Copyright by Ilias Kourkounakis

IVANCHUK,V (2710) - KRAMNIK,V (2685) [B57]
Linares (6), 1993
(annotations by IM Ilias Kourkounakis)

I first met Kramnik in the 1992 Halkidiki tournament in northern Greece, one of his earliest important international wins. Naturally he made a deep impression, but it was not yet clear to me whether he was simply an extremely strong GM or he had world championship potential. Proof of the latter came in 1993, when he made both a competitive and creative breakthrough. First, he proved that he could compete on an equal basis with other, already established, stars of the younger generation.] 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bc4 Qb6
[This move is popular among players that wish to avoid theoretical battles in variations with novelties after the 20th move, often when the contours of the endgame are already clear. After 6...Qb6, we get typical asymmetric "Sicilian" positions, with the battle taking place in thw middlegame.
I suspect Kramnik simply wanted to preserve more tension in the game and force his opponent to think indepentently from early on.]

7.Nb3 e6 8.Bf4
[A rather rare continuation, usually encountered after the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 Qb6 7.Nb3 e6 8.Bf4 Ne5 etc. ] 

8...Ne5 9.Be2
[The ECO version of the day mentions only 9.Bb5+ , which only goes to show both how incomplete such books still are at the end of the 20th century and how easy it is to find new continuations in established openings and overplayed variations.] 

9...a6 10.Bg3
[This is probably the wrong diagonal for the B. Ivanchuk's idea is to strengthen the breakthrough e4-e5, but it seems better to strive for better control of the centre with the classical B retreat to e3.]

[The best reply to white's plan, at the same time declaring Kramnik's ambitious intentions.] 

11.h3 Qc7 12.f4
[White cannot prevent the typical ...Ne5-c4 idea, therefore Ivanchuk has no reason to delay the advance prepared by his earlier moves.] 

12...Nc4 13.Bxc4 Qxc4 14.Qf3 h4 15.Bh2 Bd7 16.0-0-0 Rc8
[Black's best plan is definitely to leave the King in the centre and focus his attention on the c-file. In this way, Kramnik avoids spending a precious tempo on the colorless developing move ...Bf8-e7. When the battle for the initiative has begun early, very often both sides need to disobey several classic strategic rules. An unavoidable result is that the chance of winning or losing increases sharply relatively to the splitting of the point.] 

[17.Rhf1 might be preferable.] 

17...b5 18.Qf2
[Ivanchuk both defends the critical c2 square and removes the Q from the h1-a8 diagonal. The latter will become especially sensitive after e4-e5, since by playing ...Bd7-c6 with gain of tempo Black will be able to give ample support to the Nf6 for occupation of d5, instead of an embarassing retreat.] 



[The advance 18...b4 would prove premature after 19.Rd4 and 20.Rxb4.] 

[This move presupposes serious commitment, therefore it required exact calculations. The game continuation will prove that Kramnik had seen one more move...
The critical question at this point is whether White had any other alternatives, since Black threatens to acquire the initiative permanently with 19...b4. In other words, we have a typical case (in chess, as well as in life) in which it is easy to be critical but difficult to provide constructive solutions. Maybe White had more chances after 19.a3 d5 (it is worth noting that Black may choose the calmer 19...a5 , which means that Kramnik is already in a position to control the rythme of the battle) 20.exd5 (not 20.e5 Bxa3 21.bxa3 Qxc3 22.exf6 Qxb3) 20...Bxa3; 
or 19.Rd4 a5 20.a3 d5 . Naturally, both these continuations need further analytical exploration, but at the board it is extremely difficult to conduct calculations with several choices at each juncture.] 

19...b4 20.Rd3
[It is quite obvious that Ivanchuk counted on this move when he played 19.e5, since both 20.Ne4 Nxe4 21.Rxe4 d5; 
and 20.exf6 bxc3 21.fxg7 (or 21.f5 cxb2+ 22.Kb1 e5 23.fxg7 Bxg7) 21...cxb2+ 22.Kb1 Bxg7 23.f5 e5 lead to an undisputable advantage for Black. It is worth noting how much more useful the B proves to be in f8 rather than in e7 in these sub-variations.] 

20...dxe5 21.fxe5 bxc3 22.Rxc3 

[There was a chance to bail out of the middlegame complications by playing 22.exf6 Qxh2 23.Rxd7 , but after 23...Qg3 24.Qxg3 hxg3 25.Ra7 cxb2+ 26.Kxb2 gxf6 27.Rxa6 f5 Black would have an appreciable advantage in the endgame, since the N cabbot cooperate well with the Rs in this type of position.] 

[An impessive positional Q sacrifice, leading to complete Black domination over the whole board. Ivanchuk had probably calculated the continuation 22...Qb8 23.Rxc8+ Bxc8 24.Rf1 (not 24.exf6 Qxh2 and White gets insufficient compensation for the piece) 24...Rh7 (better than 24...Nd5 25.Qxf7+ Kd8 26.Nd4 Qb6 27.Bg1 with the white pieces sufficiently active) 25.Qf4 Be7 26.exf6 Qxf4+ 27.Bxf4 gxf6 with considerable chances of resistance.] 

23.bxc3 Ba3+
[As well as in several variations, the game continuations justifies Kramnik's reluctance to develop this B modestly much earlier on e7.] 

[As often happens immediately after a scarifice, the receiver loses his balance because of the suprise. Ivanchuk could resist much better with 24.Kb1 Nd5 25.Bf4 , when more of his pieces will participate in the defence of the King.] 

[This N guarantees Black an extremely important stronghold on the centre. This in turn will help the coordination of the other Black pieces, so that Kramnik will gradually establish full control of all critical open lines. His minor pieces will deprive the enemy Q and R of any active possibilities, while the Bh2 will remain a passive spactator of the events. Naturally, all this does not mean that the position is easily won for Black. As Ivanchuk's last move testifies, after such positional sacrifices ther is a critical transitional phase, in which both sides must create anew the foundations of the novel situation and any misstep may ruin everything.] 

[Ivanchuk correctly searches for the best possible practical resistance in piece activity. His problem is that Black's configuration remains extremely compact, therefore he cannot find any serious weaknesses to attack -creating new ones would require too much time, which he cannot afford.
Another attempt at activity is 25.Qa7 , but it fails conclusively and swiftly after 25...Rxc3 . A typical continuation then is 26.Qxa6 Rxc2+ 27.Kd1 (or 27.Kxc2 Nb4+) 27...Rxa2 28.Qa8+ Ke7 29.Qxh8 Nc3#.] 

[Kramnik's winning plan is crystal-clear: doubling Rs on the c-file and capturing the c-pawn, opening an avenue to the enemy fortress. White cannot oppose this simple idea, therefore Ivanchuk's only chance is to seek tactical complications.] 

[To no result leads also 26.Rxh4 0-0 27.Qe2 (planning the crude Qe2-h5) 27...Be7 (or the equally simple 27...Rfc8 ) 28.Re4 Bg5+ etc.] 

[Finally and decisively!] 

27.Qxh4 Rfc8 28.Nd4
[The attempt at perpetual check with 28.Rxg7+ proves useless after 28...Kxg7 29.Qg5+ Kf8 30.Qh6+ Ke8 31.Qh8+ Bf8 .] 

28...Bb4 29.Ke2
[Or 29.Kc1 Ne3 with an easy win for Black.] 

29...Bb5+ 30.Nxb5
[After 30.Kf2 Rxc2+ 31.Nxc2 Rxc2+ White may choose only among the alternatives 32.Kf3 Be2+ 33.Ke4 Rc4# and (32.Kg1 Rc1+ 33.Kf2 Be1+)]

30...Rxc2+ 31.Kf3 axb5 32.Rxb4 Nxb4 33.Qxb4 R8c3+ 0-1

This was only one more step in Kramnik's path towards improvement, but what a step!
More annotated games will follow, showing some of the strong and weak points of the combatants in the upcoming World Championship Match.