zaterdag, oktober 02, 2004

WCC Game 5: Leko Makes a Comeback

At last! Something we can sink our teeth into; a game that doesn't end in one of those quick draws.

I'll keep you in suspense for a little while before getting into today's game, with some brief comments on the previous three games:

Incidentally, you can print out the move list for each of these games by going to The London Chess Centre web site, clicking on the TWIC button and downloading the WCC move lists file

Game 2: A Grandmaster draw if I ever saw one. I had just settled down with a cup of coffee and bang! the game was over. It was a miniature Spanish Opening (a.k.a. Ruy Lopez) which Kramnik has shown a penchant for in the past. Leko avoided Kramnik's pet variation (Berlin Defense) by playing 3...a6, then did a little more "steering" on move 5... with Be7. I think he was saying to himself that Kramnik has used 5...b5 to gain draws on several occassions in the past, so he varied the move. Kramnik appeared to have similar thoughts at his move 8. when he played 8.h3 instead of the more usual 8.c3 or 8.a4. Leko has had success against those moves in the past so Kramnik shows us that he has done his homework and avoided them. Move 10...Bb4 looks familiar, because he used that move successfully last year in Monaco, but at move 12 he broke the balance of the position with 12...Bxc3. After that it looked like Kramnik may have had a slight advantage, but we'll never know because in a few more moves, Kramnik offered a draw, which, of course, Leko accepted. Kramnik normally likes the black side of the Ruy Lopez and actually was able to beat Kasparov using the Berlin Variation, in the last WCC match. He probably felt very uncomfortable with the position today's game took on, and offerred the draw just in case Leko had a surprise up his sleeve, that Kramnik didn't want to tackle over-the board (OTB).

Game 3: Another draw! The World Champion played the black side of a Russian Defence (Petroff Defense) as in game 1. As a matter of fact the game matched game 1 move for move all the way up until move 16. when Leko played c4 instead of the previously played 16.h3. On move 17...Qc2 we saw Kramnik submit to his old misogyny, always wanting the queens off the board. Leko's preparation against this possibility was apparent in his long consideration of how to continue. He managed to get some initiative after black's Bd7, but black's c5 and f6 squares looked like excellent places for his pieces. Although Leko had space and central control, he felt frustrated with the position and began to trade pieces. This time it was Leko looking for the draw. After the 23rd move, White offered his hand to Kramnik who immediately accepted the draw.

Game 4: Now it is getting tedious. A third draw! What's up with these two? Better still, what's up with the chess commission? How many times are we going to go through this act where the players are afraid to push toward a win. Say what you want about Fischer and Kasparov, but they have the capability to push the game beyond draws into unknown territory, in pursuit of a win. I can also remember events in the past where the combatants were dismissed from a tournament because they were unwilling to push for wins, making for a very un-interesting, un-popular match. Well, at any rate, here we are at another Spanish Opening in game 4. This game was a little more hard fought, but the result was still the same after 43 moves, Kramnik accepted a draw offer from Leko. In this game Leko chose a slightly different line than in the second game, by playing 9...d6. At move 11...Nd4, White had a decision to make; a quiet move or a complicated line that might win. He decided to play it safe. Leko started some operations on the king side and on move 25 he played a slight inacuracy, 25...Bxd5, which led to his dropping a pawn to Kramnik. The rook end game that followed had black with the more active rooks which proved to be sufficient to hold the draw. After this game Leko said "the first game was a deep shock for me. But now I will start to be more ambitious".

Game 5: Leko evens the match! Making good on his promise, Leko played like he wanted to win. Playing white, he got away from the king pawn openings and went into a variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined (5.Bf4 variation). But let me digress for a moment.... Was it my imagination or was Leko wearing the same suit and tie that he has worn to the previous games. Does he have a closet full of the same ones or is this the only one? Is he superstitious? Anyway, back to the important stuff! I had my doubts about where this match was headed when white took so long to play 14.b4. I thought "oh no! his preparation has failed him and now he will have to play for yet another draw". But no! Kramnik makes a common move that I have to question (You may ask who am I to question the World Champ? but I'll let the results speak for themselves), 14...Re8. While this is a common move here, this is only the middle game and rooks are not so powerful as the minor pieces. They don't get real strong until the end game when they have open files to work with. When white played 55.Rc8, I thought "this is an exceptional move". Now white can make some progress by virtue of the luming discovered check. The next move, 56.e6+ started the winning combination by forcing black to give up the exchange. Black's move 64...h4 had some analysts saying that this was Kramnik's last mistake. Personnaly, I think he is lost no matter what he plays at this point. At 69.Kf7, Kramnik resigns! after falling into the zug-zwang (if it's your turn to move, but any move you make deteriorates your position) that Leko forced Kramnik into, he was no longer able to hold his "fortress" together. A sterling performance by the Hungarian GM, who made good on his promise to be more ambitious. I can hardly wait for tomorrow's game now that the match is level at 2.5 each.

by Shelby Long (2.10.04)

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