|[This is going to be a crucial game, not least because the match enters its second half. Kramnik has clearly dominated the struggle up to now, giving his opponent only one easy day when Kasparov was Black. On the other hand, the World Champion has not yet seriously threatened to win even one game and failed badly to capitalize on his own Whites.
He showed amazing resilience when he found himself in lost positions in Games 4 and 6, but not enough creativity to win the match. Still, I find it hard to believe Kasparov has not enough energy to win at least 2 out of 16 encounters and so cannot believe Kramnik will become Champion without winning at least one more game.
As in Kasparov's Championship match against Anand in 1995, I expect the coming third week to be the most critical. If Kramnik manages to pass it without significant damage in points or in his theoretical armoury, then he will still be there with a chance.]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6
[Kramnik insists on his archaic weapon, in its updated form, of course. At the end of the match, we will be able to tell whether his choice was really inspired or mistaken. For the time being, however, the Berlin Defence experiment has been a complete success.]
4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nc3
[Kramnik is the first to vary from Games 1 and 3, in which he played 9...Bd7 insted of the useful "for all weather" text. He obviously wishes to avoid any specific preparation by Kasparov's team, but equally obviously believes in the general soundness of the system. I am quite amazed the World Champion insists on queenless middlegames, a battlefront where Kramnik has proven himself an accomplished master. I suspect he needs to prove to himself that he is the top player for any type of position, meaning he is forced to accept the challenge. Otherwise, he would have to base his game plan only on the treatment of a specific position that may or may not occur, an unlikely event and a prospect easily sidestepped by his opponent.
Nevertheless, I received reports that Kasparov thought for some time here.]
[And he decides to change the tune somewhat. 10.b3 would probably lead to positions similar to the earlier games with this variation, but Kasparov seenme determined to locate some important defect in Kramnik's move order. therefore, he opts to deprive him of his chosen plan to evacuate the King towards the queenside.
As mentioned in my earlier notes, however, this also means that the R is committed too early on a file not too promising. The other R will need some time before it is developed, therefore Black should not feel very threatened at this point.]
[Of course, Kramnik does not fall for the typical trap 10...Bd7 11.g4 (much better than immediately 11.e6 fxe6 12.Ne5 , when 12...Nd6 defends successfully, e.g. 13.Rxd6 Bxd6 14.Nf7+ Ke7 15.Nxh8 Rxh8 and Black may even start to think about winning) 11...Ne7 12.e6 fxe6 13.Ne5 with unavoidable serious loss of material.]
[This move I commended very highly in Game 1, but Kasparov failed to follow up with the plan of general advance of the kingside pawns and shunned it completely in Game 3. Now that he returns to it, what can I say?]
[This slow approach demonstrates how solid Kramnik thinks his position is. The main point of this advance is to open the a-file after b2-b3, but White hasn't even played it yet! Another possibility, rare but true in one of my games, is to develop the R on a6 and activate it through the 6th rank after a timely ...c6-c5.
Another standard option at this point is 11...Bb4 , intending 12.Ne4 Be6 followed by ...Ra8-d8 or ...Be6-d5, for example 13.g4 Bd5 and Black seems able to handle all the problems in the resulting complications.]
[Once more, Kasparov wants to prove his opponent's move at least useless. Thus he avoids the fianchetto, but develops the B on a square rather ill suited for it: the advance f2-f4 is extremely difficult to carry out now, wich means White is limited again to piece manouvring.]
[Practically forced, otherwise the push e5-e6 may lead to an unwelcome exchange, at least as long as the Black King resides on the e-file.]
[At last! But this advance here is tied more to the specific idea of freeing d4 for the N, in order to exchange it for the white-squared B, than to the general advance of the kingside majority.]
[The point. Nevertheless, practitioners of this variation know that the exchange on e6 will strengthen Black's control of the crucial square f5. That was the primary consideration that secures Kramnik a comfortable draw in Game 1 and that might well become the case here, as well.]
[An interesting redeployment of the N, in similar spirit to Kasparov's ideas in previous games. The plan 15.Nxe6 fxe6 16.Bd2 (16.Ne2 Bc5 leads to the game continuation via a simple move trasposition) 16...Bc5 gives White absolutely nothing, since 17.Ne4 Bd4 is plainly wrong and after 17.Ne2 Rf8 18.Rf1 either 18...b5 or 18...a4 should give Black satisfactory play.;
The alternative retreat 15.Bd2 does not offer better chances of success. After 15...Nxc3 (otherwise the N will also go back to e2 or sometimes advance to e4 and the enemy N expelled by a timely c2-c4) 16.Bxc3 h5 17.f3 Bc5 18.Kg2 Bxd4 19.Rxd4 the resulting position can be dangerous for Black only if he fails to exchange a pair of Rs and activate at least one of his own. However, there is just enough time to play 19...b6 20.a3 (unfortunately for White, 20.Rad1 Bxa2 21.Rd7 Rc8 leads to nothing) 20...Rd8 and the draw is very close.]
[To exchange or not to exchange -that is the question! Kasparov makes a big decision that will determine the battlelines for a long time. It seems that he couldn't find anything better, because I do not see any great danger for Black in what follows.]
[The right moment for this advance, in order to force the decentralization of the enemy N.]
[The capture 17...Nxf4 is plainly wrong: 18.Nxf4 Rf8 (the King cannot defend e6, d7 and g6 at the same time) 19.Nxe6 Bxf2+ 20.Kg2 Rf7 and now either 21.Nxc7+ Rxc7 22.Kxf2 or (even better, in my opinion,) 21.Nxg7+ wins for White.;
Just as playable, however, seems 17...Nb4 18.a3 Na6 when the N will soon return from its exile via c5.]
[I am not at all sure this is the best move, as it provides Kramnik's 11th with a lot of meaning. Perhaps 18.Rac1 should be tried, to be followed up with Kg1-g2, possibly Ne2-c3 and b2-b3 only if the need arises or Black exchanges Rs on the d-file.]
[No bonus points for anyone who predicted this!]
[So Kasparov makes this retreat as well... Its evident drawback is that it closes the d-file, a fact Kramnik rushes to take advantage of.]
[The Rs are finally connected, which means most of Black's problems have been solved. 19...Rf8 would be out of place here, as after 20.Nf4 the fork 20...Bd4 proves quite useless: with the simple reply 21.Rac1 White proves that the exchange of e-pawns is much more to his benefit, while 21...Kf7 22.Bc3 Bxc3 23.Rxc3 axb3 24.axb3 Ra2 25.Rf3 is not very attractive for Black either.]
[This time, however, 20.Nf4 fails against 20...Bd4 . Kasparov's temporary lack of access to d7 proves quite sugnificant.]
[All of Kramnik's pieces are in great positions, except his N. Once he manages to reposition it successfully, his mission for the game shall be accomplished. Kasparov has only one chance, that is eventually advancing his kingside Ps. However, creating a passed P requires the exchange of all Rs and then there will not be enough pieces left to support the further advance of that P.
Overall, I consider the position equal. I may be biased because I have repeatedly played this variation as Black with more than satisfactory results (3.5 out of 4), but even Kasparov seems unable to break it!]
[The continuation 21.Kg2 Rxd1 22.Rxd1 axb3 23.axb3 Ra2 24.Rd2 leads to a position very similar to the game. If Kasparov does not change Rs, Kramnik will.]
21...Rxd8 22.Kg2 Rd3
[This looks like a shot in empty space, but it ies down White's pieces and thus prevents any active plan.]
[This prevents f2-f4 for some time, but it also makes possible the alternative break h2-h4 once the Rs have left the board. Another option is to sit tight and answer f2-f4 with ...g7-g6, focusing on a white-square zoning defence.]
[The usefulness of Kramnik's previous move is revealed in variations like 24.Ng3 Nd7 25.Ne4 Bd4 etc.]
[The usefulness of this exchange eludes me. I expected 24...Nd7 right away, since White fails to trap the R after 25.b4 Be7 26.f4 gxf4 27.Nxf4 Re3 .]
25.axb3 Nd7 26.Ra2
[Kasparov would like to get rid of the enemy R in order to go for the h2-h4 break, but 26.Rd2 is unplayable right now because the B must keep protecting the e-pawn. The plan to use the open file is logical, which is why I wonder Kramnik allowed it in the first place. I suspect he has calculated with precision that it cannot be used to advantage.]
26...Be7 27.Ra7 Nc5 28.f3
[Nothing comes out of 28.b4 Ne4 29.Be1 Rd1 , so there is no real choice.]
[Kramnik must have forseen this tactical trick well in advance. After either 29...Nc5 ;
or 29...Nd2 , there would follow 30.Rxc7 when White must be winning.]
[Kasparov must feel very frustrated after this game. He has been unable to dent a variation long thought to be inferior, even after the third attempt. I cannot recall if the World Champion ever had such difficulty in even creating winning chances against any opening with White. Meanwhile, Kramnik plays very solid chess and seems to retain full control. In this match he has been more than an equal match for Kasparov up to now, but can he go the distance?
Note: these comments were completed a little before 1:30a.m. (Greek time) on Monday, October 23.][30...Rxc3 Here the players agreed a draw. A likely continuation is 31.Ne2 Rxc4 32.Rxc7 c5 (but not 32...Rc5 33.Nd4; or 32...Rc2 33.Kf1 c5 34.Nd4 , when the N comes to c6 with dangerous threats) 33.Kg3 Ke8 , with both sides unable to make any serious progress.]