Copyright by Ilias Kourkounakis
PORTISCH,L - KRAMNIK,V [D13]
interzonal Biel, 1993
(annotations by IM Ilias Kourkounakis)
[To my mind, a player has arrived and made his mark when he starts winning convincingly against strong members of the previous generation. Chess is not really a physical sport, so you have to prove that you think at least as well as they do. In the following game against a player who is still going strong in 2000, Kramnik produces classic play and shoes that he has absorbed most of the lessons of the past. Maybe now he is ready to create something new in chess and move forward.]
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Ne4
[An unusual move at this point, with the obvious point of creating some asymmetry in the position and thus provide winning opportunities for Black. In the case of blind copying of all White moves, eventually the right of the first move will acquire decisive proportions, for example by creating an important threat which cannot be imitated immediately. Portisch had an excellent score in this variation in the past, despite its seemingly harmless character, for example he won two games from Petrosian, perhaps the most solid of world champions.
It is true that moving repeatedly the same piece goes against one of the most basic rules of opening strategy, Kramnik however decides on the text only after the pawn situation has already been sufficiently stabilized. Besides, he plans to use a new idea by Dorfman, which will provide adequate compensation for the time lost.]
7.e3 Nxc3 8.bxc3 g6
[Fianchettoing the black-squared B concludes the idea of the N exchange. In order to avoid the consequences of the backward pawn on the semi-open file, White will most certainly want to play c3-c4. Exchanging pawns then will lead to a formation characteristic either of the semi-Tarrasch defence to the Queen's Gambit or the exchange variation of the Grunfeld Defence, depending on where the Bf8 is developed. Kramnik correctly judges that its placement on the long diagonal is much more active and effective.]
[Portisch concludes his development before starting any central activity. Previously, the game Ehlvest-Neverov, Elsinki 1992, had seen 9.c4 Bg7 10.cxd5 Qxd5 11.Be2 Qa5+ 12.Qd2 0-0 with equality. Another option for White is to play; 9.Bd3 Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.e4 , using the alternative cental breakthrough to achive a typical position with "hanging" pawns. In this case, Kramnik suggests 11...Bg4 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Qxf3 e5 14.exd5 (or 14.dxe5 d4) 14...Nxd4 15.cxd4 exf4 with full equality.]
9...Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.c4
[Portisch always follows classic strategic rules, which he believes in and trusts completely. After concluding the development of his minor pieces, he follows the only active plan available.
The game continuation demonstrates why the younger generation of chessplayers shows a marked preferance for asymmetrical positions: when different strategic elements clash, as here White's central pawn mass with Black's majority on the queenside, striving for the whole point is much easier. Naturally, this approach entails a higher risk of losing, but most young fighting players do not worry much about this.]
[The pawn distibution over the whole board has a striking resemblance to the Grunfeld Defence exchange variation, usually arising after the move-order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3. White has created a powerful pawn centre, against which Black usually counterattacks with the flank breakthrough ...c7-c5 and piece pressure.
In this specific position, the White centre is definitely not treatening and also has no real potential to become dangerous in the future. Its mobility is severely restricted by Black's excellent control of critical central squares, e.g. the desired pawn advance e3-e4 would expose its partner on d4. This means that other features of the position acquire primary importance, most of all the open file that separates the enemy pawn majorities]
[The success of Kramnik's opening plan is demonstrated by the variation 12...Bg4 13.h3 Bxf3 14.Qxf3 e5 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Bxe5 Bxe5 17.Rad1 Qe7 18.Bd5 Rab8 , which leads to complete equality. The young Russian is obviously determined not to release the tension too early and therefore tries to traet the position according to Steinitz's time-tested principles: he attempts to realize his own small advantages and at the same time to neutralize those features of the position in which White is superior.;
Another option at this point is 12...a6 , which most probably would lead to the game continuation via a different move order. Generally speaking, if there is an option in similar cases, activating the pieces is preferable to pawn advances on the wing.]
[Both players understand perfectly the meaning of the open file between their pawn majorities and strive to control it. This, however, means a "moral" opening victory for Kramnik, since in the orthodox exchange variation of the Grunfeld Defence White usually transfers the Ra1 to d1 and either advances the pawn duo d4-e4, in order to create a powerful passed pawn, or benefits from the stable situation in the centre to launch an attack againts the enemy King, e.g. with h2-h4 or sometimes by 0-0 and f2-f4-f5 etc.
A similar approach in the use of the rooks is also much more productive for White in the related semmi-Tarrasch variation of the Quuen's Gambit, mentioned earlier.]
[Immediate activity on the queenside with 14...Na5 15.Bd3 Bxd3 16.Qxd3 Qd7 would prove premature after 17.Qa3 , when White challenges for the initiative in this most important sector of the board. The partial advance ot the a-pawn does not by itself indicate Kramnik's intention to capitalize quickly on his pawn majority, but is only part of his effort to control critical space by combining piece and pawn activity.]
[A "soft" move, giving a strong message that Portisch finds it difficult to create an active long-term plan. 15.Rfd1 was preferable, or, even better,;
15.d5 Na5 16.e4 challenging for the initiative in the centre.]
15...Na5 16.Bd3 Bxd3 17.Qxd3 Qd7
[Black already stands somewhat better.]
[According to the new circumstances, Portisch is right to fucus his attention on the open file between the rival pawn majorities. The advance 18.e4 proves less than useless after 18...Qa4 , since the white pawns find it difficult to advance any further, while in the variation;
18.Qa3 Nc4 19.Qb4 (or 19.Qb3 b5) 19...b5 Black already has the initiative: he has already made significant progress in that part of the battle field where he is superior, while White has remained passive in the centre. A typical variation then is 20.a4 Nb6 21.axb5 Nd5 etc.]
[The continuation 19.Ra3 Nc4 20.Rxa6 Qb7 is simply wrong for White, since the rook's lonely excursion into enemy territory results only in its entrapment. Also prospectless is;
19.Rxc8 Rxc8 20.Qa3 Qd8 , when Black may continue ...e7-e6 and ...Bg7-f8, gradually activating all his pieces on the critical sector of the board.]
[Portisch has managed to double his rooks on the open file, but he cannot use them because of the important enemy outpost on c4. As often happens, control of a vertical line is determined by the minor pieces rather than the rooks.]
[The continuation 20.Nd2 e5 21.dxe5 Qxd3 22.Rxd3 Nxe5 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 leads to a clear superiority for Black and thus justifies Kramnik's choise not to strive too early for the cental breakthrough ...e7-e5 (for example, if he had played 12...Bg4).;
Also pointless would be 20.e4 f5 when widening the battlefront benefits Black more, since his pieces and pawns cooperate much better. Portisch removes his Q from the partial pin on thw d-file, while it is worth mentioning that tripling on the c-file with;
20.Qc2 allows Black to eventually assume its control, since after 20...Nb6 (with the simple idea 21...Rxc3 22.Qxc3 Rc8 etc.) 21.Rc7 the placement of the Q between the Rs allows the typical tactical trick 21...Rxc7 22.Qxc7 Rc8 23.Qxd7 Rxc1+ and 24...Nxd7.]
[The game has entered a critical transition phase, during which both players will need to make some important decisions. Black retains better long-term prospects, due mainly to the queenside pawn pajority, but White is not without his trumps, since Portisch has managed to activate all his pieces. If he finds the time to play a2-a4xb5, the enemy isolated pawn will become passed prematurely and thus will require constant protectio and attention from its fellow pieces. Those may prove to be passively placed and unable to support its further advance. Besides, it is generally useful for Kramnik to keep the enemy a-pawn on the board, since later he may come to attack it. The position bears a remarkable similarity to cases with material superiority, in which it is often sound policy to exchange pieces but not pawns.
The main point here is that Kramnik cannot simply count on the gradual improvement of his position, but instead he must give up something in order to neutralize Portisch's better control of the all-important c-file.]
[In order to free the way for the quuenside pawn majority, Kramnik pursues piece exchanges and therefore opens the only file that has no pawns on it. Despite the fact that, for the time being, Portisch retains its control, the superior coordination of the black pieces renders it quite harmless.]
[Naturally, Portisch does not agree on the exchange of all four rooks, since in that case he would lose his only real positional advantage.]
[An important strategic mistake, that will prove quite costly. Correct was 22.Be5 , as the game continuation proves a significant difference between the black-squared bishops -a difference not easily detected at first glance.;
It is also worth noting that even now the white central paawn majority should not be set in motion, e.g. 22.e4 Rxc7 23.Bxc7 (naturally, not 23.Rxc7 Nd5) 23...Rc8 24.Bf4 Rxc1+ 25.Bxc1 Qc6 26.Bf4 e6 , when control of the open files has been firmly transferred to Black. Kramnik would then be free to push the a and b-pawns without much hindrance.]
[Already the previous comment must have made clear that White cannot afford multiple exchanges, e.g. after 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Rxc8+ Qxc8 Black's superiority is undisputable ( 25.e4 Nc3 26.Qc2 Qc4 etc.).]
[A most important intermmediate move, that comes at exactly the right time: while preparing the enemy B's exile to the useless h2-b8 diagonal, Black creates a useful escape square for his king.
The future will prove Kramnik's foresight.]
[Another timely advance, creating a strong square for the knight deep inside the enemy lines. Strategically speaking, the position may be judged already lost for White, since there is no adequate plan to compensate for the extra enemy queenside pawn. The only thing missing for Black is a way to ensute his B's participation in the attack.]
[The variation 25.Qc4 Rxc5 26.Qxc5 (even worse is 26.dxc5 Nc3 27.Qxe6 fxe6 28.Rc2 g5 29.Bg3 Rc8 etc.) 26...Nc3 27.Rc2 Qe4 is indicative of the difficulties faced by Portisch.]
[This is Kramnik's second N that lands on c3, but what a difference!]
26.Rxc8 Rxc8 27.Kh1
[A logical reaction, since the b-pawn was immune on account of the N check on e2. Nevertheless, Black may react in similar fashion, but in a muchmore productive way.]
[The routine move in such a situation is 27...a5 , but really strong players are distinguished by non-routine reactions in "pedestrian" positions. Kramnik realizes that his illustrious opponent has prepared in reply the continuation 28.a3 Na4 29.Rxc8+ Qxc8 30.Qb3 Qc1+ 31.Kh2 Qxa3 32.Qd5 , when he would obtain active counterplay for no sufficient reason. In the final position of this variation White has taken full control over the centre, while Black's pieces are scattered over the board and have lost their coordination.
The move chosen by Kramnik is less obvious, but much stronger. Now Portisch lacks the possibility of an 8th rank check and is thus forced to assume a purely passive approach, which means he is doomed in the long run, because of the ever-present queenside pawn majority.
The immediate threat is 28...Na4 29.Qb1 Rxc1+ 30.Qxc1 Qxa2 31.Bxe7 b3, so there is no real choice for the Hungarian grandmaster.]
[The previously proud R assumes a pathetic role, but immediately losing were 28.Qb3 Nxa2 and;
28.a3 Na4 etc.]
[Another positional mistake, that accelerates White's downfall. It would be much preferable to play 29.Nd2 , bringing extra firepower to the critical front.]
[Portisch probably underestimated how strong this exchange is for Black, eliminating yet another serious obstacle to the advance of the queenside pawn majority.]
[Choosing the correct moment for each pawn advance is a true hallmark of the very greatest masters. White's pressure against the e-pawn is neutralized only when the weakening of the King's pawn cover has no longer negative consequences.]
[Naturally, Kramnik had forseen that the enemy b-pawn was insufficient to block his majority's triumphant advance.]
[For example, after 32.bxa4 b3 33.Nd2 b2 34.Re1 Nxa4 the powerful threat ...Rc8-c1 end the battle immediately.]
[A tremendous passed passed pawn has resulted from Kramnik's consistent play. The rest of the game is purely technical transposition of Black's superiority to a whole point, but it is not without interest.]
[Portisch correctly prevents ...Nc3-e2 and ...Rc8-c2, so Kramnik must now search for an alternative path to invading the enemy lines.
Naturally, immediately losing was 33.Nc4 Rxc4 34.bxc4 a2 etc.] [Black may achieve the win in several different ways, for example 33...f5 threatening 34...f4. Kramnik discovers an even faster road to victory, which is expecially satisfying since it justifies the choise of the specific opening variation and punishes White for the omission to play 22.Be5.]
[The protected passed pawn forces the White pieces to retain passive positions and thus proves stronger with each new exchange or line opening.] 34.d5 [Also useless was 34.Bxe5 Bxe5 35.dxe5 Rd8 36.Nc4 Rd1+ etc.]
34...a2 35.Ra1 e4
[Now the difference in strength between the Bs is more than obvious. The position has cleared sufficiently that Kramnik's relative time pressure cannot influence the proceedings.]
36.d6 Ra8 37.Nc4
[After 37.d7 Kramnik could take a small break in the advancement of his pawn majority and win the enemy passed pawn with 37...Rd8 . Then its insufficient protection proves convincingly how useless White's central mejority has been throughout the game.]
[Not the only, but certainly the quickest road to victory.]
[In strategically winning positions, tactical combinations often assist the swift exploitation of one's superiority.]
[Comparatively the best option, e.g. 39.Bxg7 Nxc4 etc., but it is already too late...]
39...Rxa2 40.Bxd6 Rxf2 41.Bxb4 Rf1+ 42.Kh2 Rb1
[42...Rb1 Portisch gave up at this point, quite justifiably. After 43.Nd2 Black can win in a variety of ways, for example 43...Be5+ 44.g3 Re1 etc.]