After a quick draw in game four of the big chess match, Anand and Kramnik got back to business today. Kramnik went into the same line of the Meran as on Friday, surely having some improvement ready over Friday’s game. What he had in mind we’ll never know, since Anand varied first:
V. Kramnik – V. Anand
World Championship 2008
Position After 15. … Rh8-g8
Kramnik allowed Anand to play his novelty, 14. … Bc8-b7 a second time. Anand accepted the invitation, but after 15. Bxb5 he varied with 15. … Rg8. In Friday’s game Anand played 15. … Bd6 instead.
Anand has gotten himself into trouble before going once too often to a sharp opening. In his 1995 match against Kasparov, Anand brought a one point lead into game 10. Playing black, he used the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez against Kasparov’s king-pawn opening. Anand had been relying on this opening quite a lot, and he ought to have suspected that Kasparov would have had something ready. Indeed, Kasparov sacrificed a rook, got medieval, and won a game that is nowadays in all of the anthologies. Anand never recovered, and dropped several more games.
But this time everything worked out for him. Kramnik got into bad time pressure, a sure sign he had been forced out of his home preparation. Things meandered on a bit, with Kramnik probably able to claim a small advantage out of the opening. Anand’s position was very solid, however, and he never seemed in real danger. As Kramnik’s time pressure deepened, Anand’s position got stronger and stronger.
The game ended abruptly when Anand outanalyzed Kramnik in a tactical flurry. Since it was the crux of the game, and since the tactics come fast and furious, let us look at things in slow motion.
Position after 28. … Rc5-c3.
Here Kramnik noticed a little tactic. It might appear that black’s d-pawn is adequately defended by the queen on f6. But after 29. Nxd4 Qxd4 30. Rd1 …
Position after 30. Re1-d1
… it seems white is going to get his piece back with interest. After the blcak queen moves, the white rook can take the knight on d7, and then the bishop on b7. Neat! But black can attack white’s queen with 30. … Nf6, and after 31. Rxd4 Nxg4 we reach our next diagram:
Position After 31. … Nf6xg4
Black has saved his knight, but white is still going to recover his piece and have an extra pawn to boot with 32. Rd7+ Kf6 33. Rxb7
Position After 33. Rd7xb7
Kramnik was probably feeling pretty good about himself right around now, since the white bishop can return to f1 to cover any back rank tricks. But here we find the sting at the end of the combination, and we see that it was Anand who had everything under control: 33. … Rc1+ 34. Bf1 Ne3!!
Position After 34. … Ng4-e3!!
Ouch! As an amateur player who routinely overlooks such things, I find it comforting that even the greats can blunder like this. The only way to avoid losing the bishop cold is with 35. fxe3, but Kramnik resigned after 35. … fxe3:
A pretty picture. For the moment white is up a piece and a pawn, but he is helpless against the threat of 36. … e2. (Notice that the black pawn on e3 covers f2, preventing the natural move 36. Kf2. The only way to continue the game is to give up the rook with 36. Rc7, but with such a large material advantage and with white’s queenside pawns not really threatening to go anywhere, the resulting endgame would not be too difficult for Anand.
So, Anand is two points up, with both of his wins coming with black. With only seven games left it is pretty much unthinkable that Kramnik can come back to win, but a tie may not be out of the question. Anand will now actually have white two games in a row. He is likely to be very conservative, which will make it difficult for Kramnik to get anything going. Sitting on a two-point lead with seven games to go seems more reasonable than sitting on a one-point lead with nine games to go.
In his match with Leko, Kramnik was down a point with two games to go. Having black and facing Leko’s queen pawn opening, Kramnik tried the exciting Benoni Defense. (Alas, only a draw, albeit after an exciting game). Hopefully Kramnik will try something similarly interesting this time.
Big comebacks in chess matches are rare. Karpov was down three points to Kasparov with eight games to go in heir 1986 match. Karpov won three straight to tie the match. Alas, he went on to lose the match anyway.
And Fischer was down two points to Spassky after one game and one forfeit. Fischer then won three of the next four to take the lead. After that he won two of the next four to take a secure lead in the match.
Hopefully Kramnik will go for broke. Down two points in a short macth he might just resign himself to his fate.