The big chess match continues apace. In Game Five the players plowed down the same line of the Slav Defense they explored in Game Three. No doubt Topalov had an improvement in mind, but Anand varied first. Topalov pressed, but in the end he was the one who was happy to call it a draw.
Game Six was another Catalan. Anand’s two knights looked to be dominating Topalov’s two bishops, but in the end he could not break through. Another draw.
But the real excitement came with today’s Game Seven. Anand got his second white in a row. The schedule for the match calls for a rest day after every two games, with Topalov getting white in game one. That means Topalov is always getting white (a big advantage in top level chess) after the rest day. That is why they switch the pattern after the midway point of the match.
So, it was another Catalan. But this time Topalov had a surprise up his sleeve:
Position after 9. … b5!
Black’s last move entails a material investment. Play continued 10. Nxc6 Nxc6 11. Bxc6 Bd7!. This exchange sacrifice is not new, though Topalov’s eleventh move is new. (In the past only 11. … Ba6 had been tried). It is actually a common motif in positions with a kingside fianchetto. (That’s chess-speak for developing your bishop along the short diagonal instead of the more common long one.) The basic idea is common in some lines of the Grunfeld, for example. Black will be down material, but White is losing a key defender of his kingside. Black will also have active pieces. It takes stones to play like this in a WC match, since white’s material advantage is very tangible, while black’s positional plusses are more nebulous. But lack of stones has never been Topalov’s problem.
A few moves later we come to this:
Position after 15. e2-e4
All of white’s pieces are on the first two ranks, but his center certainly looks impressive. Now Topalov played 15. … Bh3! This potentially offers a bit more material. If white plays 16. Rf2, then the black knight must move and white will take the pawn on e5. But that gives black an open d-file to play with, and the extra pawn is rather weak on e5. As it happens, Anand opted for 16. exd5 Bxf1 17. Qxf1 exd4 instead. Materially white is up a piece for a pawn. Positionally, however, black is more active.
Fast forwarding eleven moves brings us to this picturesque position:
Position after 28. … Qb5-a4
Black’s position certainly looks impressive despite his ongoing material deficit. Even if you do not play chess, just optically it looks like white is back on his heels. But black has no way of orchestrating a final breakthrough, and white’s defenses are holding. So a draw looks like the natural result. That is probably what Topalov was thinking right around now. Certainly it was a significant accomplishment to put Anand on the defensive as white.
But the game had one more surprise:
Position after 35. … Qc1-e3+
The players had been repeating moves, (black shifting his queen from c1 to e3, with white blocking checks with his queen on f1 or f2) and everyone expected Anand to move his queen to f2. with a draw by perpetual check. But now Anand decided that he was the only one with winning chances, and played, 36. Kg2! Play continued 36. … f5 37. Nf2 Kh7 38. Qb1 Qe6 39. Qb5. Suddenly white seems to be getting active.
Fortunately for Topalov, his monster d-pawn is enough to hold the draw.
White has no way to make progress in this position (keep in mind that it is black’s move), so the game was finally given up for drawn. Very exciting play!
So Topalov remains down one point with five games to go. Not an insurmountable deficit by any stretch, and Topalov is well-known for his come from behind victories in numerous tournaments. But he certainly has his work cut out for him. Stay tuned!