Today we will continue with the topic of converting an advantage according to Vladimir Kramnik. Over the past few weeks we have covered different methods that Kramnik uses to bring home points from better positions. Today's article does not have a unifying topic of a single method, but is rather a combination of different ideas and interesting examples from Kramnik's play.
The first two positions feature sharp tactical complications, which Kramnik entered by choice in the first position and by necessity in the second. The last two positions are more of technical nature where Kramnik restricts the opponent's play with positional and tactical means.
Better development and d-file give White an advantage. With the last move Black threatens to take the pawn on h2, so h3 is very natural, right? In my game I would probably play it without thinking too much about the alternatives. The move is very natural, improves White's position and keeps a significant advantage.
However, we should ask what is Black's next move? Probably Bf5, defending the e4-pawn after which Black needs just one more move to consolidate: Rd8. Kramnik probably noticed all of this and chose a concrete move that required tons of calculations but which is ultimately the strongest move in the position. When faced with a small advantage after a calm move, or a bigger advantage that required tactical complications, Kramnik chose the second one. He has perfect feel for timing. Here he doesn't waste time on improving the position because Black can significantly improve his position while White can only improve his slightly.
While in the above example Kramnik had a choice between two continuations, in the next example he has to go all in. White is up a pawn but his pieces are not that well-placed, while Black's pieces are active - Rc3 & Ne5 coordinate well and threaten the white king. There is no quiet move that will do the job of keeping the advantage, so White has to go into tactical complications and foresee four moves ahead of the simplifications that will bring this major advantage. There is no way around it - one has to train tactics to be able to execute strategic ideas properly!
The next two examples are of a different nature. They are more of the kind where Kramnik keeps the opponent's active resources to a minimum, while keeping his line of play. Hikaru Nakamura built some initiative against the white king, and it is Kramnik's turn to quench it and convert two extra pawns. For now the g3-pawn is hanging and there is no direct way to defend it, so Kramnik uses tactics to win few tempos and find a defense along the third rank, which is not obvious at all. By counter-attacking the black king, Kramnik regroups his pieces to build a defense of the g3-pawn.
In the last position Kramnik is dominating because of Black's discoordinated rooks, more space, d-file control and overall better placed pieces. It is not clear how to improve the position though. Black seems to be defending his weaknesses on b6 and h6 and if given a chance, he will bring the a-rook closer to the center. Kramnik chooses a strategy where he threatens the black king and at the same time further misplaces the black pieces. This might take some time but the 14th World Champion is patient in his implementation!
Next week we will wrap up with examples from Kramnik's most recent play and then I will show you a few examples from my recent practice where I followed or failed to follow Kramnik's methods.