World Championship Chess: Does the bell toll for Topalov?
by Australia’s first Grandmaster Ian Rogers in Sofia|
May 10, 2010 1:03PM |EMAIL|PRINT
It has been two decades since communism and Bulgaria parted company and few signs remain of that era.
The giant statue of Lenin in the centre of the town has been replaced by a statue of the Bulgarian symbol Saint Sofia — like Saint Kilda, a non-religious figure inspiring religious devotion.
One remnant of the old era is Kambanite — the International Bell Park for Children, located just outside Sofia in the foothills of Mount Vitosha.
Set up in 1979 as part of the Banner of Peace movement — never a big hit in Australia despite its opposition to the evil Warmongers — the park contained a bell tower plus bells from 100 countries.
The brainchild of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of long-time dictator Todor Zhivkov, tens of thousands of children were brought to the park to ring the bells and follow the motto “Unity, Creativity, Beauty”.
Now, even on a holiday weekend only a handful of families can be seen testing out the bells, half of which are stolen or broken. (The tiny bell donated by Australia in the distant past still stands but won’t ring, whereas the DDR bell, from a country long gone, works perfectly well.)
Nowadays, what rings Bulgarian bells is heavy metal — over the next two weeks AC/DC, Mettalica and Rammstein will all play Levski Stadium, and the AC/DC concert next Friday is by itself causing empty hotels to fill.
Chess has straddled the communist and post-communist eras. As proof of communism’s superiority, chess was encouraged by the State in all Warsaw pact nations and Bulgaria ranked among the top 10 nations in the world. With State support disappearing, chess has struggled in many ex-communist countries, but in Bulgaria the rise of Veselin Topalov in the 1990s to become a world class player kept chess in the public eye.
As the current contest nears its conclusion, Topalov’s fight for the world title is a lead item on the sports news in print and on Bulgarian television, which features regular live crosses to the games.
And by rights, the locals should be celebrating already.
Over the past two days, Bulgaria has been within touching distance of their first world match champion, but so far Topalov has lacked the composure to finish off the shaky World Champion and the score remains tied at 5.5-5.
Twice in three days Topalov has enjoyed a significant endgame advantage and twice Anand caused enough problems for Topalov to falter and allow Anand to escape with two draws. Even more embarrassingly for Topalov, in both games the Bulgarian was obliged to accept draw offers from Anand; something that he had declared pre-match that he would never do.
Nonetheless, a Topalov victory is both predicted and expected in Sofia. Topalov has the advantage of the white pieces first move in the final game; no player has yet won a game with black in this match.
Bulgarian television commentators recall past world title matches decided by a heroic win in the final game, interviewing Topalov’s manager who describes the twelfth and final game as the equivalent of a “golden goal” football game.
The greatest fear for the Bulgarian pundits appears to be the possibility that titleholder Viswanathan Anand will escape into rapid tiebreakers, the chess equivalent of a penalty shootout.
Anand is the most successful player at rapid chess in history, whereas memories are raw of Topalov’s failure in the 2006 world title tiebreakers against Vladimir Kramnik.
“We still have one more game to play,” said Topalov when asked about his chances should the score become 6-6. “I think only game by game.”
With just one regulation game left, the pressure is back on Topalov who will soon know whether the bells toll for him.
World Championship 2010 Game 10
Opening: Gruenfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5
A gutsy decision, returning to the opening which had led to a massacre in game one.
The start of some very ambitious — probably overambitious — play.
46…Ne7! was stronger.
47.Kg3 Ne4+ 48.Kh4 Nd6 49.Rd2!?!
A crazy/brave pawn sacrifice by Anand when 49.Kg3 was possible. “To keep clinging on didn’t seem attractive to me,” said the Indian, yet now Anand knows that should his counter-attack fails, the game and the world title will probably be gone.