Shirov wins 5th M-Tel Masters

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Alexei ShirovAlexei Shirov won the 5th edition of the M-Tel Masters in Sofia by beating Carlsen in the last round. Wang Yue and Topalov drew their game while Ivanchuk finally managed to win a game, against Dominguez.

The 5th M-Tel Masters took place May 12-23 in a glass pavilion on the square in front of the National Theatre Ivan Vazov in Sofia, Bulgaria. The six-player double round-robin had Carlsen, Dominguez, Ivanchuk, Shirov, Topalov and Wang Yue playing. The time control was 90 minutes for 40 moves and then another hour to finish the game. According to the "Sofia rule" a draw offer could be made only through the chief arbiter in the case of a threefold repetition, perpetual check or a theoretically draw position.

Round 10

After most of the rounds had been pretty exciting, the fans weren't disappointed on the last day either. Both games Shirov-Carlsen and Wang Yue-Topalov, where the first prize was at stake, reached extremely sharp positions right out of the opening, while Ivanchuk and Dominguez seemed to be steering to a quick draw.

The first game to finish was Wang Yue-Topalov. As it turned out, the complications quickly led to a draw, when the Chinese GM went for a long and forced line that ended in a perpetual check. He could probably have tried for more at some point, but as he's shown on several occasions in Sofia, Wang Yue is the safety-first kind of player. For Topalov it meant that he couldn't win the tournament anymore.

Carlsen and Shirov would decide the battle for first prize in their direct encounter, with the Norwegian needing only a draw to keep his half a point lead. He had chosen the Sicilian Sveshnikov, an understandable choice since theoretically speaking Black is doing fine. Naturally Shirov went for the 9.Bxf6 and not the positional 9.Nd5, and soon an extremely complicated position was reached, with Black having sacrificed no less than three pawns in return for a beautiful pawn center, the two bishops and an open g-file.

Black's plan of doubling on the g-file was probably too slow, as after the alternative 25...e3! things remain highly unclear. In a position where White already had the better chances, Carlsen made another mistake with 27...Qc7? which loses a vital tempo. Suddenly it was all over, and Shirov had won! The Latvian GM overtook his direct opponent in the standings and recorded arguably his best perfomance of his career.

Ivanchuk then won his opposite-coloured bishops + rooks ending with an extra pawn - objectively Black should have been able to hold it, but the task proved too difficult for Dominguez at this quick rate of play.

Especially after his disappointing last place at his last super tournament, the Tal Memorial in August 2008, Shirov's victory comes a bit as a surprise, but certainly a pleasant one. His undefeated 6.5/10 (seven draws and three wins) is absolutely superb in this field, and good for a 2866 performance. Winning in Sofia also means direct qualification for the 2nd Grand Slam Final in Bilbao in September, where Shirov will compete with Grischuk, Karjakin and Topalov.

Shirov, Carlsen, Topalov

Shirov proudly showing his trophy, and Carlsen and Topalov their shared second prizes



Both Carlsen and Topalov ended with a 2800+ performance as well, and especially Carlsen scored a few very impressive victories. His first-round win against Topalov turned out to be a crucial game. After the Bulgarian won in rounds 4 and 5 he seemed to be going for another trademark comeback, but with four draws and one win in the second leg, he came half a point short this time.

The tournament will also be remembered as one of the worst ever for Vassily Ivanchuk. Together with his result in Nalchik last month the Ukrainian dropped an enormous amount of rating points and it's not clear whether it's a good thing that he will have many opportunities to win them back in the coming months. He admitted himself that he needs to rest, but he wants to play at the same time.

Wang Yue, the only player who has played more rated games than Ivanchuk over the past year, also gave the impression that he lacked energy. In his case, as a solid, positional player, this led to many boring games and quick draws. However, we shouldn't forget his impressive year 2008, and like Ivanchuk, the Chinese will surely be back with new successes to come.

Only Dominguez didn't win a single game in Sofia, which is remarkable considering his sharp and principled style combined with top-notch openings. Because of this he will certainly keep on being an interesting candidate to be invited for super tournaments.

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