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10/20/04 - Kramnik Retains Title

Vladimir Kramnik held on to his World Championship crown by defeating Peter Leko in the 14th and final game to draw the match. Unlike some other times in the match, this time Leko's defensive skills could not stop Kramnik's positional technique. 1. e4 c6 Leko sticks with the Caro-Kann, with which he got a good position in Game 12. 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h6 This move is not nearly as popular as 4... h5 but was used successfully (2 wins and a draw) by Botvinnik against Tal in the 1961 World Championship match. I found several games where Leko was Black in the Caro-Kann against the advance variation, but it looks like he had never before faced 4. h4. 5. g4 5. c3 and 5. Ne2 were also tried by Tal 5... Bd7 5... Bh7 6. e6 is quite nice for White 6. Nd2 A novelty. Tal went for 6. c3 in game 18 of the above mentioned match. 6... c5 7. dxc5 e6 8. Nb3 Bxc5 9. Nxc5 Qa5+ 10. c3 Qxc5 11. Nf3 Ne7 12. Bd3 Nbc6 13. Be3 Qa5 14. Qd2 Ng6 15. Bd4 Nxd4 16. cxd4 Qxd2+ 17. Kxd2 White would only seem to have a small advantage in this ending thanks to his greater space and better bishop. However, Kramnik makes the conversion to a full point look easy. 17... Nf4 18. Rac1 h5 19. Rhg1 Bc6 20. gxh5 Nxh5 21. b4 a6 22. a4 Kd8 22... Bxa4 23. Rc7 23. Ng5 Be8 24. b5 Nf4 25. b6 Nxd3 26. Kxd3 Rc8 27. Rxc8+ Kxc8 28. Rc1+ Bc6 Rc7 could not be allowed 29. Nxf7 Rxh4 30. Nd6+ Kd8 31. Rg1 Rh3+ 32. Ke2 Ra3 33. Rxg7 Rxa4 34. f4 White intends f5 followed by pushing the e-pawn home to victory, even at the cost of a few pawns. 34... Ra2+ 35. Kf3 Ra3+ 36. Kg4 Rd3 37. f5 Rxd4+ 38. Kg5 exf5 39. Kf6 Rg4 40. Rc7 Rh4 41. Nf7+ [1:0]

The e-pawn wasn't even needed. It's mate after 41... Ke8 42. Rc8+ Kd7 43. Rd8#. Congratulations to both players for an entertaining match. So what does the future hold? I haven't heard any further alternative plans, so it seems like the Prague agreement is going to go forward. Kasparov-Kasimdizhanov has been announced for January, so perhaps we will get to see Kramnik defend his title again sometime late next year.

10/17/04 - Welcome to the Brink

In Game 13 of the World Championship match in Brissago, Switzerland, Vladimir Kramnik showed that he was not prepared to surrender his title without a fight. Playing the Black pieces, he came out aggressively with the Modern Benoni, and took the fight to his challenger, Peter Leko. In the time pressure phase, Leko could have made a relatively simple draw, but instead made a weakening of his kingside that seemed to put him in some difficulties. However, he managed to defend in a complex rook ending to guarantee at least a drawn match. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 I think the Benoni is a good choice to play for a win with Black. The pawn structure is unbalanced and there is no simplifying line. As an added plus, the early Nf3 by White does not allow some of the dangerous lines with f4. 4. d5 d6 5. Nc3 exd5 6. cxd5 g6 7. Nd2 Another dangerous line for Black is the Modern Main Line with e4 and h3. Again, White's early Nf3 gives Black options to avoid this line, for example 7. e4 a6 8. a4 Bg4 or 7. h3 a6 8. a4 Qe7 so instead Leko opts for a more classical approach. 7... Bg7 8. e4 O-O 9. Be2 Na6 10. O-O Ne8 generally this square is occupied by a rook in the Benoni, but Kramnik has a different concept in mind since the e4 square is well defended by White. 11. Nc4 Nac7 12. a4 f5 and here it is. In my opinion, this is another excellent double edged move by Kramnik. Black takes on some weaknesses in his camp, such as the e6 square, but the White pieces are not currently well placed to exploit them. In the long term, White's d5 pawn can become a liability. 13. exf5 Rxf5 14. Bg4 Rf8 I found an old game by Yudasin where Black played 14... Rf7 but Kramnik's move makes more sense to me as it anticipates the maneuver Rxc8-c7-f7 15. Bxc8 Rxc8 16. Qb3 b6 17. Nb5 Nxb5 18. axb5 Rc7 19. Bd2 Rcf7 20. Bc3 Qd7 21. f3 g5 22. Ne3 Rf4 23. Rfe1 h5 24. Qc2 Qf7 25. h3 Bd4 26. Bxd4 Rxd4 27. Nf5 Qxf5 28. Qxf5 Rxf5 29. Rxe8+ Kf7 30. Rb8 White shouldn't have any problems here because of the activity of his rooks, but time pressure begins to play a factor. 30... Rdxd5 31. Rxa7+ Ke6 32. Re8+ Kf6 33. g4?! Sort of a loose move. Now, the White king will also come under attack. There was a straightforward draw to be had with 33. Rh7 h4 34. Ree7 and the Black king cannot escape the checks. 33... hxg4 34. hxg4 Rd1+ 35. Kf2 Re5 36. Rh8 Rd2+ 37. Kg3 Ree2 Now the Black king will be able to escape to d5. 38. Rf8+ Kg6 Kramnik was also short of time here, so he repeats moves one time in order to reach move 40. 39. Rg8+ Kf6 40. Rf8+ Ke6 41. Re8+ Kd5 42. Rxe2 Rxe2

Now we have a complex rook ending that I am sure will be subject to a tremendous amount of analysis in the coming weeks and months. I would recommend studying this position and the remainder of the game as a good way to learn about rook endings. On the surface, Black looks to be much better because of his active king and rook and the weak pawns on White's queenside. However, Black also has some weak pawns and White can make a passed g-pawn to obtain counterplay. 43. Rg7 Re5 44. Rb7 c4 45. Rxb6 Re2 46. f4 Re3+ 47. Kf2 gxf4 48. Rb8 Rb3 49. b6 Ke4 50. Re8+ Kd3 51. Re2 d5 52. Kf3 d4 53. g5 c3 54. bxc3 dxc3 55. Rg2 Rb2 56. b7 Rxb7 57. Kxf4 Rb2 58. Rg1 c2 59. Rc1 Rb1 60. Rxc2 Kxc2 61. g6 Kd3 62. Kf5 Rb5+ 63. Kf6 Rb6+ 64. Kf7 Rxg6 65. Kxg6 [1/2:1/2] Nothing left but kings. An appropriate end to a great battle. I don't think anyone could qualify this draw as boring. Kramnik gets his final chance to retain his title on Monday.

10/15/04 - Kramnik Hangs On

In one of the most exciting games so far in the World Championship match, Peter Leko missed an opportunity yesterday to deliver a death blow to Vladimir Kramnik's hopes of retaining his title by offering a draw while 2 pawns ahead and both players in mutual time pressure. However, Leko still retains a full point lead heading into this weekend's final two games. 1. e4 c6 A point up with 3 games to go, Leko opts for the solid Caro-Kann Defense. 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bf4 Qa5+ 12. Bd2 Qc7 13. O-O-O Ngf6 14. Ne4 O-O-O 15. g3 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Bd6 17. Kb1 17 Rhe8 18. Qh7 The first new move. More typical are 18. Qe2 or 18. c4

18... Rg8 18... Rh8!? 19. Qd3 is White's idea, when the queen is less vulnerable on d3 than it was on e4. (19. Qxg7 Rdg8 20. Qxf7 Rf8 21. Qg7 is a repetition) 19. c4 c5 20. d5 Nf6 21. Qc2 exd5 22. cxd5 Qd7 22... Nxd5?? 23. Qf5+ 23. Bc3 Rde8 As in game 10, Leko accepts a horrible looking pawn structure and banks on the activity of his pieces. 24. Bxf6 gxf6 25. Qd3 f5 covering the e4 square in anticipation of Nd2. Black also sets up a later ...f4 to try and dissolve his doubled pawns. 26. Nd2 b5 and now stopping the knight from coming to c4, but the position of the Black king is very shaky. 27. Rhe1 Kb8 28. Qc3 Rxe1 29. Rxe1 c4 30. Nf3 Now taking aim at d4 and c6, but Leko comes with counterplay just in time. 30... f4 31. g4 Bc7 32. Qd4 Qxg4 33. Qe4 It looks like it may have been time to go for perpetual check with 33. Qc5 Qxf3 34. Qxb5+ Bb6 35. Re8+ 33... Qxh5 34. Nd4 Qg6 With a draw offer that Kramnik accepted. [1/2:1/2] Both players had around 5 minutes to make it to move 40. A likely continuation was 35. Nf5 Rd8 36. a3 when it isn't totally clear how Black makes progress, but with 2 extra pawns he has all the chances.

So Leko creeps ever closer to the title. Will Kramnik try something risky with Black tomorrow or will he put all his chances on his final game with White?

10/13/04 - October 2004 FIDE Rating List

The latest FIDE rating list is out. The triumvirate of Gary Kasparov(2813), Vishy Anand(2781), and Vladimir Kramnik(2760) once again occupy the top 3 spots. Kramnik's position looks a little shaky though. Big performances by Alexander Morozevich(2758) (7.5/10 at Category 18 Biel) and Veselin Topalov(2757) (11.5/14 in the FIDE KO event) have those players right on his heels. Kramnik's challenger, Peter Leko(2743) occupies the #6 spot. I wonder if anyone ranked that low has ever won the championship in the traditional lineage. The rest of the top 10 is the usual suspects (Adams, Svidler, Polgar, and Shirov). Etienne Bacrot(2718) showed his entry into Club 2700 was not a fluke by gaining 6 rating points in the period. Bareev, Ponomariov, Ivanchuk, and Grischuk round out Club 2700.

Notables further down the list are former FIDE KO winners #24 Anatoly Karpov(2682) and #34 Alexander Khalifman(2669). Both of them are well ahead of the current FIDE KO champ Rustam Kasimdzhanov(2650). FIDE has announced Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov is on for January, hopefully it will be played and we can finally see the light at the end of the unification tunnel although I can't imagine that match being at all close.

The pecking order of US players continues to change. Alexander Onischuk (2653, #44 world) continues to be at the top of the heap, but he soon may see pressure from both above and below. Gata Kamsky(2717, inactive) looks to be coming out of retirement and has been given an at large entry into the US Championship. Yasser Seirawan(2631, #64 world) is still relatively inactive, but Hikaru Nakamura(2620, #83 world) continues to climb, his latest jump coming from his strong performance in the FIDE KO. Alexander Goldin(2620, #83 world) and Gregory Kaidanov(2611, #98 world) round out the US presence in the top 100.

I'd like to congratulate Ron Burnett( 2444, #47 US) for somehow navigating his way through the online tournament of state champions to grab the last US Championship spot. While Ron has played in the Championship before, this will be the first time he has done it while representing Tennessee. So far no one has contradicted my claim that Ron and Jake Kleiman(2217, #347 US) will be the first ever representatives from Tennessee in the Championship, which will take place in San Diego starting at the end of November. Good luck to both of them!

My own rating dropped 4 points from the Chicago Open to 2322. This also dropped me three spots on the US list to #143.

10/12/04 - Leko-Kramnik, Game 11

There was another disappointing draw in the World Championship today. Despite the earlier proclamation by Peter Leko that he wanted to get more out of the White pieces, he was content to repeat moves, ending hostilities after only 17 moves. On the other hand, he still leads by a point, putting the onus on Vladimir Kramnik to find a way to win one of the next three games to hold on to his title. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Qa4 Leko deviates from 5. b3 which he played in game 9. 5... Bb7 6. Bg2 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O O-O 9. Nc3 Be7 10. Bf4 a6 11. Rfd1 d6 12. Qc2 Earlier this year, at Wijk aan Zee, Timman played 12. Rac1 against Kramnik, and the game continued 12...Nh5 13. Be3 Qc7 14. Qc2 Nf6 15. Bf4 Rd8 16. Qd2 transposing into the present game 12... Qc7 13. Rac1 Rd8 14. Qd2

14...Nh5 Against Timman, Kramnik played 14... Ne4. In the press conference, Leko revealed his improvement 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. b4 (Timman played 16. Bg5 and the game was drawn in 32 moves.) 16...Qb7 17. c5 bxc5 18. bxc5 d5 19. Qa5 Nc6 20. Qb6 with advantage to White Snatching the c-pawn with 14...Qxc4 is disasterous after 15. Ne5 Qc7 16. Na4 +- 15. Bg5 Nf6 The exchange of dark squared bishops would hamper Black because his defense of d6 would be weakened. 16. Bf4 Keeping an eye on the d6 pawn and so preventing Black from smooth development with ...Nbd7 with a typical hedgehog position. Now they repeat moves and call it a day 16...Nh5 17. Bg5 Nf6 [1/2:1/2] Remarkably, Kramnik once again had a large edge on the clock at the end of the game. Clock management has been about the only weakness Leko has shown so far in the match.

10/11/04 - Kramnik-Leko, Game 10

Peter Leko inched closer to the title yesterday with a tough defensive performance with the Black pieces. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Bc5 Leko is first to deviate from the earlier games. The text is a favorite of one of his seconds in this match, Vladislav Tkachiev. Another similarly popular line in recent years is 5... b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 6. c3 b5 7. Bc2 Kramnik takes the option provided by Black's move order to move the bishop to c2 in one move instead of the two moves Bb3-c2 often seen in the Ruy Lopez. One might think that this means Black's move order is incorrect, but that is not the case. From b3, the bishop is much more active, eying the sensitive f7 square and putting additional pressure on d5. The time "wasted" by moving to c2 in 2 moves is made up for by the fact that Black generally has to play moves like ...Na5 to drive the bishop off of the a2-g8 diagonal. Overall, it seems to be a matter of taste. Leko himself has played both 7. Bb3 and 7. Bc2 with the White pieces here. 7... d5 8. exd5 Anand was successful with 8. a4 in his match for the FIDE championship against Shirov in 2000. 8... Qxd5 9. a4 b4 10. d4 exd4 11. Bb3 Qd8 There have been some games without a4 and b4 inserted that continued Qd6. 12. Re1+ Be7 13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Qxd4 15. cxd4 Bb7 16. Bg5 h6!? surprisingly Leko spends a whole tempo to allow Kramnik to damage his kingside 16... Rd8 looks more normal. Leko was afraid that the position after 17. Nd2 Rxd4 18. Rac1 would not only be very difficult for Black, but also perhaps still a part of Kramnik's opening preparation. 18... Kd8 19. Be3 followed by Nc4 with a nice game for White. 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Nd2 Rg8 19. g3 Rd8 20. Rac1 Rd7

21. Nc4 Kramnik focused on this position after the game saying that he felt he was much better looking for a forced win with 21. a5 but Black seemed to hold in all the lines with 21... Kd8 22. Ba4 Rxd4 23. Rxe7 (23. Nb3 Re4) 23... Kxe7 24. Rxc7+ (24. Nb3 Rd7 25. Nc5 c6) 24... Kf8 21... Rg5 22. Ne3 Kf8 23. h4 Ra5 This was another much discussed position. Black's pieces are not very active, but it is unclear how White is to make progress. No one, including Kramnik himself, was especially happy with White's next move. 24. d5 With the idea of organizing a mating formation with Nf5 and Nxh6 in combination with Rc4-g4-g8, but that is a bit too brute force to actually work. In the post game press conference 24. Bd1 was discussed in the press conference, but Leko gave the line 24... Rxd4 25. Rxc7 Be4 as OK for Black and Kramnik concured. 24... Rc5 25. Rcd1 c6 26. Nf5 cxd5 27. Rd4 Rdc7 27... h5 28. g4 hxg4 29. Rxg4 with the idea Nh6 and Rg8# 28. Red1 now 28. Rg4 is met simply by Bc8 28... Rc1 29. Bxd5 Rxd1+ 30. Rxd1 Bc8 an accurate move by Leko. Instead 30... Bxd5 31. Rxd5 would reach an ending quite similar to Karpov-Kramnik Vienna 1996, which was won by Karpov. 31. Be4 31. Nxh6 Kg7 32. Nxf7 Bg4 intending ...Bh5 to round up the knight. Perhaps Kramnik needed to take the h-pawn at an earlier point. 31... Bxf5 32. Bxf5 b3 33. Rd3 Rc4 34. Bd7 Rb4 35. Bc6 [1/2:1/2] So Leko needs only to draw 4 more games to become world champion. Hopefully, Kramnik will show a bit more fight with Black tomorrow. Agreeing to a draw with a board full of pieces as he did in Game 9 is not going to get the job done.

I have a postscript to Game 8. I was looking more carefully at Ponomariov's notes in Informant 84/285 to his win over Adams at Linares 2002. He actually analyzed the variation that occurred in the Kramnik-Leko game. After 21...Qg6 he dismisses Kramnik's 22. axb5 with the line 22...Bd3 23. Qd1 (instead of 23. Qf2 as played by Kramnik) 23...Be2 which was given as a drawing line by many commentators after the game because of the repetition 24. Qc2 Bd3 although the piece sacrifice 24. Bc2!? could also be considered. Instead Ponomariov gives 22. Ne4 with clear advantage to White based on the lines 22...Nxe4 23. fxe4 Bxe4 24. Bxg5 bxa4 25. Bc4 or 22... Bxe4 23. fxe4 Nxe4 24. axb5 axb5 25. Ra7. So the mystery regarding Kramnik's preparation for this game continues. Was it possible that this note wasn't noticed because Ponomariov played 16. Qe2 instead of 16. Qf1 and in his variation only later transposed into the Kramnik-Leko variation by gaining back the tempo lost on Qe2-f1 by exchanging rooks on e8 without an intermediate Re1?

10/9/04 - van der Sterren-Epishin, 1995 New York Open

Like the other game following a Kramnik loss, today's Game 9 in the World Chess Championship was a very dull affair. 1. d4 Leko decides to stick with the queen's pawn 1... Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 and Kramnik plays his third different defense. In game 5 he went for the Queens Gambit Declined here with 3...d5 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Nc3 Bb7 8. Bg2 d5 9. cxd5 exd5 10. O-O O-O 11. Bf4 Na6 12. Qc2 Re8 13. Rfd1 c6 14. Ne5 The rapid game Bacrot-Kramnik, Paris 2002 continued 14. a3 Nc7 15. Bxc7 this move looks strange, but White isn't ready for e4 yet 15...Qxc7 and Black won in 30 moves. 14... h6 15. a3 Nc7 16. e4 Ne6 [1/2:1/2]

I don't really understand Kramnik's decision to offer a draw here. His position doesn't hold much danger and he had over an hour advantage on the clock. Incredibly, Leko had taken 1 hour 24 minutes to reach this point, leaving him only 36 minutes to make his next 24 moves. I don't really understand that sort of clock management especially since it wasn't a very sharp position. Kramnik now needs to find a win in the final 5 games to retain his title.

For those of you who would have preferred to see a more fighting draw, I present the game van der Sterren-Epishin from the final round of the 1995 New York Open. Both players were trying to win in order to move into a tie for second place. They reached the diagramed position and elected to continue playing. 17. Be3 Rc8 18. b4 dxe4 19. Nxe4 Nd5 20. Qb3 f6 21. Ng6 f5 22. Nc3 Bf6 23. Nxd5 cxd5 24. Qd3 Rc4 25. Ne5 Bxe5 26. dxe5 Re4 27. Bxe4 fxe4 28. Qb3 Kh8 29. Qb2 Re7 30. h4 Rd7 31. Bd4 Qe8 32. Qe2 Rf7 33. Qh5 Kh7 34. a4 g6 35. Qg4 h5 36. Qe2 Rf3 37. Be3 g5 38. hxg5 h4 39. gxh4 Qh5 40. Kf1 Qg4 41. Ke1 d4 42. Rxd4 Nxd4 43. Bxd4 e3 44. Bxe3 Qg1+ 45. Qf1 Rxe3+ 46. fxe3 Qxe3+ 47. Qe2 Qc3+ 48. Kf2 Qxa1 49. Qd3+ Kg7 50. Qd7+ Kg6 51. Qxb7 Qd4+ 52. Ke2 Qc4+ 53. Ke3 Qc3+ 54. Kf4 Qd2+ 55. Kf3 Qc3+ 56. Ke4 Qc4+ 57. Ke3 [1/2:1/2] A much more entertaining struggle!

10/8/04 - Leko Takes Control

Peter Leko took an enormous step towards becoming World Chess Champion yesterday with a win with the Black pieces against Vladimir Kramnik at Brissago, Switzerland. In an abrupt change, Kramnik didn't play his usual safe "stock market" chess style, instead allowing the sharp Marshall Gambit for the first time in the match. However, it looks like there may have been a huge hole in his opening preparation and now Leko has the lead with only 6 games to go. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3!? With the exception of game 4, Kramnik had achieved very little with the anti-Marshall systems and allows Leko to play the Marshall Gambit. This isn't a decision to be taken lightly. In 1993 Kasparov didn't even allow the Marshall with a 3 point lead in his match against Short, although it should be noted that Kasparov had been much more successful with his anti-Marshall system 8. a4, than Kramnik has been with his 8. h3. 8... d5 Accepting the challenge. Black could steer back into classical systems with 8... d6 but given the match situation, Leko was probably happy to have the opportunity to play the Marshall. 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 c6 12. d4 Bd6 13. Re1 Qh4 14. g3 Qh3 15. Re4 This system has become more popular in recent years. The older way is 15. Be3 Bg4 16. Qd3 15... g5 16. Qf1 Ponomariov played 16. Qe2 a couple of times at Linares 2002, scoring a win over Adams and a draw with Anand. Not 16. Bxg5? which drops a piece to 16... Qf5

16... Qh5 This position has not been explored very deeply. 16... Qxf1+ 17. Kxf1 Bf5 ended in a short draw in Peng Xiaomin-Grischuk 2001 China vs. Russia match. In an old ECO Tal and Kroigus give 17... f5 18. Re1 f4 with clear advantage to Black based on the game Camilleri - Philippe Skopje Olympiad 1972, although Parma and Maric contend that White's mistake didn't come until after 19. Kg2 Ra7 20. Nd2 Bf5 21. Ne4? (they indicate 21. Nf1 Raf7 with compensation) 21... f3+! If someone has Anand's manuscript on the Marshall, perhaps they could check what his evaluation of this line is. Of course, Kramnik and Leko were well aware of these previous games and annotations, and had their own opinions and analyses. A story by Petrosian is particularly apt here, since it was related with respect to this exact variation. He had read some analysis of 15. Re4 that gave the advantage to White, so he tried it against Averbakh in the 1947 USSR Championship semi-finals and was greatly surprised by the move 15...g5(which wasn't a well known move back then), and lost. He concludes the story with the very sound advice "I ask you only use restraint in your admiration of book analysis and to examine it all thoughtfully, even if it comes from well-known players. Myself included." In any case, Leko instead decides to keep the queens on the board. 17. Nd2 Bf5 18. f3 Nf6 18... Bxe4 19. fxe4 gives White a pawn, the two bishops, a mobile pawn center and the weakened Black kingside to compensate for the exchange. 19. Re1 Rae8 20. Rxe8 Rxe8 21. a4 Qg6 22. axb5 Bd3 23. Qf2 Re2 24. Qxe2 Bxe2 25. bxa6 Qd3! This is the point at which I logged on to view the game. Leko was down to 7 or 8 minutes and Kramnik still had well over an hour, so much of the previous play was probably a part of Kramnik's home preparation. Perhaps here he had only reckoned on 25... Bb8 26. a7 Bxa7 27. Rxa7 when 27... Qd3 is well met by 28. Rxf7 Now Black's attack crashes through. 26. Kf2 26. a7 Qe3+ 27. Kg2 Bxf3+ 28. Nxf3 Qe2+ 29. Kg1 Ng4 30. a8=Q+ Kg7 and despite an extra rook, bishop, and pawn, White will soon be mated. This may be an example of the problems that can arise when one depends on computers extensively for preparation. Kramnik may not have believed that Leko would actually play the Marshall and so did his heaviest preparation for lines like the Zaitsev (8...d6 9. h3 Bb7). Of course, these guys don't skip lines in their preparation, so he had this line prepared just in case. Even so, most of the work could have been done on the previously played 16...Qxf1+ and/or the acceptance of the exchange with 18...Bxe4 So this line may have only gotten a superficial check via computer. When I run Shredder on this game, at some places, particularly in this variation, the evaluation jumps all over (from +- to -+) depending on the depth of search. The gigantic material edge swings the evaluation to White, but eventually it sees the problem with the White king. However, I saw lines where it would jump the evaluation back in White's favor as it rejected 30. a8=Q+ for 30. a8=R+ and again White has a huge material edge and it has to find the mates all over again. At other places (notably after 23...Re2) it searches to a very deep depth and seems to give a stable 0.00 reading. 26... Bxf3 27. Nxf3 Ne4+ 28. Ke1 Nxc3 29. bxc3 Qxc3+ 30. Kf2 Qxa1 31. a7 31. Bxg5 drops another piece to 31... Qb2+ 31... h6 32. h4 g4 [0:1] Well, this should bring Kramnik out of his shell with Black. If Leko returns to 1. e4, I don't think we will see another Petroff's Defense.

10/5/04 - Leko-Kramnik, Game 7

They've reached the halfway point in the World Championship Match at Brissago, Switzerland. Today's Game 7 was another short draw, with the challenger Peter Leko avoiding chances for a more complicated game. 1. d4 Leko sticks with the queen pawn after his success in game 5. 1... d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 Kramnik hasn't played the Slav Defense very often. I only find a handful of games, most of them rapid. He is of course very well known for his contributions to theory in the Semi-Slav, 4... e6, I wonder if Leko was prepared to take up the gauntlet of the Botvinnik Variation. Perhaps we will see this in a later game, although I have a feeling that Kramnik is going to rotate his defenses if Leko persists with 1. d4 5. a4 e6 This is a very rare move compared to the normal 5...Bf5. Even the sidelines 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6 are more frequently seen 6. e3 6. e4 Bb4 7. e5 leads to a sharper game and was used by Alekhine to win games in two different World Championship matches (vs. Bogoljubow 1929 and Euwe 1935). 6... c5 Now the positions reached are similar to the Queens Gambit Accepted except that White has gotten a free move (since Black played c5 in two moves instead of one). However, that free move is a4 which weakens the queenside. The significance of that weakness is a matter of taste. In the QGA, White often plays a4 in response to Black's a6, so overall, the impact of giving that move for free is probably minimal. 7. Bxc4 Nc6 8. O-O cxd4 9. exd4 Be7

Larsen's comment on an analogous position from the QGA (1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. O-O a6 7. a4 cxd4 8. exd4) seems appropriate here: Gligorich likes it and plays it. So did Botvinnik and Rubenstein! I see the isolated Queen Pawn and a hole in the White position on the Queenside. I see no initiative, but maybe White can draw with a quick d5. This shows that some opening positions are really just a matter of taste. 10. Be3 My database shows a big plus score for White after 10. Qe2 trying to take advantage of a4 (or more precisely the omission of ...a6 by Black) vs. the normal QGA positions because of the variation 10... Nxd4 11. Nxd4 Qxd4 12. Nb5 with a large initiative. 10... O-O 11. Ne5 Nb4 12. a5 trying to get some use out of a4 12... Bd7 on 12... Nbd5 the idea was probably 13. a6 13. d5 Now, the game dissolves to equality. Keeping the tension with 13. Qb3 was played in a similar position (Black had played a6) in the game Reschke-Teske, Germany 1996. White could also consider 13. Qf3, but apparently Leko had already used a considerable amount of time. 13... exd5 14. Nxd5 Nbxd5 15. Bxd5 Nxd5 16. Qxd5 Bc8 17. Rfd1 Qxd5 18. Rxd5 Be6 19. Rb5 Bf6 20. Nf3 b6 21. axb6 [1/2:1/2]

10/3/04 - Leko Evens the Score

Three more games are in the books in Brissago, Switzerland, and challenger Peter Leko has managed to even the score in the World Championship. In Thursday's Game 4, he showed some accurate defensive skills in a pawn down ending. 1. e4 e5 Well, my prediction of the Sicilian Defense didn't come to pass 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d6 The most common move, deviating from 9... Re8 of Game 1. 10. a3 Nd7 Kramnik played the position after 10... Nb8 with both colors in the French Team Championships earlier this year. The text move has been tried a couple of times by Blatny. 11. Nc3 Nd4

12. Ba2 The only other game I found that reached this position was by GM Lutz against a German amateur, Kloninger at Bad Zwesten 2000. Lutz won in 30 moves after 12. Nxd4 exd4 13. Nd5 Bxd5 14. Bxd5 12... Nxf3+ 13. Qxf3 Bg5 14. Bxg5 Qxg5 15. Nd5 c6 16. Ne3 g6 17. Rad1 Rad8 18. c3 c5 19. Bd5 Bc8 20. b4 Nb6 21. c4 Nxd5 22. Nxd5 Be6 23. bxc5 dxc5 24. Rb1 Rb8 25. cxb5 Bxd5 It seems a bit dangerous to give White a passed pawn, but now Black doesn't have to contend with the move Nc7 26. exd5 axb5 27. d6 b4 28. a4 Rfd8 29. Qd5 Qf6 30. Qxc5 In Chess Today, IM Notkin pointed out the cute variation 30. Rxe5 Rxd6 31. Qxc5 Rxd3 32. Rxb4 Qxe5 33. Qxe5 Rxb4 reaching the Q vs. two rooks ending seen in game 1! Of course, Kramnik doesn't go for that line 30... Qxd6 31. Qxd6 Rxd6 32. Rxe5 b3 an accurate move from Leko. Instead, allowing a single rook ending with 32... Rxd3 33. Rb5 Ra8 34. R1xb4 Ra3 35. Rb8+ Rxb8 36. Rxb8+ Kg7 37. Rb4 gives White much more serious winning chances. 33. Rb5 Ra8 34. R1xb3 Rxa4 35. Rb6 Rd7 36. Rf6 Ra1+ 37. Kh2 Rd1 38. Rf3 h5 39. h4 Rd2 40. g3 Kg7 41. Kg2 Rd1 preventing Kf1-e2 which would free one of the White rooks from defensive duty. 42. Re3 Kh7 43. Kf3 Rd2 again preventing the freeing Ke2. White can't make progress without surrendering the f-pawn. [1/2:1/2]

On Saturday, Leko evened the score with a nice endgame performance. 1. d4 A big surprise on move 1, reminiscent of Fischer's 1. c4 against Spassky in Game 6 of their 1972 match. Leko has played the English Opening on occassion, but I only found 2 games since he has become a GM where he opened 1. d4. 1... Nf6 2. c4 In the above mentioned games, he tried the Tromposky 2. Bg5 2... e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 on 5. Bg5 Kramnik has had success with the Tartakower variation 5... O-O 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 b6 which incidentally was the variation reached in the Fischer-Spassky game. 5... O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. a3 Nc6 11. Bd3 Bb6 12. O-O Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. b4 Re8 15. Rc1 a6 16. Bxa6 Rxa6 17. b5 Rxa3 18. bxc6 bxc6 19. Rxc6 Ra7 This move involves a pawn sacrifice, but is still all known theory. Short drew Atalik at the 2001 European Championship with 19... Re6 but in Informant 82/374 Atalik awarded that move a question mark evaluating the position after 20. Rxe6 fxe6 21. Qc1 Qa8 22. Ng5 to be decisively in White's favor. In the actual game, Atalik played 22. Qb2 20. Rd6 Rd7 21. Qxd5 Rxd6 22. Qxd6 Qxd6 23. Bxd6

23...Bxf3 In the rapid match Russia vs. The World 2002, Anand reached the diagrammed position as Black against Karpov and prefered to keep the bishop pair with 23... Rd8 24. Bg3 Bc5 Karpov tried for a long time to prove the extra pawn, but never made serious progress and finally conceded the draw on move 114. 24. gxf3 Bd8 25. Rb1 Bf6 26. Kg2 The first new move. The game Gritsak-Kruppa, Ukraine 2002 continued. 26. Rb5 g6 27. f4 Rd8 28. Bb4 h5 29. Kg2 Rd1 30. Ba5 Kg7 31. f5 and was eventually drawn. The plan with f5 to trade the doubled pawn looks logical, but Leko keeps it in reserve (the Don't Rush principle) and eventually decides on a different approach. 26... g6 27. f4 Kg7 28. Rb7 Re6 29. Rd7 Re8 30. Ra7 Re6 31. Bc5 Rc6 32. Ra5 Bc3 33. Rb5 Ra6 34. Rb3 Bf6 35. Rb8 h5 36. Rb5 Bc3 37. Rb3 Bf6 38. e4 Ra5 39. Be3 Ra4 40. e5 Here is the fresh idea from Leko. He wants to attack the Black king by putting his rook on the 8th rank and his bishop on the long diagonal. 40... Be7 41. Rb7 Kf8 42. Rb8+ Kg7 43. Kf3 Rc4 44. Ke2 Ra4 45. Kd3 Bh4 46. Bd4 Mission accomplished. Black looks to be in some trouble now. Kramnik tries to bail out in an exchange down ending. 46... Ra3+ 47. Kc2 Ra2+ 48. Kd3 Ra3+ 49. Ke4 Ra4 50. Kd5 Ra5+ 51. Kc6 Ra4 52. Kc5 Be7+ 53. Kd5 Ra5+ 54. Ke4 Ra4 55. Rc8 Bh4 56. e6+ Bf6 57. e7 Rxd4+ 58. Ke3 Bxe7 59. Kxd4

There is a fortress for Black if he could play f5 and put his bishop on the long diagonal, but he can only manage one of those. 59... Bh4 59... f5 60. Rc7 Kf6 61. Kd5 Bd8 62. Ra7 Be7 63. Rd7 Kf7 64. Ke5+-; on 59... Bf6+ I think the simplest is 60. Ke4 followed by f5 60. f3 f5 61. Rc7+ Kf6 61... Kg8 62. Ke5 Kf8 63. Ke6 Kg8 64. Rc8+ Kg7 65. Rb8 and the bishop has to leave the diagonal. 62. Kd5 Bg3 63. Rc6+ Kg7 64. Ke5 h4 64... Bh4 65. Ke6 Bd8 66. Rc8 Bh4 67. Rb8 transposes to the previous note 65. Rc7+ Kh6 66. Rc4 Kg7 67. Ke6 Bh2 68. Rc7+ Kh6 69. Kf7 [1:0]

Today's game turned out to be the dullest so far. Kramnik got absolutely nothing with White 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d6 10. a3 Na5 Once again, Leko is first to deviate. This is the most common move here. In game 4 he tried 10... Nd7

11. Ba2 c5 12. Nbd2 Somewhat unusual, although both Anand and Shirov have tried it. More common is 12. Nc3 immediately taking aim at d5. 12... Nc6 13. c3 After this, we get into new territory 13. Nf1, had been seen before. There would be transpositions into those games if Black now undertook the maneuver Bb7-c8-e6, but Leko goes a different way and tries to sharpen the play. 13... Qd7 14. Nf1 d5!? 15. Bg5 Perhaps fearing home preparation, Kramnik declines the pawn offer. 15. exd5 Nxd5 16. Nxe5 Nxe5 17. Rxe5 with play similar to the Marshall Attack (8. c3 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5) which Kramnik has avoided so far in this match. 15...dxe4 16. dxe4 c4 17. Ne3 Rfd8 18. Nf5 Qe6 19. Qe2 Bf8 20. Bb1 h6 [1/2:1/2] Personally, I prefer Black here. It looks like we have a match on our hands now. It will be interesting to see if Leko repeats 1. d4 in the next game or goes back to the discussion of Petroff's Defense.