Person of day - 15 MARCH 2021
The future FIDE world champion was born in the Bulgarian city of Ruse. Veselin had a difficult childhood, even though the boy began to be considered a wunderkind early on. When Topalov was 12, his historic meeting with Silvio Danailov took place. The strong master and administrator recognised the child’s chances and soon devoted his whole life to nurturing the Bulgarian champion. But Bulgaria never had any serious chess traditions, so Topalov went to Spain to sharpen his skill at an early age. There, the “stern school of Opens” made him into a serious fighter who was tough and determined.
The renowned Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett described the meeting between Topalov and Danailov with the following words: “Danailov took Topalov home and said to him: “From now on, you will live here, this will become your new home. I am not only your trainer but also your father and mother. I am your cook. I will do your washing. I will be the one to pay for your expenses at tournaments. All I want is that you only think of chess!”
First successes came soon enough- Veselin won the U14 world championship and then came second at the U16. At the age of 16, Topalov became a grandmaster and, one year later, the leader of the national team. At the 1994 Olympiad, the Bulgarians performed a sensational victory over the main Russian team and their hero outplayed Garry Kasparov himself. From that moment, Danailov’s mentee is justly considered one of the world’s strongest grandmasters. In 1996, Veselin won super tournaments in Amsterdam, Vienna, Dos Hermanos and Novgorod, but the schism of the chess world and the lack of a real qualifying cycle hindered him from fighting for the world championship.
From 1997, the title of FIDE world champion has been played according to a knockout system, but this did not near the Bulgarian to his dream. Despite his charismatic, colourful, uncompromising and combative style, Topalov played in an unstable manner in FIDE championships: in 1997, he lost to Jeroen Piket in the very first match and subsequent starts ended in similar failures for one of the favourites. Veselin only passed the quarter-final barrier in Tripoli in 2004 after playing at an unstoppable tempo and defeating his opponents with one-sided scores. In the semi-final, however, he lost to in-form Rustan Kasimdzhanov in the tie-break. Nonetheless, it became evident that Topalov’s time would come soon. In 2002, he made it to the final of the candidates’ tournament in classical chess, where lost to Vladimir Kramnik’s future opponent, Peter Leko. He won several more large tournaments and in 2005 he became the last player to defeat Garry Kasparov before the latter quit chess.
After Linares in 2005, where Kasparov and Topalov won an equal number of points, the great champion announced the end of his sporting career. The 13th world champion cited the cancelled matches against Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov and declined to play in the match-tournament of the strongest players in St Louis, where the hour of Bulgaria’s chess star came: Topalov won one match after another. Unable to find a reason for the Bulgarian’s phenomenal result, opponents accused Veselin and Danailov of passing information during the match, but they were unable to provide any evidence. In the second round, Veselin let up a little and contented himself with draws, thus winning the FIDE world championship.
A year later in Elista, the unifying match between Topalov and Kramnik took place and the world got a single champion for the first time since 1993. The opponents started it as friends and finished it as sworn enemies. Before the fifth match, Topalov’s team lodged a formal protest that Kramnik was spending too much time in the lounge and made too many visits to the bathroom- the only zone outside video-surveillance. Apparently, he had the chance to consult his computer there. Based on videos from Kramnik’s room that the Bulgarian side provided unexpectedly, the Appeals Committee decided to close the bathrooms in the players’ rooms and told them to use the communal bathroom, where they would be escorted. Kramnik thought this decision to be a breach of contract and an insult to his persona. As a form of protest, he did not appear for the 5th round and spent it in the lounge.
Vladimir was awarded a technical defeat. The match was interrupted for three days, during which the fate of other lounges and their bathrooms was discussed along with Kramnik’s no-show. The defeat stood (because Kramnik did not lodge an official complaint about the outcome of the match) but both players got their lounges and bathrooms back. The echo of the “toilet scandal” clouded the match for a long time. In the end, Kramnik won in additional speed matches.
Despite his loss of title, the Bulgarian grandmaster continued to fight for the world championship. After defeating Gata Kamsky at the final Candidates Matches in a confident manner, he battled Vishy Anand for the crown in 2010. Topalov lost by a minimal score after suffering a heavy defeat in the last round. In interviews, Veselin claimed that he lost his former motivation, but that did not stop him from qualifying for the 2014 candidates’ tournament from the Grand Prix series, nor from showing the best result out of all team leaders at the Olympiad in Tromso and retaining his place in the top 10 players in the world. Thanks to his high rating, Topalov was invited to play in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, but he did not perform well there.
Veselin Topalov is married and in 2013, his daughter Laura was born.