levon Aronian in the razor-sharp Vienna Variation (an important sub-line within the Ragozin), and Aronian had done his homework. As often happens in such openings, a series of complications suddenly resolves after a series of exchanges, resulting in a drawn, playless ending.

    The games, with my notes to the first three games, are here. The tournament website is here, and these are the pairings for round 7:

    • Nakamura (4) - Grischuk (2)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Carlsen (2)
    • Aronian (2.5) - Anand (4)
    • Hammer (1.5) - Giri (3.5)
    • Topalov (5.5) - Caruana (2.5)

    Monday
    Jun222015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 5: Topalov Wins Again; Carlsen, Aronian Win Their First

    The Norway Chess tournament has passed the halfway point, and Veselin Topalov continues his success. When he's not playing Norwegians, he wins cleanly; when he does, he hangs in there and waits for miracles to happen. And that's what happened in round 5. Topalov was in all kinds of trouble with Black against Jon Ludwig Hammer. Maybe he was never flat out lost, but it was close! Topalov finally took over the advantage from move 42 on, yet Hammer defended well and was on the verge of a draw after 73 moves. All he needed to do was play 74.f5, a move that any club player could find and that requires calculating a grand total of two moves ahead. Instead, Hammer played 74.Kc6?? and had to resign after the obvious 74...Ke6. A blind spot for Hammer?

    Yes, but perhaps it was a literal blind spot. It was suggested, very plausibly, that Hammer didn't really look up when Topalov played 73...Ke7 and assumed that Black had played 73...Bb8 instead. In that case, 74.Kc6 would have been the only move. Hammer's haste cost him the game, and completely unnecessarily, especially since he had 15 minutes left on his clock when that happened.

    With the win Topalov leads the second-placed Hikaru Nakamura by a point with an impressive score of 4.5/5. Nakamura started the round half a point behind, but after a draw with Viswanathan Anand the gap doubled. Anand is a further half a point back, tied for 3rd-4th with Anish Giri, who in turn drew comfortably with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

    The other two games finished with a winner, and like Hammer-Topalov those victories had a tinge of the accidental to them. In fact, all three games were decided by hasty moves, though in the two games we haven't yet described that haste was due to time trouble. Levon Aronian had an opening edge against Fabiano Caruana, but Caruana had equalized and the game was headed for a draw as the first time control neared its end. 39...Qg6 would have sealed the deal, giving Caruana full, safe equality and the ability to reach the second time control without any big worries. Instead, he thought he spotted an opportunity and quickly played 39...Qxg3+. It's a nice little tactic, and...it loses. Black wins a pawn for the moment, but White's king achieves maximum activity and ransacks all of Black's queenside pawns. Caruana fought on to move 60, but there was no saving the game.

    Finally, Magnus Carlsen had been having a dreadful tournament with only half a point out of four, and despite this he showed his resilience by winning in classic Carlsen style. Alexander Grischuk had managed to equalize, though as usual with Grischuk he didn't manage to do this without getting into time trouble. With the game about to reach the point where a club player could hold Grischuk's position Carlsen tried one last idea: 26.c5! Grischuk could and should have held this, but without time it was far from trivial. Carlsen obtained a very usable edge, though perhaps not yet enough to win the game. On move 40, it was time for another trick: 40.f4. This may not have been the very best move, and had Grischuk replied correctly he probably would have saved the game. Time trouble killed him, though, and 40...exf4?? made it easy for the world champion. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    Carlsen has awakened, and while it's almost impossible for him to contend for first it's not too late for him to do some damage. Next up, he has the white pieces against one of his usual "customers", Hikaru Nakamura. If Nakamura had White it might be a great opportunity for the American to get a '1', but with Black it may be another story. We'll see; meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 6:

    • Grischuk (2) - Topalov (4.5)
    • Caruana (2) - Hammer (1)
    • Giri (3) - Aronian (2)
    • Anand (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5)
    • Carlsen (1.5) - Nakamura (3.5)

    Saturday
    Jun202015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 4: Magnus Who?

    Magnus Carlsen has been dominating the chess world for years now, including great results last year (winning world championships in three different sub-disciplines) and this (winning every event he has entered). But in the Norway Chess tournament, a tournament that owes its existence to the prominence of its national hero, he has come a-cropper. In 2013 and 2014 he failed to win as Sergey Karjakin won the two inaugural editions of the tournament, and Karjakin's absence this year hasn't improved a thing for Carlsen.

    First he lost to Veselin Topalov on time from a winning position because he was unaware that there wasn't a third time control. Then he got thumped by Fabiano Caruana and his outstanding preparation. In round 3 he failed to win a won game against Anish Giri, who never stops rubbing in the fact that Carlsen has never yet beaten him, and then today, in round 4, he was crushed by Viswanathan Anand in a Breyer Ruy. Anand played very well, winning with a nice attack, but Carlsen did not play anywhere near his usual standard.

    Carlsen thus has just half a point from four games, is in last place and has pitched away 19.5 rating points thus far. At this point we can forget about Carlsen winning the tournament and ask instead of he can achieve a more modest goal like getting back to 50%. With three white games in the next four rounds, including one against his traditional "customer" Hikaru Nakamura, plus the chance to play his countryman Jon Ludwig Hammer in the last round, he'll still have a shot at the more modest goal if he can get his mind together. Saturday is a rest day, and that's bound to help. Whatever happens, he'll be back in the saddle soon, striking fear into all his opponents, but it's interesting and remarkable to see that even the highest-rated player of all time can have an inexplicable slump.

    Meanwhile, let's return to the top of the crosstable. Veselin Topalov is alone in first place with 3.5/4 after a convincing victory against Levon Aronian. Topalov seemed like a spent force 2-3 years ago, but now he's back near his peak rating and is #2 in the world. An impressive comeback! He was lucky in this tournament in round 1, but since then he has earned his points cleanly, and deserves his spot at the top.

    Hikaru Nakamura is in second, half a point behind, after his draw with Anish Giri. Nakamura had Black in a very theoretical line, and while Giri emerged with some advantage it wasn't enough to parlay into a win. Giri and Anand are tied for third with 2.5/4.

    Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were both on 50% coming into the round, and after they drew with each other in a well-played 6.h3 Najdorf they ended the round the same way.

    Alexander Grischuk is also at 50%, thanks to a win over Jon Ludwig Hammer. The opening was anything but traditional, and it was Grischuk who navigated the uncharted waters better than his opponent. Grischuk is known for his excellent theoretical preparation, but I've seen him play some fantastic chess from original, even bizarre (and certainly untheoretical) positions. Hammer is tied with Aronian at -2; not good, but not quite last place.

    (The games are here, with my notes.)

    After the rest day the action will resume on Sunday, with the following games:

    • Carlsen (.5) - Grischuk (2)
    • Nakamura (3) - Anand (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2) - Giri (2.5)
    • Aronian (1) - Caruana (2)
    • Hammer (1) - Topalov (3.5)

    Friday
    Jun192015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 3: Nakamura, Topalov Win, Lead

    Hikaru Nakamura has enjoyed a very good career score against Fabiano Caruana, and although Caruana made up some ground by beating Nakamura in St. Louis last year Nakamura struck back today against his countryman. It was a strange win, however, as Caruana was doing just fine and had reached an equal rook ending that seemed headed for a reasonably quick and straightforward draw. Near the end of the first time control, things got out of hand for the Italian-American (and in favor of the American who spends more time in Italy thanks to his Italian girlfriend) when he hit upon the dubious 38...b5 and the outright terrible 40...g5. Both moves weakened Black's structure, and the latter also invited White's rook in to cause lethal damage.

    That put Nakamura at 2.5/3 (and to #2 in the live ratings), the same score enjoyed by Veselin Topalov (now the world's #3). Topalov won with great ease against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the black side of a Meran Semi-Slav, thanks to MVL's choosing a mistaken tactical idea starting with 20.Bd2. That move may not have been so bad in itself, but the plan to go for Nd5 and Ba5 failed completely. Two moves later, Black was winning, and White resigned after a further six moves were played.

    The remaining games were drawn, and that left Anish Giri alone in third place with 2/3. He was completely lost to Magnus Carlsen, whose lucklessness against Giri is a source of endless mirth to the young Dutchman. The only positive for Carlsen is that it wasn't a third straight loss.

    Levon Aronian was very happy with his position out of the opening against Jon Ludwig Hammer, but to his dismay Hammer played very well after that and managed to hold the game, with some effort. Some, but especially after 34.Re4 h5!, it wasn't too tough to save the game. White's rook was stuck for the rest of the game.

    Finally, Viswanathan Anand enjoyed an advantage against Alexander Grischuk much of the way, but didn't manage to convert it into anything substantial. Anand has been getting good positions, but his opponents have been slipping away.

    Tournament site here, games here (but without notes today).

    Here are the round 4 pairings:

    • Grischuk (1) - Hammer (1)
    • Topalov (2.5) - Aronian (1)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (1.5)
    • Giri (2) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Anand (1.5) - Carlsen (.5)

    Friday
    Jan302015

    Gibraltar, Round 4: Four Perfect Scores, Plus Topalov's Master Class

    The ranks of the perfect are dwindling in the Masters section of the Gibraltar Chess Festival, and now there are just four. Hikaru Nakamura leads the way after a powerful victory over Nils Grandelius, Reinier Vazquez [sic] Igarza upset Maxim Rodshtein, Wei Yi defeated his countrywoman Ju Wenjun and Baskaran Adhiban beat former women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova to complete the quartet. There is plenty of competition in the next score group, half a point back, including Veselin Topalov, Peter Svidler, Yu Yangyi, Pentala Harikrishna, current women's world champion and women's #1 Hou Yifan, and American player Aleksandr Lenderman is there too.

    All the top boards can be replayed here, and I'll leave you to replay and analyze them as you see fit. Instead, I'll invite you to have a look at Veselin Topalov's "Master Class", filmed after the round, which sees him presenting a nice and instructive old victory against Alexei Shirov from Linares 2004. Afterwards he took a lot of questions from the audience and from host GM Stuart Conquest as well, so it's an interesting hour all from start to finish. Here it is - enjoy:

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Caruana 5-0 (Updated)

    Prior to this round Fabiano Caruana was 0-3 against Hikaru Nakamura in decisive games played with a classical time control, but that didn't stop the golden boy of the Sinquefield Cup. He outplayed his opponent with the black pieces, and while he could have won a little more easily it was still a convincing victory overall, and he now enjoys a remarkable 5-0 score at the halfway point.

    Two other players won today, and share second place. Magnus Carlsen slowly ground out a win in a rook ending against Levon Aronian (winning, like Caruana, with Black) while Veselin Topalov won on the white side of a Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Both players looked very good in winning, and as both Carlsen and Topalov are very dangerous once their confidence levels go up it's too soon to hand first prize to Caruana. On the other hand, Caruana will have White against both players in the second cycle, making it that much more difficult for them to catch up.

    This is especially so with tomorrow's rest day, which might serve to break Caruana's rhythm a bit. So far, however, this is one of the great starts in tournament chess history, going 5-0 against the world's #1 and #2 (former #2 now) and three other players in the top ten.

    Round 6 pairings (Tuesday): Nakamura (1.5) - Aronian (1.5), Caruana (5) - Topalov (2.5), Carlsen (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)

    Games later.

     UPDATE: Games here. I've annotated Nakamura-Caruana in some detail and offered a brief explanatory note at the end of Topalov vs. Vachier-Lagrave.

    Monday
    Aug252014

    Starting Wednesday: The 2014 Sinquefield Cup

    The opening ceremonies and such begin tomorrow (Tuesday), but the real action begins on Wednesday. It's a double round-robin with six great players:

    • Magnus Carlsen
    • Levon Aronian
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Hikaru Nakamura
    • Veselin Topalov
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

    The average rating is over 2800! More info about the Sinquefield Cup here.

    Monday
    Jun092014

    Norway Chess, Round 6: Four Draws and a Kramnik Loss

    To Veselin Topalov, naturally. No matter what Vladimir Kramnik says in this interview pretending that he isn't affected by Topalov over the board, his fairly poor results against him since their world championship match tell a different story. Kramnik used to own him, but now, no matter how bad Topalov's form is in any given event, he is even looking like a favorite against him.

    With the loss, the Norway Chess tournament now has three co-leaders: Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen (who drew a Berlin ending with Black against Sergey Karjakin), and Fabiano Caruana (who drew with Black against Simen Agdestein). Their draws were "clean" - no one had a serious advantage at any point, and the same goes for the other two draws. Levon Aronian had White against Anish Giri, but ultimately had the (not-too-difficult) task of forcing a draw while a pawn down. Finally, Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler drew quickly.

    The games are here (without notes), and tomorrow's round 7 pairings follow:

    • Svidler (2.5) - Agdestein (3)
    • Carlsen (3.5) - Grischuk (3)
    • Giri (3) - Karjakin (3)
    • Kramnik (3.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Topalov (2.5)

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Candidates 2014, Round 6: Anand Still Leads; Kramnik and Svidler Lose

    What was looking like a four-man race has transformed significantly after today's sixth round at the Candidates' tournament. It seemed like a prime opportunity for the chase pack to catch the leader, Viswanathan Anand, after he failed to achieve anything with White in a Berlin ending against Sergey Karjakin, but as it turned out all three of his closest pursuers stumbled.

    The most interesting game from a psychological perspective was the renewed hatefest between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, going back to the "Toiletgate" controversy from their world championship match back in 2006. Whether this affected either man's play for better or worse I don't know, but Kramnik played pretty badly in this game. His plan with ...f7-f5-f4 wasn't very good and was criticized by Topalov, the commentators and the computers, and 13...a5 seems to have been inaccurate as well. White won a pawn with the tactical sequence starting with 19.Nxd5, and Kramnik didn't manage to put up much resistance after that. As a result Topalov jumped and Kramnik fell to 50% overall in the tournament.

    The same happened with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Svidler. Svidler surprised Mamedyarov with the Dutch, and came out of the opening smelling like a rose. If he had played 22...Qd7 he would have been comfortably better, but instead made three errors in a row, culminating in the odd sac/blunder 24...h6, after which he was lost. Svidler's resignation might raise some eyebrows for those looking at the computer's evaluation, but White's winning method is pretty simple; it just takes a lot of moves to finish the job.

    Finally, Levon Aronian was winning against Dmitry Andreikin, but let his opponent slip out with a draw. 28.Bxe4! was an outright winner, while 31.Bxe4 Rxd2 32.Ra7 was probably a technical win. By move 38 it wasn't quite as clear, but what does seem clear is that 38.Bxe6 was an error. White can't simultaneously anchor his kingside while keeping the a-pawn protected, and Black's counterplay is in time in case White's king heads for the queenside.

    Today's games (with my comments) are here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Friday the first cycle concludes with the following pairings (player scores in parentheses):

    • Karjakin (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Svidler (3) - Anand (4)
    • Kramnik (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Andreikin (2) - Topalov (3)