22 February 2017

Commentary: 2016 London Classic Round 4 (Topalov - Nakamura)

(The original ChessBase article including this game can be found at https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-rd-4)

This next commentary game between two Super-GMs (Veselin Topolov and Hikaru Nakamura, from the 2016 London Classic in December) is a great contemporary example of the 3...c5 variation in the Advance Caro-Kann.  It is the only real gambit continuation in the Caro-Kann defense and is a legitimate alternative to 3...Bf5, which however is much more popular (and theoretical).  Here both sides are spoiling for a fight, as shown especially by Black's 9th move and White's 11th move choices.  Topalov gets the worst of it, however, overextending his queenside which is undermined with the key 11...a5, which has a number of unpleasant consequences for White.  Topalov throws caution to the winds with a queen sac on move 18, going "all in" on his aggressive idea, but Nakamura then capably quashes White's counterplay and essentially cruises to victory.  A model game to study for Caro-Kann players and in general, as it contains some important thematic ideas in the opening, along with a slew of middlegame tactics and a virtuoso demonstration of the power of the queen when she is mobile and her opposition is uncoordinated.

Topalov, V. (2760) - Nakamura, Hi (2779)

Result: 0-1
Site: London ENG
Date: 2016.12.12
[...] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 ¤c6 5.¤f3 ¥g4 the standard reaction after Nf3 in this version of the Advance variation. The ability to pin the Nf3 is one of the benefits of playing 3...c5 rather than ...Bf5. 6.c3 this deters . ..Qa5 and prepares the b-pawn advance. (6.¥b5 is the main move here.) 6...e6 7.b4 a6 preventing ...Bb5, but slowing development. (7...¤ge7!?) 8.¤bd2 ¤xe5 this is an earlier and an easier recovery of the pawn than is normal for Black in the variation. White in this line has chosen to emphasize queenside play instead. 9.£a4+ ¤d7 now out of the database. This move choice preserves the queens on the board and indicates that Nakamura wants a middlegame fight.
9...£d7 had been tried twice before in the database, both times resulting in a loss. Most recently: 10.£xd7+ ¤xd7 11.¥b2 ¥xf3 12.¤xf3 ¥e7 13.¥e2 ¥f6 14.O-O ¤e7 15.¦ab1 O-O 16.c4 a5 17.¥xf6 gxf6 18.a3 axb4 19.axb4 ¦a2 20.¦fe1 ¤e5 21.cxd5 ¤xf3+ 22.¥xf3 ¤xd5 23.¥xd5 exd5 24.¦e7 ¦b8 25.g3 ¦d2 26.¦d7 ¦d4 27.¦d6 ¦c8 28.¦xf6 ¦c6 29.¦d6 ¦d2 30.¢g2 ¢f8 31.¢f3 ¦d4 32.¦d8+ ¢g7 33.¦b2 ¦f6+ 34.¢g2 b6 35.cxb6 ¦xb6 36.b5 ¦d1 37.¢f3 ¢f6 38.¢e2 ¦d4 39.¦b3 ¢e7 40.¦a8 ¦e4+ 41.¢f3 ¦ee6 42.¦a7+ ¢f6 43.¢g2 ¢g6 44.¦a4 h6 45.¦d4 ¦ed6 46.¢f3 ¢f6 47.¢e3 ¦d8 48.¦f4+ ¢e5 49.¦xf7 d4+ 50.¢d3 ¦d5 51.¦e7+ ¢f5 52.¦e4 ¦dxb5 53.¦xb5+ ¦xb5 54.¦xd4 1-0 (54) Nevednichy,V (2554)-Zelcic,R (2548) Tromsoe 2014
10.¤e5 ¤gf6 Nakamura is not concerned about the knight for bishop trade on g4 and continues with development. 11.c4?! while active-looking, the main problem with this move is that it leaves White's queenside pawns overextended, which Nakamura takes advantage of with his next move. Presumably Topalov was looking to exchange on d5 at some point and get rid of his doubled pawns.
11.¤xg4 is a more obvious follow-up, obtaining the two bishops, although it doesn't offer much for White beyond equality. Topalov is obviously trying for more, which requires the knight to stay on e5. 11...¤xg4 12.¥e2 £h4!? (12...¤ge5) 13.¥xg4 £xg4
11...a5 now White cannot take on a5 or advance the b-pawn without losing the c5 pawn. 12.¤b3 (12.cxd5 axb4 13.£b5 ¥xc5³) 12...axb4 this capture is made even more annoying for White because the Queen is tied to the pin of the Nd7, which otherwise could take the hanging Ne5, so recapturing on b4 is not possible. 13.£b5 the only move. 13...¥e7 14.c6 this looks a bit scary at first, but Black emerges unscathed from the sequence rather better.
14.cxd5 doesn't seem to work any better for White, as after 14...O-O 15.¤xg4 (15.d6 ¤xe5µ) 15...¤xg4 White either must accept the loss of the c5-pawn or allow Black to go into a dangerous-looking sequence with 16.h3 ¤xf2 (16...¤ge5 is the safe alternative) 17.¢xf2 ¥f6 18.¦b1 ¦xa2+
14...bxc6³15.¤xc6 £c7 and the b-pawn is tactically protected. White does not have sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn and has no good choices at this point.
15...£b6?! looks tempting, directly protecting the b-pawn, but is worse for Black after 16.¥e3 £xb5 17.cxb5² and now the advanced b-pawn White has acquired is a strength rather than a liability.
16.f3 (16.¤xb4?16...¦b8 winning material.) 16...¥f5 so the bishop ends up on f5 after all, and is nicely placed there. 17.¤xe7 ¦b8 a key intermediate move, preserving the b-pawn. 18.¤xf5? now Topalov goes "all in" with the material sacrifice, which has some shock value but favors Black.
18.£a5 this more solid alternative must have looked unappetizing to Topalov after 18...£e5+ 19.¢f2 ¢xe7³
18...¦xb5 19.¤xg7+ ¢e7µ Black does not have to be in a rush to trap the knight with ...Kf8. 20.cxb5 ¤c5 this allows time for White to seize the long diagonal.
20...£e5+!21.¥e2 ¤c5 22.¦b1 ¤d3+ 23.¢f1 ¤xc1 24.¦xc1 ¤d7µ
21.¥b2 ¤xb3 22.axb3 £f4 23.¥e2 although White must be desperate to activate his pieces, this gives Black time to do the same, getting his rook into play very effectively.
23.¦a7+!?23...¤d7 24.¤f5+ now the bishop's presence on b2 is a saving grace for White. 24...exf5 25.¦xd7+ ¢xd7 26.¥xh8
23...¦c8 24.¦d1 £g5 this looks quite threatening to both the Ng7 and g2 pawn, but moving the rook to c2 immediately appears stronger. The Ng7 is dead anyway and the Rc2 creates new threats. 25.b6?!
25.O-O £xg7 26.¥d4 and Black may have a slight edge, but no immediate threats.
25...¦c2 26.¥xf6+ £xf6 27.¤h5 a nice try at extracting the knight, but now the Black queen and rook combine well in making new, decisive threats. (27.b7 £c3+ 28.¢f1 £c7 and the b-pawn is indefensible.) 27...£c3+ 28.¢f1 £e3−⁠+ now the power of the queen is demonstrated. Black will pick up both of White's defenseless queenside pawns, while the rook on the second rank helps paralyze White's pieces. Note how poorly they coordinate and the fact that the Rh1 is completely out of play, with the Nh5 not much better. 29.¦e1 £xb6 an easy path to victory, as White is essentially helpless.
29...d4!? is the engine's preference, ramming through the passed pawn and picking up the Be2. For example 30.b7 d3 31.¤g3 dxe2+ 32.¤xe2 £b6−⁠+
30.¤f4 £e3 31.g3 £xb3 Topalov now tries to put up a fight and activate his pieces, but it's too late. Just seeing the passed d- and b-pawns makes it rather obvious. 32.¢g2 ¢f8 33.¢h3 £b2 34.¦b1 £f6 35.¦he1 (35.¦xb4 £h6+ 36.¢g2 e5−⁠+ and White loses a piece.) 35...e5 again, Nakamura chooses a straightforward winning path.
35...£f5+ would allow Black to play a tactical trick using the h7-b1 diagonal. 36.¢g2 e5 37.¤xd5 ¦xe2+ 38.¦xe2 £xb1−⁠+
36.¤xd5 £e6+ 37.¢g2 £xd5 38.¦xb4 £d2 39.¦b8+ getting out of the queen fork 39...¢g7 40.¢f1 £h6 41.¢g2 (41.¦b4!?) 41...e4 the correct break, opening White's position further. 42.¦b3 £e6 White's king remains the more vulnerable one, due to Black's mobility and Q+R combination. 43.¦e3 exf3+ 44.¢xf3 £h3 45.¦d1
45.¦h1?45...£f5+ 46.¢g2 £d5+ 47.¢g1 ¦c1+ 48.¥f1 ¦xf1+ 49.¢xf1 £xh1+
45...£h5+ a strong intermediate check that heightens the impact of the capture on h2, with tempo. 46.¢f2 (46.g4? is no help 46...£h3+) 46...£xh2+ 47.¢f3 ¦c6 a strong redeployment of the rook. Black again has time to spare, with a lack of any White counterplay. 48.¦d4 ¦g6 49.g4 ¦f6+ 50.¢e4 £h1+ 51.¢d3 £b1+ note how White's two rooks actually hinder rather than help him, in the face of the queen's mobility. 52.¢d2 £b2+ 53.¢d3 ¦c6 and White loses material.
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