Converting Advantage According to Kramnik, Part 2

Converting Advantage According to Kramnik, Part 2

| 21 | Middlegame

This article continues the series on Kramnik's conversion of advantage. Last week we talked about a method where Kramnik first maximally improves his pieces and only then proceeds to more direct ways of converting the advantage. This article featured games where Kramnik's pieces were already well placed and where it was time to be direct.

Kramnik is very aggressive when it comes to the method of a direct attack. In fact, if there is a quiet solution or a sharp one, Kramnik most likely will go for the latter. This way of playing is good to bring home points quickly, but can backfire if the position gets too complex to calculate. We will see a few examples where Kramnik effectively used this method and one or two where he didn't find the right moves in the complications.

The many mistakes we will see in the first example is probably due to its fast time control. Nonetheless it shows some of Kramnik's preferences.

There is no question that Black is better due to the extra pawn and exchange. The knight on h1 might not get out but White needs to spend time, which he doesn't have, on capturing it. If Kramnik wanted to improve his pieces he could have played ...Rc7 and ...Rhc8 doubling on the c-file. However, he found an interesting idea of penetrating the second rank by giving up extra material.

Here we see a transformation of advantage from long-term, which is material, to short-term, which is the initiative. In time trouble or at a faster time control it is especially unpleasant to face a strong initiative, so from a practical perspective his decision is fully justified.

At no point Black was worse, and in the best-case scenario maybe White could have equalized. If you look at the initial position and the one three moves later, they are so different that it is hard to comprehend what happened! I find that this game represents very well Kramnik's aggressive style of converting an advantage.

In the next game, from the same match, Kramnik found the right idea of a breakthrough at the right time, but he missed the correct follow-up. Black is better due to the bishop pair and strong central pawns. However, his position is bit loose and there are many weaknesses. The 14th World Champion correctly decides that this is the time for direct actions as White is already threatening to take the a-pawn. After a series of forced moves the position was more or less balanced, but Navara erred later in the game and lost.

Implementing the right idea correctly is very hard and even players from Kramnik's calibre sometimes fail to do so.

The example below is highly aesthetic. Kramnik is down a pawn but his position is better due to the poorly placed black king and Black's underdevelopment. Kramnik goes for a piece sacrifice but instead gets a pair of passed pawns on the queenside. This solution was straightforward and probably the strongest. This time he calculated everything well and also implemented it very well. Notice how White almost cannot  improve his pieces while Black can, with ...R8d8 for example. Thus, there is no time for piece shuffling in this position for White; instead it's time for action!

The last two examples are about intermediate moves. Yes, those are very important and sometimes combinations can only work with such moves included! Roughly the thinking process goes like this: "I am better and it feels like there should be some combination. Oh, this sacrifice doesn't work because the black rook defends a key square. Can I first chase it away and only then play the key move? Yes!"

We saw that Bxf7 didn't work right away because the white bishop got blocked by the knight at the end of the variation. However, after including Bc7! the bishop could come back to d6 and threaten the queen at any time.

Kramnik at the Tal Memorial last week | Photo Eteri Kublashvili

In the last example Kramnik used an intermediate move to win time for his queen to transfer to the queenside.

In the last two positions we saw Kramnik's play when the enemy king lacks protection - his attacks are precise and elegant. The open king can be either a long-term or a short- term advantage.

Against Bruzon it was a short-term advantage, because the f7-weakness could have been defended. In the last example, however, it was a long-term advantage as the dark squares were permanently weak. In both scenarios Kramnik acted in a similar manner - seeking tactical solutions.

We will look at more methods of Kramnik's skills of converting an advantage next week!

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