A dramatic turn of events in the big chess match. Topalov won game nine in convincing fashion, his second win in a row. Topalov now has a one point lead in the match (including the point he got when Kramnik forfeited game five). Three games remain, and Kramnik will have white in two of them.
Topalov came up with a novelty against Kramnik’s beloved Salv Defense. He played in his usual, risky, enterprising manner and quickly established an opening advantage. The middlegame was tense throughout. As one of the commentators on the Internet Chess Club pointed out, it was a battle of the world’s best attacker (Topalov) against the world’s best defender (Kramnik). For a while Kramnik defended well and seemed to be working his way back into the game. But then he made a blunder that allowed Topalov to crash through. The critical position of the game is shown below:
A grim position for black. White’s rooks and queen are pointed directly at the weakness on f7, and his bishops have strong diagonals to work with. Meanwhile black’s heavy pieces are purely defensive, and his knights, cowering in terror at the edges of the board, are a pathetic sight.
Black has just played 37. … Nf8-h7, a desperate attempt to stop white from playing 38. Bg5 skewering the black rooks. But now Topalov took care of business with 38. Rxf7!. The point is that after 38. … Rxf7 39. Rxf7 Qxf7 40. Be6! wins major material. Black tried 38. … Nd5. Topalov could now have won outright with the flashy 39. Be6!. The bishop is immune because of the pin on the seventh rank ( 39. … Rxe6 40. Rxc7), and black is simply helpless against the numerous white threats. For example, 39. … Kh8 40. Bg5 Nxg5 41. Rf8+ Rxf8 42. Rxf8 Kh7 43. hxg5 and black gets mated down the h-file. Instead Topalov uncharacteristically opted for the more sedate, but also very effective, 39. R7f3. A convincing win for Topalov.
Leaving aside the shenaningans about the bathrooms, one would have to concede that at the board Topalov has been the better player. His losses in the first two games were unfortunate, but were the results of clear blunders on his part as opposed to strong play from Kramnik. Meanwhile. Topalov had been pressing hard in every game, and now it seems he has Kramnik figured out.
But don’t count Kramnik out! In his last match, against Peter Leko, Kramnik was down by one going into the last game. Leko only needed a draw, but Kramnik managed to grind him down to tie the match and keep his title. Can he do it again? Stay tuned!