Game of the week
This game featured some cat and mouse play in the opening, each testing the other’s pre-game preparation. Topalov chose the spirited King’s Indian Defence (showing his aggressive inclination) and Carlsen surprised him by playing the relatively unpopular Makogonov variation. Surprising because Carlsen had never played it before in a serious game!
Was it preparation or improvisation? This is the key question. What ever is the truth, we have to acknowledge that Carlsen got absolutely nothing from the opening! Black achieved a perfectly satisfactory position…
But then, curiously, Topalov–who is famous for his opening precision and fine sense of initiative, started to make slight imprecisions. Carlsen pounced on the opportunity and soon he stood better. Faced with this unexpected situation, Topalov had difficulties psychologically adapting himself to the new circumstances.
Rather than defend a passive but perfectly satisfactory position, Topalov ventured on a dubious pawn sacrifice in an effort to confuse his young opponent. But it was all in vain, as Carlsen never let the Bulgarian out of his grasp after that, and won a convincing and well played game!
Carlsen, M – Topalov, V
China 29/ 9/2009.
1. d4 Is this the move of champions?
Curiously, both Carlsen and Topalov have shown a preference for this move recently. The last 6 times they played each other (according to my database), each has started the game this way!
1… Nf6 The last time Topalov was Black against Carlsen, he played 1…d5.
2. c4 g6 Topalov wants a sharp game. 2…e6 is more solid
3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O
Topalov has great experience with the Black side of the King’s Indian. Even so, he rarely plays it today, and probably wanted to surprise Carlsen in one of the mainlines…
6. h3!? A small surprise back! Previously Carlsen had played only, and always, 6.Be2
Grandmaster Vladimir Makogonov’s (1904-1993) name is often associated with this system. Spassky has written: ”White prepares to develop his bishop at e3, and defends against the possible attack on it by …Ng4. In addition, he has the possibility of g4 in mind, and , in contrast to the Saemisch Variation, the square f3 is available for his Knight.”
Allow me to digress a bit: Makogonov was a very strong player whose lifespan paralleled Botvinnik’s. Although a world-class player in his own right, and having beaten virtually all the top Soviet players of the era, he never played outside the USSR, keeping his name unfamiliar with amateurs. He won the Azerbaijan championship and the Baku (where he lived most of his life) championship on several occasions.
Makogonov’s real claim to fame was his success as a trainer and coach. In 1957 he trained Smyslov for his WC match with Botvinnik. He also trained Vladimir Bagirov, Genrikh “Smart Chip” Chepukaitis and Garry Kasparov. The so-called Makogonov Rule has been also called, “Theory of the Worst Piece,” and reads: “In a position where there are no direct threats on both sides, it is necessary to spot the worst piece and try to improve or exchange it.”
Returning to the actual game:
6… Na6!? Considered a very precise move order, taking the sting out of any Bg5 sub-systems
Another reasonable plan is 6… e5 7. d5 (7. dxe5 is not dangerous for Black 7… dxe5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 9. Nxe5 Re8 10. f4 Nbd7 11. Nxd7 Nxe4!) 7… a5!? 8.Bg5 Na6!? and this does well in praxis
But note that 7… Na6 might be the same thing if White would now play Be3, but praxis has shown that White has a stronger plan with 8. Bg5! h6 9. Be3 Nc5 10. Nd2 (diagram)
It would seem that this is virtually the same kind of position as in the actual game, but infact the weakness of the pawn on h6 will cause Black lots of worries. This is a good demonstration of why Black players should be careful of the Bg5 lines…
Here 7. Bg5 is not very effective as Black has the subtle 7… c6!, with ideas such as …Nc7 and …Ne6. In Hjartarson vs Kasparov (Paris 1994) Black got a good game after 8. Be2 e5 9. d5 h6 10. Be3 cxd5 11. cxd5 Nh5 12. Nd2 Nf4 13. Bf1 Nc5
8… c6 !? Not the most popular move, but a good move in its own right
Theory considers the mainline to be 8…Nh5, with the idea of trying to get immediate counterplay on the Kingside with …f5 and …Nf4. Results have been reasonable, and there is still a lot of uncharted territory here.
Why did Topalov avoid the main line here? Remember that Carlsen has not played the Makogonov system before, and therefore it is likely that Topalov felt that Carlsen had prepared something special just for this game….
A bit uncomfortable for Black is the immediate 8… Nc5 9. Nd2 a5 because of 10.a3!?, with the idea of playing for a fast b4. White has achieved excellent results with this in practive. Often White does not even play g4 in this variation.
It is worth noting that at one time 9…Ne8 Diagram (instead of 9…a5 ) was considered promising. The idea is to play for an immediate …f5 without wasting a tempo on preventing b4, which was thought to be inconsistent once White had already played h3.
If now 10. g4 then Black does well after … f5 11. exf5 gxf5 12. Be2 a5 13. Qc2 Na6!?; 10. h4 f5 11. h5 Ne6!? 12. dxe6 f4
Later it was found out that White gets the advantage after 10. b4!(Diagram) 10… Na6 11. a3 The Black Knight on a6 finds it difficult to get into the game and White’s Queens side play is for free.
After 11…f5 12. Nb3 Nf6 13. Bd3 ( Diagram) results have been very promising for White. No strong grandmasters have shown any interest in playing the Black position here since it is not clear how to offset the White space advantage on the Queenside.
Returning to the actual game:
9. g4 Carlsen plays Makogonov’s idea
9… Nc5!? A natural and good response
Another respectable way to handle the Black position is 9… cxd5!? 10. cxd5 Bd7 11. Nd2 Rc8
(11… Qb8 12. Be2 Rc8!? is a similar idea) Black immediately tries to get play along the c-file. It is risky for White to take the pawn on a7 as after …Nc5 White will have to part with his dark squared Bishop and Black will have excellent compensation for the pawn. One game continued instead w 12. Rc1 Nc5 13. b4 Na4 14. Nxa4 Rxc1 15. Qxc1 Bxa4 , as in Grinshpun – Yurtaev , Tashkent 1988 Memorial G.Agzamov , with chances for both sides.
It is really just a question of taste in deciding which line you play in this position, and Topalov’s choice is quite fine.
10. Nd2 Defending the King pawn
10… a5 A standard response, preventing b4 and securing the position of the Knight on c5. In some lines Black can also follow thru with …a4 and …Qa5, trying to get active play on the Queenside.
This position has come about in hundreds of master games since the 1940’s. Practical results have shown that the player who plays better usually comes out on top.
11. a3!? Carlsen avoids the usual lines and improvises
Over dinner both players were asked if this last move was a novelty, and apparently neither was certain! Infact, it has been played a couple of times, but in lower level master tournaments. It is worth noting that the most common move is the temporizing 11. Be2, but after the dynamic (if somewhat speculative) 11… a4!? (planning to play …Qa5) 12. Bxc5 dxc5 13. Nxa4 Qa5 Black has adequate compensation for the pawn. 14. Nc3 Bh6 15. Qc2 Bd7 16. O-O and in this sharp position both players agreed to a draw, Bagirov – Dolmatov , Lucerne 1993 Ch World (team)
11… Nfd7 !? An interesting point in the game.
Clearly Black’s idea is to reinforce his Knight on c5 before playing …a4 and …Qa5.
It is curious that Topalov did not play the thematic pawn sacrifice with an immediate …a4!?: Diagram
Black rationalizes that if White has to give up his dark square Bishop for the pawn, then he will have long term chances, since the White position is weakened with g4 having been played. Often …Bh6 comes in and is annoying.
After the critical 12. Bxc5 (12. Be2 Qa5 is quite normal for Black) 12… dxc5 13. dxc6 (13. Nxa4 Qa5 14. Nc3 Bh6 is compensation,but is probably better, evn though White will miss his dark square Bishop) 13… bxc6 14. Nxa4 Bh6 Diagram and I don’t like White at all (Muse – Levacic , Medulin 2002 Ch Croatia (team) )
Perhaps Topalov was reminded of the game Carlsen vs Adams (World Cup 2007) where Adams offered a similar pawn sacrifice and Carlsen took it and even managed to win:
This line is not considered dangerous for Black by theory. Everyone was surprised that Carlsen would play this way….no one more than Adams himself! 8… Ba6! Offering the pawn, which in returns gives Black an edge in development. Now most grandmasters play 9.Qa4ch, but instead Carlsen took the pawn!
White has almost no development, but he is a pawn up.
12… Nbd7?! This natural move leads to trouble! Today we know that after 12… Nc6! Black has absolutely no problems and has full compensation for the pawn.
An amazing move! Slowly (and painfully!) Carlsen pushes back Adams
Lastly, it is worth noting that Black also has 11… Bd7 not fearing 12. b4 axb4 13. axb4 Rxa1 14. Qxa1 Na6 15. Qa3 (15. dxc6?! Nxb4) 15… Qa8 16. Be2 c5 with a good game.
Returning to the actual game:
12. Rg1 Essentially a waiting move, and one that might prove useful later in advancing his g-pawn.
There was nothing in 12. b4 axb4 13. axb4 Rxa1 14. Qxa1 Na6 15. Qa3 c5 and Black is doing well. If instead 12. Be2 then 12…a4 and 13…Qa5 follows with a normal game for Black. White would have nothing.
12… a4 This move secures the Knight on c5 (no more b4) and prepares …Qa5
13. Qc2 Carlsen prepares to castle long
13… Nb6 ?! While this is not a bad move, it is illogical.
Topalov is a truly great player, and I am one of his fans! I believe that he is a worthy number 1 in the chess world. But in this game he does not show what he is capable of. Infact, in this game I do not recognize Topalov at all! His sense of danger seems to fail him at each critical moment. But he is only human afterall, and he is allowed an off-day from time to time….
I don’t understand why Topalov did not proceed with the thematic 13… Qa5!? with a normal type of game in this opening. After 14. O-O-O (14. h4 Nf6 15. Be2 Nb3!? is complex and difficult to evaluate) 14… Nb6 15. Kb1 Bd7 Diagram Black intends to put a rook on the c-file 16. dxc6!? bxc6 17. Nf3 Nb7 18. h4 Be6 with counterplay.
Later in the game Topalov will regret not having any real Queen side counterply…infact, he never does find a satisfactory square for his Queen.
Not immediately forced (as the King is quite safe in the centre here) but part of Carlsen’s plan. He intends to tuck his King into safety on b1 and then advance on the King side. Ofcourse, he is not in a hurry to do so, especially since he has to watch out for Black’s attempts to confuse and complicate the issue.
14… Bd7 Preparing to move a Rook to the c-file
15. Kb1 It is best for the King to get off of the c-file before he considers doing anything else
The critical position
15… cxd5 ?! This move has been universally criticized, and with good reason.
The immediate exchange is premature in that it helps White more than Black, as we shall soon see. Ofcourse, it is inconceivable that Black can do without this exchange for long. But chess is all about timing, as Fischer used to say.
Curiously, most grandmasters , when they lose games (which is rare) do so not because of blunders or because their opponents play so well, but instead because they make the wrong exchange at the wrong time! I have written and lectured extensively about this theme (when to exchange and when not to exchange). Even world champions are not exempt from this failing!
It has been suggested that Black should try to move his Queen over to a5 : 15… Qb8!? 16. h4 cxd5 17. cxd5 Rc8 18. Rc1 Qa7 19. h5 Qa5 Diagram
There is no doubt that Black has much more counterplay here than in the game! Black’s Queen is more actively posted, at least.
But he could have put his Queen on a5 earlier (in one move) without having to lose time. As such, White is somewhat better here by continuing with Be2 and then slowly trying to put his rooks onto the h-file. It is not clear what active play Black has on the Queenside. He might consider doubling on the c-file and then playing …Nb3 at some point (sacrificing a pawn, should things get bad), or the slower doubling on the c-file and then …Be8 and …Nc5-d7.
16. cxd5 The natural recapture. But not the only one deserving attention.
I think that White also is a bit better after 16. exd5!? Diagram
It is a much different position from in the game, but one of the ideas is to try to use the e4-square for one of White’s Knights:
16… Rc8 (16… f5 17. Bxc5 dxc5 18. gxf5 Bxf5 19. Nde4 with a dominating position) 17. Bxc5 dxc5 18. Nde4 Qh4 19. Rg3 and White is a bit better.
16… Rc8 Natural. Trying to prevent White’s next move by …Qe8 seems a bit too awkward.
If 16…Qe8 Carlsen could continue building up pressure on the King side with 17.h4 and 18.h5
17. Bb5! Carlsen does not miss a strong move when given the chance
What ever hope that Black has for finding counterplay on the Queenside is connected to the control of the light squares. Hence Carlsen seizes the opportunity to paralyze Black’s control, exchanging the best piece that Black has.
17… Bxb5 18. Nxb5 Qd7 Black should not let the Knight remain on b5 for long
19… Bf6?! Trying to recycle the useless King Bishop, possibly to h4 if it gets the chance.
There are better alternatives in my opinion; however, in each case Black must play a waiting game, seeing if White can improve his position. It is not easy for either side.
A: 19… Rc7!? 20. Rc1 Rfc8 and just sitting patiently
B: (this is the one that I would have picked!)19… Qd8!? 20. g5 f6 21. h4 fxg5 22. hxg5 Qd7
Black has the f- and c-files. He can play …Rf7 and laterally defend his h-pawn should White double on the h-file. His Queen is well posted, considering the alternatives. Only his Knight on b6 looks silly. In essence, White is just a bit better and Black is well entrenched.
20. g5 Bd8 [20… Be7 21. h4]
21… Na8?! A practical decision that undoubtedly was difficult for Topalov to make.
Topalov gambles and hopes that his opponent will not take the a-pawn. If Carlsen makes some other move, then Topalov can play …b5 and get some play. In as much as this gamble did not pay off, we can criticize the decision. However, Topalov’s decision is very rational: in his own praxis he has been often successful in inferior positions where he tries to drastically change the course of the game. And probably at this point of the game, Topalov realized that his chances of holding with a more solid defence were likely to fail….
22. Bxc5 There is no good reason for Carlsen to decline the gift.
22… Rxc5 23. Qxa4
White is a pawn up with the better position. Black is hoping that somewhere in the process of White trying to make progress and convert his advantage that his opponent will make an error. For this reason he keeps the Queens on the board.
24. Rc1 Neutralizing any hopes that Topalov might have had about some exchange sacrifice on c3.
24… Nb6 A threat, atleast.
25. Qd1 ! Carlsen’s Queen keeps its options open over on the King side
25… Qh3 Fishing . There was nothing better for Topalov to do than harrass his opponent
26. Qf3 Carlsen does not mind a Queen exchange. An alternative is 26. Nb3 Rc8 27. Rh1 Qd7 28. Nd2
26… Qd7 In some hopeless positions all moves are equally useless
No better, nor worse is 26… Qxf3 27. Nxf3 f5 28. gxf6 Rxf6 29. Ng5 Rxf2 30. Ne6, when Black’s position is a horror to play, despite having the Queens off.
27. Qd3 [27. h5!? is a strong alternative. In the absence of Black threats, Carlsen plays what he considers the line that has least risk involved.]
28. Rc2 [28. h5 is a strong alternative]
Carlsen’s winning technique is impressive: he anticipates Topalov’s opening up of the position along the f-file and does not try to sit on his extra pawn. Carlsen wants to attack the Black King.
28… f6 !? Things have not gone well for Topalov today, but he does his best to activate his dormant and passive pieces. Without any counterplay at all, Carlsen will simply advance on the King side and mate Black…
29… Rxf6 [29… Bxf6 30. h5! changes nothing as far as White is concerned
30… Rxf2 There is no better
Trying to block things on the Kingside with 30… Rf4 leads nowhere after 31. hxg6 hxg6 32. Qg3 Qe8 33. f3 and White has everything undercontrol and can win as he chooses. Atleast with the game move there is a fight.
31. hxg6 Opening the h-file.
31… h6 An unfortunate necessity. After 31… hxg6 32. Rxg6! Kxg6 33. Qg3 White recovers his material and the Black King is completely exposed. At least with the text move Topalov’s King finds temporary shelter.
32. Nd1 A neat Karpovian retreat that stops dead Topalov’s efforts to get counterplay
Also strong is 32. Nf3 Rxc2 33. Qxc2 Nc4 34. Ka2 Rc8 35. Qh2 and White has the attack again.
32… Rxc2 What else?
33. Nxf2 Now Black can not prevent White from expanding on the King side
33… Rc8 There is no better square for this Rook
34. Ng4! The h6-pawn is vulnerable and Carlsen does not let Topalov forget it!
34… Bg5 There is nothing better. Black must try to hold his position together
35. Nf3 Carlsen has built up an impressive attack and Topalov has no time to prevent his position from deteriorating further
35… Nc4 The only hope. Exchanging Rooks just makes it worse:35… Rc1 36. Rxc1 Bxc1 37. Ngxe5!
36. Nxg5 Breaking into the Black position
37. Ne3 !? Good enough to win, but there is better!
Playing to snuff out Black’s counterplay, Carlsen misses a neat point:
37… Nxe3 38. Qxe3
38… Qa4 Note that 38… g4 changes nothing after 39. Qg5
Ofcourse Topalov realizes that he is dead lost, but being down a mere pawn is hardly sufficient excuse to resign: what would his fans say?
39. Qxg5 Simplest. It is not necessary to defend against Black’s threat
Good enough also is 39. Rf1 Qc2 40. Ka1 Qg2 41. Rg1 Qh2 42. Qxg5
39… Qxe4 A small victory: Topalov gets to throw in a check!
The difference in King position can not be more contrasted: White is safely tucked into the corner, while Black has is standing naked on Times Square….
40… Re8 Preventing Qe7, but little else. Resigning is a good alternative. Even Topalov’s fans would not complain….
41. Rc1 Immediately decisive
[1:0] Black resigns since there is no defence to White’s intended Rc7ch followed by Q(somewhere) and mate to follow. For example, if now 41…Qxd5 then after 42.Rc7ch Kg8 simply 43.Qh5! (covering d1) will soon deliver mate.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS