SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Spectators are being treated to a great tournament in London, which sees some of the very elite in the world take on some of the very best in Britain. Already Carlsen and Kramnik have distanced themselves from the rest of the field.
Yesterday’s round saw a spectacular game between Kramnik and McShane. This game evidences the problems of playing an opening that one has little–if any–experience. Though McShane is one of the top young grandmasters in the world today, he was literally hung, drawn and quartered infront of a home crowd.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6 5.g3 dxc4 6.a4 e6 7.Bg2 c5 8.O-O cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nbd7 10.Nc2 Qc7
POSITION AFTER 10 MOVES
All this had been seen before in Kramnik’s praxis, specifically his game with Gelfand from Linares, 1997. There the game ended in a quick and uneventful draw, probably neither player trying very hard and the draw having importance only for the final placings in the tournament
This probably explains why McShane was so willing to enter this line, even though he himself has no experience. Today modern databases help to quickly identify opening lines where one’s opponent has not scored so well or perhaps is less well prepared than usual…
BUT Kramnik has since aquired a vast experience in the Catalan and it should have been expected that on this day he would be better prepared to fight in this line.
A sharp move that virtually forces Black’s reply. (In the postmortem Kramnik also mentioned the move 11.a5 (which he soon plays) as possibly being better.) The idea behind 11.Bf4 is to weaken Black’s grip on the centre, especially the d5 square, by provoking the advance of the e-pawn.
11… e5 12.Bd2! Nc5 13.Bg5!
This tempo-losing manoeuvre is the same as occurs in numerous variations of the Sveshnikov Sicilian. White intends to double the f-pawns and gain more control over d5; very useful if you are planning to plant a Knight there. It should also be noted that Kramnik was a big fan of the Sveshnikov when he was younger!
Though Kramnik did not reveal a great deal about his exact preparation in this variation, his postmortem remarks indicate that he felt comfortable with the White side, which –he repeated several times–is easier to play than Black’s position. The ease with which he found the key tactical ideas in what follows in this game show that Kramnik had done much work on this line at his home in the time since his game with Gelfand.
The next moves are all logical:
13…Be6 14.Bxf6! gxf6 15.Nd5 Qd8 16.Nce3 Nb3
If now the awkward 17.Rb1, Black will complete his development without too much trouble.
The key concept of the game, no doubt fruit of Kramnik’s home preparation.
The first of the exchange sacrifices! Accepting is dangerous after 18.Qa4! Bd7 19.QxN with Rd1 to follow up. For instance, 19…Bc6 20.Rd1 and the Black Queen has no good Queen move.
After the game Kramnik thought that 17…Bc5! was the best move, leading to a complex and unclear position. Both players–with the help of Nigel Short– analyzed 18.Ra4! Nxa5! 19.Nxf6+ ( Kramnik also mentioned the subtle 19.Qc1 ) 19… Qxf6 20.Rxa5 Bxe3 21.fxe3 Qg5 with chaos.Curiously, Short thought that Black must be ok in these lines (I agree with him, though it is another thing to actually have to play Black here!) and while Kramnik did not disagree with this assessment, Vlad more than once emphasized that it is more comfortable to play White than Black in this kind of position!
McShane, for his part, did not feel very comfortable with the Black side, and was already running short of time, a factor that did not escape Kramnik’s attention.
McShane chose to bring in his Rook before deciding upon where to place his King Bishop, which he was also considering placing on g7, which occurs often in the Sveshnikov.
The c-pawn is now a legitimate target!
Now if Black takes the White a-pawn, then Kramnik intended to play 19.RxN! followed by Nxf6 and then the other Knight into d5. It would be doubtful that Black could survive such an attack.
Black’s position is already difficult to play….McShane decided to regroup:
18…Nd4 19.Nb6 Rc7
This Rook insists on being a thorn in Black’s side!
This exchange sacrifice is easy to understand. Accepting it would surrender the light-squares in the centre (especially d5 and f5) and allow the White minor pieces to dominate the board.
Curiously, McShane accepted it! He made it clear in the postmortem did not like his position–he understood very well the difficulites– and therefore decided that he should put his hope in the extra material, a strategy that is common in modern chess. Korchnoi often employed this technique, many times successfully!
Kramnik , for his part, felt that Black’s only path to salvation (if it was indeed possible at this point) was to play 20…Bc5.
Kramnik described the Black position as ”awful” at this point! Short agreed with him…If Black does nothing, White will continue with e3 and Qh5, so Black tries to simplify:
Those light squares! The Queen will soon go to f5
Strategically Black is dead lost. The next few moves are easy to follow:
22…Qd4 23.Rd1 Qc5 24.e3 Be7 25.Qf5 Kf8 26.Bd5!
Complete domination of the light squares!
Now f7 becomes a target! Curiously, there is no evident forced win and Black can actually survive for some moves before finally succumbing. However, one look at this position is enough to convince even the weakest amateur that there can only be one result here.
26…Kg7 27.Qg4+ Kh6 28.e4 Nd4 29.Ne3 f5 30.Qh3+ Kg7
Now comes the other exchange sacrifice!
31.Rxd4! exd4 32.Nxf5+ Kf8 33.Qh6+ Ke8
A very pretty execution! You can play over the remaining moves in the pgn-viewer