25 Apr

Nils Points

The British term ‘nul points’ derives from the scoring system in the annual jamboree that is the Eurovision Song Contest (coming round again soon!), in which the scores for each contestant are read out in several languages. This term came to being in 1979 by Stephen Pile in his The Book of Heroic Failures: "Singing an entrancingly drab number called 'Mile after Mile', a Norwegian pop singer, Mr Jan Teigan, scored nil in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest. The voting was unanimous: 'Norway - no points - nul points - keine Pünkte’.”


Norway holds the record for the most nul points scored in Eurovision. But alas at the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger, it’s not so much a case of nul points as ‘Nils points’, as the rest of the field attempts to pick off the Swedish tail-ender Nils Grandelius, who is playing in his first super tournament after he suprisingly won the wlid card qualifying spot last month. 

And now going down to his third defeat, the latest to pick off points from the plucky young Swede was Veselin Topalov, who moved to within a half point of the tournament leader as he outplayed his opponent, whose inexperience at this level showed in a very complex position. However arguably one of the biggest statistical anomalies in chess right now is not nul points but -1 - that the minus score Carlsen has against the young Dutchman Anish Giri. And Carlsen again didn’t get much with White as their game ended in a remarkable thirteenth straight draw between the two.


Carlsen, though, looks to be in fine form now going 40 games without defeat, as he holds a half point lead at the top. Meanwhile at the opposite end of the table, Grandelius languishes in last place with just two draws, as he tries to better Norway’s Jon Ludvig Hammer’s debut super tournament score last year of 3 points - one of which being a last round blunder by Carlsen in one of his worst tournament performances ever.

Photo © | Tarjei J. Svenson/Matt & Patt


Round 5
Carlsen draw Giri
Topalov 1-0 Grandelius
Kramnik draw Eljanov
Aronian draw Vachier-Lagrave
Harikrishna 1-0 Li Chao

1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 3.5/5; 2-4. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Veselin Topalov, Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 3; 5-7. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Pentala Harikrishna (India) 2.5; 8-9. Li Chao (China), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 2; 10. Nils Grandelius (Sweden) 1.

GM Veselin Topalov - GM Nils Grandelius
Altibox Norway Chess Tournament, (5)
Ruy Lopez, Pilnik Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 This transposes directly into the Pilnik Variation, named after Hermann Pilnik (1914-1981), the Argentinian/German grandmaster. It is a slower version of the mainline Ruy Lopez, as White will play d4 at a later stage, but only after he has developed all his pieces in the usal Lopez locations. It comes in handy for stronger players looking for a long, strategical manoeuvring game where experience will count, as they avoid a lot of big mainline Lopez theory such as the Marshall Attack, Chigorin, Zaitsev, Smyslov and Breyer variations etc. 6...d6 7.c3 0-0 8.Re1 Re8 9.Nbd2 Bf8 10.h3 b5 11.Bc2 Ne7 Perhaps more common is 11...h6 12.a4 b4 13.a5 Rb8 14.Nc4 - but Grandelius unwisely goes for another option that sort of leads to Black setting up a queenside Benoni structure. 12.d4 Ng6 13.Nf1 exd4 14.cxd4 c5 15.d5 Nd7 16.Ng3 Here's where age and guile wins through in chess. After the game, Topalov said that he remembered this Benoni type of structure from commenting on the Anand-Kamsky match from the 1995 PCA Candidates' final in Las Palmas. And from basically knowing this, Topalov now goes on to totally outplay the young, inexperienced Swede. 16...a5 17.Be3 a4 18.Bd3 Topalov thought on reflection that the immediate 18.b3!? may have been better for him here. 18...Rb8 19.Bf1 The phalanx of queenside pawns coming down the board looks impressive for Black - but the problem for Grandelius is that he can't advance them further without leaving gaps somewhere for them to be exploited. 19...Nde5 Exchanging pieces will only relieve the pressure for Black. 20.Nd2 Be7 Grandelius misses his chance. Topalov thought that 20...c4!? was best now for Black. Now Topalov begins to chip away at the pawns. 21.b3 axb3 Closing the queenside with 21...a3 will only give White a free rein to attack over on the kingside. 22.axb3 Bg5 23.Nh5! It's remarkable how this knight on the rim - which threatens 24.f4! -becomes the most important piece in establishing White's advantage. 23...Bxe3 24.Rxe3 Nd7?! Grandelius misses a trick here. Attack is always the best form of defence, and his best shot was the very aggressive looking 24…Qg5 - but he missed in his calculations a winning tactic after 25.g3? Bg4!! 26.hxg4 Nxg4 and Black is winning. Instead, Topalov would have played instead 25.Rg3 Qh4, and here at least Black is doing OK with his activity on the kingside. 25.Ra7! Now Topalov's active pieces make life somewhat awkward for Grandelius, as he's slowly but surely outplayed. 25...Re5 What else? If 25...Nf6? 26.Nxf6+ Qxf6 27.Rf3 and White's winning. 26.Be2 Ndf8 27.Qa1! (See Diagram) With one move, suddenly Grandelius is being stretched on both sides of the board now - the queen from a1 links up with the rook on a7 to dominate the a-file, while from a1 the queen is also attacking the black king with a potential mate on g7. 27...Qh4 Stopping f4, which would have been instant resignation for Black. 28.Ng3 Qd8 There was no other way to escape from Nf3. 29.Bg4! Total control. Once the bishops are exchanged, White has an easy strategical win with access for his knight to f5 or perhaps h5. 29...Re7 30.Rxe7 Nxe7 31.Bxc8 Rxc8 32.Nh5! Again, this knight going to the rim is anything but dim! This time from h5, the knight orchestrates the attack on Black's king. 32...f6 33.Rg3 Neg6 34.Qa6 Topalov now has total domination, as he ruthlessly squeezes his opponent now on both sides of the board. 34...Qd7 There's no time for the niceties of defending b5 with 34...Rb8 while White has the easy winning plan of 35.f4 followed by f5 etc. 35.f4 c4 Grandelius tries to muster up some complications by opening the c-file and a path through to White's king - but it is all too little too late, as Topalov has it all under control. 36.bxc4 bxc4 37.Nxc4 f5 38.Nxd6 Rc1+ 39.Kh2 fxe4 40.f5 e3 41.fxg6 hxg6 42.Nf4 1-0

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