Thank you to the readers who sent me feedback. It seems I am not the only one who is interested in the openings.
When I was a student at university I had sometimes training with a grandmaster. He told me if I wanted to improve my over the board play, I should play simpler openings. I decided that I enjoy analysing the openings, and that chess is just my hobby. I did what I enjoy, not what would help me to improve my results best. The grandmaster was right however - I never improved my over the board play. At the board I usually don't remember my own analysis anyway. However in correspondence chess I think it is more useful.
I got one interesting feedback from Pirkka Kärenlampi from Finland:
My own ELO 2000 opinion is that playing black Topalov must have something relatively unexpected (Kasparov/Dragon, Anand/Scandinavian etc.) up his sleeve, which he'll have to pull out preferably sooner than later. But maybe I like my speculation a bit too wild.
Unfortunately your speculation today became true in a most bizarre and disgusting way. Topalov played the toilet gambit, and Kramnik pulled a Fischer. I really hope future surprises in this match will be on the board, instead of in the toilet.
So lets have a look at game four and what this means for game six, shall we?
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3
In game one Topalov played 4.Nf3 but got nothing from the opening, see my game four preview.
4.. e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.a3 b4 10.Ne4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 bxa3 12.O-O Bd6 13.b3 Nf6 14.Nd2
This was Topalov's novelty. Black could win a pawn here, but after 14..Nxe4 15.Nxe4 Bxh2 16.Kxh2 Qh4+ 17.Kg1 Qxe4 18.f3 Qh4 19.Bxa3 Black's King would have difficulties finding a safe haven. There is no easy way to break through, but White should be better.
14..Qc7 15.Bf3 Bxh2+ 16.Kh1 Bd6 17.Nc4 Be7 18.Bxa3 O-O 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.Ra5
I think this position is slightly better for White. Black is very passive, and if White manages to win both of Black's queenside pawns, he will have chances to win. If Black gets too passive in defending those pawns, White may even get an initiative on the other side of the board. Black wisely sacrificed his c-pawn to free his game, but still White was a little bit better. I think Topalov can actually be happy with the opening for the first time in the match.
To be honest, I thought we’ll be able to finish in two hours today – there was almost nothing to play with. But Veselin wanted to continue, and so we did. Frankly, for the rest of the game I was more concerned about making it to the TV to see a Champions League match. I agree, this encounter was kind of boring, but this is the only such case. Although there was still some tension in it.
Vladimir, you must be kidding. You are playing a world championship, White is having some nice pressure, and you are thinking about watching TV? I think I won't even bother to read anymore what they are saying in the press conferences.
I think in game six we will see another Meran. Not the same line as in game four, but another one. There are many other lines to explore, for example 6.Qc2. Topalov has even played a game against Kramnik in that line before, a draw in Dos Hermanas 1997. There is one very exciting line, 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4. Topalov could play this, but it is not without risk.
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 email@example.com 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.
In game four Topalov has White, and of course he will have to try to get a good opening and get some winning chances. It will be very important for the players and their seconds to analyze the complicated game two, and draw the right conclusions.
I am not an expert on the Slav opening, nor do I want to become one tonight by analyzing all those complications, but my impression is as follows:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.O-O Nbd7 9.Qe2 Bg6 10.e4 O-O 11.Bd3 Bh5 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Qe3 Bg6 15.Ng5 Re8 16.f4
Previously, in this position 16..Rc8 and 16..Be7 were tried. Kramnik played the novelty
16..Bxd3 17.Qxd3 f5
Now the game continued
18.Be3 Nf8 19.Kh1 Rc8 20.g4 Qd7 21.Rg1 Be7
Now Topalov retreated the knight with 22.Nf3 and later found a fantastic Queen sacrifice, which however does not seem to win, but rather seems to be the best way in trying to safe the game. However here he could have played 22.Nxe6 and get good attacking chances after, e.g. 22..Qxe6 23.gxf5 Qf7 24.Rg4 followed by 25.Rag1.
Black could have avoided this on move 20 with a lot of complications after 20..h6 or 20..fxg4, but Svidler analyses the solid 19..Be7 and comes too the conclusion that "Black has very little to fear".
So it seems like Kramnik's novelty was actually a good one, and Topalov needs to play a different line tomorrow.
I think the main alternative against the Slav would be 6.Ne5, which Topalov has played several times with White. Kramnik has seen this line with Black a couple of times and played the sharp 6..e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.e4 Bxe4, which seems to be out of fashion at the moment in favour of 6..Nbd7. Certainly, Kramnik being in the lead would prefer that line with less complications.
Or maybe Topalov will play 1.e4, which I have discussed in the preview of game two.
In game two, like in game one, Topalov again found some excellent, very creative attacking moves but later played several inaccuracies and lost. So it is Kramnik two, Topalov nil.
What should Topalov do in game three? Should he play very risky attacking chess, and try the Benoni, Volga gambit, or King's Indian? I think rather not. Kramnik has shown time and time again that he is able to punish any opponent who dares to play these openings against him. Don't forget that Kasparov abandoned the King's Indian (and the Grünfeld) not the least because of his problems with these openings against Kramnik. If Topalov plays too risky with Black and loses game three... I think Topalov should play solid, and try to attack in game 4 with White. If he gets one win with White in game 4 or game 6 and does not lose game 3 nor game 5 with Black, he will still have all the chances in the match.
I think Kramnik will be happy with game one - not only with the result, of course, but also with the opening. He was prepared for Topalov's novelty 12..Ba6 and got exactly the queenless, technical position that he excels in. Kudos to Topalov for finding an excellent resource later in the game, when he was even able to press hard for a win. But I think the middle game was just very slightly better for White, and I am sure that Kramnik would not mind playing exactly the same line again and come up with an improvement somewhere. For example, Malcolm Pein suggested 19.Nbc4. Therefore I think Kramnik will play 1.d4 in game three again.
Topalov could go for another Catalan and play a different line. There are certainly many of them. Topalov has played the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 O-O 7.O-O c6 8.Bf4 b6 several times, but it is rather passive, and he lost his last two games in this line against Ponomariov and Kramnik. Maybe he could try the line 4..Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 that Kramnik played himself against Kasparov in the last game of their world championship, and which Topalov's second Onischuk used last year to draw against Gelfand.
So what do I think will they play in the third game?
I think Kramnik will play 1.d4 again, but Topalov will switch to the Slav.
Topalov was very unlucky to lose the first game with Black. In the opening he was slightly worse, and it looked as Kramnik had reached one of his trademark squeezing positions, but Topalov managed to sacrifice a pawn for very active counter play. He had a sure draw by a repitition of moves, but found some amazing resources to try to win - only to blunder and loose.
In earlier years Topalov was very upset after such a game, but my impression is that he is now much more able to get some positive energy out of his emotions. As he said in an interview in NIC magazine some time ago, he is not afraid to loose. And we have not forgotten his amazing come-backs in the tournaments in Sofia and Linares. So we should see another interesting game two.
What opening will Topalov play against Kramnik?
Topalov, like Kramnik, can play both 1.e4 and 1.d4.
Against 1.e4 Kramnik plays the Berlin or the Petroff, and if he wants some better chances to win with Black he plays the Sveshnikov. In a match, and especially with a lead, I would expect Kramnik to play the Berlin or the Petroff. Kramnik has been extremely solid with these openings, especially in matches. He unnerved Kasparov with the Berlin in their match. Kasparov never got anything from this opening, and he switched to 1.d4 very late in the match. Against Leko he played the Petroff, and Leko very quickly switched to 1.d4, although Leko never really had been a 1.d4 player before in his life.
Is this so scary that Topalov will play 1.d4 throughout the match? I think Topalov will consider his knowledge of both 1.e4 and 1.d4 with White a valuable asset, and will have prepared something against the Berlin and the Petroff, too. Kramnik may actually prefer the Petroff against Topalov, because Topalov plays the Berlin himself sometimes.
Which line could we see in a Petroff? After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 (Topalov even tried 4.Nxf7 once against Kramnik, but I am sure we won't see this ever again) Nxe4 White usually plays 5.d4, although in recent years 5.Nc3 has also become popular. After 5..Nxc3 6.dxc3 we often see positions with opposite castling, which lead to less symetric positions, and to much more dynamic attacking chess that Topalov may prefer. While practical results with this system have been good, the situation is much less clear theoretically, not the least because White's center has gone, which together with the open e-file should Black give good chances, too.
In the main line Petroff, after 5.d4 Kramnik usually plays the rock-solid system with 5..d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7. If Topalov goes into this line against Kramnik, he would better be prepared extremely well, or he will just waste one game with White.
Against 1.d4 Kramnik plays the Nimzo Indian. If White plays 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Kramnik usually plays the Queen's Indian, although he sometimes goes for the classical Queen's gambit. Topalov has had some fantastic games with White against the Queen's Indian in recent years, where he brought with his attacking ideas new life to an opening which was previously considered very drawish.
So what do I think will they play in the second game?
Unless Topalov has run out of ideas in the Queen's Indian, or found something impressive against the Petroff, I think we will see a Queen's Indian.
Kramnik plays 1.e4, 1.d4 and 1.Nf3 with White. Many think that he played more convincingly with 1.d4 and 1.Nf3 then with 1.e4, however he has played 1.e4 most of the time in recent years, until his return from illness. At that point it was already clear (or at least very possible) that he would play the match against Topalov, so he could well have been “bluffing”.
Against 1.e4 Topalov defends with the Najdorf if he wants to play for a win with Black, sometimes he varies with the Sveshnikov. If he thinks a draw is enough, he plays the Berlin.
If Kramnik would play 1.e4, I think Topalov would go for the Najdorf, unless he has a big lead in the match. He beat Kramnik twice with this sharp line in 2005, and Kramnik did look very bad indeed in these two games. Also Kramnik plays the Berlin and the Sveshnikov himself, so even with a lead Topalov would maybe not venture these lines, and switch to another safe opening, maybe the Marshall.
Therefore I think Kramnik is going to avoid these sharp lines, unless he is behind and desperately needs to change.
Against 1.d4 and 1.Nf3 Topalov used to play sharp openings like the Benoni, the King’s Indian or even the Volga gambit, however in recent years he has switched to more solid systems like the Slav and the Nimzo Indian. I think Topalov would not risk the Benoni or the King’s Indian, unless he is behind in the match and thinks he has to win with Black by all means.
If White plays 1.Nf3 or 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Topalov usually does not go for the Queen’s Indian, but plays 3…d5 instead. Kramnik could then play some form of Queen’s gambit, or the Catalan.
Rublevsky is a second of Kramnik during this match. Rublevsky always plays 1.e4. Against the Najdorf, he likes to play 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+. This could mean that Kramnik has been training this variation with Rublevsky, and wants to avoid the sharp lines at move three instead of at move one. Topalov had to face this line a couple of times through his career, and played all the moves 3..Nc6, 3..Nd7, and 3..Bd7. In recent years he had to face this line twice against Kasimdzanov and Morozevich, and both times played the solid 3..Bd7. The game against Morozevich was at the San Luis world championship, Topalov won the game and the tournament.
Other seconds are Motylev (also always plays 1.e4, but the sharp Najdorf main lines that I think Kramnik is going to avoid) and Illescas (who plays many openings).
So what do I think will they play in the first game?
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 and then White will try to establish a centre with c4 or c3 and d4, or
Topalov may anticipate this and prefer the Marshall, or
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3, or
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6.