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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vishy Anand remains the King of 64 squares

In a tremendous clutch performance Anand took charge with black against a dithering Topalov and whipped up a crushing attack with remarkable speed. The pretty retreat 34..Qe8! was the final nail in the Bulgarian's coffin. Well, not quite. That's would have made a tidy story, but in fact it was still quite sharp and Anand wisely took his time to work things out while Topalov maintained desperate hope of reaching an endgame like R+N vs Q. He found every desperate chance but there just wasn't as much fight in the white position as there was in Topalov. He even got his endgame after the time control, but with an open king it was hopeless. Anand maneuvered his queen precisely and Topalov eventually resigned game and match after move 56. Anand renews his title and takes home 1,200,000 euros, minus the 20% FIDE tax they charge for not getting in the way. Topalov gets 800,000.

What a game, what a match, what a world champion, Vishy Anand!

anand wins retains world chess title

It certainly wasn't easy. Anand's gaff in the first game started him off with a loss and in need of an alternative defense to Topalov's 1.d4. The sturdy Slav came to the rescue, but the long grinds he had to defend cost him on the endurance side of the equation even though he quickly took the lead with wins in games two and four. Topalov's tremendous fighting qualities allowed him to level the score after being outplayed badly in two consecutive Catalans. Anand's strategic decision to slowball Topalov, playing like Kramnik with slow positional whites and, after the Grunfeld went into the shop, ugly passive blacks, paid dividends early. It clearly wasn't as easy for Anand to do as for Kramnik, however, and he got into trouble in several long defenses, including the loss in game eight.

Against Kramnik in 2008 Anand forced very sharp play whenever possible and was a very successful fire to Kramnik's ice. In Sofia the Indian chameleon went the opposite way, illustrating why Topalov doesn't have very good results against the Catalan. Anand did look very uncomfortable on the black side of those ugly queenless Slavs, however, and Topalov is a formidable grinder. The only real problem with the match, and right about now I'm sure at least one person (Topalov) would agree, is that it needed to be around six games longer. Topalov proved himself worthy of everything but the title in the end. And though it was by the narrowest of margins, Anand showed he's a cut above the rest even at 40. Or, as a fellow 1969'er, especially at 40.

In today's final game, Anand went with the ultra-solid Lasker QGD, which is about as close to the Petroff in spirit as things get against 1.d4. A slight exaggeration, but let's just say Anand was happy to take a draw and head into rapid tiebreaks on Thursday. Topalov had other plans, of course, and went about trying to stir up trouble. This he managed to do, although they did follow book for nearly 20 moves. Black had an isolated c-pawn, but Anand defended actively and the pawn mostly served to distract Topalov enough that he forgot about his own weaknesses. Anand did not. With several pieces offsides, Topalov's king came under fire after he played not the first over-committal pawn pushes of the match. The end couldn't come quickly enough for Anand's cheering section in the comments -- 36..Qd8+ was the preferred computer execution -- with nearly 25 minutes on both clocks at that point there was little doubt that it was a case of the white king being dead and long live Anand the king. Anand didn't even rush in the endgame, playing zugzwang games with his queen instead of grabbing the b-pawn. It was almost like he was enjoying himself, but I'm sure he just wanted to make absolutely sure there were no miracle perpetuals.

The official site has been great getting the moves out without crashing and the compliments have been high on the webcam as well. Kudos to the organizers. One blackout, no shenanigans, no rapid tiebreaks. Topalov lands in the group of eight candidates along with Aronian, Kamsky, Gelfand, Kramnik, Carlsen, the organizer wildcard, and the Grand Prix second-place finisher, who will be known in a dozen days in Astrakhan.

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