|[The match seems to be approaching a serious crisis in the competitive sense. Kramnik is not only leading by 1 point, he has also dominated the first quarter of the match in ourely chess terms. He has never been seriously threatened, while his classic strategy "win with White, draw with Black" seems to be working perfectly.
The only blemish in his performance up to now has been his failure to capitalize on a winning position in the previous game. Very often in similar situations, the player who missed a winning opportunity ends up losing the next battle. Coupled with the fact that Kasparov is due White, we should expect a "hot" afternoon.]
[Still, this is a surprise to me. Kasparov has used the English Opening on previous occasions and I expected him to play it again at some point in the match, but not when he is behind on the scoreboard.
Most variations of the English are notoriously solid and indicate a "safety first" approach. I thought Kasparov would prefer it towards the end of the match, leading or with equal points but not unwilling to split the point. Since Kramnik is also an expert on the English, I think the Champion's choice is an indication of weakness.
On the other hand, maybe Kasparov is trying to give his opponent a sens of security. If Kramnik feels safe enough, maybe he will overstep the mark and become vulnerable. However, the earlier games of the match indicate excellent balance by the challenger and I still believe Kasparov should use a more energetic approach.
In addition, avoidance of 1.e4 at this point admits temporary defeat in the theoretical duel on the Ruy Lopez.]
[As one might expect, Kramnik chooses the super-solid approach, compared to more asymmetrical systems that occur after 1...e5 . I expect the psychological battle to be fought around which player will move first his d-pawn two squares.
It might be added that the challenger arrived about 3 minutes late for the game, a rather unusual occurence for him.]
2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 d5
[The first serious declaration of the opening. Contrary to what happened in the "Berlin" games, here Kramnik is wiling to fight for more space in the centre. His lead allows him to assume a more principled stance, following a classic strategy without overextending.
It should be noted that, for psychological reasons, this move was likely to be played either now or not at all by Kramnik. After 3...Nc6 4.Nc3 d5 5.d4 there occurs one of his favourite variations of the English, in which he has excellent results as ...White! If Kasparov's idea was to have Kramnik play against himself, it has failed in this game.]
[As a matter of fact, the last encounter Kramnik-Kasparov (Linares 2000) saw 4.d4 . May I mention that their game with reversed colours from the same tournament is extensively analysed in my home page?]
4...Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Nc3
[An important decision. A significant alternative is 6...Nc7 , aiming to establish the "Maroczy Bind" with ...e7-e5 and fight for even more space in the centre. In that case Black would like to avoid piece exchanges, while it should be noted that the immediate push;
6...e5 fails against a typical combination: 7.Nxe5 Nxc3 (a necessary intermediate move, since 7...Nxe5 loses a P right away) 8.Bxc6+ (worse is 8.Nxc6 Nxd1 9.Nxd8 , because Black then has an intermediate move of his own, that is 9...Nxf2 , and thus restores material balance) 8...bxc6 9.dxc3 (probably superior to 9.bxc3), when the B pair provides insufficient compensation.
Kramnik's choice indicates a less ambitious but more solid disposition for this particular game.]
7.0-0 Bg7 8.Qa4
[This early Q exit represents a relatively new trend in this variation. Some time ago the continuation 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.d3 0-0 was much more popular, including the gambit 10.Be3 . Kasparov's idea is to create immediate pressure on Black's queenside and force some concession there regarding the pawn structure.]
[An unusual move in the opening often deserves another in response. The pin on the a4-e8 diagonal could become unpleasant when combined with pressure on its h1-a8 counterpart, so Kramnik removes a primary target from its exposed post. After 8...Nc7 9.Ne4 it would not be easy to defend the c-pawn without giving something else in return;
While the simplistic approach 8...0-0 allows 9.Qc4 and consequently forces the exchange 9...Nxc3 10.bxc3 which allows White superior long-term prospects in the centre.]
[Kasparov seems determined to provoke some complicatins today, even if they are more of a strategic nature than tactical. The attack on c5 aims to disorganize Black's pieces, before Kramnik manages to consolidate his spatial gains.]
[Of course, not 9...Qd6 10.Ne4 , but the alternative; 9...c4 should be seriously considered. I suspect Kramnik chose the move in the game in order to avoid any unnecessary transformation of the position to one with clearly asymmetrical pawn distribution (here this becomes possible after 10.b3).
The problem with 9...Nd7 is that the N blocks both B and Q, which means it will have to move again for Black to complete his development. At least, the position is sufficiently stable to prevent Kasparov from taking advantage of his time superiority.]
[Although Kasparov is White, Kramnik once again managed to get a position without easy pawn breaks by the Champion.]
[The unusual position of the Q cannot be taken advantage of in any direct way. For example, after 10...a6 11.Qa4 (better than 11.Qc4 b5) 11...Nb6 (now 11...b5 fails to 12.Nxb5 Nb6 13.Qe4) , both sides have retracted their moves (Qa4-b5-a4 and ...Nb6-d7-b6) with Black having played the dubious advance ...a7-a6. White then can play either 12.Qh4 or 12.Qa3 Nb4 13.Qa5 , when the threat to the c-pawn becomes annoying once again.]
[Another commital and therefore important decision. Also possible was the more restrained 11.Bd2 , so that after ...Nc6-d4 White can exchange Ns. Kasparov apparently wants to force the issue.]
[Practically forced. The only serious alternative to save the c-pawn was 11...a6 , whose defects were analysed above, since;
11...Qb6 12.Qxb6 is definitely unattractive.]
[The pair of Bs is not such an important asset in this kind of position, because the pawn structures of both armies are inflexible in the centre. Kasparov plans to make the white squares all over a major theater of the battle to come, so exchanging the black-squared B for a N shoyuld be profitable.]
[Both long diagonals have been blocked. However, here Kasparov enjoys a small but definite advantage: his Ns may move at any moment he considers appropriate, while the Pd4 will stay put no matter what. In return, Black has the more advanced central pawn.]
[Once again, Kramnik offers the exchange of Qs. The only other way to promote the development of the queenside pieces is 13...Nb6 , a distinctly inferior alternative. Kasparov's N could then use c5 with impunity, creating storn pressure in combination with the long diagonal and the c-file.
Reports say that Kasparov had spent much less time on the clock, a feature welcome to him after the experiences in previous games of the match.]
[Kasparov clearly aims to force ...a7-a6 and at the same time gain space on the queenside, but in return relinguishes the possibility of ever controlling b4 with a P. After the immediate 14.Qxb6 Nxb6 15.Rfc1 (now 15.Nc5 is pointless, since Black can again reply 15...Rd8 followed by ...Nb6-d5 and this time ...b7-b6) the one and only solid response is 15...Rd8 (15...Nd5 might prove quite risky after 16.Rc4) , e.g. 16.Rc2 Nd5 17.a3 b6 and Black is well on his way to consolidation.]
[Of course, not 14...Qxb5 15.axb5 and White acquires the important advantage of free pressure on the a-file.]
[It seems Kasparov spent a lot of time in deciding to follow Kramnik's overall match plan of exchanging Qs. The only serious alternative was 15.Qc4 , when Black cannot play 15...Qxb2 16.Rfb1 Qxe2 17.Ra2 and the Q gets trapped having eaten the poisoned b-pawn. White's pressure would havebeen at least equally strong with the Qs on, so I must confess I do not fully understand the Champion's choice. Perhaps he wished to give Kramnik some of his own medicine, that is a little torture in a queenless middlegame.]
15...Nxb6 16.a5 Nd5 17.Nc5
[For the time being, occupation of the open file with 17.Rfc1 is quite useless, as there are no invasion squares available. Kasparov correctly tries to impede Black's development instead, at the same time partially opening the long diagonal for his B.]
[At some point, the N will need some protection. Since Black does not have any constructive plan available, there is no better time like now.]
Now all of Kasparov’s pieces are becoming active and white uncovers the secret weapon: the bishop on g2! The knight can head to c4, threatening to win immediately with Bxd4 then Nb6 forking the rooks. [The N "looks" to b6, justifying Kasparov's choice three moves earlier, but there were some other ideas as well. 18.Ra4 may not prove as effective against 18...b6 , but worth investigating was;
18.Ra3 e5 (18...Rb8 19.Rb3 simply plays into White's hand, e.g. 19...b6 20.axb6 Rxb6 21.Rxb6 Nxb6 22.Ra1; , while no better is 18...b6 19.axb6 Nxb6 20.Rfa1 etc.) 19.Rb3 Ra7 and Black seems much worse than in the game.]
[Not only protecting the Pb7, but also moving away from the inevitable threat after Nd2-c4-b6.]
[Kramnik defends as best as he can, now preparing to challenge the N with ...Bg7-f8.]
[The attempt to establish a N on b6 permanently succeeds easily after 20.Na4 , but the continuation 20...Bd7 21.Nab6 Bc6 shows the restricted effectiveness of such a plan.]
[20...Bf8 appears more consistent, but then White has time for 21.Na4 Bd7 22.Nab6 Nxb6 (no better is 22...Bc6 23.Ne5 , which is why the B cannot leave the closed long diagonal without gain of tempo) 23.Nxb6 , e.g. 23...Bb5 24.Rc7 and Black is deep trouble.]
[Of course, not 21.Rc2 Nb4 and the R gets trapped between its own pieces! Nevertheless, abandoning the open file could not make Kasparov happy.]
[The passive B has accomplished one mission, so now it is redeployed for another.]
[Unlike Kasparov in game 4, Kramnik knows he must remain passive to have any chance of survival. After the seemingly liberating 22...b5 , there would follow 23.axb6 Nxb6 24.Ne5 and 25.Na5 with full domination of the queenside. The Nd5 is Black's most important piece and must stay there to hold the position together.]
[A commital decision, after thinking for quite some time. Apparently Kasparov believes he will never be able to lure the N away from its dominating central position, otherwise he would never surrender such a strong B for it.]
[As in his other Black games, Kramnik steers away from double-edged decisions. Here 23...exd5 24.Nb6 Bg4 would offer temporary counterplay against the backward e-pawn, but after 25.Kf1 Re8 26.Re1 Rbd8 27.Ra4 (better than 27.Rac1 Re7 , e.g. 28.Rc5 Bh3+ 29.Kg1 Bg4) 27...Bh3+ 28.Kg1 Bg4 29.Nxd4 Bxd4 30.Rxd4 he would get into some trouble.]
[Again Kasparov thought for a long time, despite Kramnik's obvious response. Did he miss something or misevaluated a crucial position?
The only important alternative at this point is 24.Nb6 , which Black must respond to with 24...Rb5 (the retreat 24...Rd8 is clearly unattractive after 25.Rc1) . White will continue 25.Nd2 , but after 25...e5 and ...Bc8-e6 Black should not experience any serious difficulties. The main point is that The R stands excellently on b5, for example it protects the e-pawn so that 26.Ndc4 can be neutrilzed with 26...Bf8 and the Nc4 blocks the open file for its own Rs.]
[Here Kramnik offered a draw, immediately accepted by Kasparov who had much less time available by
[Once again, the challenger managed a relatively easy draw with Black. Contrary to my predictions, Kasparov was unable to muster enough energy to hit hard after Kramnik's miss in Game 5, while I cannot help thinking he missed good opportunities for a much greater advantage than he got. It should not be forgotten that this was the first pair of games in consecutive days, which means the World Champion was probably tired, but at least he had the psychological initiative. Now he lost it again and Kramnik remains in the driver's seat.
At least, this way the players give the writers the chance to catch up after the incredible fight of Game 4!]