21 Jun

Topalov The Pops

It suspiciously looks as if we are, Cher-like, turning back time, as Bulgarian Veseline Topalov continues to roll back the years as he extend his lead at the top of the 3rd Norway Chess 2015 Tournament, by inflicting a double whammy on the Norwegians, by now beating wild card qualifier Jon Ludvig Hammer - a win that also makes him the new world No.2 on the live ratings, and all but guarantees him a place in the 2016 Candidates tournament.


It was the Norwegian No.2, though, who struck first with an early sacrifice - but unfortunately, he didn’t follow through with his bold intentions, and after several unnecessary consolidating moves, allowed Topalov to finally figure out how to put the screws on the Hammer. The win gives veteran Toplav, 40, a full point lead over his nearest rival, Hikaru Nakamura of USA, in the first event of the new ‘Grand Chess Tour’.

Topalov also surges now to 2816 in the unofficial live ratings, as he also replaces Nakamura in the No.2 spot behind World champion Magnus Carlsen. Topalov’s resurgence in Norway has now all but guaranteed him one of the two FIDE rating spots for next year’s candidates tournament. This is based on the average of all of this year, and he’s now got what looks like an unassailable lead for the first spot.

Going into this tournament, Russia’s Alexander Grischuk held a slender lead for the second ratings spot into the candidates, but he’s now been supplanted by the young Dutch star Anish Giri. And Grischuk fell further back in the rating race, as a refreshed Carlsen - after his horrific first half performance of 0.5/4 - began his fightback with a workman-like win over the Russian to finally get off the foot of the table. 

Round 5:

Carlsen 1-0 Grischuk
Nakamura draw Anand
Vachier-Lagrave draw Giri
Aronian 1-0 Caruana
Hammer 0-1 Topalov

Round 5 Standings: 1. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 4.5/5; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3.5; 3-4. Anish Giri (Netherlands) Viswanathan Anand (India) 3; 5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 2.5; 6-8. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA) 2; 9. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 1.5; 10. Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 1.

Magnus Carlsen - Alexander Grischuk
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (5)
Sicilian Najdorf, Zagreb Variation
1.Nf3 c5 2.e4 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 The Zagreb Variation, not the most aggressive against the famously-feared Fischer favourite: the Sicilian Najdorf! However, such quiet sidelines do suit Carlsen's style, and perhaps he was taking a leaf out of Michael Adams' book, as the Englishman surprisingly sprung it on Anish Giri at the Gashimov Memorial in April to beat the young Dutch star. I also noted that Nigel Short used it in his recent 'St Louis Massacre' match with Garry Kasparov, who bulldozed him over. 6...e5 7.Nde2 Be7 8.Bg2 b5 9.Nd5 Nbd7 10.Nec3 Bb7 11.a4 Nxd5 12.Nxd5 Nf6 13.axb5 Nxd5 14.exd5 axb5 15.Rxa8 Qxa8 16.Qd3 0-0 17.0-0 Bc8 18.Be3 Bd7 19.Rc1 h6 20.Qd1 Qb7 21.Ra1 Ra8 22.h4 Ra6 23.b3 Bd8 24.c4 bxc4 One of Grischuk's bad habits has been his habitual time scrambles - and here, the Russian had just 6 minutes for the remaining 14 moves. There's not much in the position, but Carlsen calmly picked the optimum moment to 'mix it' later, with Grischuk having just seconds left on his clock - and the Russian couldn't react. 25.bxc4 Bb6 26.c5! (SEE DIAGRAM) Nicely timed, as Grischuk has to waste addition time to fathom what was happening. 26...Bxc5 27.Bxc5 dxc5 28.d6 Qb6 To compound Grischuk's time trouble further, he also had to see through 28...Rxa1 29.Qxa1 Qc8 30.Qxe5 (Also to think about, was 30.Bd5 c4 31.Qc3) 30...c4 31.Be4 c3 32.Bc2 Be6 33.f4 and Black's probably holding on, but all of this looks difficult to calculate when you have little or no time left, after the world champion unexpectedly hits you with 26.c5! 29.Rxa6 Qxa6 30.Bd5 Qc8? Grischuk was now beginning to worry about Carlsen playing Qf3 to hit f7. However, backward bishop retreats to defend are difficult at the best of times, and here it was his best option: 30...Be8 and now d6 is under attack, so after 31.Be4 Qb5 32.Bf5 Bd7 33.Bxd7 Qxd7 34.Qd5 c4 35.Qc5 Kf8 it looks as if Black has everything covered, as he can throw his c-pawn down the board as a decoy to capture on d6, such as 36.Qxe5 (36.Qc7 Ke8 37.Qb8+ Qd8 38.Qb5+ Kf8 39.d7 f6 40.Qc5+ Kf7 41.Qxc4+ Ke7=) 36...c3 37.Qc5 c2= 31.Qb3 Be8 32.Qc3 c4 33.Bxc4 Bd7 34.Qb3 Qe8 35.Qf3 Kf8 36.h5 Kg8 If 36...e4 37.Qe3 Qe5 38.Qb6! and White has a winning advantage. 37.Qe4 Bc6 38.Bd5 Bd7 39.Kg2 Kh8 40.f4! And with Grischuk left with just 6 seconds to make a move, Carlsen hits him with another move to ponder over - if the Queen's come off, is it a draw? 40...exf4 41.Qxe8+ Bxe8 42.Bxf7! No! 42...Bc6+ 43.Kf2 fxg3+ 44.Kxg3 Bd7 Now the tablebases were beginning to kick in, and they quickly spotted a mate in 20 after 44...g5 45.hxg6 Bb5 46.Kg4 Bd7+ 47.Kh4 Bf5 48.Be8 Kg7 49.Kh5 Kf6 50.d7 Ke7 51.g7 Be6 52.Kxh6 Bg8 53.Kg6 Be6 54.d8Q+! Kxd8 55.Bf7 Bxf7+ 56.Kxf7 etc. 45.Bg6 1-0 White wins with Kf4-e5 and will engineer an exchange of bishops and will win.

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