Vladimir Kramnik has announced his intention to fight to the end of the big chess match, and games nine and ten have certainly been his best efforts yet.
When last we checked in (pun intended), Kramnik was down three points with four games to go in the big chess match. Playing black in Sunday’s Game Nine, Kramnik played the Semi-Slav with black. And why not? It’s been working for Anand.
The first critical moment came a mere five moves in:
Position After 5. … h7-h6
Black’s last move introduced the solid Moscow Variation. Even needing a win with black it was probably asking too much that Kramnik play 5. … dxc4, which leads to the insanity of the Botvinnik Variation.
Had Anand wanted to make a safe draw he would surely have now played 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 7. e4, when black’s position is very solid, but white is unlikely to lose barring a clear error. Instead he announced his aggressive intentions with 6. Bh4, which leads to a complex, Botvinnik-like position after 6. … dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5. Anand’s strategy of entering comlications whenever possible had worked so far, so he decided to have another go.
Bad idea. Kramnik gradually outplayed his opponent until the following position was reached:
Position After 34. … Qg7-e5
Here we had an amusing double blunder. Black plainly has an advantage with his extra pawn and chances for a kingside attack. But his last move allows the tactical shot 35. Bxf5!. This sacrifices the bishop, but after 35. … exf5 36. Qxh6+! Kg8 37. Qg5+ Qg7 38. Rxf5, black is pretty much out of pawns and will find it difficult to make use of his advantage. But Anand missed the shot and played the dubious 35. Qb7 instead.
And now Kramnik would have been near winning with either 35. … Bc7 or 35. … Rg8. Black will gradually press his advantage on the kingside, and white will find it difficult to meet all the threats. Instead, in time pressure Kramnik played the ultra-cautious 35. … Qc7? After the queen trade 36. Qxc7 Bxc7, black still has an extra pawn, but the opposite colored bishops and white’s active pieces make it an easy draw. Kramnik did his best to make trouble, but Anand didn’t fall for any tricks and the peace treaty was signed a few moves later.
This left Kramnik with the unenviable task of having to go three for three in the last three games just to tie the match. But he produced his best game of the match in Game Ten, and now faces the slightly less unenviable task of having to go two for two in the final two games.
Playing black, Anand met Kramnik’s queen pawn opening with the solid Nimzo-Indian. Kramnik played a line with a quick kingside fianchetto. The resulting position was similar to a Catalan, which is Kramnik’s great specialty. He has transformed the opening from one considered drawish into one you do well to avoid, at least against him.
Anand’s play was a bit listless in the middle game, but it was still surprising to see just how quickly his position fell apart:
Position After 23. … f7-f6
White certainly has some trumps in his two bishops and black’s weakened queenside, but would you guess that black will be resigning just six moves from now?
Play continued 24. a4 Qf7 25. Bf1 Be6 26. Rab1 c4 27. a5 Na4 28. Rb7 Qe8 29. Qd6! and black resigned:
Someone like Gata Kamsky or Hikaru Nakamura would surely have played on from here, but the position really is quite lost for black. The immediate threat is to win material with 30. Re7!, and after something like 29. … Rd8 Qb4 black is completely tied up in knots. His knight on a4 is a truly pathetic beast, and white can easily make progress with moves like 30. a6 and 31. Rxa7. Anand had seen enough.
So Anand is still the massive favorite, but his last two games have been weak indeed. If he loses Wednesday’s game 11, who knows what Kramnik’s newfound confidence will mean in the final game. Stay tuned!