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Peter Leko vs Veselin Topalov
Dortmund Candidates (2002), Dortmund GER, rd 1, Jul-18
Sicilian Defense: Four Knights. Exchange Variation (B45)  ·  1-0

ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-23-05  acirce: Some annotations from Timman’s excellent book “Power Chess with Pieces”, from which this highly important game is one of my favourites:

<Of all recent games, the present one is the most perfect example of the superiority of the bishop pair. In the beginning, the position is half-closed and Black seems to be fairly OK. But because of his hesitant play White continuously manages to present him with new problems and to activate his pieces. It goes without saying that in short, four-game matches for the world championship the strain is intense. Leko clearly suppressed his nervousness, not in the least because play always stayed in purely positional waters. He was also alert enough to master all the tactical complications that arose in virtually every fight. If Topalov had succeeded in keeping his nerve until the time-control, the game would probably have ended in a draw. Even then I would probably have included it in this book as a classical example of how the bishop pair may be kept in check in awkward circumstances.>

6.Nxc6 <Leko does not want to end up in the main lines after 6.Ndb5. It is interesting to speculate on what Topalov would otherwise have done: would he have gone for today’s big fad, the Sveshnikov with 6..d6 or would he have played the old-fashioned 6..Bb4, which had yielded Kramnik and myself, in Wijk aan Zee 2000 and 2002 respectively, a fairly comfortable draw? An interesting detail is that both players had already had this position a year ago, albeit with reversed colours. This was in a rapid game in Dubai that followed the present game for 15 moves. Topalov vs Leko, 2002;

9..c5 <Black not only opens the long diagonal for his queen’s bishop; as we will see, he also vacates square c6 for the queen.>

12..Qc6 <The point of move 9. We also see that the thematic position is already beginning to take shape.>

15..Rfc8 <This is regarded as more accurate than taking on d6 at once, as in the afore-mentioned game Topalov-Leko. After 15..Qxd6 White will be able to prevent a queen swap, for the moment, with the subtle little move 16.Rf2! After the continuation 16..Qb6 17.Qh4 Rac8 18.b3 Ne3 19.Bd3 Nf5 20.Qf4 Qd4 21.Qxd4 Nxd4 22.Be3 Nc6 23.Bc5 Rfe8 24.Bd6! White had a solid plus.>

17.Rf2! <Leko follows in his opponent’s footsteps. In the present situation this rook move is also enough to guarantee White a slight but lasting advantage. In the subsequent rapid tournament in Dubai, Leko had played the obvious 17.Bb2 against Grischuk, but with the strategically and tactically sound 17..e5! Black had completely freed himself. The point is that after 18.Qxe5 Qxe5 19.Bxe5 Black has the knight sortie 19..Ne3. Leko vs Grischuk, 2002;

17..Qb6 <Leko’s novelty cannot have come as a great surprise for Topalov, as he replied almost at once. Black forces a queen swap in more favourable conditions than in the rapid game, in which the Bulgarian grandmaster was White.>

19.Bxd4 <In his annotations in the Chess Informant Leko assesses White’s position as slightly better, an assessment with which I concur. Black will come to dominate in the centre, but White has the possibility of playing the breaking move c2-c4 at some stage (or c3-c4, as we will see later in the game). Now the range of his bishop pair could increase considerably if Black were to play inaccurately.>

19..Nb4 <Topalov played this and the following moves equally rapidly. He is going to take his knight to c6, and in doing so clears the way for his central pawns.> (continued)

Mar-23-05  acirce: 22..Ne7 <Not a very good move. The knight had just found a good square to oppose the advance c3-c4. Now White, after some preparatory work, can execute this advance with great force. Alternatives were:

a) 22..a5 (suggested by Leko) 23.a4! Ba6 24.Bb5, with advantage for White, because it will be hard to chase the white king’s bishop from its position;

b) 22..e5 23.f4! d4 24.cxd4 exd4 25.Bd2, with a clear advantage for White. In the now open position the bishop pair will start functioning optimally;

c) 22..Rd8. To my mind Black’s best bet. He puts his rook on the d-file in order always to meet c3-c4 with d5-d4 and, if possible, when the situation changes, to aim for the same advance himself.>

23.Rc1 <The most accurate move. Topalov may well have hoped for 23.Rc2, after which he could have become active with 23..Nf5 24.Bf2 e5.>

23..a5 <Black decides to push the a-pawn after all. Given the situation, the alternative 23..Nf5 was ineffective in view of 24.Bf4 f6 25. Bd3, and the bishop pair will control the board.>

24.Rc2 <More preparation for the crucial advance. 24.c4 at once was problematic in view of 24..Nf5 25.Bf4 Ba6, and Black gets counterplay. After the text White is ready to meet 24..Nf5 with 25.Bf2.>

24..e5 <Black decides to create a strong centre in order to be optimally prepared to counter the advance of the c-pawn. The alternative was 24..Ba6, after which White would go 25.c4. After a wholesale swap on c4 with 25..dxc4 26.Bxc4 Bxc4 27.Rxc4 Rxc4 28.Rxc4 White would be clearly better, according to Leko. This assessment may well seem surprising at first sight, as Black can get a strongly centralized knight with 28..Nd5. But then White would calmly play 29.Bd2, after which the black a-pawn becomes irredeemably weak, whereas the white queenside pawns are impervious to attacks. If the a-pawn had been on a6, White’s advantage would have been only marginal.>

25.c4 <Leko correctly decides not to waste any time; he has correctly spotted that he need not fear the advance of the d-pawn.>

25..f6 <And Black hesitates. The text-move could not possibly be the intention of the previous move. Nor is it characteristic for Topalov, who usually aims for active play. The crucial line was 25..d4 26.Bf2 Nc6. After 27.a3 f5 Leko gives the following variation:

a) 28.b4 axb4 29.axb4, and now the continued advance 29..e4 will not suffice for tactical reasons. After 30.fxe4 fxe4 31.b5 e3 32.Bg3! Nb4 33.Rb2 Na2 34.Ra1 Nc3 35.Rxa8, followed by 36.Be5, White will call the shots. But Black has a venomous resource in 29..d3! By attacking the rook at the right moment he can maintain his central pawns in their advanced positions, since any rook move is met by 30..e4. The ensuing position is hard to assess, as the white king’s bishop has been deactivated;

b) 28.Bd3! With this subtle little move White remains in control. The tactical justification is contained in the line 28..e4 29.fxe4 Ne5 30.Rd2 fxe4 31.Bxe4! Bxe4 32.Re1, and White wins back the piece with a large advantage. This means that Black would have to go for the modest 28..g6, after which White can increase the pressure with 29.Re1.>

28.Bd2 <Opening fire on the a-pawn. Now Black exploits the fact that the white rook is not yet on c4.>

28..a4 <Black’s only chance.>

Mar-23-05  acirce: 29.bxa4 <An understandable decision in practical terms. White opens the position in order to give his bishop pair a free rein. The rest of the game shows, however, that it is difficult to make the passed a-pawn created by the text-move count. In his comments, Leko indicates that the text is not in itself incorrect, but he does observe that White would be clearly better after 29.b4 because of the weakness of the black a-pawn. This is the practical player speaking. It is quite possible that advancing the b-pawn is stronger than the text, especially if White could continue with a2-a3 in order to give his bishop pair an open field. This is why, given the circumstances, 29..a3 is probably Black’s best bet, and now Black is justified in hoping that he will be able to maintain a fairly strong defensive line. After 30.Rc5 Kf8 31.Bc4 Rd8 he would be able to avert any direct danger, when I think that White’s advantage would certainly not be any larger than after the text.>

32..Ba6 <Black is defending well. Now that he has taken his king closer to the centre, he offers a bishop swap. After the alternative 32..Ke7 he would immediately find himself in bad trouble, as White now has the power move 33.Bd3! 33..h6 is then met by 34.Be4, with an unpleasant pin along the long diagonal, while 33..g6 is met by 34.Rb2.>

33.Ba4 <White keeps his bishop pair, as a swap on a6 would leave him with unsufficient starting-points for a successful assault on the black defences.>

33..Rb8 <Topalov is in his element again. He activates his rook without running the risk of the white rook penetrating his position.>

35..Rb2 <Black refuses the rook swap, relying instead on active counterplay to give him better chances than an endgame in which the white bishop pair would dominate the proceedings.>

36..Rb1 <And it is true that his position would be precarious after 36..Rxc2 37.Bxc2 h6 38.Bb3!, because his king is not ready to cover the centralized knight.>

37.Kg3 <The only way to play for a win. The white king ends up slightly exposed, but the black pieces do not co-ordinate well enough to exploit this fully. Now the play gets sharper.>

40..Ra2? <The notorious 40th move. Topalov keeps hoping to activate his pieces and spurns his last chance to swap rooks. Yet 40..Nd5 was Black’s best bet. In this situation, his chances of survival in the endgame of bishop pair against knight and bishop would have been better than four years earlier. After 41.Bxb2 Nxc7 White can try to break through the black pawn front with 42.f4, but this would have practical drawbacks in view of 42..exf4+ 43.Kxf4 Bb7! The problem is that after 44.g3 Nd5+ his king would not have a good square, so that he is forced to play 44.g4. But this advance would have the drawback of the kingside pawns getting swapped earlier, leaving precious little winning potential. This is why 42.Ba3, to keep the black king away, would be White’s best move. This yields him practical chances, although it is hard to see how his king will eventually penetrate.>

41.Bh3! <A top-class move! White refutes 41..Bf1. His main threat is 42.Bb4.>

43.Bf5! <It is time to activate the king’s bishop again.>

44.h4 <With his mighty bishop pair and the rook on the seventh rank, White has a comprehensive grip on the position.>

44..Kf8 <A positional trap. If White plays the obvious 45.Be6, Black has 45..Ng6, with counterplay, up his sleeve.>

46.Bc2 <Systematic play. Black is forced more and more on the defensive.>

Mar-23-05  acirce: 46..Rf4 <Topalov accepts his fate. The bishop pair has grown too strong. His only hope lies in an endgame of rook + bishop against rook + four pawns, which would cause White quite some technical headaches.> 51.a7 <A hasty move. In his comments, Leko indicates 51.Rc5 Ba8 52.Bd2! as stronger. White first cuts the black rook off from the battlefield. After this White can queen his a-pawn in peace.>

53.Rxa8 <This endgame is lost in principle for Black because of his vulnerable g-pawn. White will succeed in liquidating to a winning pawn ending. It is useful to point out here that the endgame of rook, king’s bishop + three pawns against rook + four pawns (on e6, f7, g6, h7) is not clearly winning, since there are no transitions to pawn endings in sight and White is often badly hindered by the fact that, after a rook swap leaves him with only his h-pawn, he is stuck with the wrong bishop.>

55.Ra7 <White has conquered the seventh rank. Now all he has to do is effect a way through for the bishop to f8.>

61.Bb6 <Slowly but surely White is making progress.>

64.Kf2 <With the black rook doomed to passivity, White can take his time to work out the rest of his winning plan.>

75.f4! <With the white king penetrated so far into the enemy ranks, the time for the execution has come.>

79.Kf7 <The king march is completed. Square f8 becomes available to the bishop.>

81.Bxg7 <Black resigns. If he takes the bishop, White will win the pawn ending.>

(notes by Timman)

Mar-24-05  THE pawn: I still don't understand move 22.Ne7
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