Two games down in the big chess match and it is shaping up to be a barn burner. The defending champion is Viswanathan Anand of India, though you would never have guessed it from the faceplant he did in Game One. His opponent is Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria. By my reckoning this is the first World Chess Championship in which neither player is from the former Soviet Union since Lasker-Capablanca in 1920. Here is the key position from Game One:
Position After 23. … Kg8-f7
Topalov is known as a very tactical player who loves materially unbalanced positions. Given that, it was probably foolish for Anand to try the Grunfeld Defense, which lends itself to such positions. You will notice that Anand, playing black, is actually up a pawn. But his pieces are poorly developed and white has many chances to find active play.
The phalanx of the black queen on e5, coupled with the pawns on d4, f6 and g5, is what is holding black’s position together. Break that down and white’s pieces are poised to swarm into the black camp. Think along those lines and perhaps Topalov’s haymaker is not so hard to find.
Topalov played 24. Nxf6! and black’s position quickly falls apart. True, after 24. … Kxf6 (24. … Qxf6 is hardly an improvement in light of the looming Rc7+), 25. Rh3 black is a piece up. But do the knight on a5 or the rook on a8 really count as pieces? They do not look very scary. A few moves later Anand was facing this horror:
Position after 29. … Qe5xe4
Now the best move is 30. Rce7 which the computer says is a forced mated in 13. Topalov chose the more prosaic 30. Rxc8+ which certainly gets the job done. Anand resigned rather than wait for 30. … Kxc8 31. Qc1+ Nc6 32. Bxc6 Qe3+ 33. Qxe3 dxe3 34. Bxa8 with an easy win on material.
Anand got his revenge in Game Two. As white he played the Catalan Opening, which Vladimir Kramnik used to such good effect in his own WC match against Topalov. (Kramnik eventually won that match.) The general consensus is that Anand got little if anything out of the opening, and that Topalov’s position was actually quite comfortable. Alas, while Topalov is strong in complex, tactical positions, he is less impressive in positional duals that call for patience and calm. Topalov does not do calm, and tried too hard to get some activity. The result was this mess:
Position after 34. … Rc2-a2
Topalov is down a pawn and in dire straits here. Anand finished things off quickly with the clever pawn sac 35. Nb4 Bxb4 36. axb4 Nd5 37. b5! This jettisons the a-pawn, but the b-pawn then becomes a monster. The game concluded with 37. … Raxa4 38. Rxa4 Rxa4 39. Bxd5 exd5 40. b6 Ra8 41. b7 Rb8 42. Kf3 d4 43. Ke4, and black resigned in this hopeless position:
So it is one win a piece after two games. Can they keep up this pace? Game Three on Tuesday!