The Secrets Of The Berlin Endgame
"Every time the Berlin endgame shows up on the board," GM Vladimir Kramnik remarked a few weeks ago, "everyone starts to cry quietly, [because] such positions are boring. However, games are often full of exciting play, although there are no queens."
For the last decade, the Berlin, which arises after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 (diagram), has been a frequent guest at super tournaments.
According to my database, this position first appeared more than 120 years ago, in a little-known encounter between Carl Wemmers and Fritz Riemann (Braunschweig, 1880).
With the advent of infallible chess computers, it has been analyzed, tested, re-analyzed, and re-tested ad infinitum, and the vast majority of Berlin encounters between super grandmasters end with no blood spilled — a tendency that has contributed to its unsavory reputation among club players.
In this article, I would like to dispute this reputation and unlock some of the Berlin's fascinating tactical and positional intricacies by closely examining a recent battle between GM Michael Adams and Kramnik.
Like I did a few weeks ago with Fabiano Caruana's victory over Hikaru Nakamura at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, I will split this game up into three phases: The Theoretical Phase, The Maneuvering Phase, and the Technical Phase.
Hopefully, this will allow us to shine a brighter light on the course of the game and on its critical moments. Buckle up!
The Theoretical Phase
Kramnik can definitely be satisfied with the outcome of the opening. He has succeeded in driving Adams out of familiar waters with 14...Bc4, and reached a position that he doubtless scrutinized before the tournament.
The Maneuvering Phase
Wow! It is not often that one of the strongest endgame players of all time is completely outplayed in an opening that he has analyzed and played to exhaustion.
One would assume that Adams would have no trouble making a few accurate moves to finish the job, but — as the old platitude goes — it isn't over till the fat lady sings.
The Technical Phase
The Berlin is a monster indeed: one slight miscalculation can instantly negate a fantastic positional effort.
Super GMs do not have an easy life!
While this game ultimately ended in a draw, one should never judge a game by its result, or an opening by its statistical tendencies.
When deconstructed, an outwardly mundane encounter can serve as a fantastic learning experience on several levels. Hopefully, this game was just that!
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