They say that life starts at 40. And sometimes it is true. See what happened to Italian player Franco Curioni from Como (the same town where Topalov's challenger :-) Alex Brunetti lives - read my post of May 16). He was born on June 2, 1959 (I'm late, but... happy birthday anyway!). He was a 1558 rated player at 40, 1658 at 45, 1808 in the January Italian rating list and 1958 in that of April. And he will soon have a Fide rating, after a 2358 performance last April in Lugano (!!), where he even beat a strong GM, like Latvian Viesturs Meijers, in a very brilliant game. In the first years of this century he also started playing postal chess: that's, perhaps, one of the reasons why he has increased his strengh so much. And, more, Curioni won the 2007 championship of Como, a province where many talented (candidate) masters regularly play.
I don't know how many players had become chess masters after learning the game in "late" age. You may say "Botvinnik!", as he didn't learn playing during his childhood, but he was no more than 12 years old anyway... Staunton learnt at about 20 and became one of the strongest players of the XVIII century, but we are talking about old times. Chess are not football or tennis, anyway, so I think in the compute era (and in any other historical period) anyone can become a good chess player even at 40, if he or she has a touch of talent. And Curioni has much... So, let's see his victory against Meijers: this game was placed 4th in "The 2007 Queen - April" contest.
Curioni,F (1952) - Meijers,V (2485) [B22], Lugano 29.4.2007
1.e4 c5 2.c3 e6 3.Nf3 b6
Not a fighting way to play Sicilian on Black side!
4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 Nf6 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nc3 Nxc3 8.bxc3 Be7 9.Bd3 Ba6 10.Bf4
10.0–0 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 d5 12.exd6 Qxd6 13.Ba3 Qc7 14.Bxe7 Kxe7 is a common variation where White has often obtained good results (I can find only victories for him on my database). The text move looks to be a novelty.
The immediate 11.0–0 was also possible: if 11...Qxc3? then 12.Be4 Nc6 13.Rc1 Qa5 14.Rxc6 Bb7 15.Rc5! bxc5 16.Bxb7 and White has a material advantage and better chances.
11...Nc6 12.0–0 Na5 13.Bg5 Ba3
Correct. After 13...Bxg5 14.Nxg5 Bxd3 15.Qxd3 h6 16.Ne4 0–0 17.f4 White gets the initiative.
This move was not necessary. The immediate 14.Rad1 was more precise (and wouldn't have lost a tempo): after 14...h6 Black could have put his bishop also on "f4".
14...h6 15.Rad1 Bxd3 16.Qxd3 Qc4 17.Qc2 Rc8 18.Nd2!
A very smart move!
White counted on 18...Qxc3? 19.Qxc3 Rxc3 20.Nb1 and Black is forced to sacrifice the exchange by 20...Rxe3 21.fxe3 etc.
White's knight has finally reached a strong position in the center of the board.
19...Nc4 20.Bf4 b5
Castling would have been really bad: 20...0–0? 21.Bxh6! f5 (21...gxh6 22.Nf6+ Kg7 23.Qh7#) 22.exf6 gxh6 23.Ng5 Rxf6 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Qh8+ Ke7 26.Qg7+ Ke8 27.Qxf6 hxg5 28.d5+-
21...a5!? was an interesting alternative.
22.Rfe1 Be7 23.Qd1 Nb6 24.Qg4 g5
24...Kf8 was more cautious, but Black plays against a lower rated (-500!) opponent and tries to fight for the initiative.
25.Be3 h5 26.Qf3 g4 27.Nf6+ Kd8
Black tries to move his king in a safer position via c7.
28...Bxf6 29.Qxf6+ Kc7 30.Qxf7 h4 followed by Rcg8 would have given Black a good counterplay in return for the sacrificed pawn. Now White takes a strong initiative.
Very well played! White opens lines for his bishop (the g1–a7 diagonal) and rooks (the "d" file): he can do that as Black king is not in a safe position yet.
29...Nxd5 30.Nxd5 exd5 31.a4!
To open the "b" file as well.
31...h3 32.axb5 axb5 33.Bd4
Now 33.Qxf7?? would have lost to 33...d4
33...Qe6 34.Rxb5 Rh5
Black position is very difficult...
What a pity! After 35.Rb6 Qf5 36.Qxf5 Rxf5 37.Rb5 Black would have lost a pawn and probably the game.
Meijers misses a good opportunity to equalize the position: after 35...Rf5 36.Qg3 (36.Qxg4 Rg5 37.Qxe6 Rxg2+ 38.Kf1 fxe6 39.Re2 Rxe2 40.Kxe2 Bg5 and Black is even slightly better) 36...gxf3 White has to decide if he wants to take some risks by playing 37.Qxh3 or to make a draw by 37.Qg8+ Kc7 38.Reb1 Rxg8 39.Rb7+ Kd8 40.Rb8+ Kc7 41.R8b7+ Kd8 42.Rb8+ with a perpetual check.
White doesn't miss the chance for the second time in a row...
If 36...Qf5 then 37.Qxf5 gxh2+ 38.Kxh2 Rxf5 39.Kxh3 Rh5+ 40.Kg4 Rg5+ 41.Kf4 Rxg2 42.Rh1 Rc6 43.Rh8+ Kc7 44.Rb5 and White would have had good winning chances anyway, but Black could have fought hard for a draw.
37.Qxh2 Qf5 38.g4 Qg5 39.Kh1
Now Black's position is really unpleasant...
... and this is the final mistake! 39...Rh6 40.f4 Qg7 41.g5 Rxb6 42.Bxb6+ Ke8 43.Qxh3 Qg6 44.Bd4 Bf8 or 39...Rh7 40.Qa2 Ke8 41.Rb7 Rh6 42.Qxd5 Rd6 43.Qe4 Re6 would have prolonged the game. Now the end is very close...
40.Be3 Qg7 41.Qa2
Very precise play by White!
41...Ke8 42.Qxd5 Rd8 43.Rb7 wouldn't have been much better, but this move loses even sooner.
42.Rg6 followed by Bb6+ would have been more brilliant.
Black's position is completely hopeless.
43...Qg5 44.f4 would have lost soon anyway. Now White mates by playing a brilliant combination...
44.Qe8+ Kc7 45.Rc6+!! dxc6
45...Kxc6 46.Qxc8+ Kb5 47.Rb1+ Ka5 48.Qa8#
46.Re7+ Kb8 47.Ba7+ 1–0
If 47...Ka8 then 48.Qxc8+ Qb8 49.Qxb8#. An astonishing win by Curioni. Congratulations!