Thursday, September 30, 2004

Kramnik 2.5-Leko 1.5

Four games down in the World Chess Championship. Two more draws in games three and four. Kramnik got an advantage on the white side of the Ruy Lopez in gane four and even managed to win a pawn. Sadly, this proved inadequate to win the resulting four rook endgame.

The quick draw in game three did not look good for Leko. At the grandmaster level, it is much easier to win with white than with black. So every chance to play the white pieces is precious in match of this sort. It was essential for Leko to at least put some pressure on Kramnik in game three. Instead he simply repeated the same line of the Petroff Defense he used in game one. Kramnik used about eight minutes for his first twnety moves and drew the game effortlessly.

So far it's been very clear that Kramnik's opening preparation has been far superior to Leko's. Recall that opening preparation was crucial in Kramnik's win over Kasparov in 2000. There Kramnik trotted out the Berlin variation of the Ruy Lopez, which hadn't been played in top level chess for decades. Kramnik had prepared thoroughly, however, and Kasparov could not possibly have anticiapted that Kramnik would use such a line.

The Petroff Defense is similar to the Berlin variation in that in both cases black accepts a position that on the one hand is passive and offers few counterchances, but on the other hand is very solid and tough to break down. It is typical of Kramnik's match strategy. In tournaments Kramnik has often preferred the Sicilian Defense, especially the exciting Sveshnikov and Najdorf variations. I guess he figures those opening are too risky for a match like this.


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