04 April 2012

Kasparov Comments - Part 2

Continuing from my last post. It was one day before Game 9 of the World Championship Match in 2008. The pre-game talk has already started. I took this opportunity to give my take on the match so far (up to Game 8) and to counter the arguments by Kramnik fans that Kramnik has been playing weakly.

Pre Game 9 Comment
edfong | October 26, 2008 2:20 AM | Reply
Going into the 9th Game, the mantra on Anand’s mind must surely be “it ain’t over till it’s all over”.
This is the worst time for Anand to get over-confident and relax. At the same time, it will be bad for Anand to change his style, wall-up and play for draws to close out the match. That would only play into Kramnik’s hands and preferred positions. So the best for Anand is to continue as if the match is still even and play as he had been playing in the previous games. Anand should continue to play confidently and going for dynamically balanced positions out of the opening in which he is more comfortable than Kramnik.

I expect that we shall see another Slav, Semi-Slav or Nimzo. Kramnik knows very well that he has to play for a win so we should expect to see some real fireworks. The million-dollar question is will Kramnik do an Anand and sacrifice a pawn as Black in the opening and eschew castling?

Anand, with his play and novelties so far, has thrown up many firsts in World Championship match play and turned traditional theoretical precepts on its head.

Gambits by Black:
Traditional theory dictates that it is too dangerous for Black as the second player to be sacrificing a pawn in the opening. It is alright for White to sacrifice a pawn as the right to move first gives the White player some leverage to do so. But it is not so for Black. We may see Black sacrificing in the opening when playing a significantly weaker player but never in World Championship match play between two of the best players in the World at any time in history.

Out of four Blacks so far, Anand has sacrificed a pawn in the opening in three of them.

No Castling:
Traditional theory also states that the King should be moved to a flank and a King caught in the centre during the middlegame is a major weakness. Instead we see Anand voluntarily eschewing castling in 6 out of the 8 games played so far.

Theoretical Novelties:
In his return match with Botvinnik, Tal came up with novelties to reach objectively better positions out of the opening. But Tal went on to lose the match badly as the positions reached were more attuned to Botvinnik’s style and Tal were consistently outplayed in the middlegame and endgame. The traditional objective of opening novelties before and after 1961 was always to reach an objectively better position (in the player’s assessment).

But Anand has turned this tradition on its head by developing novelties not based on the position but based on the opponent. His novelties are designed to reach a position that he is comfortable with and which he assessed as one Kramnik will be uncomfortable with. That the chess engines assessed the resultant positions out of the opening as much better (but not winning) for White (Games 3 & 5) is not a drawback to Anand. Laskerian strategy at its best but in the opening.

After a spell of illness in the early 2000s, Kramnik is clearly back to full fitness and he is at his playing best as shown by his match win over Topalov and his second place in San Luis last year. (Kramnik’s Dortmund 08 and Anand’s Bilbao 08 don’t count as clearly both were just playing out of contractual obligations and were hiding their preparations for the big one).

I view that Kramnik is not playing any weaker than in his matches with Topalov, Leko or Kasparov. His play in the early middlegame after Anand’s novelties has been world championship class. His undoing generally has been the less than perfect moves as time trouble loomed and which Anand took advantage of.

Kramnik’s imperfect play in this match is no worse than those in his match with Topalov. The difference being only that Anand exploited the weak play when it arose. And unlike Topalov, Anand did not reciprocate by giving Kramnik similar winning chances.

Game 1 was really Kramnik at his Kasparov-match best, going for a positional squeeze as White. Holding on to a difficult position in mutual time-trouble in Game 2 was again Kramnik at his best. We start to see the difference this time (from 2000) from Game 3 as Anand forced one unbalanced position after another with provocative novelties, pawn sacrifices, and leaving his (Anand) King exposed in the centre. All of which Kasparov failed to do in 2000 to test Kramnik.

Both players has had one year to prepare for this match. There is no dispute that Anand is winning the preparation battle hands down. He has gone to the extent of transforming himself to play 1d4 only (so far) when he has always played 1e4 versus top-class opposition.

Surely Anand’s preparation must have been based principally on Kramnik’s games against Shirov (who Kramnik lost a match some 10 years ago) and Kramnik’s poor results against Morozevich. Perhaps Anand noted that it is not the wild positions that undid Kramnik but poor play during time trouble resulting from the time Kramnik took to find the best moves in complicated positions. And as we saw in Game 6, when Kramnik tried to speed up his play in an unfamiliar position, the quality of his moves (ref. c7-c5) suffered.

Anand has been winning so far not because Kramnik is playing below his best but due to Anand’s excellent play and preparation. To paraphrase a Nigel Short comment (during Game 6) in playchess.com chat, “We must give credit to Anand for making things difficult for Kramnik. It is not easy to find a theoretical novelty at the 9th move”.

Anand has reinvented himself to face Kramnik. Can Kramnik in turn reinvent himself to salvage the match.

The chess world awaits Game 9.

The great Mig himself complimented me  in a backhanded way while  disagreeing with my views. But it is okay since Mig was rooting for Kramnik, something which he made no attempt to hide.

“A long, deep post, edfong, but I disagree with just about everything in it! Glad to see some people putting so much thought and effort into their comments though!”

Of course, it doesn’t feel good when somebody disagrees. But that’s the nature of a civil discussion and debate which I enjoy. You cannot please everybody. You win some, you lose some.

On  the other hand, seemingly insignificant words of appreciation gives real joy especially when you sense the sincerity behind them as in the following:

“Edfong. Good post.
I agree with what you say. Kramnik has been outprepared and Anand has deeply studied the positions where Kramnik tend to make mistakes.
The fact that we only have seen novelties from the Anand team also explains a lot. i am sure Kramnik has novelties as well but those openings are just not played !”

Kasparov Comments: However the best part to Mig’s views above was that Kasparov actually agreed with almost all of what I argued. This was in the post-match remarks I alluded to in my previous post.

Moreover. I feel even more vindicated by the latest Kramnik interview by Tkachiev where he admitted to Anand’s overall superiority in the 2008 World Championship Match. Mind you, Kramnik’s views in immediate (up to a few months later) post-match interviews were not so glowing about Anand’s play. Kramnik then only admitted to being out-prepared but not outplayed.

Wrapping Up
To end this 2-part article (memoir), my final analytical comment (posting) on the World Championship Match 2008:

Post Game 9 Comment
Did anyone notice the several firsts Game 9 threw up:-
1) For the first time as White (but 4th overall), Anand sacrificed a pawn in the opening.
2) For the time in the match, Kramnik surprised Anand with his choice of opening line, playing a Semi-Slav (for the first time in the match) and the super-sharp Moscow Variation with pawn moves to h6 and g5.
3) As a consequence of 2), we saw Kramnik significantly ahead on the clock for the first time in the match, culminating at about the 20th move when Anand had used up 90 minutes leaving himself less than 30 minutes for 20 moves to reach the first time control. At that point, Kramnik was more than 20 minutes ahead on the clock.
4) For the first time, Kramnik uncork a theoretical novelty with 12…Qe7.
In the middlegame, Anand prepared the tactical fireworks with 16.f2-f4 which exposed his King along the diagonal. Kramnik then set off the tactical fireworks with 17…c6-c5.
5), Kramnik outplayed Anand in the ensuing tactical complications (for the first time in the match), retaining his plus pawn after the fireworks settled.
6) For the first time in the match, Kramnik had significant winning chances in a game.
And not for the first time (the other being Game 2), time trouble (with something like 5 minutes to play 5 moves in a super complex endgame position) put paid to the winning chances.

Anand - Undisputed World Champion
After Anand finally became undisputed World Champion with the completion of Game 11, there was nothing left that needs to be said by Anand fans. The result speaks for itself.

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