GM Sergey Shipov is providing live commentary on the games at this year’s Sparkassen Chess-Meeting in Dortmund. In the first round Vladimir Kramnik played the rising star of Vietnamese chess, Le Quang Liem.
GM Sergey Shipov’s live commentary on:
Dortmund Rd 1
VLADIMIR KRAMNIK – LE QUANG LIEM
Welcome to all chess fans from Grandmaster Sergey Shipov. It’s a long time since I picked up a piece! I must admit that after the title match all the other events strike me as trivial and insignificant, so there isn’t the necessary enthusiasm to do a successful job. But time heals all – the blues, laziness and the heat wave. On the heat wave, in passing. I don’t ever remember such African temperatures in Moscow. In 2002 and in 1972 it was a little similar, but all the same not as serious as now. In recent days Moscow has consistently been above 30 degrees in the shade. For two weeks already everything’s been melting, including brains. And not a drop from the heavens. In Europe, they say, it’s the same. I really hope that they have air conditioners in the playing hall in Dortmund that will allow the players to perform. This year the line-up of the tournament, to be honest, doesn’t impress. All the players are well-known and top class, but there isn’t enough spice, an intriguing personality. The only hope is the Vietnamese youth, Le Quang Liem, who made it to Dortmund by winning the Aeroflot Open in 2010. For the moment he’s an enigma. Summing up opinions on the new recruit you get the following picture: an exceptional calculator and a tough fighter, capable of taking non-standard but strong decisions. For now he doesn’t dazzle in the openings. Many compare the play of Le… by the way, I need to resolve the question of: what should I call him? The only word out of the three where it’s difficult to make too many mistakes – is Le! So I’ll stick with that. So, for many the play of Le seems computer-like. He’s fearless and exceptionally concrete in his decisions. Who knows, perhaps it’s the style of play and the style of thought of the champions of the future? In fact, if you look back a bit into the past you can find the sources of such play in the games of Morphy, Alekhine, Tal and Kasparov. But in order to enter those ranks, Le needs to go through many “l’e”… [translator’s note: “lieues”, as in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”] Today the young Vietnamese player is going to be examined by the strict professor Vladimir Kramnik. Dortmund is his domain, the site of glorious victories. You could say, his home arena. So we’ll see what the bold student can show the experienced teacher. What aces he holds. Of course, one game won’t be enough to judge the scale of Le’s talent. Anyone can lose to Kramnik, from an amateur to a supercomputer. But in any case, there’ll be something to discuss… Attention! The internet transmission of the games will be delayed 15 minutes by the Dortmund organisers. That’s an anti-cheating measure with a long history. I completely agree with it and have always promoted it. Let it be. For spectators there’s no loss – it’s just the same if the games start at 17:00 Moscow time, or at 17:15. In any case, we’ll watch and perceive the events live. If, of course, there’s no information leak from the tournament hall… The pause is dragging on. It happens with first rounds. Let’s wait… It seems the heat wave in Dortmund is worse than in Moscow. They can’t get the first round underway! More than an hour’s gone by. We’re sitting around and waiting. Drinking coffee…
1. Nf3 At last! Congratulations all round on the start of the tournament!
1…Nf6 2. c4 c6 Clearly going for the Slav Defence.
3. Nc3 It’s impossible to stop the black pawn getting to d5.
3…d5 4. d4 dxc4 An opening that’s always in fashion. The Slav (or previously Czech) Defence has served many generations of grandmasters faithfully and well. And it’s not afraid of any computers, of anything prepared. Like a sturdy house with firm foundations has nothing to fear from the wind.
5. a4 A necessary precaution. Otherwise black plays …b5 and white will find it very hard to win back the pawn.
5…Bf5 6. e3 A solid variation.
[The young Kramnik prefered 6. Ne5 here]
6…e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 Black combines development with a struggle for the central squares.
8. o-o o-o There are already subtleties here.
[Many specialists prefer to start with 8…Nbd7]
9. Nh4 In the absence of a black rook on h8 white can calmly exchange the bishop on g6.
9…Nbd7 Le prefers the exchange on f5, which leaves black the advantage of the half open e file, and retains control over e4.
[After 9…Bg4 the pawns can launch a bold attack: 10. f3 Bh5 11. g4! Bg6 12. e4 and so on]
10. h3 A flexible move. White, of course, will exchange the black bishop – but only when the most convenient moment presents itself.
10… Bg6 Given the chance the bishop might appear on h5…
11. Nxg6 …which is why Vladimir ends its stay on this earth.
11…hxg6 12. Qc2 White has gained the advantage of the two bishops, and a small edge in the centre. A small advantage for the next hundred moves – a very pleasant prospect for Kramnik. The current position has been known to theory for more than 40 years already. There’s nothing new yet… Judging by the deep thought of the Vietnamese chess player the theory that “he doesn’t dazzle in the openings” hasn’t been refuted.
12…Qe7 Black brings the heavy artillery towards the centre and looks for a chance to sharpen play with …c5 or …e5.
[I’ll demonstrate a game that’s already become a classical forerunner:
12…Rc8 13. Rd1 Qb6 14. e4 c5 15. d5 Ne5 16. Be2 exd5 17. Nxd5 Nxd5 18. Rxd5 Nc6 19. Bc4 Nd4 20. Qd3 Rcd8 21. Be3 Rxd5 22. Bxd5 Rd8 23. Qc4 and in the game Kasparov-Anand (Linares 1993) white gained a solid advantage. The bishop on b4 was left with nothing to do. The knight on d4 was a harmless decoration. The white bishops were strong… In the end Gary won.]
13. Rd1 This is just the arrangement of pieces to allow white to carry out the plan of seizing the centre with e3-e4. The move 13…e5 isn’t yet viable because of taking on g6. But 13…c5 is worth looking at – as a proactive measure. Though in practice black has always limited himself to preparatory manoeuvres.
13…a5 A logical move in its way. Black fixes his only achievement – control over the point b4. After 13…c5 14. a5! looks strong. However, after the move in the game white is free to advance in the centre.
14. e4 Of course. If there’s no pressure on d4 then there’s every possibility of developing the queenside conveniently. The bishop will go to e3, the a1 rook to c1.
14…e5 Understandable caution. The white pawn might keep going.
15. d5 The outpost on d5 will be the centre of attention for both sides. Exchanging pawns on d5 isn’t recommended for black. In any case, for now. The clocks clearly show who knows the position better: 1:32 – 1:19. Though by the way, the position still isn’t a new one. It’s been seen before…
15…Rac8 A novelty.
[In the game J. Lautier – A. Hauchard (France, 1998) there followed:
15…Nb6 16.Bb3 cxd5 17.exd5 Nc8 18.d6 Nxd6 19.Qxg6 Kh8 20.Qg5 Rac8 21.Nd5 Nxd5 22.Qh5+ Kg8 23.Rxd5 Rc5 24.Bg5 Qd7 25.Rxc5 Bxc5 26.Bc2 e4 27.Bf4 Qc6 28.Qe2 Re8 29.Re1 Qb6 30.Bxd6 and a draw was agreed. Even at a glance you can see that white had some advantage. There’s no doubt Kramnik would have been able to pose more complicated problems for black in that line.]
[15…cxd5 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Bxd5 Nb6 18.Be3 Nxd5 19.Rxd5 also fails to equalise – the pawn structure is clearly favourable for white. The white bishop has targets to aim at while the black bishop doesn’t.]
16. Bg5 The black rook lined up against the white queen can be ignored for now. The most important thing is to retain piece control over d5.
[After 16. Be3 there was the good response: 16…Bc5!]
16…Nb6 The tension around the unfortunate pawn on d5 is growing. It’s gone pale with fear.
[White gets an advantage after
16…Qc5 17.dxc6! bxc6 (17…Rxc6 18.Bb5) 18.Na2 Nb6 19.Rac1 – with pressure on the c file]
17. Bf1. The most subtle of decisions. And I thought, naively, that Kramnik spent 20 minutes trying to find an insignificant difference between the position of the bishop on b3 or a2. And I was surprised! The majority of players, on principle, would play 17. Bb3 without reflection. But Vladimir, as far as I can tell, decided to put the queen on b3. Well, he might have a point…
[The sharp 17.dxc6 is only justified after 17…Nxc4?! 18.Nd5!]
[However, after 17.dxc6 the preliminary 17…Bxc3! is much stronger, and white is the one who has to think about equalising.]
[It seems to me that the banal 17.Bb3 preserved a small advantage. For example, 17…cxd5 18.exd5! (worse is 18.Bxd5 Nbxd5 19.Rxd5 Rc4! with counter play for black) 18…Qd6 19.Qd3 – and it’s hard to find anything appealing for black. The b5 post will soon have a white lodger.]
17…cxd5 It’s high time for black to attack, while white hasn’t yet achieved an ideal set-up for his pieces.
18. exd5 Having lost the support of the white-squared bishop, the d5 pawn was hanging over the abyss by a narrow thread. And by no means a strong one. Looking deeper I discovered a strong resource for black. Did Kramnik spot it, withdrawing his bishop to f1? That’s the question. I won’t make a mystery out of it. I’m talking about the line 18…Rfd8 19 Qb3 e4!, where black intends to move the queen to e5. At a first visual impression, he seems fine. However, it’s possible that the ex-champion looked even deeper…
18…Nc4 Le confirms the other theory put forward in the introduction. He finds his own, individual path, which isn’t the first thing that would come to mind. And, it seems, it’s not bad. The black knight is heading for the blockading square on d6. And if you exchange it, then white loses the advantage of the two bishops. For an impersonal participant in the conflict, for “white”, that’s not a great loss. But for a man, for a subtle positional chess player like Kramnik, it could really be quite annoying… By which I mean that the move in the game has a significant psychological component.
[I couldn’t come to a final conclusion in my analysis of the complications arising after 18…Rfd8 19.Qb3 e4. Here’s just one branch:
20.Rac1 (20.Bh4 e3!) (20.Bf4 Bd6!) (20.Be3 Bc5!)
20…Qe5 21.Be3 Nfxd5 22.Bd4 Qe6 (also interesting is 22…Qg5 23.Nxe4 Qxc1!)
23.Bxb6 Nxb6 24.Qxe6 fxe6 25.Rxd8+ Rxd8 26.Nxe4 Nxa4 27.Rc7 Nxb2 28.Rxb7 – white’s initiative should compensate for the absence of a pawn]
19. Bxc4 Vladimir decided on it! And rightly. With the knight on d6 black could play in perfect comfort.
19…Rxc4 While here the pawn on d5 still has the hypothetical possibility of pushing towards its goal. i.e. becoming a queen.
20. Qb3 Another unobvious decision. Did the queen have to be moved away from the centre?
[It didn’t look bad to play, 20. Qd3 Rd4 (20…Rfc8 21. Ne4!) 21. Qf3, and black would still have to prove he wasn’t worse]
20…Rfc8 In terms of time the players are almost synchronised: 0.50 – 0.48. And the position’s almost equal as well.
21. Nb5 Kramnik’s started to play quickly and decisively. He’s moved the knight out from under attack and prepared the d5-d6 advance. However, the white passed pawn’s unlikely to get past the d7 square. It would need to be given a little help – otherwise it’s impossible. By the way, the move in the game conceals another cunning threat. The rook on c4 is only safe while it’s supported by its friend on c8. And if white plays d5-d6 with tempo, and then moves the knight to a7 – the c8 rook won’t have any squares on the c file. On c5 it’s hit by the white bishop returning to e3. Le has sunk into serious thought – here it really is worth spending time. It’s the most critical of moments.
21…Qd7 A solid, reliable response.
[As a worthy alternative I looked at switching the guard on b4 by means of 21…Bc5 – the rook can’t be taken, of course, or the queen’s lost. Black puts the rook on b4 and exerts pressure on a number of white pawns.]
22.d6 Tempting, of course. And essentially very logical – after all black’s using a general as a blockader. And not a knight, as we were taught.
[The tactical justification for black’s 21st move is in the line: 22.Na7 R8c5 23.Be3? Rxd5! , and the black rooks are out of danger.]
[Perhaps a little more accurate than the move in the game was:
22.Na7!? R8c5 (22…R8c7 23.d6!)
23.d6! – and precisely in this order. The rook on c5 comes under attack from the white bishop. Black would have to continue walking a tightrope with
23…Rc2 24.Be3 R5c4 25.Nb5 Rc8! – though all the same it’s impossible to find anything winning for white.]
22…Bc5! An excellent decision. Here you can see the real difference between the move in the game and the line 22. Na7! R8c5 23. d6. Black manages to rearrange his pieces successfully, and gets firm ground beneath his feet. The professor has sunk into thought – and no wonder. The student is demonstrating his stubbornness, successfully responding to all the questions. And there’s no way to “topple” him…
23. Be3 Understandable caution. The weak point at f2 is worth covering.
[After 23. Qf3 black wouldn’t defend, but counter-attack – 23…Rc2!]
[For beginners I’ll point out the line 23. Qxc4? Bxf2! with a black win.]
23…Rb4 The rook’s no longer a victim, but an aggressor.
24. Qd3 The b2 pawn is a triviality unworthy of attention. White is gathering all his forces in one fist, in the centre. For the pawn there’s going to be certain compensation…
24…Rxb2 If you’re going to suffer, then it shouldn’t be for nothing. Black is losing a little piece coordination. Though nothing fatal is visible…
[The position after 24…e4 25. Qd2 Bxe3 26. fxe3 is probably more promising for white. It’s not so easy for black to switch the blockader on d7.]
25. Rac1 White’s pressure is growing. The clock situation is still remarkably even: 0.27 – 0.27
25…b6 An entirely explicable desire on black’s part to block the path by which white’s advanced forces could invade the back ranks.
[I also found no way to refute 25…Bxe3 26. Qxe3 e4.]
26. Bxc5 bxc5 27. Qe3. Here’s the drawback of black’s 25th move – he’s now got a lot of weaknesses. However, for the moment there’s no reason to get upset. Winning back the pawn, white will allow the position to be simplified. For example, the greedy rook on b2 can be sent to chase after the pawn on a4. Or it’s possible to finally activate the queen, with 27…Qe6.
27…Rb4 Trust your first impressions!
[In analysis it was possible to bring the second variation to a smooth conclusion: 27…Qe6 28.Rxc5 Rxc5 29.Qxc5 Qb3! 30.Nc3 Rc2 31.d7 Nxd7 32.Rxd7 Qxc3 33.Rd8+ Kh7 34.Qf8 Rc1+ 35.Kh2 Rh1+! (the only saving move) 36.Kxh1 Qc1+ 37.Kh2 Qf4+ 38.Kg1 Qc1+ and you end up with perpetual check.]
[Or 28. Qxe5 Rxa4 29. Rxc5 Rc4!]
28…Rxc5 29. Qxc5 Rxa4 The mutual gluttony is lowering the temperature of the struggle. Black’s position is holding. On the other hand, white had nothing better.
30. Qxe5 Material equality has been re-established. But the black passed pawn isn’t really any worse than the white one.
30…Rc4 There’s no time left to calculate long variations: 0.17 – 0.18.
[For example, this one: 30…Re4 31.Qc5 Qe8 32.Nc3 Re1+ 33.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 34.Kh2 Qd2 35.Nd5 (seeing this trick, you want to abandon your calculation)
35…Nxd5 36.d7 Nb6! and the resources to continue the struggle dry up –
37.Qxb6 Qxd7 38.Qxa5 – draw.]
31. Nc3 The d6 pawn doesn’t need the knight’s support. And so the knight heads for the centre.
[In case of 31. Na3 it’s not necessary to return the rook to a4. 31…Qa4 is more practical, with good counter play for black.]
31…a4 And there’s the counterweight on the scales for black. Their “weight” has taken its turn to strive to the queening square. And moreover, no-one’s blocking it, for now.
[An even more reliable means to a draw was 31…Qf5, but in time trouble such tricks, as a rule, are outside your field of vision.]
32. Nd5 Nxd5 33. Qxd5 Rc8 The rook returns to defend. If needed it can also support its passed pawn from behind.
34. Qa5 Kramnik is fighting to the end. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to make serious threats – the a4 pawn can only be taken with the loss of the pawn on d6. All hope lies in his opponent making a mistake…
34…Rc4 35. Qa6 One-move threats – the best tactic in time trouble. Times: 0.06 – 0.09 However, the addition of 30 seconds a move considerably reduces the effect of a lack of time.
35…Rb4 Le is precise and attentive. However, he hasn’t had a serious chance to blunder yet.
36. Kh2 A move for a move’s sake. Soon the white king can return to g1. Vladimir’s aim is clear – to get past the 40th move.
36…Kh7 Taking on board the example of their older colleagues, the young grow up.
37. Qa8 Rf4
[37…Rb6! forced advantageous exchanges, and after 38. Qd5 there’s the reply 38…a3! Though in any case the evaluation in all lines is the same: equality.]
[And in case of 37…Rb6 38.Rd4, it’s not necessary to blunder mate in one. “More accurate” is 38…Rb4! with the idea 39.Rxb4 Qxd6+ – and black wins back the rook.]
38. Rd2 Rf6 While here I get the sense that the Vietnamese youth could create problems for himself! Vladimir just has to move the rook to h4. With mate, among other things…
[It was at least worth trying 39. Rd4, and then you might get 39…g5 (39…Rxd6?? 40. Rh4#) 40.Qe4+ g6 41. Qg4, though black’s position has reserves of resilience – 41…Rf5!]
39…g5 40. Kg1 It returned, as predicted. The earth turns, the sun rises, Kramnik waits…
40…g6 Time trouble has passed. The position’s equal. It’s time to drink coffee!
41. Rd4 A good move, a beautiful move. But it creates no threats. However, looking into it more I’ve noticed a cunning idea with an h3-h4 push. If the pawns are exchanged on h4 white sends the queen to h8, to the 8th rank. So after all, the positioning of the rook on f6 has its drawbacks… It’s clear that Le is striving for a perfect fortress – so that he can tread water and not think at all. But it won’t happen. He’ll have to deal with some concrete problems.
41…Re6 This move is a logical continuation of my thoughts. Black should activate the rook. Or at the very least, increase its options.
42. Qd3 Kg8 43. Rd5 Kh7 The exchange of the g5 and d6 pawns is unlikely to worry black.
44. Qg3 Kg8 Staying on the spot, keeping the pawn on f7. And it’s perfectly reasonable – the king will be healthier.
45. Rd1 Exactly… And now there are some unpleasant nuances for black. If he moves the king to h7 again then after taking there’ll be an unpleasant check from the white queen on h4, and the a4 pawn falls. Is it really zugzwang? So then, Kramnik has once more dazzled us with his subtle understanding. In what looked like a barren wasteland he’s found a small opening… It seems he’ll be able to get an ending with three pawns against two on one wing. Also drawn, of course, but with practical chances of success.
[Another road to the ending mentioned, and with the maximum number of pieces was: 45…Re2 46.Qxg5 a3 47.Qd5 a2 48.Ra1 Re6 49.Qxa2 Qxd6 50.g3]
46. Qe5 Re6
[Of course not: 46…Rf5? 47. Qe7!]
47. Qc5 Kh7 It has to be done! The white queen was threatening to invade at c7.
48. Rd4 An attempt to keep the struggle as complex as possible.
[Nothing was promised by 48. Qc7 Qxc7 49. dxc7 Rc6, when thanks to the well-timed flight of the black king white doesn’t have a winning check on the back rank.]
[While after: 48.Qxg5 Rxd6 49.Rxd6 Qxd6 50.Qh4+ Kg7 51.Qxa4 you get a queen ending with an extra pawn – which could have been played out for another hundred moves.]
48…Rf6 Le’s no push-over! He’s sticking up for himself. And isn’t afraid of checks on the h file. Time to look at the clock-face: 0.23 – 0.25. However, it’s not long to the 61st move. And time will be added then. True, for the last time.
[In principle, the line with 48…f6 also isn’t in any way lost. Analysis shows that black’s position is holding, and without any great complications. But still, from a human point of view, it’s dangerous…]
49. h4 I respect Vladimir Kramnik. Deeply and sincerely! All the ideas I write about in my comments, sooner or later, end up being used, under the refined control of the ex-world champion. Though it’s true that at this moment black has the right to exchange pawns on h4, as the white queen isn’t capable of swiftly finding its way to the back rank.
49…gxh4 And again the correct response.
[After 49…g4, firstly, the weak pawn is too cut-off from its base and, more likely than not, would be doomed. And secondly, there’s a concrete unpleasantness – 50. h5! with a white attack.]
50. Rxh4+ Kg7 The mating attack doesn’t work as black manages to defend everything. Ah, it was in vain that Vladimir didn’t go for the queen ending with an extra pawn! In that case our on-line commentary would go on until morning…
[Perhaps Kramnik, in his earlier calculations, had intended to play 51. Qg5 here, but when he got closer it became clear that after 51…Rxd6 52. Qh6+ Kf6! 53. Rf4+ Ke7 white has nothing but harmless checks.]
51…Re6 52. Qc3 The attack along the long diagonal looks threatening. In addition, there’s the idea of planting a saboteur on h8 after Rd4-h4.
52…f6 A simple and solid defence. A raid by the white rook to c7, combined with a pawn sac on d6, only leads to infinite checks. If white’s lucky…
53. Qb4 g5 Another cultured, technical response. The black king is given enough space to hide from any attacks. Once more, and with complete conviction, I declare the position to be equal.
54. Rd1 However, Kramnik has every right to try and find the slightest of chances – as slowly as he likes. i.e. making a large number of seemingly aimless moves. But at the same time he has to act quickly. After all the clocks show only: 0.10 – 0.16 remaining.
54…Kg6 55. Qb1+ Kg7 No-one has yet died from a check. I propose a draw to both players! Straight from the heart. I’m ready to offer them both dinner – just as long as this torture comes to an end… :)
56. Qd3 “We don’t need dinner!” Kramnik answered for both of them. While Le, no doubt, simply didn’t understand what I was talking about… Although I’m tired, I perfectly understand the vain hope Vladimir has. He intends to move the queen to d5 and noisily crush the rook on e6! After queen takes queen the pawn will be unstoppable on its way to d8 – and white will have an extra rook. There’s a child’s trap for you.
56…Re8 So is Kramnik now torturing himself thinking of how to set up that trap while not allowing the black pawn to get to a3? However, there’s not long to think any more.
57. Rb1 An attempt to get to b7. If the chance arises.
57…Ra8 Necessary… I also once wrote about the possibility of supporting the a4 pawn from behind with the rook. But I have the impression that was about a week ago.
[The move 57…Rd8 wasn’t pleasing to the eye as it created no threats. For example, 58.Rb4 Qxd6?? 59.Rb7+ Kf8 60.Qh7, and the black king can’t be defended. While the white king easily hides from checks:
60…Qd1+ 61.Kh2 Qd6+ 62.g3]
58. Ra1 With his flag about to fall Vladimir chose the most solid move.
58…Rd8 Now that’s a real attack.
[It was still worth trying for the trap mentioned with 59. Rb1! Perhaps that was the last chance for victory. One in a million.]
59…Qe6 At last! After 38 moves of hard servitude the queen has thrown off the yoke of being a blockader.
[After 60. d7 a3! the exchange of passed pawns was inevitable.]
60…Rd7 So there’s the switch. The d6 pawn is once more totally fixed. And the second time control has passed. The players have received another 15 minutes. Plus 30 seconds per move. However, in such an unchanging dead-drawn position there’s no reason to think deeply. What will be, will be.
61. Qa5 Well, Vladimir decided to blitz a little. He’s got the right. While perhaps I’ll curb my enthusiasm. It’s no longer interesting…
61…Kg6 62. Qb4 Kg7 Time until the end of the game: 0.09 – 0.17.
63. Qxa4 At last.
63…Rxd6 64. Rxd6 Qxd6 DRAW! So, the student successfully passed the exam. As much as the master tried to find a weakness in his preparation, he couldn’t do it. His first game in a major tournament, with black, and against none other than Kramnik! Le withstood that difficult test with honour. At no point during the game was his position bad. There’s no doubt at least one thing you can say about him – he’s a tough fighter… In the other games today, Ponomariov defeated Leko, while Naiditsch lost to Mamedyarov. So then, the first round was extremely hard fought. Working for you, dear friends, has been Grandmaster Sergey Shipov. Thanks for your attention, and see you tomorrow!
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