Converting Advantage According to Kramnik, Part 3

  • WIM energia
  • | Jul 5, 2013

Today we will continue with the topic started a few articles ago on how Vladimir Kramnik converts an advantage. No doubt Kramnik is one of the best technical players out there, and therefore it is of interest to observe what kind of methods he uses when having a better position.

The method we will look at today is using pawn breaks and pawn sacrifices to build up the initiative and the attack. When having a choice of a pawn sacrifice or a calmer continuation, Kramnik tends to choose an active pawn break and to play with the initiative. Overall, when it comes to converting advantages, Kramnik plays quite forcingly and ruthless and he is not afraid to lose material for positional gains.

The first position is rather typical. In Queen's Gambit games, the d5 break is one of the most common ideas. Here, Kramnik's position is better due to better placed pieces and Black's weaknesses on the queenside and weakened dark squares on the kingside. Notice how White has weakened king too, but the black pieces are in no position to attack (the bishop on a6 does not attack anything, for example).

After the natural Nf3 (planning to play Ne5) White will have a solid edge but nothing decisive. Kramnik opts for a pawn break that opens the position and lets the white queen and knight enter the game.

A powerful demonstration by Kramnik! Notice how the c6-pawn and the long diagonal became weak after the d5-break. Black couldn't coordinate his forces to defend both weaknesses.

Kramnik at Wijk aan Zee 2005 | Photo Wikipedia

In the following example, Kramnik's position is better for several reasons. His pawn structure is better and he has more space, whereas Black still has to complete the development and has weaknesses on c6 and e6. Due to his space advantage on the queenside, that's where Kramnik should advance and 15.b4 is already a strong move.

However, one should ask: what is Black's plan here? Clearly, ridding himself of the weakness on c6 is a good idea. Moreover, after the ...c5 he can place the knight on a more active square: c6. Kramnik uses the fact that Black is underdeveloped, and sacrifices a pawn to gain more time. He manages to bring the bishop into play fast and to  develop the initiative, using the weaknesses on the light squares.

Vaganian did not manage to untangle his pieces after Kramnik's pawn sacrifice. Notice how the 14th World Champion did not go for a win of an exchange but instead kept the pressure and limited Black's play. Kramnik consistently played against one bad piece in Black's position - the knight on b8. The knight could never get into play and Black was virtually down a piece.  

Rafael Vaganian | Photo Wikipedia

In the next position Kramnik has a choice of winning a pawn after Bxh5 or continuing differently. One of the key advantages in the position for White is the strong d5-pawn. For now the knight on d7 blocks the pawn and after Bxh5 White will lose a bishop that could have threatened this knight. Moreover, after Bxh5 White loses the advantage of the bishop pair.

White should take all these considerations into account when thinking of what to do in this position. Kramnik made the right choice of keeping the bishop and created room for it to be more active.

Once the pawn started to move, Black had a very hard time defending. A passed pawn is one of the most significant advantages a player can have.

In the last example we will see that a pawn break needs to be prepared. This is especially relevant when the stronger side has time to do so, and when the weaker side does not have a plan that significantly improves his position.

In the following position White has a strong centralized setup, while Black has to resolve the problem of the c8-bishop. Normally one plays along the a2-g8 diagonal here since Ne5 and Bc4 put pressure on the f7-pawn. However, it is not as easy to break through because the Bc8 participates in the defense of the e6-pawn and in controlling the f5-square. In the game White finds a way to reposition his pieces so that Bc8 will not participate in defense.

Surely, the d5-break was more of a tactical break in this position but I am sure Kramnik foresaw it when he decided to transfer the bishop to the b1-h7 diagonal. Any alternative would be inferior as the d5-break decides the game on the spot.

Next week we will continue with methods used by Kramnik when converting an advantage.


  • 3 years ago


    i greatly enjoy this articles !!!

  • 3 years ago


    Nice article. But I am confused a little bit. In the first game (against Timman the last move was Re4, instead, had Karmnic played Nd7 +?! then is there any advantage ? I dont know, can some one tell me?..... oh! I got it now! Q has only one squre a5 n when horse is removed he is mated next move, oh! ya, good one thanks for the article, after all GMs rt? ...;-)

  • 3 years ago

    FM Fawolizzo


  • 3 years ago


    This series of articles changed my opinion about Kramnik

  • 3 years ago


    wow how good kramnik!

  • 3 years ago


    Check out Part 2 - Kramnik played Black i all of those

  • 3 years ago



    That is not the point at all.  You did not get or you did not understand the whole thing I tried to explain.  

  • 3 years ago


    Ok yeah that makes sense you play better with white 

  • 3 years ago


    White didn't resign the last game.  The score is 1-0.

  • 3 years ago


    why did white resign in the last game

  • 3 years ago


    My favorite <3

  • 3 years ago


    kramnik plays more like karpov

  • 3 years ago


    Great article, however can we get rid of the spam please?

  • 3 years ago


    Best chess player ever !

  • 3 years ago


    Ariel_Demian, 26... Nxd7 27 Qe7+ Rf7 28 Bxf7 Bxf7 29 Rxd7 and other variations with the same idea. I think.

  • 3 years ago


    A fantasic series I'm finaly starting to understand how top GM's play through the help of this series and my chess has started to improve. Looking forward to the next part. 

  • 3 years ago


    Nice to see how he manages to break through in these games.  Looking forward to next week's segment!  Thanks.

  • 3 years ago


    Yes, there is a reason,  @ chessplayer.   Kramnik plays, more often than not, very strategically rich openings and he steers the game to rich strategic struggles.  He does this as White better than anything else since White moves first and he can choose the flank or 1.d4 openings which heavily place the odds in favor of reaching such type of games in which he excels.

    As Black, at the very top of chess, maintaining your advantage or increasing the advantage you start with is just not happening much, very very rare, and usually only happens when White just starts the opening badly.  At the top, these players, as White, are very good at starting very well and playing strongly to keep the advantage of the "tennis serve".  

    As Black, you first steer to equalize or neutralize the advantage White starts with.  If you have not equalized yet, then you must defend, NOT try to squeez the advantage you have not gotten yet.  As Black you try to equalize from any disadvantage, then try to get an advantage after such, (assuming no blunders), then try to convert.

    I hope that is making a bit more sense now.

  • 3 years ago


    Interesting topic ... this might be my favorite of the Converting Advantage-Kramnik articles so far!  The game vs. Tiviakov might have been my favorite to follow through ... the pawn break leading to passed pawns is pretty neat! Thanks for the insights!

  • 3 years ago


     Do you notice that as the years pass Kramnik's rating gets higher.

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