India’s Viswanathan Anand has retained his world title in Sofia after a marathon match and a surprise final game win.

Anand beat local hero Veselin Topalov in the twelfth and final game to eke out a 6.5-5.5 win, an unlikely result in a match where he was outranked and often outplayed.

Anand’s underdog victory is worthy of being made into a movie, although perhaps it already has been; the parallels between Anand’s success and the cinematic classic Rocky IV are uncanny:

Over-the-hill champion takes on a seemingly invincible Eastern European automaton. Veteran is dead on his feet when, with a series of big hits, he turns the match around and wins the world title.

Exhausted winner lectures the watching Politburo on the need for world peace.

OK, Anand missed emulating Stallone on the last point but the Tiger from Madras did praise the organisers, admitting also that he was as tired as he looked:

“This was by far the most intense match I have ever played. When I woke up this morning I thought that this could be the saddest day of my life or the happiest (or we could have been going to the rapid playoffs). I have almost no experience in a World Championship match where every result is possible on the final game. [Don’t get me wrong], but I was not unhappy that it would be over soon.”

The final game was typical of the two players’ styles, Anand prepared to develop quietly while Topalov went looking for adventure. For a few moves Topalov’s pieces were left offside and Anand lashed out, sacrificing material to get to the Topalov king. The sacrifices should never have been accepted but Topalov let down his guard and Anand crashed through to a decisive victory, the only win by a player with the black pieces during the entire match.

“My first emotion is mainly relief,” admitted “Vishy” Anand.

“My opponent is a fantastic fighter and had the advantage in most of our games. Either of us could have won this match; in fact no one would have been surprised had either of us won.”

Topalov congratulated Anand — and even spoke to him for the first time since the match began, trying to identify where he had gone wrong.

A few minutes later at the post-match press conference Topalov looked vaguely stunned, as did the dozens of local journalists and cameramen.

Topalov identified poor finishing as the weakness which had cost him dearly; that, plus an amazing claim, in all seriousness that he had tried to avoid the playoffs because they were to be played on May 13 — and he had lost the world title after similar rapid playoffs in 2006, also on the 13th of the month. To avoid playing on the 13th, Topalov had gambled and lost the world title.

So, amazingly enough, the key to the match turned out to be Vishy Anand’s nightmare journey to Sofia through volcano ravaged Europe. Anand was granted a single day’s delay for his troubles, but that was enough to push the tiebreakers from the 12th to the 13th.

Anand will keep the world title until London 2012 when it is quite likely he will be forced to defend the crown against a player half his age — Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, already the youngest world number one in history. Anand and Carlsen have previously worked together but now master and student may become mortal enemies.

Hang on – isn’t that exactly the plot of Rocky V?

World Championship 2010 Game 12

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5URbl3tNyo[/youtube]

White: V.Topalov
Black: V.Anand

Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0-0 7.e3 Ne4!?

Another new opening path by Anand. “Veselin stuck to his guns in this match so I was forced to bounce around with my openings in the second half of the match,” admitted Anand.

8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Rc1 c6 10.Be2 Nxc3 11.Rxc3 dxc4 12.Bxc4 Nd7 13.0-0 b6 14.Bd3 c5 15.Be4 Rb8 16.Qc2 Nf6!?

Anand agrees to accept pawn weaknesses in return for active play; a risky strategy if Topalov can consolidate.

17.dxc5 Nxe4 18.Qxe4 bxc5 19.Qc2 Bb7 20.Nd2 Rfd8 21.f3 Ba6 22.Rf2

Anand later pinpointed this awkward move as the start of Topalov’s downhill slide.

22…Rd7 23.g3 Rbd8 24.Kg2 Bd3 25.Qc1 Ba6

A tacit offer to repeat moves and return for the playoffs on Thursday. Topalov will have none of it.

26.Ra3?!

“I refrained from repeating moves because I was afraid of playing the rapid tiebreakers; I had lost such tiebreakers in [2006], also on the 13th  of the month,”
said Topalov. “This was my mistake.”

26…Bb7 27.Nb3 Rc7 28.Na5 Ba8 29.Nc4 e5 30.e4 f5! 31.exf5

“I was crazy to take this pawn — I missed 34…Qe8!,” Topalov said to Anand after the game. After 31.Nd2! White would have had every reason to expect to hold the position.

31…e4! 32.fxe4? Qxe4+ 33.Kh3 Rd4 34.Ne3 Qe8! 35.g4 h5! 36.Kh4 g5+!

Clearing the seventh rank to allow the last Black rook to enter the attack.

37.fxg6 Qxg6 38.Qf1!

The only chance, but Anand takes his time and finds a clear win.

38…Rxg4+ 39.Kh3 Re7! 40.Rf8+

“I nearly had a heart attack when I saw 40….Kh7 41.Rh8+! but fortunately I am still winning,” said Anand.

40…Kg7 41.Nf5+ Kh7! 42.Rg3 Rxg3+ 43.hxg3 Qg4+ 44.Kh2 Re2+ 45.Kg1 Rg2+ 46.Qxg2 Bxg2 47.Kxg2

Unfortunately for Topalov, the forcing 47.Rf7+ Kg6! 48.Rg7+ Kxf5 49.Rxg4 hxg4! 50.Kxg2 Ke4 51Kf2 Kd3! leads to an easy endgame win for Black.

Now, however, Anand has a slow but sure win.

47…Qe2+ 48.Kh3 c4 49.a4 a5 50.Rf6 Kg8 51.Nh6+ Kg7

By now the local fans were slowly filing out of the Military Club; they knew their man was doomed.

52.Rb6 Qe4 53.Kh2 Kh7 54.Rd6 Qe5 55.Nf7 Qxb2+ 56.Kh3 Qg7 0-1

Veni, vidi, vici, Vishy.

Peter Fray

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