Kramnik claws back

Vladimir Kramnik scores his first win of the world chess championship in the 10th game against Viswanathan Anand.

WHEN I was writing this story a few days back, I was hoping for a decision in Bonn, Germany, where Viswanathan Anand and Kramnik were playing this year’s match.

Not that I was rooting for Anand to win or for Kramnik to lose. But all I wanted was a decisive result so that I don’t have to wait another week when the excitement over the match had waned.

No such luck. The 10th game on Monday was won by Kramnik and he lived to fight at least another round. Despite losing this game, Anand was still leading the Russian by a two-point margin – a 6-4 result which was just half-point short of being declared the winner.

By original standards, a 12-game match is rather short. When the World Chess Federation took over the running of the world chess championship after World War II, the standard 24-game format was adopted in 1951 when Mikhail Botvinnik made the first defence of his title against David Bronstein.

However, this 24-game sequence ended in 1978 when Anatoly Karpov played Viktor Korchnoi. The first person to win six games would be the winner and the match stretched to 32 games. The height of this absurdity was in 1984 when Karpov and Gary Kasparov played 48 games without the former being able to score the last, decisive sixth victory. The match was then declared abandoned.

So you see, a 12-game match is nothing when compared to the excesses of the past. But it doesn’t mean that a shorter match would take less toll on the players. On the contrary, I would believe that the pressure and the mental toll would be just as great.

Can you imagine, at the half-way stage of this match, Anand was holding a very commanding lead with three wins and three draws. Kramnik was really reeling in a very desperate position.

If you are Anand, what would you do in such a commanding position? And if you are Kramnik, what would you do in such dire straits? It’s impossible to know for sure the players’ innermost thoughts but I can tell you that they can never be easy. Not even for Anand.

You know why? Despite the commanding three-point lead, he would be faced with some critical decisions to make. Even insecurity. How to continue the second half of the match? Coast to victory with easy draws? Fight for more wins? What would his opponent do with his back to the wall? Would he throw caution to the win and start risking his games? Multitudes of questions and no easy answer.

Even for Kramnik, there would be questions. For him, he would also have to keep his emotions under wraps. A crisis in confidence. A psychological disadvantage. Why was it that he could do nothing right? How to play against someone who is on the verge of winning the match?

Kramnik hunkered down and decided that the best defence was to come out fighting. The next three games were drawn. Maybe this gave his confidence a boost too because it slowed down Anand. Perhaps the emotional and mental strain on the Indian was greater than on the Russian. There was no killer blow. Anand could not land any killer blow and for the first time in the match, in the ninth game, Kramnik actually enjoyed more chances in the game.

Then came the 10th game. Anand misplayed and misjudged, and it was a swift punishment for him. Kramnik had scored his first win of the match. Here it is:

White: Vladimir Kramnik (2772)

Black: Viswanathan Anand (2783)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 c5 5. g3 cxd4 6. Nxd4 O-O 7. Bg2 d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Qb3 Qa5 10. Bd2 Nc6 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. O-O Bxc3 13. bxc3 Ba6 14. Rfd1 Qc5 15. e4 Bc4 16. Qa4 Nb6 17. Qb4 Qh5 18. Re1

This is supposed to be the novelty move in this game. What this means is that it’s a new move that’s never been played before in professional chess. Can you imagine that all this while, for the first 17 moves, both players were still playing a theoretical line that has been analysed and re-analysed through the years and only on the 18th move did something new pop up? That is the depth of preparation of players today. Previously, only 18. Bf4 and 18. Be3 had ever been played.

The idea behind 18. Re1 is to prevent Black from playing …Be2 and then …Bf3 to exchange off the bishops. Deep move? Perhaps, because it set off a very long think from Anand. For the first time in the match, Anand was starting to feel uncomfortable.

18. … c5 19. Qa5 Rfc8 20. Be3 Be2

When I was watching this game on the Internet Chess Server, someone commented that Black was still intent on the manoeuvre to exchange off the black-squared bishops but there was also an additional possibility of …Nc4.

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21. Bf4 (see diagram) e5 22. Be3

What was the reason for White’s bishop to move from e3 to f4 and then back again to e3? There must be a purpose but after the game, all that Kramnik would say was that the position was difficult to understand, even for top players.

22. … Bg4

Kramnik claimed this to be a mistake because it took Black’s bishop away from the white squares on the queenside. He could now begin to mobilise his a-pawn and once this pawn started rolling, Black’s knight would be in trouble.

23. Qa6 f6 24. a4 Qf7 25. Bf1 Be6 26. Rab1 c4 27. a5

This dislodges the knight and it enables White’s rook to penetrate deep into Black’s position. The position looked bad for Anand already. There was nothing much he could do. With each move, Kramnik was stamping more of his authority over the whole game.

27. … Na4 28. Rb7 Qe8 29. Qd6 (1-0)

Anand resigned at this stage. Kramnik was threatening both 30. Re7 and 30. Qb4, and with Anand fast running out of time on his clock, decided to end this fight and look towards the 11th game when he would again have the white pieces.

The Malaysian players should be returning today after taking part in the world youth chess championship in Vung Tao, Vietnam. This event, with almost 900 participants from 73 countries is widely regarded as a big organisational success for Vietnamese chess. Of course, their players had also been making waves in the championship especially in the main under-18 event where they were dominating.

Of the Malaysians, I only have the results until the ninth round at press time but I do know that among the boys, Justin Ong (under-16) had 3½ points, Azhar (under-14) had 2½ points, Elgin Lee (under-12) had five points, Aron The (under-10) had 4½ points and Yeoh Li Tian (under-10) had 5½ points.

Among our girls, Alia Anin (under-14) obtained 5½ points, Nur Nabila (under-12) and Nur Najiha (under-10) had 4½ points each, Camila (under-10) had four points and Puteri Rifqah (under-8) had five points.

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