Converting Advantage According to Kramnik, Part 3
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.
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.
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.