Candidate Profile: Veselin Topalov
By GM Robert Hess and IM Teddy Coleman
Before Hikaru Nakamura came along, there was Veselin Topalov. For over two decades, Topalov has been one of the most violent chess players, tearing unwary opponents to shreds.
Besides Anand, Topalov is the only other player in the Candidates’ Tournament to have played in a world championship match. In 2006, he played a tightly contested and controversial match against Kramnik. Topalov led after nine games and was tied after 12 classical games, but lost the fourth and final tiebreak game with Black.
He returned again in 2010 to challenge Vishy Anand, but lost 6.5-5.5, falling once again in the last round. A relatively small change in either match could have resulted in Topalov being crowned.
Having failed in two prior world championships, Topalov’s best chances are likely behind him. Does he have enough to string together one more run this year?
Topalov is extremely aggressive, never hesitating to sacrifice material if it leads to a swarm of angry pieces. His sacrifices are often unclear and test his opponents’ ability to navigate the danger, and many fail to rise to the occasion. He uses these sacrifices to crush opponents, as in his game against Kramnik. But as Topalov has aged he's mastered the positional sacrifice as well, which Nakamura can attest to.
Topalov is especially good in the Sicilian with the black pieces, which plays into his aggressive tendencies. He can outplay opponents in main lines, as in the following game with Karjakin, or he can use highly speculative sidelines to his advantage, as in his win against Carlsen.
Topalov’s key weakness is that he sometimes struggles when he is unable to mount a powerful attack. Many of the other players in the tournament have been able to outmaneuver Topalov in relatively equal or mundane middlegames to achieve victory. Topalov cannot afford to fall behind in these games and throw away potential half-points.
What to Watch for:
Veselin Topalov admits that he does not train as much as he used to, and his infrequent appearances at tournaments puts him at a large disadvantage compared to his peers. While Topalov surprised many by outpacing the field with a phenomenal 6.5/9 score in Norway, he suffered some really one-sided defeats at the London Chess Classic en route to a dismal 2.5/9 performance.
Topalov is a creative genius who will end up with many decisive games. He might not win the Candidates’, but he will certainly play a part in determining who does.
Want more Topalov? Check out Chess.com's videos featuring Veselin Topalov.
The FIDE Candidates’ Tournament runs March 10-30 in Moscow. The winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a match that will be held November 10-30 in New York.
The eight participants are Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura (both USA), Vishy Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler (both Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Levon Aronian (Armenia).
Chess.com is publishing profiles of each participant.