Round 7- Bluvshtein-Topalov

We were paired against Bulgaria for round 7. I was very excited when I saw the pairings. It’s a rare opportunity to play a 2800. The best chance to get this is in an Olympiad. I was actually scared that Bulgaria would bench their superstar. The idea of playing Topalov erased most of my thoughts about losing the previous game. Short memory is key at tournaments.

The great thing about playing a top level player is that you should not be scared of losing. I always look forward to the challenge of a higher rated player. The #2 ranked player in the world is certainly somebody I was excited about playing.

After seeing the team pairings, I started preparing. With over 2000 games in the database, I knew preparation would not be straight-forward. Topalov is able to play lots of openings, most of which (if not all) he knows much better than me.

I woke up in the morning to see that I will be playing Topalov. This is when my preparation got a bit more intense. I had a feeling that my opponent would be playing the King’s Indian. After all, this is the opening that is known to be the most double edged of them all. The Grunfeld and Nimzo are the less likely and less sharp options.

It would be suicidal to go for a main-stream idea against one of the best players in the world in an opening. I thought it might also be dangerous to play something I have played before. So I decided to dig up something new. It was time for a new line.

The idea of playing the exchange King’s Indian line, which is very drawish with the queens off, came up somewhere on the team. But this is a rare opportunity to challenge myself against the very best. So what if I draw in a boring way? I am not actually saying I would be able to draw in the exchange line, because Topalov is Topalov. I am sure he has got his own ideas to play for a win in the exchange line. If he beats me in a sharp game, so be it. I want to see Topalov in action, and on this day I would have the best seat in the house. Here’s the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.09.28”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Topalov”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “E60”]
[PlyCount “83”]
[EventDate “2010.09.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.09.28”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. h3 Na6 7. Bg5 c6 8. Be2 e5
9. d5 h6 10. Be3 Nh5 11. dxc6 bxc6 12. Qd2 Nf4 13. O-O f5 14. Bxf4 exf4 15.
exf5 Bxf5 16. Rad1 Rb8 17. Nd4 Bd7 18. Bf3 Qb6 19. Nb3 Be5 20. Ne4 Rbd8 21. Qe2
c5 22. Rd2 Rfe8 23. Rfd1 Bf5 24. Nxd6 Bxd6 25. Rxd6 Rxe2 26. Rxd8+ Kf7 27. Bxe2
Ke7 28. Bg4 Bxg4 29. hxg4 Qxd8 30. Rxd8 Kxd8 31. Kf1 Ke7 32. Ke2 Kd6 33. a3 Nb8
34. Kf3 Ke5 35. Nxc5 g5 36. Nb3 Nd7 37. Ke2 Kd6 38. f3 Ne5 39. Na5 Kc5 40. b4+
Kd4 41. c5 Kd5 42. Kd2 1-0

I played the line with 5.Nf3 followed by 6.h3. I have never played the line before, but I have looked at it quite in depth before as a possible way to battle the King’s Indian. I thought the element of surprise would be important.

We got this position early on in the opening. I chose 11.dxc6!? bxc6 12.Qd2. The idea was to scatter the black pawns and later use them as targets. I thought this would cause some problems for black.

Here I played 19.Nb3 with the idea of later playing Ne4. A potentially stronger alternative is 19.Na4, where black’s queen should probably go to c7. I was trying to avoid putting the knight on the edge of the board though.

By this point I already didn’t have that much time, probably about 25min. Topalov has shown why he is Topalov and has  steered up the position in an unclear direction. Black should probably play 23…Ba4 or 23…Be6 and the position is unclear. White might still be a bit better after 23…Ba4 24.h4. Black still has a lot of weaknesses.

I was shocked to see my opponent play 23…Bf5? and went into calculating mode. The first thought that came to my mind was “what am I missing?” It’s fair enough, I had calculated that 24.Nxd6 would be close to winning for me. After some recalculating I had to just play it. Topalov immediately started shaking his head and I knew I didn’t miss anything. I got 2 rooks and a pawn for the queen just as expected after 24…Bxd6 25.Rxd6 Rxe2 26.Rxd8 Kf7 27.Bxe2.

This was an important position for me psychologically. Truth be told, I didn’t want to play Bg4 and go into a knight endgame. I knew that would require some technique against one of the world’s best. But I couldn’t find any other clear path to a winning position. After some thinking, I convinced myself that I would win the knight endgame and went for it after 28.Bg4, forcing my opponent to play 28…Bxg4 29.hxg4 Qxd8 30.Rxd8 Kxd8. I am up a pawn and the c5 pawn is weak.

The arising knight endgame has different plans. It is important to keep my pieces active as well as contain black’s pieces. I tried to bring my king in to f3 but also made sure I had time to play a3 at the right time to not allow Nb4. The game continued 31.Kf1 Ke7 32.Ke2 Kd6 33.a3 Nb8 34.Kf3 Ke5.

In this position I was just making sure that I can take the pawn bravely, and so I did.The conversion was pretty smooth as well.

This is the final position. I was a bit surprised that my opponent resigned. Not because my position is not winning, but just that I thought he would play on looking for tricks. But realistically, there is no stopping my pawns and no better counterplay than attacking the g2 pawn, which just helps me push my pawns.

I was getting very excited towards the end of the game. It is not everyday that I get a winning position against Topalov, so excitement/nervousness is normal. I don’t feel like those emotions are worsening my play. The excitement of actually playing Topalov keeps me at the board. Why would I look at some other top level player’s games when I can look at my own game against Topalov?

Topalov resigned politely. I am not sure what else to say about his resignation. He said that 23…Bf5 was of course the critical mistake, and 23…Ba4 should have been played instead.

The game is a milestone in my chess career, but I can’t say that I am too impressed with my play. Topalov did not have his best day. Beating Topalov is still beating Topalov, but I don’t feel like I did anything special in this game. I played well, but that’s about it. The game just showed that top level players can have off days. One critical mistake and the game was over. On a good day for the Former World Champion, it would be a different story. What the game did show is that I can compete with the very best.

A great day for me!

This day was not just about me, the rest of the guys had their work cut out for them too against the 8th ranked Bulgaria. Thomas drew Cheparinov, Topalov’s second, with the black pieces in what looked like an effortless game. Thomas was never in any trouble and simply equalized and never lost the thread of the position. SOLID.

Leonid sort of did the same thing against Georgiev, rated 2685, with the white pieces. Leonid just played very solid and never gave the GM any chances. It was important for Leonid to get back on track after some tough losses.

Nikolay had a tough day and just got crushed by the young IM Berbatov, who appears to be the next hope of Bulgarian chess.

Overall, phenomenal day for the team! Coming in nobody thought we had any chances. It was time for the team to make some history. Team morale definitely went up.

The women’s team played 2-2 against Singapore. Yuanling and Liza won, while Iulia and Dalia lost. All games were decided with white winning.

Until this round, I wasn’t having a good tournament. My win over Topalov was certainly a boost. I got a lot of congratulations following the game in all forms. The more notable ones were from some 2700s that I knew from before.

Probably the most notable one was from Magnus Carlsen, who I also know from before. Magnus came up to me during the next day to congratulate me, after which I told him I was making sure he is still number 1 in the world. He said that it was nice to see another 2800 losing, and that it wasn’t only him. Magnus had actually lost in the 7th round as well. For those who don’t know Magnus, he’s just a great guy who happens to be the number 1 player in the world.

One game doesn’t make a tournament and I knew there was more to come.

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2 Responses to Round 7- Bluvshtein-Topalov

  1. John linklater says:

    Nice commentary, Mark — fresh from the encounter and vivid. Congratulations on this great win.
    I love the way you describe 11 dc6 as a strategy to ~scatter the black pawns~ to create targets. This was surely an important decision which helped create the winning endgame position. You make it sound like a snooker player breaking the pack to try and build a big score. Delighted it worked out.

  2. Tim says:

    Hi mark, I write for the North York Mirror. Can you give me a call or email, I am doing a wrap up on your team’s performance at the Olympiad? 416-774-2267

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