He is to Chess as Ovechkin is to Hockey

He is to Chess as Ovechkin is to Hockey

WIM energia
Feb 26, 2010, 12:00 AM |
20 | Strategy

  A chess player should follow strong GM-tournaments like a business person follows the Wall Street Journal. First of all, one can see modern opening trends and adjust his opening repertoire accordingly. Secondly, and more important in my opinion, a player can see the typical plans and structures that top grandmasters go for. Finally, one can learn a great deal analyzing high quality endgame play.  I still remember reading an article with one game where Ivanchuk implemented a novel plan in a rook and pawn endgame, which had never previously been considered. This impressed me, as I had suffered the illusion that there are no novelties in endgames.

  There are plenty of websites and servers, chess.com included, where one can read or listen to annotations of live games. The two positions that were given last week to solve were from the annual grandmaster’s tournament Ciudad de Linares 2010, which took place in Spain from February 13 to 24, 2010. Veselin Topalov won the event with 6.5 points out of 10, ahead by a half point over Grischuk. I looked forward to Linares due to Topalov’s participation. Recently he hasn’t played any major events, thus he had time to prepare and work on his chess. When a player of such creativity and of such amazing opening preparation doesn’t play for a while, you can't wait to see what he does next. He is a controversial player, especially when one thinks of the infamous toilet scandal in his match against Kramnik few years ago. Chess reached a peak in publicity at that time, and unfortunately it wasn't good publicity.

  Beyond his reputation as an amazing player, he shares many similarities with the Washington Capitals' (of the National Hockey League) Alex Ovechkin. They both share the same love and passion for a game: Topalov for chess, Ovechkin for hockey. When Ovechkin is on the ice a spectator just knows that the game will be exciting, that Ovechkin will bring his best game, and that Ovechkin is a savage threat to score with every slick move he makes. The same is true of Topalov: whenever he plays there will be no short draws, there will be drama, and blood will be spilled on the chessboard.

  Many people have pointed to luck being the greatest factor in his first tournament win following his short hiatus. He got into some really bad positions for two rounds in a row, yet won because his opponents had consumed too much time  and didn’t have enough to play well in the end of the game.  In my opinion, this just shows how practical he is.  He could have used more time earlier and perhaps enjoyed better positions, but it seems his strategy of not using much time worked out. Not all of his games were in this style, for example, in the last round he grinded a long endgame versus Gelfand.

 The two positions that I chose last week were from Topalov’s play. Let us look at the plans that he has implemented. The first position was played in Round 2 against Gashimov. I consider this one of the clear cut wins of the tournament. I don’t know about you, but I was truly impressed by this game. Thinking of Topalov as a player who wants to complicate positions, since his strength lies in figuring out really complex positions, one may forget that he can simplify positions too. In this example it seems he went with the flow and the endgame looked to me to be close to equality but he evaluated it better and went on to win it convincingly. It is White to move here and it is obvious that the bishop on c1 is a problem. The pawn structure is symmetrical. The position would be symmetrical if not for the bishop on g7. Black has to be very careful not to end up with this bad bishop. White should use his advantage of having one more piece on the queenside to create pressure there. Meanwhile, Black should counteract in the centre or on the kingside. These plans are guided by the fact that the Bg7 cannot participate in the defense of the queenside. White’s plan would be to play b3, activate his bishop with Bb2 or Ba3, double rooks on the c-file and push the a- and b-pawns eventually. Of course, Black would try to do something in the centre, so White has to be very careful. Let us see how White implemented this plan.

In the second diagram Topalov played Black against Aronian. The given position is typical of a Benoni and has been played many times. Black’s typical plan is to push ...b5 either now or after preparation moves such as ...Qc7. Sometimes White can push b4 himself and Black will end up with a weakness on b5. White has two plans in this position. One is pushing in the centre with f4-e4. It has the danger of weakening the king. With the Na3 out of place this plan would not be successful. Since White's pieces are heavily concentrated on the queenside it is logical to play there. The other plan would be to play Rb1 and b4. Black would have weaknesses on the queenside on d6 and b6 that White will be able to expose. Do you think Topalov is all about crazy positions? He is great at undermining an opponent’s plan too. Only ny knowing about Rb1-b4 plan can one come up with the plan that Topalov did. Still, I haven’s seen it before, it was rather shocking to see this piece harmony that is so awkward but so strong at the same time. We can ask ourselves what is the weakness of the b4 plan for White? It is the Nc3 that will be undefended and the whole c-file can collapse. Thus, putting a rook on the c-file makes sense for Black . But what is the most efficient way to do it? The game also illustrates the importance of being creative and bold in defense. Many commentators will say that Topalov was lucky but was he?  Or did he put so many problems on his opponent that Aronian was not able to solve all of them?

The positions for the next week to solve will come from your (the readers') own practice. I would be glad to give my thoughts on some of the positions that you ask for. Thus, please post in the comments section positions from your games where you feel you needed a plan, and I will select which ones to show in next week's article.

More from WIM energia
A Farewell!

A Farewell!

Positional Methods From Carlsen's Play, The End

Positional Methods From Carlsen's Play, The End