Victor Toporov. Components of today’s sensation.
Appearance of the new world champion is always a sensation. Even if the person in question is an acknowledged favorite (one of the three), rating list leader (on a par with another title candidate) and indisputable winner of yet another “Chess Oscar” for cumulative results of 2005. In our case a different thing is a sensation: absolute victory, total supremacy, the supremacy of “first” over “equal”, phenomenal result in the first half that turned a struggle for the title in the second half into a pure formality.
The style of Topalov’s six wins is also sensational (missed wins against Anand in the first half and against Morozevich in the second one should also be mentally added): not “coffee house”, of course, but demonstratively “spieler’s”: playing for three results with both colors (without serious opening revelations), struggling till the last pawn (and the last chance) in obviously drawish positions and with a clearly negative answer to pronounced or purported question from lips of seven grandmasters: “Do you respect me?” – “I DO NOT RESPECT YOU!” was a mindset of the future world champion for the tournament (firstly and secondly a psychological one and only thirdly chess one) that caught on the hop his competitors and let him catch his opponents unprepared from the very start.
As is well known, generals always prepare to the past wars. There were seven generals of this kind at the world championship. They prepared to the world championship as if it was a kind of the Linares. Preparing to (as it used to be when Kasparov was not playing and in recent years even when Kasparov participated) viscous and mutually respectful struggle, in which +2 promises and +3 guarantees the first place. A strategy of such play is also perfectly mastered by the high and mighties: a strong service (once or twice you might have an ace), confident return and skillful defense. One wins in the following cases: 1) conversion of advantage that was obtained due to “a bomb” in the opening; 2) blunder; 3) defeat of the outsider who started to “come off”, which usually happens in the second half. However, it’s indicative that if an established outsider manages to dry out the position, his opponent accepts a draw, unwillingly though.
Before speaking about the ways Topalov opposed such play, to put it more exactly, such a playing mindset, let us note the distinctions of Argentinean tilt-yard from “the tournament world championship” of which the Linares has the reputation. The main thing is to get an invitation to the tournament of seignior Rentero and his successors. And having obtained it this year, you should play in the way to get it to the next year’s one. It’s a good thing to win the tournament but only two or three participant out of eight have a real chance for this (the same way as at the world championship, though). It means that you should simply demonstrate a play which is good in your opinion and at the level of your aims, i.e. to get into plus, into 50%, to get a small minus at the worst. This makes you increase your “flame resistance” and play if not for a complete defense then for a draw in your pocket if possible.
The participants organized themselves for the championship in the same way, but with some nuances. The issue of “tomorrow’s reserve” was not very topical because of the tomorrow’s uncertainty (taking into consideration all promises and guarantees of the FIDE president). For five of eight participants much more important were public doubts about the legitimacy of their inclusion in the cherished eight against non-inclusion of number of at least as brilliant super-GMs as they are. As a result, each of the invited, even if he (she) does not even have in mind the first place when estimating his (her) strength realistically, even with inevitable overestimation, he (she) should anyway imitate a struggle for the title, to support legitimacy of his (her) inclusion. Not to struggle – it’s too hard, - but to imitate! Aggressive opening repertoire with an emphasis on 1.e4 with White and on rich in content variations of the Sicilian with both colors was chosen as a universal way to imitate struggle for the first place. Incongruity of the Linares kind of tournament strategy with aggressive opening repertoire strikes our eyes backdated, but perhaps it was foreseen by Topalov beforehand!
And finally comes motivation: Anand had been a world champion (with different format, but with the same alignment: a champion in absence of Kasparov and Kramnik); Leko, broken-down by his lost win against Kramnik – had he won in San Luis, he would have got into a quite difficult (and dummy) situation against the background of today’s play of “the classical chess world champion”; Topalov as if has taken the champion’s baton from retiring Kasparov (we will get back to this game) having defeated him in the end and yielded the tournament championship just once to young Naiditsch. Kasimzhanov also had strong motivation – and he overextended himself! And Svidler, who did not have a real motivation for the champion’s title and was not nervous for this reason, demonstrated his usual strength and style (general mindset for an aggressive opening repertoire was quite apropos). Morozevich demonstrated his signature “swing”. Only Topalov had a purely champion’s motivation.
Topalov chose a tournament strategy that differed conceptually from the “Linares” play of other participants. He played the world championship (the first half) as a strong grandmaster whose goal is winning a Swiss with mass participation! In such events one must defeat all the participants rated 200-300 points below him, indiscriminately to take the liberty of having two or three easy draws in final rounds. It was the way Topalov played against the world championship participants – at best as against the FIDE masters! Methodology of professional vs. patzer play, which was described in detail in a recent article by grandmaster Shipov on ChessPro website, is in fact a portrait of Topalov in the first half of the world championship.
It’s clear that psychological aspects prevailed over the chess aspects. Topalov realized clearly that he does not play 200 points stronger than Anand. And yet, he also knew another thing: if one keeps playing in absolutely drawish position being an exchange down, Anand, who is not used to such a play in familiar to him Dortmunds and Linareses, can make a mistake – at least because of resentment. And he finally made it! No Topalov’s championship opponent had a real experience of playing in a Swiss – and especially in underdog position. They can press out the opponent in case they have advantage. They can also “crawl away” (or escape) in a worse position. They remember Kasparov finishing them off as kids, but it happened in the opening. And they turned out to be simply unprepared for a constant even if a bit abstract pressure in a Swiss spirit.
Topalov approached the tournament, in which he set a triumphant Swiss psychological experiment, in his best shape. In particular, he ran in this strategy at the tournament in Sofia, where a play till the last pawn was interpreted by the others as an inevitable tribute to the experimental regulations. However, what’s more important is that in 2005 he managed to defeat Kasparov himself in a Swiss style (he also defeated Kramnik twice); perhaps it was this win, the importance of which had been diminished in a way by notorious external circumstances, which suggested Topalov and his trainer an advantageous psychological mindset for the coming world championship. Indeed – what kind of performance did the thirteenth world champion demonstrate in this ill-fated game – was it at the level of 2800 or 2300? What about Kramnik – in Wijk aan Zee and in the second half in Sofia? A mindset “I DO NOT RESPECT YOU!” + surprise effect = 6,5 out of 7 in the first round.
Have we seen such play before? “He dealt with them as with fledglings” – that was said about Alekhine. Fischer had dominating victories in matches and tournaments. However evident advantage in the opening and clear constructive strategy can be seen in both cases – “Arian chess”, if to quote Alekhine himself. Topalov had neither of these in Argentina. I would compare his play to victorious series that were shown in the sixties-seventies of the previous century by Korchnoi, removing Petrosian 2:0, leading 7,5:2,5 in the match against Spassky, threshing 9,5 out of 11 in the first half of the USSR championship – and demonstrating nothing theoretically and strategically. This is a prototype of Topalov’s Swiss play. General resistance was certainly lower at those days than now, but leading grandmasters had not been that spoilt with play in the “Linares” style.
Topalov became the legitimate world champion, having defeated his coevals. He became the only legitimate champion – retiring Kasparov took away with him Kramnik’s legitimacy – legitimacy of the Person Who Defeated the Great and the Fearful. Today Kramnik is The Person Who Drew with Leko – nothing more than that. Now he needs, as Kasparov in 2001, firstly, to play, secondly, to win everything indiscriminately if he has claim anything. In order to strengthen the legitimacy, but not to obtain it, Topalov has to defeat Ivanchuk, Shirov and Ponomariov, try his strength against Grischuk, Radjabov, very likely against Karjakin and to play match against Kasparov if he thinks fit returning to chess, without paying much attention to the inconvenience and Utopian in its inconvenience system of the world championship according to Ilyumzhinov. However, it seems that now terms will be dictated by Topalov himself.
There’s nothing to be done – he deserved this!