IM (1989); GM (1992); World U14 Champion (1989); Olympiad Gold Medalist (1994); FIDE World Champion (2005-06); World Championship Challenger (2010); Candidate (2011, 2014 and 2016); winner of the 2012-13 Grand Prix series.
A former – and the last - FIDE World Champion, Veselin Topalov was born in Rousse, Bulgaria. He learned chess at eight years old from his father and began a training/mentoring relationship with Silvio Danailov when he was twelve.
In 1989, he won the World Under-14 championship in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. In 1990 he won a silver medal in the World Under-16 Championship in Singapore.
In the knockout tournaments for the FIDE World Chess Championship, Topalov was seeded into the second round in Groningen in 1998, and lost to Jeroen Piket. Again seeded into the second round at the championships in Las Vegas in 1999, Topalov reached the last 16 defeating Ruslan Ponomariov and Lev Psakhis before bowing out to Vladimir Kramnik. In New Delhi and Tehran in 2000, he reached the quarter-finals in 2000 – again from a second round start - defeating Andrei Kharlov, Kiril Dimitrov Georgiev and Alexey Dreev before losing to Michael Adams. In 2002, he defeated Juan Facundo Pierrot, Giovanni Portilho Vescovi and Zhong Zhang before losing to Shirov. He reached the semi-finals in the FIDE World Championship Knockout Tournament (2004) in Tripoli, defeating Tarik Abulhul, Aleksander Delchev, Sergei Movsesian, Zdenko Kozul and Andrei Kharlov in the earlier rounds before losing to eventual winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov.
He also took part in the 2002 Dortmund Candidates' tournament to determine a challenger for World Classical Champion Kramnik, but lost the finals match to Peter Leko.
On the strength of his rating, Topalov was invited to the eight-player, double round-robin FIDE World Championship Tournament (2005) in San Luis, Argentina, in September–October 2005. Scoring 6½/7 in the first cycle, Topalov had virtually clinched the tournament at the halfway mark, before drawing every game in the second cycle to win by 1½ points to become FIDE World Chess Champion. The average rating of the field in the championship was 2739, and Topalov's performance rating was 2890.
In 2006 he lost his title to Kramnik in the reunification Kramnik - Topalov World Championship Match (2006) played in Elista, under the auspices of FIDE. By losing the reunification match, Topalov lost his chance to compete in the FIDE World Championship Tournament (2007) . Danailov expressed a desire for a rematch between Topalov and Kramnik, proposing a match in March 2007, though no such match took place. The issue was settled in June 2007 when Topalov (as well as Kramnik) was granted special privileges in the 2008-09 championship cycle. Topalov was given direct entry to a "Challenger Match" against the winner of the World Chess Cup (2007) , Gata Kamsky. The Topalov - Kamsky Match (2009) (the Challenger Match) took place in February 2009 in Hall 6 of NDK Sofia. Topalov won that match 4½-2½ and qualified to play against the World Champion Viswanathan Anand for the World Chess Champion title, but he lost the Anand - Topalov World Chess Championship (2010) by 6½-5½. Topalov automatically qualified for the World Championship Candidates (2011) for the World Chess Championship 2012, where he was the top seed. He faced 8th seeded Gata Kamsky in Kazan in Russia and lost his match 1.5-2.5 (+0 =3 -1), and was thereby eliminated from the 2012 World Championship cycle. He declined to participate in the World Cup (2011) and there was speculation about his future Championship intentions.
Late in 2012, Topalov rejoined the championship circuit from which he had been noticeably absent to take =1st alongside Boris Gelfand and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov at the 1st FIDE Grand Prix London (2012) of the 2012-2013 series, which was held in London. His score of 7/11 (+3 =8 -0; TPR 2834) netted him the 140 points to give a flying start to his 2014 World Championship campaign. A superb follow up at the FIDE Grand Prix Zug (2013), the 3rd event in the GP series, saw him take outright 1st with 8/11 (+5 =6) with a stellar performance rating for the event of 2924. It also added 170 Grand Prix points to his tally to take him to the lead with 310 points. A poor performance at the FIDE Grand Prix Thessaloniki (2013) with 4.5/11 earned him only 45 Grand Prix points, however, his =3rd in the FIDE Grand Prix Beijing (2013) earned him enough Grand Prix points to win the Grand Prix and guarantee his qualification into the World Chess Championship Candidates (2014). (1) His official rating also qualified him to participate in the World Cup (2013) if he so chose, but instead he successfully gambled that he would qualify via the Grand Prix series. At the Candidates event that was held in March 2014 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Topalov scored a disappointing 6/14 to place 8th and last.
Topalov qualified by rating to play in the World Cup (2015). In the first round he defeated Oladapo Oluto Adu of Nigeria by 2-0, Sergei Zhigalko by 1.5-0.5 in round two and Lu Shanglei in the first set of rapid game tiebreakers in round three. He played Peter Svidler in the Round of Sixteen (fourth round) and lost the standard games match 0.5-1.5 to bow out of the event. However, he qualified by rating to play in the Candidates Tournament of 2016.
Topalov first major tournament wins were Terrassa 1992 and Budapest zonal-B 1993. He played in Linares 1994 (6½/13), Linares 1995 (8/13), Amsterdam 1995, and won at Polanica Zdroj and Elenite in 1995. In March 1996, Topalov won at Amsterdam (coming =1st with Garry Kasparov), Vienna (ahead of Anatoly Karpov), Novgorod, and Dos Hermanas (1st-2nd with Kramnik). In 1996, he was invited to Las Palmas, the first category 21 tournament, where he scored 5/10, in a field including Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik and Karpov. In 1996 he also took a series of top-level tournament wins-- Madrid and Dos Hermanas in May, Novgorod in July, Vienna in August, as well as Leon - to firmly establish himself among the world's leading players. Between 1997 and 2003, Topalov continued his tournament successes, winning at Antwerp 1997, Madrid 1997, Monaco 2001, Dortmund 2001 (joint first with Kramnik), NAO Chess Masters Cannes 2002 (joint first with Gelfand), the Hotel Bali Stars (2003) at Benidorm 2003, and coming 2nd at the category 16 tournament in Bosnia in 2001. 2004 saw Topalov participate in Corus (2004) and 21st Linares (2004) (coming =4th on both occasions), and in the FIDE World Championship Knockout Tournament (2004). He began 2005 by climbing to third place on FIDE's world ranking list. Topalov finished 3rd behind Peter Leko and Anand at Corus 2005 and tied for first (coming second on count back) with Garry Kasparov at XXII Torneo Ciudad de Linares (2005) in Kasparov’s final tournament. Two months later, he won the inaugural MTel Masters (2005) event by a full point over Viswanathan Anand; the average rating of the participants was 2744, making this super-GM, double round-robin tournament the strongest in 2005. After his =2nd at Dortmund in 2005, Topalov followed up his 2005 World Championship Tournament victory (see below) with +5 and joint first (with Anand) at Corus (2006) and =2nd at Linares (2006). There followed his successful defence of MTel Masters (2006) (with 6.5/10, half a point ahead of Gata Kamsky whom he beat 2-0), Topalov started the tournament somewhat hesitantly to later record four consecutive wins and decisively claim the title.
Topalov rebounded from his world championship reunification match loss to Kramnik in 2006 to finish equal first (with Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov) at the category 19 Corus (2007), but then a poor performance at Linares - Morelia (2007) caused him to lose his #1 spot in the world rankings to Anand. The next year, he regained the #1 position by convincingly winning the inaugural Bilbao Grand Slam Chess Final (2008), scoring +4 -1 =5 in the category-22 tournament. Also in 2007, he won the Mtel Masters (2007), the Liga de Campeones (2007) (a point and a half a head of Ruslan Ponomariov), and in 2008 he won Pearl Spring Chess Tournament (2008) (a point and a half ahead of Aronian). In 2009, he came 2nd with Magnus Carlsen behind Alexey Shirov in the M-Tel Masters (2009) and second behind Carlsen at the latter’s blitz at Pearl Spring Chess Tournament (2009). Soon after losing the world title bid in 2010, Topalov participated in the Essent Chess Tournament. He finished third of four players with only 2½ points from 6 games and a 2645 performance. He lost both games against Judit Polgar and one against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Topalov won the Linares (2010) held from February 13 to 24 in Andalusia, Spain, defeating 2009 Chess World Cup champion Boris Gelfand in his final game. He finished 2010 with 4.5/10 at Nanjing Pearl Spring Tournament (2010). Topalov continued his unremarkable form since narrowly losing his 2010 World Championship match when in early 2012, he finished tenth at the category 21 Tata Steel (2012), scoring 5/13 (+1 -4 =8; TPR 2672), before returning to form in the 1st Grand Prix of the 2012-13 series (see above), in the 28th European Club Cup (2012), and with his =1st (2nd on tiebreak) at the Kings' Tournament (2012). That form, however, was less than par in the category 21 Norway Chess Tournament (2013) where he finished in the bottom half of the field with 4/9.
In August and September 2014, Topalov competed in the round robin category category 23 Sinquefield Cup (2014), where he placed outright 3rd with 5/10 behind Caruana and Carlsen respectively. In January 2015, he competed at Tradewise Gibraltar (2015) and placed =3rd behind Hikaru Nakamura and David Howell. In June 2015, Topalov had the finest result of his career since San Luis 2005 when he led the field from start to finish to win the category 23 Norway Chess (2015) event, in which most of the world's top 10 participated. Topalov's result was 6.5/9 (+5 -1 =3) for a 2946 PR, half a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and Anand. He also recorded both his career best live rating and official ratings as a result of this event, adding 18 rating points to his resume. At the Sinquefield Cup (2015), his score of 4.5/9 was essentially rating-neutral midfield, however his gains were undone at the London Chess Classic (2015) where he finished last with 2.5/9, shedding 23 rating points.
Topalov has been the leader of the Bulgarian national team since 1994 and has played top board for Bulgaria at every Olympiad in which he participated including Moscow 1994, Yerevan 1996, Elista 1998, Istanbul 2000, Dresden 2008, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, the Chess Olympiad (2012) in Istanbul and the Chess Olympiad (2014) in Tromsø. In 1994, he led the Bulgarians to a fifth-place finish, winning the gold medal for the top board, scoring 8.5/12 (TPR 2781). He won the silver medal for the top board in 1998 and 2000, scoring 8/11 on both occasions. In 2008, he won bronze with 6.5/8 and a TPR of 2821. In 2014, he won individual gold for the top board, having scored a TPR of 2872.
Other Team Play
<National> In 1989 and 1990, Topalov played in the Bulgarian team contesting the Boys' Balkaniads competition, playing on board 2 in 1989 and board 1 in 1990, winning individual gold on both occasions, as well as a team gold in 1989 and team bronze in 1990. In 1994, he played top board for the gold medal winning Bulgarian national team in the Balkaniad team competition, and won an individual bronze. Topalov played top board for Bulgaria in the European Team Championships of 1999 (where he won individual gold), 2007, 2009 and 2011. Playing for Bulgaria, he also won individual gold for the top board at the European Team Championship (2013).
<European Club Cup (ECC)> In 1999, he played 3 games for the gold medal winning ECC team ŠK Bosna Sarajevo, winning two and drawing one. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, he played for SOCAR Baku: at the 28th European Club Cup (2012), he played board 3, winning both individual and team gold. Topalov played board 3 for SOCAR in the European Club Cup (2013), scoring a solid 4.5/6 and winning individual and team bronze. In the European Club Cup (2014), he repeated his 2012 triumph by winning team and individual gold (this time for board 2). Playing board one at the European Club Cup (2015), Topalov won individual and team silver.
Topalov won the Topalov - Nisipeanu Match (2006) by 3-1 (+2 =2 -0) in April 2006, the Blind Chess World Duel (2006) against Polgar by 3.5-2.5, and the Topalov - Laznicka Match (2013) by 4-2 (+3 -1 =2).
Topalov won the Dos Hermanas XIV (2008) , 17–21 April 2008, defeating Francisco Vallejo Pons (Spain) 2½–1½ in the final match by winning the first game and drawing the rest. He also won the Villarrobledo International Rapid Open (2008) with a commanding 8/9.
Ratings and rankings
<Classical> After Kasparov's retirement, Topalov topped the FIDE World Rating List from April 2006 to January 2007, during which time his Elo rating peaked at 2813, a level that had been surpassed only by Garry Kasparov, and subsequently by Anand, Carlsen, Aronian and Caruana. He regained the world #1 ranking again in October 2008, and officially remained #1 until January 2010, when he fell to #2 behind Carlsen. He has been ranked number one a total of 27 months in his career, the fifth all-time high since the inception of the FIDE ranking lists in 1971 behind only Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Robert James Fischer and most recently Carlsen.
After his unsuccessful challenge for the world title in 2010, his form declined such that by 1 October 2012, Topalov's rating was 2751, his lowest rating since July 2004 and his ranking to number 13 in the world, his lowest ranking since January 1995. However his return to form in September and October 2012 (see above) saw him return to the top 10, while his successful campaign in the Zug leg of the 2012-13 Grand Prix series saw him leap back to #4 in the world ratings. In 2015, Topalov's win at the annual Norway Chess tournament improved even his stocks even further when he reached his highest live rating to date, 2821.2, while his highest official rating to date was 2816 on 1 July 2015, sharing the world #2 spot with Anand.
Topalov won the 2005 Chess Oscar. Although he now lives in Spain, Topalov still plays for Bulgaria and has enjoyed several athletic honors from his native country, including the Sportsman of the Year award for 2005. He is renowned for his aggressive style which is exemplified in his trademark and much-feared exchange sacrifice that he has employed with great effect at all levels of play. He and his partner have a daughter, Laura, who was born on 28 August 2013.
Sources and references:
(1) Wikipedia article: FIDE Grand Prix 2012%E2%80%932013; Live rating: http://www.2700chess.com/; Wikipedia article: Topalov; Wikipedia article: World Chess Championship 2012
Latest update 4 January 2016