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09 Dec

No Country For Old Men

Back in June, during the first-ever event of the Grand Chess Tour in Stavanger, it was timeless wonders Veselin Topalov (40) and Vishy Anand (46 on Friday) who both top-scored against the newer, younger generation to take maximum tour points, and we described Norway as being “No Country For Young Men” . Now, in the final event of the tour, the 7th London Chess Classic, it's Topalov and Anand who are finding the UK to be no country for old men, as young turks Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri make all the running while both veterans languish.

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Both found themselves at the foot of the table; and this gave an added impetus for one of them to play all-out for a win when the two elder statesmen of the elite circuit met in round five, just before the mid-tournament rest day at the London Chess Classic, as players take a chance to recharge their batteries before the onslaught of the final four rounds.

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And in what turned out to be an intriguing match-up, it was five-time ex-world champion Anand who showed a flash of his brilliant past with a superb virtuoso endgame performance to take the full point, as he toppled Topalov by consigning him to a third loss in the tournament.  The Bulgarian now finds himself firmly at the foot of the table, the only player not on a plus score - and already down six places on the unofficial live ratings to No.8, Topalov is in grave danger now of being toppled out of the top ten.

Meanwhile, with all the other games being drawn, Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura and Giri remain in a three-way lead at the top - and with Nakamura leading on the live tour standings, if the US champion can get over his psychological hoodoo of playing World Champion Magnus Carlsen on Friday, he stands a great chance of winning the inaugural title and bonus prize of $75,000.

Round 5

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

Round 5 Standings: 1-3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3/5; 4-9. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Vishy Anand (India), Michael Adams (England), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 2.5; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 1.

Vishy Anand - Veselin Topalov
7th London Classic, (5)
Sicilian Najdorf, Adams Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 The Adams Attack - named after American master Weaver Adams, and a big favourite of Bobby Fischer - has sprung back into life by being added to the Sicilian arsenal of Anand and Magnus Carlsen. 6...e5 7.Nde2 h5 Played to prevent White expanding on the kingside with g4 - the drawback is that it allows White to quickly exchange off the f6 knight and control the d5 square. 8.Bg5 Be6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Nd5 Qd8 Not 10...Bxd5 as 11.Qxd5 is very strong for White. 11.Qd3 Anand continues his plan of exerting pressure down the d-file, with queenside castling to follow. 11...g6 12.0-0-0 Nd7 13.Kb1 Rc8 14.Nec3 Rc5 This is a typical Black rook manoeuvre in the Sicilian; helping with the queenside pawn push, and later looking to double on the c-file. 15.Be2 b5 16.a3 Nb6 17.g4! Timed to perfection! Anand pushes now to take advantage of his extra space, the opening of the h-file, as Topalov is unable to 'connect' his position. 17...hxg4 18.Nxb6 Qxb6 19.hxg4 Rxh1 20.Rxh1 Bg7 21.Qe3 Qb7 22.Rd1 If 22.Rh7 Kf8 and Black is doing OK. Now, with Topalov's bishop showing no scope on g7, Anand switches his attention back to the weakness down the d-file, especially the weak d6 pawn. 22...Qc7 23.g5 Sealing the fate of Topalov's dark-squared bishop. Now all Anand needs to do is engineer the exchange of the white-squared bishops, and his knight will dominate the game from the d5 outpost. 23...Qc6 24.Rg1! Threatening the immediate Bg4. 24...Qd7 25.Qg3 Rc8? The right answer had to be 25...Qc6 as after 26.Bg4 a5! and Black has counter-play. As it is, Topalov seems totally out of sorts in this tournament, and again comes up with a weak plan at a critical juncture of the game. 26.Bg4 Bxg4? Even 26...a5 now would have offered more hope for Black than what now follows. 27.Qxg4 Qxg4 28.Rxg4 Bf8 29.Nd5 The knight dominates from d5 - but perhaps Topalov thought he would have sufficient compensation with the weak pawn on g5? 29...Be7 30.c3 Rc6 31.Kc2 Kd7 32.Kb3 Bd8 33.a4 Anand's pawn majority on the queenside is the key to winning the game, so he sets about this task. 33...Rc5 34.axb5 Rxb5+?! This capture goes against the grain of playing such endings. There were better saving chances with the more conventional 34...axb5. 35.Ka2 a5 36.b4 Another idea was 36.b3 followed by Ka3-a4 and then push with b4 - but in general, I think we'll end up with a very similar sort of position. 36...axb4 37.cxb4 Anand now has his passed b-pawn and his knight dominating from d5 - the key now is how to deal with the pawn weakness on g5? 37...Rb7 38.Kb3 Rb8 39.Rg1 Rb7 40.Rg3 Rb8 41.Rg1 Rb7 42.Ra1!? Very brave! Anand just simply jettisons the g5 pawn, probably relying on his gut reaction that his active pieces will now push the b-pawn dangerously up the board. An easy assessment for a five-time ex-champion to make; but certainly not a calculated risk for the average club player to make. 42...Bxg5 43.Kc4 Bd8 44.f3 f5 45.Rh1 fxe4 46.fxe4 g5 47.b5 Rb8 A dangerous position, even although Black is a pawn to the good in a minimalist ending. But the key is all the White activity and easy access to squares. In reflection, perhaps Topalov should have tried 47...Kc8 and attempt to hold here. 48.Rh7+ (See Diagram) 48...Ke6? The real losing move, as Topalov self-inflicts the extra burden on himself of walking his king into a potential mating net. Yet again, better was 48...Kc8. 49.Kb4 Topalov is now in zugzwang. 49...g4 50.Rg7 g3 51.Rxg3 Rb7 52.Rg6+ Kd7 53.Rg7+ Kc8 54.Rg8 Kd7 55.Kc4 Rb8 56.Rg7+ Ke6 57.Kb4 Now we're back to the same potential mating-net position, the big difference now though being Anand has captured the g-pawn and Topalov has no more moves left to play with. 57...Ba5+ Ah, St. Alemate: the patron saint of lost chess causes! 58.Kc4! Topalov was hoping for 58.Kxa5 Rxb5+ 59.Ka6 Ra5+ 60.Kb6 Rb5+ and taking the rook is stalemate - but even here, White has an escape clause: 61.Kc6 Rc5+ 62.Kb7 Rb5+ 63.Nb6 Rb4 64.Rg4 easily winning. But rather than all this palaver, Anand just casually brushes off any stalemate chances by simply ignoring the bishop. 58...Bd8 59.Rg8 Rc8+ 60.Kd3 Rb8 61.Rh8 Kd7 62.Rh7+ Ke6 63.Kc4 Rc8+ 64.Kb4 Rc1 65.b6 Rb1+ 66.Ka5 Bxb6+ 67.Nxb6 Ra1+ 68.Kb5 Rb1+ 69.Kc6 Rc1+ 70.Kb7 Rb1 71.Kc7 Rc1+ 72.Kd8 Re1 73.Rh4 Kf6 74.Rg4 1-0 

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