Remember at the end of my last chess post when I wrote:
But no need to despair! This is just the feeling out period. I suspect the real match will begin shortly.
Oh baby! Was I more right than I knew! Vishy Anand drew first blood in the big chess match today, and did so in fine style. Once again Kramnik opened with his queen pawn, and Anand replied with the Slav. But whereas game one saw Kramnik employ the insomnia-curing Exchange Variation, this time we had the ultra-sharp Meran Variation. After fourteen moves of well-known theory, Anand, playing black, bashed out a novelty:
V. Kramnik – V. Anand
World Championship 2008
Position After 14. … Bc8-b7
A quick look at the position reveals that black has won a pawn, but has made some clear positional concessions to get it. His king is going to be stuck in the center for quite some time, his pawns on b5 and d4 are weak, his king-sde pawns are broken up, and his development leaves something to be desired.
His extra pawn being his big trump, black usually tries to hold onto it with 14. … Ba6 or 14. … b4, both perfectly playable moves. Anand’s novelty offers to give back the pawn on b5, in return for getting caught up on development. The bishop is beautifully placed on the long diagonal, and it will cooperate well with a black rook on the g-file.
After the moves 15. Bxb5 Bd6 16. Rd1 Rg8 17. g3 Rg4 18. Bf4 Bxf4 19. Nxd4 we reach our next diagram:
Position After 19. Nf3xd4
Here we have a nice demonstration of why I am watching the games from home, and am not on the stage in Bonn. You see, I was thinking Anand was in big trouble right around here. Granted, he is up a piece for a pawn. But white’s last move was a real humdinger. It discovers an attack by the white queen on the black rook on g4. It wins a pawn. And it threatens all sorts of mayhem down the newly-opened d-file. Notice the tag team of the white rook on d1 and the white bishop on b5, taking aim at the ailing steed on d7.
Anand, as it happens, had seen farther than me. Apparently still in his home preparation he calmly protected his rook with 19. … h5. There followed 20. Nxe6 fxe6 21. Rxd7 Kf8 22. Qd3 Rg7 23. Rxg7 Kxg7 24. gxf4
Position After 24. gxh4
The smoke has cleared and Kramnik has emerged with two extra pawns. Connected passed pawns on the queenside, no less. But this material lead comes at a serious price! White’s kingside is one big weakness, and all three of black’s pieces will quickly become active. White’s pawns have the potential to become strong, but back there on the second rank they’re not so scary. The position is probably holdable for Kramnik, but it is definitely a difficult defense.
Anand got down to business with 24. … Rd8 25. Qe2 Kh6 26. Kf1 Rg8 27. a4 Bg2+ 28. Ke1 Bh3 29. Ra3 Rg1+ 30. Kd2 Qd4+ 31. Kc2 Bg4 32. f3 Bf5+ 33. Bd3 Bh3
Position After 33. … Bf5-h3
Splat! White is helpless against the looming armegeddon on his second rank. The cavillers pointed out that 33. … Bf5xd3+ is actually a forced mate. But Anand, short of time, pragmatically found a move that wins easily, rather than attempt to calculate a lengthy mating variation. Hard to fault him for that.
Kramnik has one last Hail Mary to try. Granted, he’s hemorrhaging material on the king-side. But there is still that a-pawn: 34. a5 Rg2 35. a6 Rxe2+ 36. Bxe2 Bf5+ 37. Kb3 Qe3+ 38. Ka2 Qxe2 39. a7. This is a good time to remind any nervous players out there that a pawn on the seventh rank is still just a pawn. Kramnik resigned after 39. … Qc4+ 40. Ka1 Qf1+ 41. Ka2 Bb1+ 0-1
White will either get mated or lose his a-pawn. For example, play could continue 42. Kb3 Qb5+ 43. Kc3 Qd3+ 44. Kb4 Qd4+ 45. Ka5 Qxa7+.
An impressive display by Anand and a bad loss for Kramnik. Winning with black in a short match is a big deal. On the other hand, Kramnik had to come from behind in his matches with Leko and Topalov, and Anand would be crazy to think he can sit on his lead.