Even Kramnik couldn't find this one!

by Sagar Shah
9/17/2016 – Three years ago Vladimir Kramnik won the 2013 FIDE World Cup in Tromsø, a 128-player knockout tournament. It was a fine and stunning victory, which involved defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (currently the World's number two) in the sixth round. In game two Kramnik could have settled matters with a study-like win he had on the board, but failed to find. Not surprising in short time controls under high pressure. Try to solve the position and let Sagar Shah of ChessBase India teach you a bit about an important endgame.

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Even Kramnik couldn't find this one!

By Sagar Shah

The World Cup in knockout format is a gruelling event where the winner has to play nearly seven opponents and beat each one of them to qualify for the next Candidates. Kramnik did that successfully in the year 2013. He was in excellent form as he dispatched one adversary after another. However, even in that situation he was unable to find a winning combination in his game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. We now invite you to solve the same position and see if you can fare better than the Big Vlad!

If you are of the opinion that study like play never occurs in a tournament game, then I invite you to solve the position that was reached between Kramnik, who was playing white against Maxime Vachier Lagrave in round five of the World Cup 2013.

The following position arose three years ago, on the 27th of August 2013, after a long gruelling battle and incessant pressing by White.

White to play, after Black played 61...Kxf7 (capturing a white pawn)

Although he is a pawn and a knight up, White has only one way to win. Can you find it? Before you look at the answer I would motivate you by saying: calculate to the end, because even the great Kramnik couldn't find the win. Here is some pre-analysis:

Being a pawn and a knight up, its easy to think that the win is simply a matter of technique. But the funny thing here is that there is only one way for White to win. As we know, the g5 pawn is the most important asset for White, and a position with R+N vs R is a theoretical draw.

After talking about generalities let's move onto the specifics. Black is threatening Rf5, when the g5 pawn will be lost (62...Rf5 63.g6+ Kg7 or 63.Nh7 Kg6 64.Ra5 and 65...Kxg5).

Of course 62.g6? is a poor move, as after Kg7 the f8 knight is attacked, and if it moves then Kxg6 wins the pawn. 62.Ke2 is also out of question as after 62...Rf5 63.g6 Kg7 the g-pawn is lost and so are the hopes of winning. 62.Nh7 Kg6 63.Rb7 Rh1 is also a draw. So only two logical moves are left to be examined 62.Ke4 and 62.Nd7. You decide which is the correct move!

In the following PGN replay remember that you can analyse by moving pieces on the board and even switching on an engine to help with your analysis. But first go through the game and try to solve the three training questions it poses.

[Event "FIDE World Cup"] [Site "Tromsoe"] [Date "2013.08.27"] [Round "6.2"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D17"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2719"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "135"] [EventDate "2013.08.11"] [EventType "k.o."] [EventRounds "7"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [SourceTitle "CBM 156"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2013.09.17"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. Ne5 Nbd7 7. Nxc4 Nb6 8. Ne5 a5 9. e3 Nbd7 10. Nc4 Qb8 11. Bd3 Bxd3 12. Qxd3 e5 13. O-O Bb4 14. Qf5 exd4 15. exd4 O-O 16. Rd1 Qe8 17. Bf4 Qe6 18. Qxe6 fxe6 19. Bd6 Rfd8 20. f3 Bxc3 21. bxc3 Nd5 22. Rdc1 b5 23. axb5 cxb5 24. Nxa5 Rdc8 25. Bb4 Rc7 26. Rab1 Rac8 27. h4 e5 28. Rd1 exd4 29. Rxd4 N7f6 30. Kh2 h6 31. Rb2 Nxc3 32. Bxc3 Rxc3 33. Rxb5 Rc2 34. Nb3 Kh7 35. Rdb4 R8c3 36. Kh3 Ra2 37. Nd4 Rc1 38. Ne6 Re1 39. Nf4 Ra7 40. h5 Rae7 41. g4 R1e5 42. Ng6 Rxb5 43. Rxb5 Re8 44. Rb7 Rd8 45. Kg3 Kg8 46. Kh4 Kh7 47. Ra7 Kg8 48. f4 Kh7 49. Rb7 Ne4 50. Rb4 Re8 51. g5 Nd6 52. Rb6 Nf7 53. Rb5 Re1 54. Nf8+ Kg8 55. Rb8 hxg5+ 56. fxg5 Rh1+ 57. Kg3 Rg1+ 58. Kf4 Rf1+ 59. Ke3 g6 60. hxg6 Kg7 61. gxf7 Kxf7 {[%tqu "Although he is a pawn and a knight up, White has only one way to win. Can you find it? Before you look at the answer I would motivate you by saying: calculate to the end, because even the great Kramnik couldn't find the win.","","",Nd7,"",10,g6+,"",0,Ke2,"",0, Nh7,"",0,Ke4,"and the game was drawn.",0]} 62. Nd7 $3 {The right move and solution to the problem. White intends to bring back his knight to e5 and push his pawn to g6 when he will be totally winning. Hence Black has to be quick.} ( 62. g6+ Kg7 $11 {[%cal Rf1f8,Rg7f8,Rg7g6]}) (62. Ke2 Rf5 63. g6+ Kg7 $11 { [%cal Rf5f8,Rg7f8,Rg7g6]}) (62. Nh7 Kg6 $11) ({Kramnik played} 62. Ke4 $2 { and the game was drawn.} Re1+ 63. Kf3 Rf1+ 64. Kg3 Rg1+ 65. Kf4 Rf1+ 66. Ke3 Re1+ 67. Kf3 Rf1+ 68. Kg2 Rf5 69. Nh7 Kg6 70. Rb7 Rf4 71. Kg3 Ra4 72. Re7 Rg4+ 73. Kf3 Ra4 74. Rb7 Rh4 75. Nf6 Kxg5 {and draw agreed on move 125.}) 62... Rf5 $1 (62... Kg6 63. Rg8+ Kh7 64. Rf8 Rg1 65. Rf7+ Kg8 (65... Kg6 66. Ne5+) 66. Rf5 {is simply winning for White.}) 63. Rf8+ Kg6 64. Rg8+ Kf7 {[%tqu "How would you ensure that White does not lose the g5 pawn?","","",Ke4,"",10]} 65. Ke4 $3 {The only move now to make progress. It forces the black rook to move sideways on the fifth rank to keep an eye on the g5 pawn.} Ra5 {and now after} 66. Rf8+ Kg6 (66... Ke6 67. g6 $1 Rg5 68. Ne5 $1 Rg1 69. Kf4 $18) {[%tqu "It's all over for the g5 pawn. This is true but he dies like a hero! His death will result in victory for White after","","",Ne5+,"",10]} 67. Ne5+ $3 Kxg5 68. Rf5+ $18 {It's the theme of discovered check that seals the fate for Black's rook on a5!} 1/2-1/2

A beautiful study-like position, wouldn't you agree? Even the classy former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik could not find the solution over the board, which just goes to show that with the shorter time controls and such high pressure events, chess can be monstrously difficult!


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Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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MJFitch MJFitch 9/19/2016 10:22
X iLeon aka DMG X iLeon aka DMG 9/17/2016 10:26
Well, come on guys! To me this looks impossible to think OTB, even with a longer time control . Remember: at this point the guys have been battling it out for a few hours!!!
Truffaut Truffaut 9/17/2016 09:00
Great sales job Frederic!
TheSame Wastrel TheSame Wastrel 9/17/2016 08:11
After 62. Nd7!! White also threatens Rf8+ winning Black's Rook. That's not mentioned but seems important to me. It's why Black moved Rf5.
ChiliBean ChiliBean 9/17/2016 05:05
This is what's so wonderful about chess. Even an endgame with a few pieces can be devilishly complicated for a human. If it wasn't for a computer, we would have probability never seen this beautiful winning line. Chess is even a challenge for computer vs. computer since they still cannot draw every game!
Frederic Frederic 9/17/2016 04:44
You mean Kramnik-Kasparov, game 4, WCh London 2000, where Kasparov held R vs R,N,P, Dengtianle? Such a remarkable memory I have, no? Actually I loaded the game in ChessBase, went to the Report tab and clicked "Similar Endgames". Got more than 2000 games from Mega, so I copied them to the clipboard and searched for "Kramnik". He had this endgame four times, lost once (with R) against Dlugy in 1999 and beat Seirawan in 1994. Drew Kasparov and Vachier. Research lasted three minutes.
dengtianle dengtianle 9/17/2016 02:57
Remind me another Kramnik's game(Kramnik - Kasparov)!
mozartiano123 mozartiano123 9/17/2016 02:32
I remember this game. Kramnik, when went to the press conferecence was saying that he could not find anything after Rf5 amd Kf7 from black, and the commentator showed him ( to his surprise) Ke4.
KevinC KevinC 9/17/2016 01:37