Today we start a new series: 'Convert an Advantage According to Kramnik'. Vladimir Kramnik is not only one of the best players in the world, but also one of the best technical players. Converting an advantage, either positional or material, is not a mundane task and one has to spend hours polishing it. By scrutinizing the games of Kramnik, who converts advantages superbly, we can spot common patterns and methods and hopefully learn how to utilize them in our own practice.
The series will consist of five or six articles, each dedicated to a particular element or technique of Kramnik's advantage conversion. In this short introduction we will look at some examples that feature some but not all of the topics of the next articles.
Method 1: Maximally improve pieces, and then go for winning material. Kramnik is up a pawn but the pawn is currently blocked by an excellently placed knight on d5. What to do? Kramnik's approach at first is pretty simple: with the previous moves he tied Black's forces to the weakness on b6 and with the next series of moves he displaces his opponent's pieces from good positions, captures the open c-file and aims to exchange a pair of rooks. To sum it up: activation and exchanges.
Let us stop for a moment at try to figure out why 34...Rc6 is a mistake. First of all, a rule of thumb is: if you are down material, avoid exchanges. But another rule states that queen and knight is a better combination than queen and bishop. Here, after the rook trade, Black is left with a Q+N combo and with White's open king it might become dangerous. All this is true, but White controls an open file and has an extra central pawn. With such centralization White can afford that open king and get away with it by threatening a queen trade.
The game was played at the London Chess Classic in December 2011 | Photo Ray Morris-Hill
Kramnik follows a concrete solution to the position; he is not too lazy to calculate an extra line or two to achieve a decisive advantage!
The next example can belong to the same category, as Kramnik does not go for extra material but opts for activating his last piece. Overall, his position is close to winning: the b6-pawn is strong, the white pieces are all active and the black king is open. The only disadvantage for White is that he's down an exchange.
Here, Kramnik can win back an exchange with 30.Ba3 or find some other way to continue. The answer comes easy if you ask which piece does not participate in the attack, and it turns out to be Be2. Kramnik finds quite a unique maneuver here, which works because the black queen is overloaded: it defends the e5-bishop and has to protect the king at the same time.
Kramnik-Giri at the 2011 Univé Tournament | Photo courtesy of Univé Chess
Method 2: Direct tactical win by calculations. The next example is about positional domination. The white rook on b7 can already do some damage on the 7th rank. The knight on c6 is not defended and Black has weak pawns on a7, e5 and f7. Would you believe that the game ended in just a few moves?
Once again, Kramnik chooses the most decisive way to convert the advantage, which requires calculation, but the first move is rather obvious.
Method 3: Active defense. In the next example Kramnik shows how to defend while creating threats at the same time. He is up a pawn but Black created counterplay around Kramnik's king. Moreover, Nc3 is under attack and Nc2 forking the queen is a threat. White's approach is first to exchange the queens, which makes sense given the scope of Black's attack, and then to calculate variations carefully to see that his advantages are more significant than the opponent's.
Yes, some of the variations look scary with the rook on the 2nd rank and the knight around the king, especially since the black king is participating too. Kramnik calculated everything well to see that his advantage is more important.
We looked at a few examples illustrating some methods Kramnik is using in his conversion of material or positional advantages. As we go along with this topic, we will discover new methods and techniques and add to the few already mentioned. In the next article we will explore in-depth the first method!