M.Notkin. Topalov-Aronian becomes the best game of January
For a second year in a row I realize that carrying out a January best game contest is not an easy task. In February most regular members of our expert committee participate in the Aeroflot open, then travel to Cappelle la Grande, and so on. I did not want to disturb participants of the coming Women’s World Championship on such an unimportant although pleasing occasion, too. Finally, my call was heard by Evgeny Gleizerov, Alexander Motylev, Emil Sutovsky, Mikhail Kobalia, Evgeny Najer, Sergey Soloviov, Ilya Odessky and Vladimir Barsky. Legitimacy of voting of this jury is doubtless.
As it was expected, the games played in the year’s first supertournament dominated in the candidates list. I don’t know whether the International Chess Federation will be able to use the voting results in their election campaign, but an encounter between the world champion and the World Cup winner unconditionally became the best game of January. Kobalia, Sutovsky, Odessky and Motylev awarded it with the 1st place, and it was placed 2nd in another list.
Further on I will mostly rely on Evgeny Gleizerov’s words: “Topalov came up with the most interesting innovation, a risky-looking exchange sacrifice. Inventive although unsuccessful defense of Aronian increases aesthetic value of the game.”
Not only victories of Veselin were spotted. A powerful attack decorated with quiet moves in Adams-Topalov received one 1st place (Barsky), two 2nd and two 3rd places, which resulted in the 2nd overall position.
Topalov’s inspired actions against van Wely deserved him two 1st (Soloviov, Najer) and two 3rd spots. Other graded it a bit lower, therefore the game takes 3rd overall position. Read Emil Sutovsky’s opinion: “A spectacular game, but it contains way too many errors. I feel many experts will place it high, maybe even on the top spot, but I commented it live and I can’t keep mum!”
The multiple winner and runner up of chess beauty contests also added the following: “The January list is a quite decent collection. However, I got an impression that the collector got tired of my games, thus he did not include my Gibraltar games, Sutovsky-Gyimesi and Sutovsky-McNab. Yet, I don’t believe they could compete for the first place...”
Gleizerov’s characteristic of van Wely-Topalov is laconic: “An exchange sacrifice followed by a breakthrough in the best fortified spot.” He also mentions in a foreword: “To my greatest surprise I realized that 8 out of 10 games in my selection represent only two general themes: a positional exchange sacrifice and exploitation of two bishop advantage. It was not on purpose, believe me! However, the laureate game features completely different motives...” Viorel Bologan’s outstanding game with Viktor L’vovich Korchnoi wedged itself between the Corus masterpieces and, having got one highest praise and two 2nd places, finished 4th in the monthly list. Evgeny Gleizerov explains his decision as follows: “Viorel created a true masterpiece. Many would consider a knight sacrifice on f6 with the queens on board, but offering a piece in the endgame! The most stunning is that White, having parted with a piece for a pawn, did not avoid further simplifications. And then a classical endgame play followed: activating the king, penetrating via the open files, etc. It sounds banal enough, if not for a small nuance: Viorel does all this being a piece down... Bravo, bravo, and bravo again!”
This game is followed by a well-prepared two-piece sacrifice in Karjakin-Anand (one 2nd place). “The young Ukrainian genius got crushed by a train – his position was already hopeless after just two original moves. A possibility of home preparation does not diminish beauty of Black’s play.” (Gleizerov)
Then comes Anand again with a positional exchange sacrifice in the Sveshnikov Sicilian (van Wely being the victim) – one 3rd place in all lists. “Once again there is a positional exchange sacrifice followed by excellent play by White, however, the idea is not novel...” (Gleizerov)
Overall 7th spot is occupied by Aronian-Sokolov, which also got one 3rd place. “Yet another exchange sacrifice! A unique feature of this game is a funny-looking importunity of the White’s queen, which bothered its counterpart offering to trade.” (Gleizerov)
The 8th position is taken by Anand. His win over Gelfand is mentioned in all submitted lists, although only once it entered the top 3.
A simple, but very beautiful White’s combination became a prelude to a highly interesting endgame struggle. Vishy managed to outplay subtly his stubbornly resisting opponent.” (Gleizerov)
The 9th place is given to the game that has nothing in common with elite tournaments. Arutiunian-Balulian, played in the Armenian team championship, enchanted Sutovsky and Najer, who placed it 2nd and 3rd respectively. Emil commented: “Just like the last time (Slavina-Radzievic), I give the 2nd place to less illustrious players, and not because I wanted to look politically correct. It is indeed a spectacular and inspired game. I am not fully confident in absolute correctness of White’s idea, but it looks great!”
A full-scale draw Topalov-Mamedyarov concludes the top 10. The world champion left a lot of traces in the voting lists! Thus I could conclude, but the 11th equal (together with Gibraltar triumphant Georgiev’s victory against Volkov) is taken by Ivanchuk-Karjakin, for which I reserved my comment. More precisely, I reserved opinions of commentators... Gleizerov: “These are three textbook examples on two bishop advantage in the endgame: van Wely-Leko, Ivanchuk-Karjakin and M.Gurevich-Sandipan, so I place them equally on 4th-6th.” Sutovsky: “A pure textbook game. I remember, Vasya defeated me once in a similar style, often called Capablancan, although I personally don’t think Capablanca could play like that... maybe Rubinstein on a good day.”
Hope that the reader is not familiar with all games presented here, and there will be something to analyze (for me) and read (for you). Need to start writing, see you soon.
Already upon sending the report to the editor, I received Alexander Rustemov’s list. His opinion solidified the lead of Topalov-Aronian. Alexander placed it on the top spot and guessed all top 5 games correctly, only “confusing” two games, Karjakin-Anand and Adams-Topalov. It did not tell on the final standings, and made some impact on lower placed games: now Aronian-Sokolov and Anand-Gelfand share the 7th-8th, and Ivanchuk-Karjakin replaced Topalov-Mamedyarov on the 10th place.