Two games down in the big World Chess Championship and two wins for Kramnik. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Game One saw the quiet Catalan Defense from Kramnik, an ultra-solid opening fitting Kramnik’s style. He obtained a small advantage out of the opening but Topalov was never in serious danger. Near the first time control Topalov had an opportunity to force a draw, and that was when things got weird.
By this time Topalov had a slightly more active position than Kramnik, and, in keeping with his style, decided to go for broke. But Kramnik defended well and Topalov was unable to break through. This led to a horrible blunder from Topalov. This was all Kramnik needed, and he polished off the game cleanly.
Comparisons are bing made to the first game of the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match of 1972. In that game, Fischer played an insane blunder in an attempt to prolong a game that should have ended in a draw. Fischer went on to lose the second game by forfeit when he failed to show up. This left him down two nil after two games, just like Topalov. Of course, Fischer went on to win that match in a rout.
Topalov was out for immediate revenge in game two. Kramnik once again steered for quiet play byt trotting out the reliable Slav Defense. Topalov was unimpressed, and went all out for a king-side attack. He developed a very strong formation. Kramnik cracked, and blundered into this awful position:
Topalov could win instantly with 32. Rxg4+! Bg7 33. Qc7 Qf1+ 34. Ng1! Black has no more checks and he is helpless against mate on g7. It is incredible that Topalov could miss so simple a tactic, but instead he blundered with 32. Qg6+ after which black has chances to defend. Topalov subsequently had other opportunities to win and then draw, but several more blunders led to his second loss. A great pity, since this game would have been destined for all the anthologies if Topalov could have brought it off. It is reminiscent of the sixth game of the Nigel Short-Gary Kasparov match. In that game Short played brilliantly all the way through and was in the process of producing a modern classic. But a blunder late in the game let Kaspy off with a draw.
There are a lot of cliches in chess about nerves being a major factor in a match like this. For some reason, match play is psychologically different from tournament play. Kramnik has a lot of experience in high stakes matches. Topalov does not. By all rights the score should be 1.5-.5 in Topalov’s favor. But so far Kramnik is the only one on the score board.
The score notwithstanding, Topalov’s play has been a lot more impressive than Kramnik’s. The champion has been a bit lucky so far. That is not likely to last. Topalov will get it together, and if Kramnik does not raise the level of his play, he could well find that a trwo point lead is insufficient. Stay tuned!