|[After yesterday's amazingly quick draw, predictions for Game 8 became practically impossible. Either the World Champion was beginning to really crack, or he was preparing a serious counterattack. His choice of opening will most certainly demonstrate his intentions: has he resigned himself to the role of "second fiddle" or are we going to see a new phase of the match introduced?]
[In earlier games I mentioned that this is likely to be Kramnik's choice for the duration of the event. He may use 1.Nf3 in Game 14 or 16 if he is leading, or a little earlier if he acquires a 2-point advantage, but maybe not even then.]
[The real Kasparov is back! Games 4 and 6 saw 1...d5 with a Queen's Gambit Accepted that does not suit his style at all. Despite achieving reasonable positions out of the opening and eventually two draws, it was clear that he was outplayed and losing in both encounters. The text expresses the World Champion's counterattacking tamperament perfectly.]
[The war goes on! Kasparov shuns 2...g6 , which could lead to either the King's Indian Defence or the Grunfeld, admitting that he is not ready yet to resume the theoretical argument on the latter, which he lost in Game 2. On the other hand, introducing a third defensive system against 1.d4, he indicates that his preparation for the match has been as extensive as ever.]
[Kramnik also demonstrates his intention to enter a full-blown fight. Although 3.Nf3 is a most serious alternative, at this point it would show limited ambitions for this specific game.]
[Now, this is an opening that suits a World Champion! 3...d5 takes us back to the Queen's Gambit and would, frankly, disappoint me. Kasparov hasn't played the NimzoIndian in an official game since his debacle against Ivan Sokolov in Wijk aan Zee 1999. This was the last game he lost in regular time controls, therefore today's choise also displays a show of confidence.
Black’s basic idea in the NimzoIndian Defence is to control the central square e4, a point normally threatened or occupied much more easily by White. Thus it is not really a «Defence», but a counterattack with which Black stakes claim on the side of the board beyond the imaginary dividing line that separates the 4th and 5th ranks.
Nimzowitsch’s practical goal was to create important strategic asymmetries in the position, both in terms of zones of influence and pawn structure. Furthermore, the likely exchange of the black black-square B for the Nc3 will lead to a confrontation between quantitatively equivalent but qualitatively different minor pieces.
Briefly, the NimzoIndian Defence is an opening in which the conflict of values dominates the struggle, so that both sides obtain winning chances. Its attraction is based on the fact that it combines dynamism with relative solidity, since Black develops speedily and obtains reasonable counterplay without creating obvious weaknesses (as, for example, in the Benoni Defence) or abandoning the centre completely (as in the King’s Indian). It makes sense that the names of all the top players since 1920, without exception, have been associated with the NimzoIndian Defence at some point, while it has never been considered a «suspect» opening.]
[Kramnik continues with a most principled approach, which he has adopted repeatedly in the past in the past. Other loyal followers of the move are ex-World Champion Karpov and Kasparov himslef.
One of the most fundamental issues inherent to the NimzoIndian Defence is the value of the doubled Ps that occur after ...Bb4xNc3(+). They most certainly strengthen White’s control of the centre, so that they provide solid foundation for any kingside attack, but they may also constitute a weakness because of their limited mobility, thus becoming suitable targets and demanding the commitment of several white pieces to defensive functions. Similarly, the B pair may either find open diagonals on which the true power of the clerics is displayed or remain restricted by Ps and display undesirable passivity.
Kramnik's choice prevents the doubling of the Ps and in addition provides valuable support to the critical square e4, at least temporarily.]
[The most flexible approach, keeping all options open. Apparently Kasparov has realized that his opponent wishes to impose on him positions without meaningful pawn breaks and for once chooses a line that provides him with many.]
[5.e4 has also been tried, but is not conceptually consistent. As I predicted in my comments to earlier games, Kramnik will have to challenge the World Champion in a Main Line theoretical battle at some point.]
[So here is the famous NimzoIndian B pair, often a lethal weapon. Now Black has to make a choice regarding his pawn structrure.]
[Kasparov continues in the most fashionable way, developing the B towards e4 and delaying his commitment regarding the placement of his central Ps.]
[This pin is essential, if White wishes to exert any serious pressure against the centre. Besides, it is consistent with the fight for e4.]
[In similar situations, the cmbinative unpinning of the N with 7...Ne4 comes into consideration. Here it proves plainly bad after 8.Bxd8 Nxc3 9.Bxc7 .] 8.f3 [Another move typical of this system. If White does not use his f-pawn to challenge the critical square e4, Black will eventually assume its control. Its negative aspect is that the N no longer has access to its natural developing square and must necessarily prefer e2 or h3. The former puts the N in the way of other white pieces (the B or sometimes a R), while the latter decentralizes it. Nevertheless, Ng1-h3 is a common choice in this variation, because the N can be redeployed to f2 and support e4. In addition, it provides temporary support to the B on g5, rendering the unpinning combinations quite useless.]
[The idea of this advance is to force the B on a square that it will be uprotected for sure. In this way, the tactical tricks ...Nf6-e4 or ...Nf6-d5 may become more realistic, especially as the B could be taken with check in some variations.]
[Finally, an important bit of information is revealed! Black may also use another classic P formation in the centre, that is prefering exclusively the black squares c5, d6 and e5, since thier B has been exchanged.
The c-pawn always land n c5 in this variation, sooner or later, therefore Kasparov signals that he intents to open up the centre completely, betting on his superior development and against Kramnik's B pair.]
10.e3 Nbd7 11.cxd5
[Another important signal: Kramnik feels extremely comfortable with his match strategy of excanging Qs at an early stage of the battle. This time, however, Kasparov retains a reasonable chance of achieving several pawn breaks.]
[The capture 11...exd5 is quite playable, of course, but then the centre would be much more stable than in the game continuation.]
[Kramnik has his wish, but so does Kasparov. In this battle of wills, the winner shall also gain a psychological advantage.]
[Once again, Kramnik adopts the most principled approach. 13.bxc3 would be a cop-out to a completely balanced endgame, wasting his White as Kasparov did on Thursday.;
It is worth noting that behind the apparently quiet form of the position there are many small tactical details hidden. For example, it is significant that after the intermediate capture 13.Bxc7 Black has the N fork 13...Nd5 and after the (also intermediate) threat 14.Bd6 there is the threat of another N fork with 14...Nxe3 . In all subvariations Black keeps material equality and achieves the separation of White's Ps without any compensation.]
[Retaining the B on the h4-d8 diagonal makes sense, in order to prevent an enemy R form using the d-file, but this means the d-pawn would have to be supported by the King ( 14.e4 Ne3 allows the exchange of the white-square B and thus leads to yet another completely equal ending). However, after both;
14.Kd2 and; 14.Kf2 there would follow 14...c5 and it is not at all easy for White to prevent both the isolation of the d-pawn and penetration down the c-file (the latter, especially, is a most annoying prospect).]
[There is nothing new under the sun these days... In their famous 24-game blitz match (Moscow 1998) Kasparov and Kramnik had already encountered this position, only the World Champion was then White! In the 20th game, the younger player chose 14...f5 and reached an equal ending after 15.Bb5 c6 16.Bd3 c5 17.Ne2 Rac8 18.0-0 cxd4 19.Nxd4 Ne5 20.Be2 Nc4 21.Rfc1 Ncxe3 22.Nxe6 Rfe8 23.Rxc8 Bxc8 24.Nd4 Bd7 25.Bxe3 Nxe3 26.Rc1 Rd8 27.Kf2 f4 28.g3 Nf5 29.Nxf5 Bxf5 30.Ke1 fxg3 31.hxg3 Rd7 , which however he proceeded to lose: 32.b4 Kf7 33.Rc4 g5 34.f4 Be6 35.Rc6 Re7 36.Kf2 gxf4 37.gxf4 Kg7 38.Bd3 Bd5 39.Rd6 Bb3 40.f5 Rf7 41.Rg6+ Kf8 42.Rxh6 Ke7 43.Ke3 Rf6 44.Rh7+ Rf7 45.Rh4 Kd6 46.Kd4 Rf6 47.Rg4 Bf7 48.Rg7 a5 49.b5 a4 50.Be4 Be8 51.Rb7 Rf8 52.Rxb6+ Kc7 53.Re6 Bxb5 54.Ke5 Bd7 55.Re7 Kd8 56.f6 Re8 57.Kd6 Bb5 58.Bf5 Rf8 59.f7 Rh8 60.Be6 Ba6 61.Ra7 Bc8 62.Bxc8 and, finally, 1-0.
However entertaining, blitz games cannot be considered theoretically useful and the advance ...f7-f5 at this point should be judged on pure merit: it weakens both the square e5 and the e-pawn itself, while its prevention of e2-e4 is not of equal value.]
[Development with a threat, how can anybody wish for more? But...]
[At long last, Kasparov intoduces an innovation in the match, at least regarding serious games with regular time controls. In Linares 1999, against the very same Kramnik, the English grandmaster Adams preferred 15...N5f6 . This allowed White to consolidate with 16.Ne2 a6 17.Ba4 cxd4 18.Nxd4 Nc5 19.Bc2 and then the attempt to assume the initiative with 19...e5 backfired after 20.Nf5 Rfd8 21.Bh4 Nd3+ 22.Ke2 Nxb2 23.Rhb1 Nc4 24.Bd3 Nd6 25.Nxh6+ Kf8 26.Bxf6 gxf6 27.Rxb6 Bc8 28.Rc1 Be6 29.Rcc6 Ke7 30.e4 Nb5 31.Ke3 Nxa3 32.Nf5+ Kf8 33.Bxa6 Rd1 34.Be2 Ra1 35.Rb2 Rd8 36.h4 Nb1 37.Kf2 Nd2 38.Rd6 and 1-0.
Kasparov's choice is much more dynamic, as it promotes Black's development instead of retreating a centralized piece. There are problems with the c-pawn, of course, as it remains with seemingly inadequate protection, but these can be dealt with by tactical means.
All in all, a typical Kasparovian approach, except it has been used by ...Kramnik before!]
[This is the true innovation! In the 16th game of the above-mentioned match, Kramnik played 16...Ne7 instead. The continuation was 17.Ne2 (after 17.Bxd7 Rxd7 18.dxc5 bxc5 19.Bxc5 Black achieves an immediate draw with 19...Rc8 20.Bxe7 Rxe7 21.Rd1 Rc2 22.Rd2 Rxd2 23.Kxd2 Rd7+ 24.Kc2 Rc7+) 17...Bc6 18.Ba6 b5 19.a4 bxa4 20.dxc5 Ne5 21.Nd4 Rab8 22.Bg3 f6 23.0-0-0 Kf7 24.f4 Ng4 25.f5 e5 26.Bc4+ Ke8 27.Nxc6 Nxc6 28.Rxd8+ Kxd8 29.Re1 h5 30.h3 Nh6 31.Rd1+ Kc7 32.Rd6 Na5 33.Bd5 Nb3+ 34.Kd1 Nd4 35.Ra6 Rxb2 36.Rxa7+ Kb8 37.Rxa4 Rxg2 38.Rxd4 Rxg3 39.Rb4+ Kc8 40.c6 Nxf5 41.Be6+ Kc7 42.exf5 Kxc6 43.h4 Kc5 44.Rb7 Rg4 45.Ke2 Kc6 46.Ra7 Kb6 47.Rd7 Kc5 48.Ke3 Kc6 49.Rf7 e4 50.Kd4 Kb6 51.Bd5 Rxh4 52.Rxg7 Rh2 53.Bxe4 Rd2+ 54.Ke3 Rd6 55.Rh7 Kc5 56.Rxh5 Ra6 57.Rh2 Ra3+ 58.Kf4 Ra4 59.Rc2+ Kd6 60.Rd2+ Ke7 61.Rd5 and 1-0. Clearly, the transition phase between the opening and the queenless middlegame was not a succes for Black.
Kasparov's choice creates an immediate threat and forces the development of events in a much more direct fashion.]
[The retreat 17.Be2 loses valuable time. After 17...cxd4 18.Bxd4 Rac8 White might start feeling somewhat uncomfortable.]
[The immediate 18.Ne2 should also be considered. In many tense situations, it is more profitable to let the opponent make an exchange that initiate the process, the main reason being that recapturing activates a piece or pawn in return for the one exchanged.
However, in this particular case Kramnik had no choice. The capture 18...cxd4 will be followed by 19...Rad8 and possibly ...Bb7-a6 with a tremendous initiative. The only way to justify White's delay in development is to create some asymmetry and the loss of the B pair means this asymmetry should be searched for in the pawn structure.]
[But here comes a nasty surprise: a capture against Kasparov is not necessarily replied to with a recapture! This should be compared with Kramnik's own 14...f5 in the 20th game of the 1998 blitz match. That was a shot into thin air, while now Black hits on a hard target.]
[At long last, the World Champion is in his element. He has managed three out of the four possible NimzoIndian pawn breaks, that is ...d7-d5, ...c7-d5 and ...f7-f5, the last one with a pawn sacrifice. He is an expert at creating an unexpected crisis, usually offering material in exchange for superior mobility. Now Kramnik must play very carefully to maintain the balance, which means that for once his opening strategy has failed.]
[Practically forced. The capture 19.exf5 would be completely inappropriate, as the opening of the e-file would provide Black with extra avenues of attack.]
[Apparently all of this was included in Kasparov's preparation, since he had consumed only 5 minutes up to this point.]
[Once again, the capture 20.exf5 leads to early disaster, for example after 20...exf5 21.Ne2 Re8 22.Rd1 Rde7 23.Rd2 Ba6 etc. The alternative;
20.Rd1 is not much better, as with 20...Rxd1+ 21.Kxd1 fxe4 22.fxe4 Bxe4 23.Nf3 Nd5 Black would get a strong initiative for free. The idea ...Nd5-f4 in particular, either before or after ...b6-b5, could prove extremely dangerous.
Kramnik senses the danger and correctly decides to limit the damage by completing his kingside development. Finally, after;
20.Bxb6 fxe4 21.fxe4 Bxe4 22.Nf3 Nd5 the very same idea 23...Nf4 will prove troublesome to White.]
20...fxe4 21.fxe4 Bxe4
[Kasparov removes from the board a pawn that limits the mobility of his minor pieces, a decision probably made at "home". The possibility 21...Ba6 certainly looks attractive, since it delays White's castling, but there is a simple answer: 22.Rd1 (not, however, 22.Bxb6 Rb8 ,; 22.Nc3 b5; or 22.h4 Rad8 , all of which play into Black's hands) 22...Rxd1+ 23.Kxd1 Rd8+ 24.Ke1 when the exchange of Rs has eased the pressure considerably and the threat to the black b-pawn becomes real.]
[At last! Black has the initiative, but no permanent damage has been inflicted. Still, another viable option seems to be 22.Nc3 Bxg2 23.Rg1 and 24.Bxb6. The only problem with it is that White will have to surrender his B for the enemy N after 24...Rb8, so that the game will go on for a very long time. On the other hand, the queenside passed Ps should provide sufficient compensation.]
22...Rd2 23.Nc3 Bb7
[The pressure against g2 means that the B is pinned on f2. Almost every Black piece is superior to its counterpart and Kramnik's queenside pawns are in danger. The best hope for splitting the point lies in an ending with opposite-colour Bs.]
[This does not appeal to me, as an exchange of Rs is indicated to ease the pressure. After 24.Rad1 (the correct R) it would be risky beyond reason for Black to essay 24...Rxb2 25.Rd7 Rf8 (this would be quite strong with the R still on a1) 26.Rxc7 (even better than 26.Nd1 Rc2 , which would be the indicated continuation if the Ra1 had been chosen for d1 on move 24) 26...Ba6 27.Nd1 Rd2 28.Re1 , when White wins without much difficulty. Therefore, the correct answer is 24...Rad8 and after 25.Rxd2 Rxd2 defending the position ought to be much easier for Kramnik.]
[Now the threat of 25...Ba6 forces Kramnik's hand.]
[Once again, practically forced. It is too late for 25.Rad1 , since 25...Rc2 creates unsolvable problems: 26.Rd3 (or 26.Rc1 Rfxf2) 26...Ba6 27.b5 Nxb5 etc. At this point Kramnik reportedly had about 30 minutes left of thinking time, while Kasparov was ahead almost one hour.]
25...Rxa2 26.Nxa2 Nd5
[As the R exchange was achieved with loss of time and the decentralization of the N, Kasparov grabs the chance to create the threat 27...Nf4. Kramnik again has no real choice.]
[As will become obvious from the game continuation, 27.Bg3 is significantly worse. It is important to keep contact with the weak enemy b-pawn, while it is also crucial to create counterthreats against g7.]
[Kasparov does not have anything better than attacking the pawn that was weakened by White's 24th move.]
[This choice is not very easy to explain. 28.Rf3 looks simpler, even though Black has the tactical shot 28...Nxb4 . In that case, Kramnik could continue 29.Rg3 (29.axb4 naturally not 29...Bxf3 30.gxf3 Rxa2; , while after 29.Nxb4 Bxf3 30.gxf3 Rxa3 Black keeps winning chances) 29...Nxa2 30.Rxg7+ Kf8 31.Rxb7 with an easy draw.]
28...Nxc3 29.Bxc3 Rxa3
[Kasparov has an extra passed P, but the opposite-color Bs make it difficult to use it. The Black King cannot be activated without a R exchange, therefore a "zoning" defence should be possible.]
30.Bd4 b5 31.Rf4 Rd3
[31...Ra2 achieves nothing, because of the simple retreat 32.Rf2 . Here Kramnik had about 15 minutes left to reach move 40, with Kasparov still leading by almost an hour.] 32.Rg4 [A useful move, forcing further pawn exchanges and thus reducing Black's potential targets.]
32...g5 33.h4 Kf7 34.hxg5 hxg5 35.Kf2 Rd2+
[The last important move in the game. Kramnik willingly sacrifices a second pawn, in the knowledge that the opposite-color B endgame is an easy technical draw: the superior side has realistic chances only if the extra pawns have some distance between them, making it more difficult for the defence to combine the functions of B and K.]
36...Rxg2 37.Rxg2 Bxg2 38.Be5
[A rather uneventful game, but not entirely devoid of interest. Although Kramnik still leads on the scoreboard, his advantage remains minimal and for the first time in the match Kasparov had absolutely no problems with Black. He seems ready to assume the initiative and finally put some pressure on the Challenger. Next week will probably be the most critical of the match. Can Kramnik withstand the change of wind? Will he try to even prevent it from happening at all? In any case, one gets the feeling that the real battle for the crown is on for
38.Be5 There is no way for Black to make any progress, e.g. 38...Kg6 39.Bc7 Kf5 40.Kd4 Kg4 41.Ke3 Kh3 42.Kf2 and the passed passed are stopped along the same diagonal without even trying. Therefore...]