In 2010, Viswanathan Anand was the reigning World Champion, but he faced a formidable challenge from Veselin Topalov, a dynamic player who was then ranked No. 2 in the world. And the match would be held on Topalov’s home turf.

This is the second article in a series about the greatest World Championships ever. The first can be found here.

The 2010 World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Veselin Topalov was the first one I really followed live. I wasn’t very serious about chess in 2006, when Topalov played Vladimir Kramnik in the match to reunify the title that had been split in 1993. And in 2008, when Anand and Kramnik squared off, I was busy playing in the World Youth Championships. But it was very different in 2010. I would wake up at ridiculously early hours in California to follow the games and learn as much as I could. And to me the games were thrilling.

It’s very rare to see World Championship matches in which there are no politics. This match was not embroiled in politics, but it had its issues as well. The match was held in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, which was Topalov’s home turf. This was not a problem in and of itself, but when an unfortunate situation arose, it led to some speculation that there was some favoritism for Topalov.

Anand planned to arrive in Sofia a week early, but his travel plans were disrupted by the volcanic explosion of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, which halted air travel in Europe for more than a week. Anand sought a postponement of the match by three days, but his request was denied. This doesn’t strike me as ridiculous because of the huge amount of organizational work that goes into a World Championship and how difficult it would be to book different rooms on different days and completely change the arrangements, but I definitely felt for Anand, who seemed to be the clear victim of an unlucky situation. Fortunately, he did make it to Sofia a few days before the match was scheduled to begin by renting a car and driving with members of his team from Germany.

This was the first match in which computers really played an outsize roll. While they could beat the best humans in the world before, by 2010 it was no longer a contest — laptops were routinely thrashing top grandmasters without much difficulty. Still, they were slower than they are now, and often would reach the wrong evaluations about positions.

The power of computers was on display in Game 1.Prior to the match, Topalov had been able to work on a super computer used by Bulgaria’s Defense Department. The access to such processing power helped Topalov ride to a quick victory in a sharp line.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anand, Viswanathan
World Championship | Sofia | Round 1 | 24 Apr 2010 | ECO: D87 | 1-0
23. Rf3 Kf7?
23... Bd7! This was the only way for Black to hang on. After
24. Rg3 Kf7! Now this move works because the rook on g3 is attacked, so Nxf6 is not a good idea.
...  25. Bc4+ Nxc4 26. Rxc4 Rh8 27. Rxd4 Be8 The position seems dangerous for Black, but his king is much safer than it looks, and a lot of White pieces are attacked. White needs to find a way to salvage a draw before it is too late.
28. Rd7+ Kf8 29. Nxf6! Qa1+ 30. Kf2 Qxf6 31. Qb4+ Kg8 32. Rxg5+ Qxg5 33. Qb3+ Kf8 34. Qb4+  )
24. Nxf6! And just like that, Anand is done for. Interestingly, the engines at the time initially don't realize how strong this move is until they ran for quite a while. Topalov's superior machinery may have been what led him to a victory in this game. Now, Stockfish finds Nxf6 in less than a second.
24... Kxf6
24... Qxf6 25. Rh3! Black is completely powerless to stop the incoming devastation with Rh7, Rcc7, e5, etc.
25... Bd7 26. Rh7+ Ke8 27. e5!  )
25. Rh3! Simple and strong. The threat is Rh6+ and Black cannot hold his position together
25... Rg8
25... Qf4 26. e5+! The only winning move, but a very convincing one.
26... Kxe5 27. Qe2+ Kd5 28. Rf1! And Black's queen cannot keep in touch with the critical squares f3 and e4.  )
26. Rh6+ Kf7 27. Rh7+! Ke8
27... Rg7 Would not have helped.
28. Rxg7+! Kxg7 29. Qxg5+ Kf7 30. Qd8! Deadly, and White will follow with Rc7.  )
28. Rcc7 Kd8 29. Bb5! Another outwardly quiet move that is devastating. Black is nearly in zugzwang and White is threatening Rxc8+.
29... Qxe4
29... a6 30. Rce7! Qc5 Would lose elegantly, too. Among the possibilities is:
31. Qxg5!  )
30. Rxc8+ Black resigned, he will be down a piece after
30. Rxc8+ Kxc8 31. Qc1+ Nc6 32. Bxc6 Qe3+ 33. Qxe3 dxe3 34. Bxa8  )

During the game, I was wondering if Topalov had found all these moves at the board. This would be an extremely naive thought in 2016, but at the time it seemed feasible to me. Alas, it turned out that he won this game by simply having greater firepower, and using it effectively.

Anand, who was clearly outgunned in terms of machinery, responded appropriately. His “human squad” included help from the best players in the world, while Topalov was relying on grandmasters with ratings of about 2600 —very strong, but not world-class. Anand began to choose openings that did not involve a lot of forced variations hoping that his preparation would turn out to be superior. In Game 2, he leveled the score with a fine win in the Catalan, and in very human style.

Anand, Viswanathan vs. Topalov, Veselin
World Championship | Sofia | Round 2 | 25 Apr 2010 | ECO: E04 | 1-0
15. Qa3!? This move was condemned by many commentators at the time of the game, and even now the engines don't love it. But, I think it's the best human choice in the position. Opening queenside files is a very typical theme in the Catalan opening, and Anand puts the files to good use in this game.
15... Qxa3 16. bxa3! N7f6?! Topalov begins to falter in a somewhat unusual structure.
16... Nc5! The knight is better positioned on c5, when Black would have at least equal chances. Still, after
17. Rc2 Nxd3 18. exd3 Bd7 19. Nd6 White's domination of the open c-file means he is not yet in any real danger.  )
17. Nce5! A typical Catalan move. White restricts Black's queenside development
17... Re8! Preparing b6
17... Bd7? 18. Nxd7 Nxd7 19. Bxd5 exd5 20. Rc7 This Position is very unpleasant for Black.  )
17... b6? If Black could put his bishop on b7 he would be doing reasonably well, but it takes too long:
18. Bb4! Re8 19. Nc6! White will soon regain his pawn and maintain strong positional pressure.  )
18. Rc2 b6 This creates some space for the light-squared bishop, but blocks its brother on a7.
19. Bd2 Bb7 20. Rfc1 Rbd8 21. f4
21. a4 Looks more natural to me  )
21... Bb8
21... b5 22. Nc6 Bxc6 23. Rxc6 Bb6 24. Bf3  )
22. a4 Black has a very hard time untangling his pieces and opposing the activity of White's pieces.
22... a5
22... Rc8 Seems like it would be ideal because Black would like to trade his two poorly positioned rooks for White's, and if he could he would be fine. But after
23. Rxc8 Rxc8 24. Rxc8+ Bxc8 25. Nc6! Bc7 26. Nxd4 White would restore the material balance and the position would be close to equal. Given how the game ultimately concluded, Topalov probably regretted not playing in this way.  )
23. Nc6 Bxc6 24. Rxc6 h5 Moves like this are a sign that Black has no real plan to mobilize his pieces. His position is still reasonably solid, but I imagine Anand was feeling pretty confident at this point.
25. R1c4 Ne3? It's very difficult to play a position without active prospects. Topalov's error is understandable.
25... Ng4!? 26. Bf3 e5 Engines mostly suggest the ugly  )
25... Ba7 which would have been better than the move played in the game. Although it places the bishop on a funny square, it makes Ne7-f5 possible and Black can still play Bb8 later on.  )
26. Bxe3 dxe3 27. Bf3 Patient as can be
27. Rxb6 Was also possible but I see no problem with the move that Anand played.  )
27... g6?
27... h4! This looks more natural. Black doesn't have much counterplay, but he can at least loosen White's kingside and try to play g5 at some point.  )
28. Rxb6 Black has a better pawn structure from a classical point of view, but the difference in piece activity is astounding. White will win the pawn on a5, and that should be decisive
28... Ba7 29. Rb3! Patient and strong. White prevents Rxd3; the pawn on a5 can be taken later.
29. Rb7? Rxd3! 30. Rxa7 Rd2 Would give Black too much activity.  )
29... Rd4 30. Rc7 Bb8 31. Rc5! and a5 falls. The rest was child's play for Anand.
31... Bd6
31... Rxa4? 32. Bc6  )
32. Rxa5 Rc8 33. Kg2 Rc2 34. a3 Ra2 35. Nb4! Bxb4 36. axb4 Nd5 37. b5 Raxa4 38. Rxa4 Rxa4 39. Bxd5 exd5 40. b6 Ra8 41. b7 Rb8 42. Kf3 d4 43. Ke4

With the match tied 1-1, Anand would have Black for the second time in Game 3. He chose the Slav Defense, aiming to get a position where human analysis could evaluate Black’s drawing chances in a slightly worse endgame more effectively than machines could. It worked like a charm.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anand, Viswanathan
World Championship | Sofia | Round 3 | 27 Apr 2010 | ECO: D17 | 1/2-1/2
13. Bxc4 This endgame is cheerless for Black because White has more space and Black's bishop on g6 is passive, but Anand clearly felt he could hold a draw with proper defense. The computer is largely useless in analyzing positions like this, which may have contributed to Anand's choice as Topalov's superior computer power could not help him.
13... a6 14. Rc1 Rg8! Black overprotects the pawn on g7, which frees the bishop on f8 to move
15. h4 h6 Saving the bishop
15... Bc5 16. Bxc5 Nxc5 17. h5 And White should win.  )
16. Ke2?! This looks inaccurate to me
16. Kf2! This was a stronger move because White's worst piece is the knight on c3, which now reroute to f4 via e2.  )
16... Bd6
16... Bc5 Trading bishops would be ideal for Black but doing it at this point would lose too much time.
17. Bxc5 Nxc5 18. b4 Nd7 19. a5  )
17. h5 Bh7 18. a5 Fixing the pawns on the queenside but I'm not sure it's the best plan.
18. Nd1!? The engine's recommendation makes a lot of sense. The idea is to play Ne3, where the knight would be more effective.  )
18... Ke7! Simple and strong. Black saw no need to rock the boat with Bb4.
18... Bb4 19. Nb5!? axb5 20. Bxb5 Rxa5 21. Bxd7+ Kxd7 22. Rhd1 And Black must play very precisely to avoid losing.  )
19. Na4 f6! Another strong move as it blocks the a1-h8 diagonal. Now that the g-pawn is no longer attacked, the Black rook on g8 can join the action. I would not be surprised if Anand had prepared up to this point, and understood that even though the engine prefers White, over-the-board, Topalov would probably not be able to take advantage, and the game would likely end in a draw.
20. b4 Rgc8
20... Bxb4?! would have been risky as it opens too many lines of attack for White's pieces.
21. Rb1 Bxa5 22. Rxb7 Rgb8 23. Bc5+ Ke8 24. Rxb8+ Rxb8 25. Bd6 Rc8 26. Bxe6 Rc2+ 27. Ke3  )
21. Bc5
21. Nc5 Bxc5! 22. bxc5 Nxc5 and Black is fine  )
21... Bxc5 22. bxc5 Rc7! Black has equalized.
22... Nxc5? 23. Nb6  )
23. Nb6 Rd8 24. Nxd7 Rdxd7 25. Bd3 Bg8 Bringing his last passively placed piece back into the game.
26. c6 White tries to create an outside passed, but Anand does not allow it.
26... Rd6!
26... bxc6? 27. Rc5  )
26... Rxc6 Even this should be fine.
27. Rxc6 bxc6 28. Rb1 e5  )
27. cxb7 Rxb7 28. Rc3 Bf7 29. Ke3 Be8 30. g4 e5 31. Rhc1 Bd7 32. Rc5 Bb5! 33. Bxb5 axb5 34. Rb1 b4 35. Rb3 Ra6 36. Kd3 Rba7 37. Rxb4 Rxa5 And the game soon ended in a draw.

Another win from Anand in Game 4 gave him the lead. A series of draws followed, and Anand remained loyal to the same Slav system. But it did not hold out forever.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anand, Viswanathan
World Championship | Sofia | Round 8 | 04 May 2010 | ECO: D17 | 1-0
13. Bxc4 Rc8 Anand decided not to play a6, as he had in Games 3 and 5, both of which he drew. He knew Topalov's team would have analyzed the position deeply.
14. Bb5! To prevent this move is the reason Black normally would play a6.
14... a6 15. Bxd7+ Kxd7 16. Ke2 f6 17. Rhd1 Ke8
17... Kc7 The computer recommends this move, but it looks insane.  )
17... Bd6? 18. e5! fxe5 19. Bxe5 Rc6 20. Bxg7! Winning a pawn.  )
18. a5 This is not White's only option, but it looks quite natural. According to several contemporary accounts, Anand really started thinking at this point, suggesting that his preparation was over, which is somthing Topalov was surely happy to see.
18... Be7 One of many possible ways to develop the bishop. Its drawback is that it takes the e7-square away from the king. Other ways of developing are:
18... Bb4! This is the strongest move. Black prepares Ke7 and is ready to chop on c3 in some cases to create a position with opposite-colored bishops.  )
18... Bc5? 19. Bxc5 Rxc5 20. Rac1! And White's rapid development poses a huge threat to Black.
20... Rxa5 21. b4 Ra3 22. Nb5! And White will win. Note that after
22... Ra2+ 23. Kf1 Black has already moved his king, so he cannot castle to safety.  )
19. Bb6 Rf8! Black plans Rf7 and Bf8 to activate all of his pieces.
20. Rac1
20. Rd2 f5 21. e5 f4  )
20... f5?! I don't like this move. It's possible Anand overlooked White's 23rd move when he played it.
20... Rf7 This would be my choice, continuing along with the same plan as before. Black should be okay.  )
21. e5! Bg5 22. Be3! f4 This might be the best move in a bad position
22... Bxe3 23. Kxe3 f4+ 24. Kd4 Ke7 25. Ne4 Bxe4 26. Kxe4 This looks very unpleasant for Black. The pawn on f4 will require constant attention and any pawn ending will be losing for Black.  )
23. Ne4! Rxc1 24. Nd6+! Kd7!
24... Ke7 The Black king cannot find a safe home.
25. Bxc1 Rb8 26. Rd4  )
25. Bxc1 White has very active pieces and the pawn on f4 is ripe for plucking.
25... Kc6! The point behind Kd7. Black's king is reasonably secure on c6.
26. Bd2? This allows Black to reach an opposite-colored bishop ending, which Black should be able to draw.
26. Rd4 Looks more natural to me as it puts maximum pressure on the pawn on f4.  )
26... Be7! 27. Rc1+ Kd7
27... Kd5? 28. Rc7 Obviously, this is not what Black had in mind. The pawns will fall one after another.  )
28. Bc3 Bxd6 29. Rd1!
29. exd6 Rc8  )
29... Bf5 30. h4! White fixes the pawn on f4 before doing anything else. He can decide how to take the bishop on d6 later on.
30... g6? This is a serious mistake
30... Kc7! 31. Rxd6 Rd8! Black reaches the same opposite-colored bishop ending, but White is unable to move the e5 pawn to d6. This position should end in a draw.  )
31. Rxd6+ Kc8 32. Bd2 Rd8 33. Bxf4 Rxd6 34. exd6 This is still a draw with accurate defense, but Black definitely did not need to give White such an advanced passed pawn, which makes Black's task more difficult.
34... Kd7 35. Ke3 Bc2 36. Kd4 Ke8 37. Ke5 Kf7 38. Be3 Ba4 39. Kf4 Bb5 40. Bc5 Kf6 41. Bd4+ Kf7 42. Kg5 Bc6 43. Kh6 Kg8 44. h5 Be8 45. Bc5 gxh5 46. Kg5 Kg7! 47. Bd4+ Kf7 48. Be5
48. Kxh5 Bb5 49. Kh6 Bd3  )
48... h4 49. Kxh4 Kg6 50. Kg4 Bb5 51. Kf4 Kf7 52. Kg5 Bc6?? It's very hard to defend perfectly forever. This move loses. The bishop was needed to defend the pawn on h7, while the king stops the d-pawn, not the other way round.
52... Bd3! With the bishop on d3 and the king on g7, I don't see a way for White to make progress.
53. Kh6 Ke8 54. Kg7 Kd7 55. g4 Bc2 56. f4 Bg6 57. Kf6 Be4 58. f5 exf5 59. gxf5 Bd3 60. Kg5 h6+! Anand may have missed this idea. Allowing f6 would lose, but now the king cannot find a good square. Black should draw easily.  )
53. Kh6 Kg8 54. g4 Anand resigned on the spot here. He cannot stop White from playing g5, Bg7, g6, and then running the king to the d-pawn.

Anand was surely displeased with himself for losing this game. Even after some mistakes, he still could have drawn at the end, but one final poor decision let Topalov even the score.

While preparation and opening choices played a large role in how the match played progressed, there has never been a World Championship match that was not decided by players’ decisions during the games in critical middlegame and endgame positions. This match was no exception, and with the score tied at 5.5-5.5 going into the final regulation game, Topalov badly misjudged the merits of a pawn sacrifice by Anand, and lost the game and the match.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anand, Viswanathan
World Championship | Sofia | Round 12 | 11 May 2010 | ECO: D56 | 0-1
f5! 31. exf5? This was extremely ill-advised. Black's bishop on a8, which was not doing much, becomes a monster and the White king will soon be harassed.
31. Nd2! Maintained equality and would probably have led to a draw.  )
31... e4! 32. fxe4? A move consistent with Topalov's plan of taking the material and hanging on for dear life, but it loses the game.
32. Ne3 exf3+ 33. Kg1 Qe5 34. Qc3 White is a bit worse here but he is not losing immediately.  )
32... Qxe4+ 33. Kh3 Rd4! The threat is Qg4 mate and the knight on c4 is also attacked.
34. Ne3
34. Rf4 Qg2+ Wins  )
34... Qe8!! And White is absolutely crushed. The threat of Qh5 mate can only be parried by g4, which opens the lines of attack for all of Black's pieces.
35. g4 h5! White's king is losing all of its cover
36. Kh4 g5+! Simple and strong. Black opens a line for the c7 rook to join the attack. The computer finds faster wins, but the move played by Black is more than sufficient.
37. fxg6 Qxg6 38. Qf1 Rxg4+ 39. Kh3 Re7! Including the last piece in the attack. The threat is Rxe3.
40. Rf8+ Kg7 41. Nf5+
41. Rxa8? Rxe3+! 42. Rxe3 Rh4+ 43. Kxh4 Qg4# This would finish the game in fine style  )
41... Kh7! With time control reached, chances of a blunder are slim. Still, Anand should be commended for choosing the right move.
41... Kxf8? 42. Nxe7+ Kxe7 43. Rxa7+ Was not to be recommended.  )
42. Rg3 Rxg3+ 43. hxg3 Qg4+ 44. Kh2 Re2+ 45. Kg1 Rg2+ 46. Qxg2 Bxg2 Black is up a queen. Topalov did not last much longer
47. Kxg2
47. Rf7+ Kg6! 48. Rg7+ Kxf5 49. Rxg4 hxg4! 50. Kxg2 Ke4 With a winning pawn ending  )
47... Qe2+ 48. Kh3 c4 49. a4 a5 50. Rf6 Kg8 51. Nh6+ Kg7 52. Rb6 Qe4 53. Kh2 Kh7 54. Rd6 Qe5 55. Nf7 Qxb2+ 56. Kh3 Qg7

————————————————————————-

Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.