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Magnus Carlsen - Veselin Topalov

Round 3
Grand Slam Final
Bilbao

05.09.2008

In spite of the specifics of this event - 3 points for a win, only 1 for drawing - the majority of participants prefer the solid approach, and as a logical result we witnessed so far only one game finished with a different result than a draw. With such punctuation system any played may drastically improve his tournament situation winning a couple of games in a row, so the players are trying to evade losing and wait for a favorable opportunity. The key game today is the one between the constantly progressing Norwegian teenager Magnus Carlsen and the former World Champion Veselin Topalov. Both play every game trying hard to win it until the very end. While Carlsen is very resourceful in seemingly simple positions where he outplays his opponents with deceiving easy, Topalov is at his best in irrational dynamic situations. Their encounters are always a great show for the audience, with Magnus getting lately the upper hand. It is hard to speak of favorites in such a strong tournament but these two definitely aspire for the title, which would hopefully result in an uncompromising chess battle between extraordinary fighters.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 The translation by the official site was off for about 15 minutes. The opening choice - Queen's Gambit Declined, Tartakower Defense - is once again influenced by the before mentioned solid approach of the players.

6.Bh4 (6.Bxf6 is a popular alternative.)

6... O-O 7.e3 b6 8.Bd3 (8.Bxf6 Bxf6 9.cxd5 is much more popular but Carlsen generally avoids the 'hanging pawns' structures - 'c'+'d' pawns on semi-open files that in spite of there weakness grant activity of the remaining pieces.)

8... Bb7 9.O-O Nbd7 10.Bg3 (10.Ne4)

10... c5 11.cxd5 (11.Qe2 is the main line but the game move gains popularity recently.)

11... Nxd5 12.Nxd5 Bxd5 13.e4 (13.Rc1 permits 13... Nf6 taking under control the 'g3' square.)

13... Bb7 14.Rc1 a6 A new move. ( Veselin tried 14... Nf6 against Kasimdzhanov a year ago and drew but was experiencing slight difficulties after 15.dxc5 Bxc5 16.Qe2 Nh5 17.Be5 a5 18.Rfd1) ( The idea behind 14...a6 is obvious - preparing b6-b5, Black keeps the option to recapture on 'c5' with the Knight. White may now try a tempting pawn sacrifice: 14... a6 15.b4 cxb4 (15... cxd4 16.Rc7 Rb8 17.Nxd4 e5 18.Rxb7 Rxb7 19.Nc6 Qe8 20.Bxa6) 16.Rc7 Rb8 17.Qe2 Nf6 18.Rfc1)

15.b4 Admirable courage but if not for this sacrifice, White has no chances for opening advantage and has to find a way to justify the situation of the Bg3 instead.

15... cxb4 16.Bc7 (16.Rc7 seems to be risky but I can't see a tactical refutation - par example 16... Ra7 17.Qe2 e5 18.Rfc1 Bd6 19.Rxb7 Rxb7 20.dxe5 followed by 21.Bxa6 with excellent compensation for the exchange.)

16... Qe8 17.Qe2 Now Carlsen may double his Rooks on the 'c' file while Bc7 prevents from disentangling Black pieces.

17... b5 ( The transfer Nf3-d2-a5 meets tactical refutation: 17... b5 18.Nd2 Rc8 19.Nb3 Nc5)

18.Ba5 Spending a lot of time, Carlsen decides to try to recapture the 'b4' pawn, thus admitting that Topalov has solved the opening problems.

18... Rc8 Forcing a move like 19.Rb1 cannot be bad.

19.Qb2 ( The desire to contest the 'c' sile is understandable but now Black may exercise pressure upon the White center and after 19.Qb2 Nf6 20.Rxc8 Qxc8 21.Re1 Qc3 rely on his queenside pawn majority.)

19... Nf6 20.Rxc8 Qxc8 21.Nd2 Now 21...Qc3 is even stronger than in the previous line. Obviously Topalov made the right psychological choice of opening as besides positional advantage he got such on the clock as well: 0.23 0.50

21... Qc3 22.Qxc3 bxc3 23.Bxc3 Rc8 Magnus has it difficult to defend his central pawns.

24.Ba5 Bd8 25.Bxd8 Rxd8 26.Rd1 Rxd4 27.Nb3 Rd8 28.f3 After a forced series of moves, Topalov is a healthy pawn up and has every chance to stop his bad luck streak against Carlsen.

28... Kf8 29.Kf2 Nd7 30.Be2 Ke7 31.Na5 Ba8 32.Rc1 Kd6 White is trying to create technical difficulties but Veselin's task is relatively easy.

33.Ke3 Nb6 34.f4 Rc8 Now all important squares are covered.

35.Rxc8 Nxc8 36.Kd4 Ne7 37.Bf3 Kc7 (37... Nc6+ 38.Nxc6 Bxc6 was sufficient for the win as well.)

38.Nb3 Kb6 39.Ke5 Ng6+ 40.Kd6 Nxf4 ( Now White may be able to create some technical problems in the line 40... Nxf4 41.Ke7 f5 42.exf5 Bxf3 43.f6 gxf6 44.gxf3)

41.Nc5 b4 The other two games from this round had already been drawn, so this one will determine who the new leader will be.

42.h4 a5 (42... f5 43.e5 Bxf3 44.gxf3 g5 45.hxg5 hxg5 46.Nxe6 Nxe6 47.Kxe6 g4 48.fxg4 fxg4 49.Kf7 g3 50.e6 g2 51.e7 g1Q 52.e8Q Qf2+ 53.Kg6 Qxa2 54.Qd8+ surprisingly leads only to a draw.)

43.g3 Nh3 44.Nd7+ Ka7 (44... Kb5 45.Be2+ Ka4 46.Nb6+ Ka3 47.Nxa8 Kxa2 48.Nb6 b3 49.Ke7 is too complicated to be evaluated correctly overboard.)

45.Kc5 f5 46.Kb5 (46.exf5 Nf2 was hopeless as well)

46... fxe4 47.Bh5 e3 48.Kxa5 g6 49.Bg4 The Bishop has to control the 'e' square.

49... h5 50.Be2 Ng1 51.Bf1 e2 52.Bxe2 Nxe2 53.Nf8 Be4 54.Nxe6 Nxg3 55.Nf4 Being a piece down, Carlsen has no intention to resign.

55... Kb7 56.Kxb4 Kc6 White resigned. The game strangely reminds on Aronian - Carlsen from the first round. White sacrificed a pawn, spent a lot of time, failed to find a way to develop their initiative, and having little time couldn't even get equality. Instead in both games they ended in a lost endgame. Important win for Veselin who backed my prognosis to be one of the principal favorites in Bilbao. 0-1