Kavalek in Huffington: Kramnik's critical game

4/12/2013 – As the Candidates Tournament in London drew to a close there were two players in the lead: Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik. Both suffered unexpected defeats in the final rounds, with Carlsen squeaking by in the end to become the challenger for the World Championship match. GM Lubomir Kavalek has analysed the critical game that sealed Kramnik's fate in part two of his HuffPo column.

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Magnus Carlsen plays Vishy Anand for the World Chess title

By GM Lubomir Kavalek

Read part one here

After round twelve Kramnik and Carlsen were physically and emotionally spent, one from winning, the other from a loss. In the penultimate round, Kramnik was close to victory. His opponent, Boris Gelfand, was short of time, but managed to find a counterplay, saving a draw.

Carlsen paces himself like a long distance runner. He takes what his opponent gives him and Radjabov makes his first concession only on move 64. Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein is a bundle of nerves, running in and out of the commentary room. He knows Magnus needs more mistakes and Radjabov delivers. The marathon is over after 89 moves and Carlsen wins. He is back in the race.

Carlsen was in a better position as white to calibrate his play in the last round against Svidler. He played a solid line in the Spanish, but at one point strayed into unclear attacking prospects. The tension resonates in the silence. "Anything can happen when you are tired, when pressure is high," said Carlsen later. "My sense of danger dropped a bit." He lost control of the clock and the position, and Svidler was winning.

But what would Kramnik do against the unpredictable Ivanchuk? He chose the complicated Pirc defence. Like in the King's Indian, you may get one or two chances to escape from a cramped position. Not a great prospect, but what else to do?

The defense goes way back, perhaps to India in the 1850s. We know for sure that Louis Paulsen, the grandpa of many modern opening ideas, played it in major tournaments in the 1880s. Vasja Pirc needed only 25 pages to cover the defense in his theoretical work "The Newest Theory of Chess Openings" in 1959. Today's works are 15 times longer.

[Event "FIDE Candidates, London"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2013.04.01"] [Round "14"] [White "Ivanchuk, Vassily"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B08"] [WhiteElo "2757"] [BlackElo "2810"] [Annotator "GM Lubomir Kavalek/The Huffington Post"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2013.03.15"] 1. d4 d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 {The Pirc defense didn't surprise Ivanchuk, although Kramnik played it mostly in blitz and exhibition games.} 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be2 {When Mikhail Chigorin reached this position by transposition as black against Leonhardt in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) in 1907, the editor of the Wiener Schachzeitung, George Marco, called the opening "irregular" in the tournament book. Chigorin came up with the provoking 5...Nc6 with the idea of 6.d5 Nb8!? 7.0-0 c6, undermining white's center.} O-O 6. O-O a6 {Signaling expansion on the queen side. When this move first appeared in the game Najdorf-Stahlberg, Amsterdam 1950, Pirc wrote that it was a mistake, a waste of time. Najdorf played the clever 7.Bf4 and met the wing advance 7...b5 with a central advance 8.e5, and after 8...Nfd7 9.a4 dented black's queenside.} 7. h3 (7. Bf4 b5 8. e5 Nfd7 9. a4 bxa4 10. Re1 Nb6 11. Nxa4 Nxa4 12. Rxa4 Nd7 13. Qc1 Nb6 14. Ra3 a5 15. Bh6 {with advantage, 1-0 (100) Najdorf,M-Stahlberg,G Amsterdam 1950}) ({In 1977 in Amsterdam, Tony Miles played against me} 7. Re1 {and after} Nc6 8. d5 Ne5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 10. Be3 Qd6 11. Qd3 Rd8 12. Na4 {I was suffering for 74 moves. But I could have tried 7...Bg4, a move Ivanchuk wanted to stop.}) 7... Nc6 { Kramnik bundles together the ideas of Chigorin and Stahlberg. In the King's Indian, the combination of a7-a6 and Nb8-c6 is known as the Panno variation, named after the cheerful Argentinian GM and former world junior champion.} 8. Bg5 {Ivanchuk wants to make Kramnik's action in the center more difficult and we will soon see why he wants to provoke the move h7-h6.} b5 9. a3 h6 10. Be3 e5 {Kramnik makes an important step in the center, but Ivanchuk is ready.} 11. dxe5 dxe5 12. Qc1 {Attacking the h-pawn gives white time to occupy the d-file and win control of the square d4. The computers think that it is serious and they would rather give up a pawn to prevent it: 12...Nd4 13.Bxh6 Bb7 with some compensation.} Kh7 13. Bc5 Re8 14. Rd1 Bd7 15. b4 Qc8 16. Qe3 Nd8 17. a4 $1 { Destroying Kramnik's pawn structure on the queenside, Ivanchuk secures squares for his pieces.} bxa4 18. Nxa4 Ne6 19. Bc4 Nh5 20. Nc3 Nhf4 21. Nd5 Bb5 22. Bb3 Bc6 $6 {The first critical position. Kramnik would like to eliminate the pesky knight on d5 and create attacking chances, possibly with a knight sacrifice on g2, but the bishop move is not good. Black should have tried 22...Qb7 or 22... Nxc5.} 23. Ra5 $2 ({It is hard to imagine that Ivanchuk didn't consider} 23. Ne7 $1 {, for example:} Rxe7 (23... Qb7 24. Nxc6 Qxc6 25. Bd5 Qb5 26. c4 Qb8 27. Bc6 $18) 24. Bxe7 Nxg2 25. Kxg2 Nf4+ 26. Kg1 Qxh3 27. Ng5+ $1 (27. Ne1 Qg4+ 28. Kf1 Re8 29. Bc5 Qh4 30. Qg3 (30. f3) (30. Qf3 f5 $19) 30... Qh1+ 31. Qg1 Qh3+ 32. Ng2 Bxe4 $19) (27. Nh4 Qg4+ 28. Kh2 Re8 29. Qg3 Qh5 30. Bc5 Bf6 31. f3 Bxh4 32. Qg4 Qxg4 33. fxg4 Bxe4 34. Bxf7 $16) 27... hxg5 28. Qxh3+ Nxh3+ 29. Kf1 Bxe4 30. Rd8 {with advantage. Perhaps Vassily was looking for more.}) 23... Qb7 24. g3 ({Ivanchuk keeps the initiative with a pawn sacrifice. After} 24. h4 Red8 25. c4 {the c-pawn blocks the diagonal a2-g8, and black can nearly equalize with} Nxc5 26. bxc5 Rab8) 24... Nxh3+ ({Kramnik accepts the pawn, but one could argue for} 24... Nxc5 25. Rxc5 Ne6 26. Ra5 Nd4 {with roughly level chances.}) 25. Kg2 Nhg5 26. Rh1 Kg8 {The temporary piece sacrifice} (26... Nxe4 27. Qxe4 f5 {does not win, but it is an interesting line, perhaps too complicated for human players:} 28. Qc4 (28. Qh4 Bxd5 29. Bxd5 Qxd5 30. Be3 c5 31. Bxh6 Kg8 32. Bxg7 Kxg7 33. Qh7+ Kf6 {and black is safe.}) 28... Rad8 29. Be3 Bb5 {and now:} 30. Qh4 $1 (30. Rxh6+ $5 {an amazing computer line 30...} Bxh6 (30... Kg8 $2 31. Qxc7 $1 Nxc7 32. Ne7+ Kf8 33. Nxg6#) 31. Qh4 f4 32. Ra1 $1 Rxd5 33. Rh1 Kg7 34. Qxh6+ Kf7 35. Qh7+ Kf6 36. Rh6 Nf8 37. Qg8 fxe3 38. Bxd5 c6 39. Be4 exf2 40. c4 Qg7 41. Rxg6+ Nxg6 42. Qxe8 f1=Q+ 43. Kxf1 Bxc4+ 44. Kf2 Ne7 45. Qd7 Qf7 {that fizzles out to a draw after} 46. Qg4 {This is a good example why Gelfand believes the top players get less respect today. Anybody with a computer may outsmart them like this.}) 30... Rxd5 31. Bxh6 { looks dangerous, but black can hold with 31...} Rd6) 27. Nxg5 Nxg5 28. f3 Bxd5 29. Bxd5 c6 30. Bc4 Qc8 (30... Ne6 {is suggested by the computers as the best way to equalize.}) 31. Qb3 ({Ivanchuk takes his queen away from the kingside to increase pressure on the diagonal a2-g8. But he could have attack the a-pawn } 31. c3 Ne6 32. Bd6 Ng5 33. Qe2 {with advantage.}) 31... h5 32. Be3 Ne6 33. Rha1 h4 $1 {Fighting for the dark squares.} 34. gxh4 Qd8 35. Rxa6 $2 ({ Ivanchuk is letting Kramnik off the hook. He could have secured a slight edge with} 35. Bxe6 Rxe6 36. Rxa6 Rxa6 37. Rxa6 Qxh4 38. Ra8+ Kh7 39. Ra1 Qd8 40. c4 ) 35... Rc8 $2 ({Missing the last chance to play for the world title. Anybody with an analytical engine can see a rook sacrifice leading to a draw:} 35... Rxa6 36. Rxa6 Nf4+ $1 {Kramnik will remember this position for the rest of his life. White can't win:} 37. Bxf4 (37. Kg3 Qd1 38. Bxf7+ Kh8 39. Bxe8 Qe1+ 40. Bf2 (40. Kg4 Bf6) 40... Qh1) 37... exf4 38. Bxf7+ Kh8 $1 39. Qd3 $5 ({Taking the rook immediately} 39. Bxe8 $2 {loses after 39...} Qd2+ 40. Kh1 (40. Kh3 Qf2 ) (40. Kf1 Bd4) 40... Qe1+ 41. Kg2 Bd4 {and the domination on the dark squares is complete. White gets mated.}) 39... Qxh4 $1 40. Bxe8 Qg3+ 41. Kf1 Qh3+ {and the white king can't escape the perpetual check.}) 36. Rh1 {White should win now.} Rc7 37. Bxe6 Rxe6 38. b5 $1 Rb7 ({After} 38... cxb5 39. Rxe6 fxe6 40. Qxe6+ {the insecure position of the king dooms black, for example:} Kf8 (40... Rf7 41. Qxg6 Qc8 (41... Rf6 42. Qg4 Rc6 43. Kg3 Rxc2 44. h5 $18) 42. Kg3 Qxc2 43. Rc1 Qe2 44. Rc8+ Rf8 45. Qe6+ Kh7 46. Rxf8 Bxf8 47. Qf5+ Kg8 48. Qg5+ Kh7 49. h5 {wins.}) (40... Kh7 41. h5 {wins}) 41. Ra1 ({or} 41. h5 Rxc2+ 42. Kg3 Qe7 43. Qd5 Qf7 44. h6 $18) 41... Rf7 42. c4 bxc4 43. Rd1 Qxd1 44. Qc8+ Ke7 45. Bc5+ Kf6 46. Qa6+ {wins.}) 39. b6 c5 40. Rb1 Bf8 41. Qd5 $1 Qb8 42. Rba1 $1 Rd6 43. Ra8 Rxd5 44. Rxb8 Rxb8 45. exd5 Bd6 ({After} 45... Rxb6 46. Ra8 Kg7 47. Rxf8 $1 Kxf8 48. Bxc5+ {white wins.}) 46. Ra6 Rb7 47. Kf1 {Bringing the king to the queenside wins.} 1-0

In the end Carlsen and Kramnik lose, but share first place. I don't know if something like this ever happened in such a major event. Winning by losing is a hard concept to explain. In the first Candidates tournament in Budapest in 1950 Isaac Boleslavsky and David Bronstein shared first place, but had to play a playoff match. Boleslavsky was generous: he not only lost to Bronstein, but he let him marry his daughter. Carlsen won outright with a better tiebreak: one more win made the difference.

Kramnik is disappointed. He was so close to winning, but he might not be the most disappointed player in the history of the Candidates tournaments. The legendary Estonian grandmaster, Paul Keres, finished second in three Candidates tournaments in 1953 (tied), 1956 and 1959. Somebody always played a bit better.

One of the most dramatic Candidates tournament in history ended on a day the Washington Nationals started the baseball season. What has baseball to do with chess?

In 1978 I discussed with Bobby Fischer the idea of playing the world championship match to ten wins without counting draws. "It could take months, " I said. "So what?" countered Bobby. "The baseball season takes more than six months and people follow it." At that time you could still have adjourned games after five hours. Carlsen plays seven-hour marathon sessions without a rest. He may also spend two, three hours preparing for the game. He believes that the 24-game world championship match could turn into a exhausting contest with only one man standing in the end. Remember how Anand and Gelfand were tired after 12 classical games in the world championship match last year in Moscow? It makes you wonder: how could the old-timers have managed to play Candidates tournaments of 28 rounds in 1959 and 1962?

Age could be a factor in the match of two generations. At 43, Anand is one of the oldest world chess champions to defend the title. Is he too old for a title match? At 50, Mikhail Botvinnik beat the brilliant 25-year-old Mikhail Tal in Moscow in 1961. William Steinitz lost his title against Emanuel Lasker in 1894 at the age of 58. Four years later Steinitz finished fourth in a major 20-player double-round tournament in Vienna. "The old Bohemian lion can still bite," the Austrian press wrote about him.

Anand – the Tiger of Madras – is not toothless. He paints himself as an underdog. On paper, Carlsen should win, he thinks. The Norwegian blasted his way to the top spot in the world's ratings at the age of 19. He excels in tournament play and has more energy to succeed in marathon sessions. But Anand has a tremendous match experience and knows how to prepare. His match against Carlsen should be a treat for all of us.

Original column hereCopyright Huffington Post


The Huffington Post is an American news website and aggregated blog founded by Arianna Huffington and others, featuring various news sources and columnists. The site was launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet and liberal/progressive alternative to conservative news websites. It offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, living, style, the green movement, world news, and comedy. It is a top destination for news, blogs, and original content. The Huffington Post has an active community, with over one million comments made on the site each month. According to Nielsen NetRatings, the site has around 13 million unique visitors per month (number for March 2010); according to Google Analytics the number is 22 million uniques per month.


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