When Veselin Topalov announced that he was going to play the entire World Championship match without offering or accepting any draws, and that World Champion Viswanathan Anand was old and conservative for not doing likewise, many thought that the challenger was merely sprucing up his image as a fighter for the Bulgarian public.
However Topalov was deadly serious and his insistence on following his self-imposed “principles” may have cost him the world title.
Until Tuesday, the world title match had run relatively smoothly. Topalov won the first game convincingly, Anand bounced back to win the second and relations between the two players seemed amicable enough. There had been plenty of trash talking prior to the match by Topalov and his manager Silvio Danailov but it seemed like water off a duck’s back to Anand. Certainly the players had acted perfectly civilly at the various joint press conferences.
However at the end of the third game in the Bulgarian capital on Tuesday, something changed.
The game itself was a nondescript battle where both players ran out of ideas and pieces. A draw seemed inevitable as Anand checked Topalov’s king which was obliged to move back and forth.
The checks were repeated once, twice, three times.
Any normal game would have ended with a draw offer and a handshake. Topalov could even have shrugged his shoulders, extended his hand and peace would have been concluded without a word spoken.
But no — Topalov had announced his personal “No Draw Offer” rule and by God he was going to follow it, even if it made him look like a dork (as he no doubt realised).
Faced with the likelihood of seeing the same position in front of him for the fourth time, Topalov rose from board and approached the chief arbiter, Panagiotis Nikolopoulos, and asked him to offer a draw on Topalov’s behalf. Unprecedented, arguably against the match rules, but the bemused Greek arbiter decided to humour Topalov and pass on the offer to Anand, who agreed to call it a day.
Clearly irritated, Anand made no effort to shake Topalov’s hand — the traditional and almost obligatory way to end a game. The challenger, clearly embarrassed at the whole episode, simply forgot to offer his hand.
10 minutes later at the post-game press conference, Topalov was beginning to realise how bad it looked for him.
“Why didn’t you just offer a draw?” asked the journalists and Topalov had no answer except to say he was following his Sofia rules. One of the translators tried to save the local hero; “He was just following the match regulations.”
“I didn’t see that in the regulations,” replied a feisty Dutch journalist.
Anand did not need to do anything except sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Even Topalov’s hesitant but honest answer that he forgot to shake hands looked like a weak excuse for a show of bad sportsmanship, while Anand’s joke that perhaps he now needed to offer his handshakes to the arbiter gave him a free pass.
The psychological initiative had shifted, dramatically.
The next day Topalov came out swinging and was hit, hard.
Anand sacrificed a pawn, then a knight, then a bishop and would have thrown both his rooks on the bonfire had Topalov not chosen a prosaic way to lose.
Anand refused to confirm or deny that many of his spectacular ideas had been prepared by his team pre-match, but the speed of some of Anand’s moves certainly made it look that way.
While Anand dissected his attacking ideas in game four for the press after the game, Topalov could offer little more than, “It was a complicated game … I thought I had a decent position … My [20th move] was especially bad.”
Topalov now has a free day to pull himself together before Friday’s fifth game or the €1.2 million Euro winner’s cheque will soon be heading to India.
Topalov is famed for his comebacks, and a 1.5-2.5 deficit is far from insurmountable in a 12 game contest, but concentrating on high level chess must be difficult when at the back of his mind Topalov can’t help but be thinking, “Does the world think I’m a dork? Am I really a dork?”
World Championship 2010 Game 4
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+
Varying from 5…a6, as Topalov played in game 2.
6.Bd2 a5 7.Qc2 Bxd2+ 8.Qxd2 c6 9.a4 b5 10.Na3
Not new, but most players prefer to regain the sacrificed pawn with 10.axb5 cxb5 11.Qg5.