Before I look at the opening from game three and the preview for game five: I haven't got much feedback so far on my opening previews, and I have no idea if anybody else is actually interested in the openings from these games (apart from me and the players). So if you find my analysis below interesting, and would like to see it as a PGN file, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
In game three Topalov switched indeed to another line against Kramnik's Catalan. Lets have a look at the opening from game three, and possible improvements along the way to get a better idea what to expect in game five. After
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2
In the first game he had played 5..Bb4+. As I explained in my preview of game three, there were too many possible improvements for Kramnik, and Topalov was right to play a different line in game three.
6.Qa4 Bd7 7.Qxc4 Na5 8.Qd3 c5 9.O-O Bc6 10.Nc3 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Bc5 12.Rd1
Now Topalov continued
12..Bxg2 13.Qb5+ Nd7 14.Kxg2 a6 15.Qd3
A game Tkachiev-Solozhenkin now continued 15..Be7 16.Bf4 but Topalov played the new move
15..Rc8 16.Bg5 Be7
Here Kramnik chose the solid
17.Bxe7 Qxe7 18.Rac1
and had a slightly better position throughout the game.
Many commentators noted that Kramnik could have gone for the interesting 17.Ne4 instead. In the press conference after the game, Kramnik was asked:
Could you play 17.Nе4 instead of taking on e7?
V.K.: Yes, it was interesting! But how to proceed after 17…Nе5? It looks like Black solves his problems. I think I played a good game. At some point it looked pretty even, but then I started dancing with my rooks, and managed to create serious problems.
17.Ne4 Ne5 18.Bxe7 Qxe7 19.Nf5! Nxd3 20.Ned6+ Kf8 21.Nxe7
as White being clearly better. Everything is up for grabbing in the final position of that analysis, so lets look a few moves further:
21..Rd8 22.Ndc8 Nc6 23.Nxc6 Rxc8 24.Na7 Ra8 25.Rxd3 g6 (or ..g5) 26.Rc1 Rxa7 27.Rc7 Kg7 28.Rdd7
Fritz gives Black's moves after 21.Nxe7 all as the only moves, so in few of White's domination after 28.Rdd7 I would like to think that White is very close to winning here.
Malcolm also gives 17..Nc4 as a better way for Black to defend against 17.Ne4.
17.Ne4 Nc4 18.Rac1 Nxb2 19.Nf5 Nxd3 20.Ned6+ Bxd6 21.Nxd6+ Kf8 22.Rxc8 Qxc8 23.Nxc8 N3c5
Susan stops her analysis here, without further comment. She probably implies that Black has solved the problems, however White can play
24.Nb6 Ke8 25.Nxd7 Nxd7 26.Rc1 Nf8 27.Rc7
here - when White has a lead in development that is worth more than the sacrificed pawn, despite only two pieces being left on the board. Again I think White is very close to winning.
After 17.Ne4 Nc4 18.Rac1 Black could also try
19.Qb1 Bxg5 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Rxd8+ Bxd8 22.b3 Na3 23.Qb2 Rxc1 24.Qxc1 Nb5 25.Qc8 O-O 26.Qxe6+ Nf7 27.Qc8 b6 28.Qxa6 Nbd6 29.Nxd6 Nxd6 30.Qd3
unfortunately I don't understand the Russian comments, but I think in this position Black will soon have great difficulties defending defending against White's queen and pawns.
To summarize, it looks as if after 17.Ne4! White will get very good chances to win the game. I think Topalov's novelty was not good, and he cannot repeat this line. In fact I think it is safe to assume that Topalov did not prepare this line, and played the novelty over the board.
How can Topalov improve this line?
Veselin, you surprised the opponent in the opening, being first to deviate from that first game. Was your preparation inefficient? Which move was unexpected for you?
Veselin TOPALOV: I tried complicating the struggle, but did not succeed. In principle, I don’t think Black had serious problems. It looked like White had serious initiative, but this impression proved wrong, and I made a draw. I could trade queens by 12…Qxd4, but I wasn’t sure whether I should take on d4 or castle. I saw 13.Qb5, of course, but reckoned that the struggle is more complex with queens on board. There was also 15…Be7 instead of 15…Rc8, not allowing the bishop to g5, and Black has no reasons to be sad…
I think this comment also makes clear that Topalov did not prepare the line at home. Now lets have a look at the possible improvements he indicated:
a) 12..O-O 13.Nxc6 Qxd3
If Black does not exchange the Queens, White could try 14.Qb5 Qe7 15.Bg5 with a nice pin.
14.Rxd3 Nxc6 15.Bf4 Rfd8 16.Rad1 Rxd3 17.Rxd3
White is slightly better because of the bishop pair - not the kind of position you would like to play against Kramnik.
b) 12..Qxd4 13.Qxd4 Bxd4 14.Rxd4 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Nc6
b1) 16.Rd3 Ke7 17.Bg5 Rhd8 18.Rad1 Rxd3 19.Rxd3 h6
and Black seems to be holding, however
b2) 16.Rd1 Ke7 17.b3 and if Nb4 18.a4!
with the idea of 19.Ba3 a5 20.Na2 seems to be fine for White, again. I don't like Topalov's ideas from the press conference. Actually I am not sure if these guys tell the truth there about any lines in the opening, after all their opponent is listening. Maybe they are just bluffing?
The main line against 6.Qa4 is
6..Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nd5 8.Bxb4 Ndxb4 9.O-O Rb8 10.Nc3 a6 11.Ne5 O-O 12.Nxc6 Nxc6 13.Bxc6 bxc6 14.Qxc4
I think it is also not the position that Topalov would like to play in game five.
Therefore I repeat my recommendation for game 3:
Topalov should play 4..Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 or switch to the Slav.