I had to run to the NY Athletic Club for the Tri-State Chess Challenge right after the game. I finally just had time to finish my analysis. Hope you’ll enjoy it 🙂

Topalov – Kramnik [D12]
WCC Match 2006 (Game 9) 2006

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 (White is going after Black’s light colored Bishop right off the bat.)

6…Bg6 (6…Bg4 is just as popular in this position.)

7.Nxg6 hxg6 8.a3 (White prevents the pin with Bf8-b4. The position after Black’s 7th move has been reached many times in Grandmaster practice. However, White’s 8th move seems to be new. Usually White chooses between 8.g3, 8.Bd2 or 8.Qb3. Kramnik on the White side had some experience with this position in some rapid games: 8.g3 Nbd7 9.Bg2 dxc4 10.Qe2 Be7 (10…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 += Kramnik – Anand, Frankfurt 2000) 11.0–0 0–0 12.Rd1 Qc7 13.Qxc4 e5 14.b4 Nb6 15.Qb3 exd4 16.exd4 Qd7 17.b5 Nbd5 18.Nxd5 Nxd5 19.bxc6 bxc6 20.Bd2 Bf6= Kramnik – Gelfand, Monte Carlo 2003.)

8…Nbd7 9.g3 (Where should the White’s light squared Bishop develop? It depends on how Black chooses to continue.)

9…Be7 10.f4 (Gaining space advantage and stopping a potential e6-e5. However, I must note that Topalov made way too many Pawn moves in the opening, something that I always tell my students not to do. As the saying goes: “Don’t try this at home. Leave it for the professionals”.)

10…dxc4 (This is the first questionable move. Why not to wait with this trade until White moves the Bishop from f1?)

11.Bxc4 0–0 (I prefer 11…Nb6 12.Bb3 Nbd5.)

12.e4 b5 (The beginning of the wrong plan. 12…Rc8 13.e5 Nd5 14.h4 +=; 12…Nb6 13.Be2 c5 14.Be3+=; 12…c5 13.e5 Nh5 14.d5 Nb6 15.b3+=)

13.Be2 (After 13.Ba2 c5 14.e5 Black has an attractive sacrifice with 14…cxd4 15.exf6 Nxf6)

13…b4 (White is better after both 13…a5 14.e5 Nd5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.h4 or 13…c5 14.e5 Nd5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.Be3)

14.axb4 Bxb4 15.Bf3 (The best move. 15.0–0 Bxc3 16.bxc3 Nxe4 17.Qd3 Nd6 18.Bf3 Qc7 19.Ra6 Nb8 20.Ra4 gives White some compensation for the Pawn but there is no need to sacrifice. 15.Qc2 c5 16.Be3 Qb6=)

15…Qb6 (15…c5 16.e5 Nd5 17.Bd2 or 16.Be3 +=)

16.0–0 (16.Be3 c5 17.0–0 +=)

16…e5 (16…c5 17.e5 cxd4? 18.Na4+-. Or 17…Nd5 18.Nxd5 exd5 19.Bxd5 Rad8 20.Be3 cxd4 21.Bxd4 Bc5 22.Bf2±)

17.Be3 Rad8 (If 17…exd4 18.Qxd4?? Bc5–+; 18.Bxd4 Bc5 is good for Black. However after 18.Na4 Qb5 19.Bxd4 White is better.)

18.Na4! (18.fxe5 Nxe5 19.Na4 Nxf3+ 20.Qxf3 Qb7=)

18…Qb8 (18…Qc7 19.dxe5? Nxe5 20.Qe2 Nxf3+ 21.Qxf3 Rd3 =. But 19.Qc2keeps White’s advantage.)

19.Qc2 exf4? (Another mistake by Kramnik. Now White is clearly better. Better would have been 19…exd4 20.Bxd4 Nb6 21.Bf2 +=)

20.Bxf4 (White is also better after 20.gxf4 but the game move is more precise because it doesn’t weaken the White King’s position.)

20…Qb7 (Not a pretty move! The Queen is stepping right into the diagonal of White’s light squared Bishop on f3. The problem is it’s hard to find a good square for the Queen. Nevertheless I would have preferred 20…Qb5.)

21.Rad1 (Topalov simply brings the last piece into the game by centralizing the Rook.)

21…Rfe8 (A logical move, putting the Rook on the half open file. However, the drawback is it weakens f7 as we shall see later on.)

22.Bg5 (Pinning Black’s Knight on f6 with a direct threat of 23.e5.)

22…Be7 (The only choice besides moving the Rook from d8.)

23.Kh1 (A typical GM prophylactic move. As Black still has a dark squared Bishop, Topalov wants to move out of any potential checks along the a7-g1 diagonal. The immediate 23.Nc3 was good too.)

23…Nh7 (Black has three weaknesses: the Pawns on a7, c6 and f7. Kramnik is desperately looking for some activity.)

24.Be3 (I do like keeping the Bishops, but White’s position was clearly better after 24.Bxe7 Rxe7 25.e5 as well.)

24…Bg5 (In hopes of easing the problems by trading the dark squared Bishops.)

25.Bg1 (However, Topalov says no to the trade which is the right thing to do.)

25…Nhf8 26.h4 Be7 27.e5 (A key move! Gaining more space advantage and attacking the c6 Pawn. This game reminds me of one of my all time favorite games:

Susan Polgar – Uwe Boensch, Dortmund 1990
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Be7 7.Qc2 Bg4 8.Nge2 Bxe2 9.Bxe2 Nbd7 10.0–0 0–0 11.Bd3 Re8 12.f3 Nf8 13.Bh4 a6 14.Rad1 Ng6 15.Bf2 Bd6 16.e4 dxe4 17.fxe4 Ng4 18.e5 Bc7 19.Bc4 Re7 20.Kh1 Nxf2+ 21.Qxf2 Qd7 22.Ne4 Rf8 23.Qf3 Qe8 24.Qh5 Kh8 25.Rd3 h6 26.Rdf3 Nxe5 27.dxe5 Rxe5 28.Rxf7 Rxf7 29.Qxf7 1–0)

27…Nb8 (It’s sad when one has to make passive defensive moves like this.)

28.Nc3 (The Knight did it’s job on a4. It’s time to get back toward the middle of the board. As we can see, White has time to slowly improve his position.)

28…Bb4 (28…Ne6 29.h5 gxh5 30.Bxh5 Rf8 [30…c5+ 31.d5] 31.Qf5 with a clear advantage for White.)

29.Qg2 (This is one of those cases when “there is more than one road to Rome”. I would prefer to get my Knight to the center with Nc3-e4 similarly as I did in my game above. But maybe I am bias by those pleasant memories.)

29…Qc8 (Getting out of the pin along the a8-h1 diagonal.)

30.Rc1 (Eyeing the c6 Pawn.)

30…Bxc3 31.bxc3 (With the Pawn capture, White strengthens the center. White could win a Pawn with 31.Rxc3 Qd7 32.Bxc6 Nxc6 33.Rxc6 but that would give Black unnecessary counter play as Black would have a nice blockade of White’s center Pawns. Now, all the Black pieces are on the back rank.)

31…Ne6 32.Bg4 (With their last move, White is pinning the Knight on e6 and opening the f file for the final attack.)

32…Qc7 33.Rcd1 Nd7 (33…c5 34.d5+-)

34.Qa2 (34.h5 looks even better. But White has time…)

34…Nb6 35.Rf3 (35.Ra1 Re7 36.Bxe6 Rxe6 37.Qxa7 Qxa7 38.Rxa7 Nd7 39.Rb1+-)

35…Nf8? (In time pressure, Kramnik made Topalov’s life so much easier with this move. After Black’s last move, the defense collapses. 35…c5 36.d5 Nf8 37.d6 Qb7 38.d7 Rxe5 39.Qxf7+ Kh8 40.Kh2±; 35…Nd5 36.Rdf1 Rd7 37.c4±)

36.Rdf1 Re7 37.Be3 (Threatening with 38.Bg5.)

37…Nh7 (37…Rd5 38.Bg5+-)

38.Rxf7! (A nice tactical culmination of White’s strategical play.)

38…Nd5 (38…Rxf7 39.Rxf7 Qxf7 40.Be6+-)

39.R7f3 (Here 39.Be6 was objectively even better but who can argue with a move that made the opponent resign immediately? In the final position, White is up a Pawn and has a winning advantage. However, I think there are many of us who would have fought for at least a few more moves.) 1-0
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