In game eight Topalov switched to the Slav (as I predicted in all my previews :-)and scored his first win. Because of the defaulted game five the score is now equal at 4-4. There are only four games left and we can hope to see an exciting finish to the match.
But now lets have a look at game seven, and what conclusions we can draw for game nine:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3
In game two Topalov played 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 and in game four 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3.
In game six Topalov played 4.Nc3 here, transposing to game two. Kramnik could play 4..Bf5 here, but he would like to transpose to game four:
Topalov could have transposed to game four with 5.Nc3, but he plays a clever move order. If Kramnik now continues 5..Nbd7, White has the alternative 6.O-O Bd6 7.Nbd2, when Black cannot play dxc4, b7-b5-b4 with tempo. White will then be able to get in e4. Therefore Kramnik played
5..dxc4 6.Bxc4 c5
when a position from the Queens gambit accepted is reached (the usual move order to reach this position would be 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5, taking one move less).
7.O-O a6 8.Bb3
In the worlchampionship match between Kramnik and Kasparov, Kasparov had abandoned the Grünfeld, and this position was reached twice. Kramnik played 8.dxc5 in game four, while game six saw 8.a4 Nc6 9.Qe2 cxd4 10.Rd1.
Please note that the common line 8.a4 cxd4 9.exd4 Nc6 10.Nc3 Be7 11.Re1 O-O would transpose to the game after 12.Bb3 - however White seems to have more useful moves in this position and almost never plays 12.Bb3.
Because of this observation I cannot believe that Topalov's novelty in the game can be that dangerous. I think the idea was more to get a playable position with fighting chances that Kramnik could not possibly have prepared.
8..cxd4 9.exd4 Nc6 10.Nc3 Be7 11.Re1 O-O
We have reached a typical position with an isolated queen pawn. This position can also be reached from other openings by transposition.
It is interesting to note that positions with isolated queen pawns have been played in many, if not in all worldchampionship matches. Sometimes the handling of this type of position was even decisive. The first world champion Steinitz developed the strategy of playing against an isolated pawn and used it to good effect against Zukertort. Later Botvinnik developed attacking plans for the side with the isolated pawn.
This move is new although the same position was reached in a game Gershon-Papatheodoru, Korinthos 1998 by transposition. The moves 12.a3, 12.Bf4 and 12.Bg5 are all more common.
12..Bd7 13.Ne5 Be8
I think the position of the bishop is a bit artificial here, because the rook on f8 has not moved yet. Furthermore the bishop moves again a few moves later. Maybe Kramnik could just play 13..Nb4 here. I think the loss of the pair of bishops after 14.Nxd7 would not pose Black real problems. In the game Black exchanges this bishop against a knight anyway, so 13..Be8 looks just like a move lost.
14.Be3 Rc8 15.Rc1
This rook moves to d1 a few moves later, maybe it could have gone there at once?
15..Nb4 16.Qf3 Bc6 17.Qh3 Bd5 18.Nxd5 Nbxd5 19.Rcd1 Rc7 20.Bg5 Qc8
Again the placement of Black's pieces looks artificial to me.
21.Qf3 Rd8 22.h4 h6 23.Bc1
As several commentators have shown, after 23.Bd2 White could have developed a nice initiative.
What does this mean for game nine? Topalov has a difficult decision - should he go for an all out attack but risk losing? On the other hand, if he plays too calm and makes a quick draw, Kramnik will have one more White game remaining. This can be very dangerous against Kramnik. In the last world championship match, Peter Leko was leading with one point before the last game - but Kramnik had White and won.
Topalov does not have so many options left for the remaining two White games. If he repeats the line from game seven I think Kramnik would handle the position better. After 1.d4, I think this just leaves the Meran as a good option - and then it seems time for the sharp lines where White plays Qc2 and g4.
Or is this to risky? Maybe Topalov should switch to 1.e4 now. Somehow after all these Slav games the Petroff may not look so bad any more.