The less said about the first round, the better. Not all draws are boring, but this was some high class swapitude. Unfortunately all three games went this way and it wasn't until the second round that Linares 2010 heated up. Grischuk beat Gelfand and Topalov took out Gashimov while Vallejo got nothing against Aronian's Berlin Defense. Both decisive games took a similar course, with a nagging advantage for white not looking like enough to win until time trouble had its wicked, ticky way with the defenders.
Gelfand was under pressure on the kingside and the right defensive setup is hard to find. 29..Rc7 looks like a good start, allowing the black pieces to defend along the 7th rank. After Grischuk's excellent 30.Qh4, threatening both Bg5-f6 and also to blast through on the h-file with Rh3, there's no defense. Gelfand could have dragged things out with 30..Kg8 31.hxg6 hxg6 32.Rh3! with the clever plan of rerouting the bishop again with g5-f6 and mating on h8. Grischuk's patience is also notable. The obvious 32.Rg7 immediately isn't at all easy to win after the queen gives itself up for the rook and bishop. But after 32.a5!, which threatens c4, Black has to weaken his position on the kingside and that same endgame is an easy win. If 32.c4 directly, 32..Bxc4 33.Rc3 b5 is possible. Subtle full-board play in support of a direct-looking kingside attack.
Topalov flexed his muscles by putting the squeeze on Linares virgin Gashimov. Black defended well for a long time, reaching Q+R vs Q+R with 4 vs 4 on the kingside. But Black had doubled pawns and very little time on the clock. Topalov is the best in the world at creating complicated dishes (some bob chorba, anyone?) from a few simple ingredients and he pushed until Gashimov cracked. Kasparov criticized 40..h5?? saying that he didn't think White could win if Black just held tight without giving up the key g5 square. Both sides slipped earlier, however. 37..Rb6 was better than giving up squares with 37..h6. Topalov could have ended things quickly with 39.Rh8! bringing the queen to f8 and then, in an amusing piece of computer geometry, the queen comes back across the board to attack the trapped black king from e2. Hard to blame Topalov for missing that one. He got it all back after 40..h5?? though, when just about any other move is better. Black can stay passive or go active with the pretty sac 40..f4!? and the rook endgame should be drawn.
A classic Topalov win, with relentless pressure leading to "luck" and making the most of his opportunities. I'm already getting excited about seeing whether or not Anand can defuse Topalov's dynamic power. Provoking him into going too far has worked in the past, but he's so good in complications it's a very dangerous game to play.
Round 3: Aronian-Topalov, Gelfand-Vallejo, Gashimov-Grischuk. I'm back on the air with ICC Chess.FM with the ever-exciting LarryC himself, Larry Christiansen. Gametime is 10am ET, 1600 local.