Saturday, February 21, 2009


White: Vladimir Kramnik

World Championship
Game Three
Bonn, 2008

Semi-Slav Defence

Black: Viswanathan Anand

1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6 5 e3 Nbd7 6 Bd3 dxc4 7 Bxc4 b5 8 Bd3 a6 9 e4 c5 10 e5 cxd4 11 Nxb5 axb5 12 exf6 gxf6 13 0-0 Qb6 14 Qe2

Amazingly, all previous references show Black defending the b5-pawn here. It seems far more logical to abandon this weakling and train guns on White's king.

What doubtless deterred previous strategists from giving this notion serious consideration is that once White's king's bishop lands on b5, it also seemingly hamstrings Black by pinning his knight and nailing the black king down in the notoriously risk-prone central zone.

It is, indeed, a remarkable feature of this game that Black never succeeds in castling his king into safety, while White, having castled in conventional style, has to run his king out of its bunker right across the board in a desperate effort to seek security.

14 ... Bb7 15 Bxb5 Bd6

Anand's plan is the seemingly astounding ... Ke7 backed up by bringing a rook to g8 and then playing ... Ne5. However, to those with a broad chess education this modus operandi is perhaps not so astonishing after all.

Something quite similar was already seen in the game Szabo-Euwe, Groningen 1946, brilliantly won by Black, though from a Queen's Gambit Accepted opening, not the Meran. I have given this game in the preamble.

16 Rd1

The cautious 16.Bd3 Ke7 17.Rd1 Rag8 18.Be4 would probably have been preferable, but both sides are in combative mood, probably feeling the pressure of public opinion and being somewhat embarrassed by their lacklustre performances in games one and two.

16 ... Rg8 17 g3

This precautionary measure against incursions down the g-file is forced for if 17 Bd3 Ne5 18 Be4 d3 or 17 Rxd4 Rxg2+ 18 Kxg2 Qxd4.

17 ... Rg4

The climax of the world champion's pre-game analysis, but Kramnik soon wrenches play away from pre-established paths. The temporary piece sacrifice which follows had been foreseen by Anand, but perhaps not the follow-up.

18 Bf4

Counter-aggression is called for. If instead, 18 Nd2 Ke7 (continuing the theme of committing the king to the centre) 19 Qxg4 Qxb5 or 19 Bxd7 Rag8 20 Bb5 d3 21 Qxd3 Rxg3+ 22 hxg3 Rxg3+ a most thematic continuation.

An alternative is 18 Bxd7+ Kxd7 19 Ne5+ fxe5 20 Qxg4 Qc6 21 f3 Qxf3 and Black is having all the fun.

18 ... Bxf4 19 Nxd4

Anand must have been expecting 19 Rxd4. The text seems to expose Black to a fearsome attack, but it is short lived.

19 ... h5

Here 20 Bxd7+ is an interesting possibility, but Kramnik chose his next fairly quickly. However after 20 Bxd7+ Kxd7 21 Nxe6+ Bd6 Black is winning.

20 Nxe6 fxe6 21 Rxd7 Kf8 22 Qd3

The terrible threat is Qh7.

22 ... Rg7

22 ... Bc8 23 Rh7 Kg8 24 Re7 still threatening Qh7 favours White, e.g. 24 ... f5 25 Rd1.

However, 22 ... Bxg3 23 hxg3 h4 deserves consideration here though after 24 Qd6+ White is not worse.

Of course, the blocking 22...f5 23.Qc3 e5 loses to 24.Qb4+ and Qe7.

23 Rxg7 Kxg7 24 gxf4 Rd8

Anand has judged this brilliantly. He is two pawns down but enjoys a fabulous initiative against White's exposed king, scattered and broken pawns and tenuously connected pieces.

Now an attempt to bail out would be 25.Qb3, angling for a queen exchange to alleviate Black's pressure. The correct response is 25...Kh6 and the game remains complicated.

25 Qe2 Kh6

The black king now remains impervious to any threats, one more curious feature of this paradoxical, even surreal, game.

26 Kf1

The white king bolts for safety. Several grandmaster commentators were arguing here for an exchange of queens at virtually any price, but after 26 f5 Rg8+ 27 Kf1 Bg2+ 28 Ke1 Bc6 29 Qd2+ Kh7 30 Bxc6 Qxc6 31 Ke2 Qb5+ 32 Kf3 (32 Qd3 Qxb2+ 33 Kf3 Qxa1 34.fxe6+ Kh8) 32 ... Rg4 Black is winning.

26 ... Rg8

27 a4

White can still hold with 27 Rc1 Bg2+ 28 Ke1 Bh3 29 f5 Rg1+ 30 Kd2 Qd4+ 31 Bd3 Qxb2+ 32 Rc2 Qb4+ 33 Rc3 Bxf5 34 Bxf5 exf5 and the ending is tenable.

However, not 27 Rd1 Bg2+ 28 Ke1 Qa5+ 29 Rd2 when ... Bh3 wins for Black.

27 ... Bg2+ 28 Ke1 Bh3

29 Ra3

This is the final moment in the game where Kramnik could save himself.

He must play 29 Rd1 Bg4 30 Qe3 Qxe3+ 31 fxe3 Bxd1 32 Kxd1 Rg2 entering an endgame where White has lost the exchange and Black even has the chance of creating a dangerous passed h-pawn for himself. Nevertheless, so powerful are White’s queenside pawns that Kramnik would have had the choice of 33 b3, 33 Kc1 or 33 b4, all of which hold.

But not 29 Kd2 Rg2 30 Rf1 Rxh2.

29 ... Rg1+ 30 Kd2 Qd4+ 31 Kc2

31 Rd3 Qxb2+ 32 Ke3 Qa1 wins as ... Re1 will be lethal.

31 ... Bg4 32 f3

If 32 Rd3 Bf5.

32 ... Bf5+ 33 Bd3

33.Kb3 Rc1 34.a5 Bc2+ 35.Qxc2 Rxc2 36.Kxc2 Qc5+ 37.Kb1 Qxb5 38.a6 is a save for White, but Black can do better namely: 33. Kb3 Rc1 34.a5 Qd5+ 35.Bc4 Qb7+ 36.Bb5 Rc2 37.Qf1 Qd5+ 38.Bc4 Qd2.

33 ... Bh3

Vishy knew that the point was in the bag but in the tension and time rush he misses the instantly terminal 33 ... Bxd3+ 34 Rxd3 (34 Qxd3 Rg2+) 34 ... Qc4+ 35.Kd2 Qc1 mate.

34 a5

There are curious echoes here of Kramnik's loss in game eight of his world title defence against Leko from 2004.

There too, Kramnik as White became embroiled in computer analysis, and faced with the loss of his queen, as here, he placed his final, nugatory, hopes in a desperate plunge of his passed a-pawn.

34 ... Rg2 35 a6 Rxe2+ 36 Bxe2 Bf5+ 37 Kb3 Qe3+ 38 Ka2 Qxe2 39 a7 Qc4+ 40 Ka1 Qf1+ 41 Ka2 Bb1+ White resigns

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