Those many of you who don’t follow chess will not know that the first game in a unification bout for the World Anyweight Champion of Chess took place last night – our time. The players? Topalov whose extraordinary swashbuckling style – never mind that rooks are supposed to be worth nearly two pieces, Topalov frequently exchanges a rook for a piece and a bit of initiative and has the brilliance to follow it up. Even more swashbuckling than Fischer (though no-one can ever beat Fischer for standing above his peers, Topalov’s opponent is Kramnik.
Kramnik likes to do his homework and then come up with some small novelty which gives him a slight positional edge. Then he grinds away. That’s what he did in this game. Although Topalov was the first to innovate into a quite tactically sharp line, Kramnik emerged ten moves later with the kind of position he really likes. He had a slight edge because the greater activity of his pieces means Topalov can’t really make life hard for Kramnik with his passed pawn.
Topalov created some anxious moments for Kramnik but wasn’t able to create enough problems for Kramnik and Kramnik kept building to a won position.
You can play through the game here. (Thanks to Scott Wickstein for the link).
Postscript: Here is the NY times analysis – illustrating the inadequacy of my own efforts.
Game 1 yesterday was a Catalan Opening, a system that both players have played often from both sides of the board and are therefore very familiar with. In fact, in 2005 at the Dortmund super tournament, Mr. Kramnik, playing White, beat Mr. Topalov in the Catalan.
Mr. Topalov quickly steered away from what he did last time, following the path of a game played in April 2006 by Alexander Grischuk and Alexander Moiseenko. It is a game that Mr. Kramnik probably knew as well.
Topalov’s 12… Ba6 was new and was an invitation for Mr. Kramnik to enter complications by taking the Black’s pawn on a5. The game might have gone, 13 Qa5 Bb7 14 Qd8 Ra1 when White would have had a choice of 15 Qf8 Kf8 16 0-0 Ra2, when Black regains his pawn with good play, or 15 Qb6 Rb1 16 Kd2 c3 when White looks as if he is in big trouble. Mr. Kramnik sidestepped the problems by playing 14 Qa4.
After the queens were exchanged, the game revolved around Black’s a-pawn and whether or not White could win it. Mr. Kramnik eventually worked up a strategy to do just that, but Topalov managed to stir up counterplay around Mr. Kramnik’s king.
Mr. Kramnik’s 27 Bf3, allowing Mr. Topalov to land a pawn on f3, was probably ill-advised. Mr. Kramnik may have thought that the pawn would pose him no problems, but he was wrong.
After 37 Rf1, White was up a pawn, but he was completely tied to the defense of his f-pawn. At this point, Mr. Topalov could have forced a draw by playing Nd2 to attack White’s rook followed by Ne4 to renew the attack on the f-pawn. Instead, Mr. Topalov, true to his nature, decided to play for more.
Up through 47… Kh4, Mr. Topalov still had enough compensation for his pawn deficit that he had little to worry about. But then he started to drift, searching for a plan. At this point, a more seasoned match player might have settled for a draw, content to have gained a half point as Black. Instead, he fought on.
Mr. Kramnik’s 56 d5 was the first moment that he found for counterplay since early in the game. The idea was to try to get his knight to d4 where it might be able to pick off Black’s f pawn, which had been a thorn in his side for so long.
After 57 Ra4, Mr. Topalov could have played 57 … Nf2, the point being that 58 Kg3 is met by 58… e4 and after that 59 Kf2 Rb2 and White cannot escape check without letting Black’s f pawn queen.
Instead, Mr. Topalov blundered with 57 … f5. Kramnik snapped off the e pawn with his knight and the game could no longer be rescued.
Afterward, The Associated Press reported that Mr. Topalov said of his game: “Actually it was a dream position for any chess player. Black was clearly better, although I had significant technical difficulties in converting the advantage. Vlad defended well, and I eventually made a blunder.”