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  GM Vladimir Kramnik - GM Peter Leko;  
  World Chess Championships / Brissago, SUI. (2004)  

  Page # 02, A "blow-by-blow" of the events as they unfold. 

 (A permanent page devoted to this match!) 

This is a description of the match, game-by-game: 

Game One:  The game started off as a Petrov (Petroff) Defence. The opening could not have been a surprise … Kramnik has been using this line for close to 10 years. (I found over forty examples of Kramnik’s use of this opening system in my reference database.) The game proceeded along normal lines … until Kramnik was forced to give up his Queen. However, the resulting position was full of play. Kramnik’s play was so strong, Leko felt compelled to give up more material to force a supposedly drawn position. (K+Q vs. K+2R’s; with 3 Pawns per side.) However, either Leko played too optimistically … or he simply made an oversight. (Qf4?) This allowed Kramnik to eventually win the game, although it took nearly perfect play to do so.

Many pundits predicted this match would now turn into a rout. I knew that Leko was not a quitter; the loss could have been the result of the tension that accompanies such an event, with the tremendous amount of global media attention.

Game Two:  This contest appeared to be a dull draw … perhaps Leko was a bit un-nerved by his loss in the first game of the match. Kramnik played 1.e4, and Leko offered to play the Marshall. Since no one in their right mind allows this gambit nowadays, Kramnik played a solid Anti-Marshall line… and the game quickly peters out to a draw.

Game Three:  Another Petrov, (Petroff?); and yet another draw. Kramnik uncorked a TN on move 17 … a move that was recommended in New-In-Chess magazine … several years ago. After a series of forced exchanges, a draw seemed inevitable, and so the half-point was quickly split in only 23 moves.

Note:  This kind of chess might thrill the titled players, but judging from the responses I saw on several chess servers, it leaves the amateur disgusted and just plain - - - bored silly.

Game Four:  This game saw another Ruy Lopez, and another Anti-Marshall system by Kramnik. This time Leko made real attempts to try and mix it up as Black, and it very nearly cost him the game. Leko thought for a while and forced a “four-Rook” ending … with White having an extra (meaningless?) Pawn. Kramnik had every right to continue from this position … but decided that a half-point suited his purposes, so the players – once again – agreed to a draw.

Game Five:  Apparently Leko was tired of trying to bust up the Petrov, and decided that what was needed was a change of scenery. As I predicted to a close circle of friends, Leko switched to 1.d4, a move that I felt suited his positional style perfectly. 

The opening became a more-or-less standard “Queen’s Gambit Declined,” with White having given Black an isolated QP. Black decided to give up a button in order to be able to liquidate into an ending that the experts – AND all the opening manuals – guaranteed was drawn. But Leko kept grinding away, and eventually he won the game … and thus had leveled the match score! While a long and a very uneven game … hardly a model of perfect chess … it was fun to watch and important to theory as well! (If the second player cannot count on drawing this ending, then Black’s approach to this whole line has to be re-examined.)  

 (I annotated this game on my “Game Of The Month” website.  See the 10/2004 column.)    

This game really changed the complexion of the whole match! Kramnik could no longer coast into victory!

Game Six:  After the emotional drain and the prolonged tension of the previous game, it was highly unlikely that we would see yet another decisive game. I predicted a fairly short draw … and this is exactly what happened.

Kramnik – once again – played 1.e4, and play went down the paths of a Ruy Lopez. Leko again offered to play a Marshall Gambit … and yet again, Kramnik declined. Correcting an in accurate approach from game four, Leko played the line nearly perfectly and rapidly equalized, Black had no problems after 14…d5! (According to Fritz, Black had a slight edge in the final position. With the benefit of hindsight, this was one of those games that Leko should have probably tried to play out.)

Game Seven:  Leko continued to play 1.d4, and Kramnik responded with 1…d5. Naturally Vladimir was unwilling to repeat the results of the opening of game five, so he very quickly varied with 4…dxc4. Leko seemed a little surprised by this, and began a trend that continued throughout the rest of the match – Leko was nearly always behind on the clock, sometimes by a substantial margin. 

Very accurate play by Kramnik quickly left White with no edge at all. While the Internet spectators would have preferred to play it out, a draw was completely justified here … Fritz also called it dead level. (The resultant position was too simple for players of this level to make a significant error.)

Game Eight:  Here was one of the strangest and one of the best games of the whole match! In fact, it will probably go down into history as one of the greatest {single-game} victories of all time in a World Championship Match.

Once more Leko would offer a Marshall Gambit, and for the first time, Kramnik actually allowed the second player to play the pure form of this line. (He explained after the game that his Anti-Marshall systems were in need of repair.) Play was book for many, many moves, although I thought that White’s fifteenth move, (15.Re4!?); was considered by theory to be relatively toothless.  [The use of computers may have told here, Re4 is the FIRST choice of many strong computer programs. The main line, according to all the books that I have, is the move, 15.Be3.]  Kramnik played Qf1, I am sure he wanted to play the book line where he is simply a pawn ahead with the Queens traded off the board.

But Leko surprised his opponent by retreating his Queen to the h5-square. There were about 29 previous games in this line in the database, but none of them … that I could see … were GM-versus-GM examples. Kramnik was not completely caught off-guard; he continued to play his moves very quickly, indicating that he was still within the scope of his pre-game preparation.

This was Leko’s game to shine, I watched this game intently on the Internet. I continuously monitored the main web site, meanwhile bouncing from several other different ICS’s as well. It was obvious that most of the lower-rated players were convinced that Kramnik was winning this game … almost to the very end of this grand and historic struggle.

Kramnik played 17.Nd2, it was obvious that this move was part of his ‘home-cooking’ for this game. Theory does not like this line, but it was clear that Kramnik was hoping that Leko would grab the exchange which would give Kramnik fantastic play. When Leko played his Queen to the g6-square, I knew Black was going to get an attack, but would it be enough to compensate for the deficiency in the material balance?

Leko spurned the win of material, and soldiered on bravely with his attack – a grave concern for me was that P.L. was getting very short of time on the clock. When Leko played his Rook to the e2-square, my box {D.M.P.} indicated that White was winning by sacking the Queen for the Rook and then taking on a6. (It appeared Black would have to give up major material to prevent White’s a-pawn from promoting.)

But Leko found 25…Qd3!!!, followed by a whole succession of very brilliant moves. After the young Hungarian Super-star won one of his most brilliant games, Kramnik – in the post-game interview – tried to excuse the loss by saying the line was all prepared … someone on his team had simply shut off the computer too early. (Once, I thought I had heard every possible excuse for losing, but this was a new one on me!)

Game Nine:  Once again, especially if these two followed earlier patterns, we could expect a fairly short draw, especially following the excitement of the previous encounter. This is what I predicted, and this is exactly what occurred.

Leko again used the QP to open the game, and this time Kramnik responded with the venerable and respected “Queen’s Indian Defense.” (This should not have been a surprise for Leko, Kramnik has used this line before. However, I will admit that the Semi-Slav is Kramnik’s main weapon against the QP, perhaps Peter had spent the majority of his time preparing for this system.) Leko got almost no advantage from the opening, and a draw was agreed in only 16 moves! While technically this might be the correct chess decision, it certainly did not sit well with the fans. And since Leko had perhaps a miniscule superiority, what harm could there be in playing on?

Game Ten:  A big surprise by Leko, possibly facing an improvement to Kramnik’s previous play …Leko was the first to vary, trotting out the move 5…Bc5. Kramnik surprised everyone by sacking a bunch of Pawns, and it was obvious that White had a ton of play. The Queens came off … soon Black had the two Bishops, but his King was caught in the center, his Pawn structure was also wrecked. After White’s 20th move of Rac1, all the pundits predicted an easy win for Kramnik, but Leko defended like Superman and saved the half point. (The final position, with opposite-colored Bishops, was an obvious draw.)

Game Eleven:  Another Q.I.D. [E15]; and once more Leko failed to get much of an edge. It seems a failure and a weakness on his part, that Leko did not prepare better for this opening; the players split the point in only 17 disappointing moves - this time around. (Kramnik’s novelty on move 14 gave Black a relatively easy game.) 

Many observers, on the web, felt that the players should play on … given the outcome of this match, GM P. Leko might be inclined to agree.

Game Twelve:  A point behind, time was running out and only three games to go, time was running out for the big Russian Champion. This opening featured Leko playing the Black side of the Classical line of the Caro-Kann. (1.e4, c6;  2.d4, d5;  3.Nd2, dxe4;  4.Nxe4, Bf5; etc.)  [B19]  Kramnik came well prepared, GM Larry Christiansen was saying that Black was in a bad way … {and at one point} that he was hopelessly lost. (He also criticized Leko’s move of 22…Qd7; as being grossly inferior.) However, Leko again defended like some kind of inhuman (super) computer, White’s onslaught was brought to an absolute standstill. 

Suddenly with 30…f4!; Black seemed to have turned things completely around, and had all the play. GM Joel Benjamin    as part of the “Chess-dot-FM” coverage  … said that Kramnik should {now} force a draw. (The box agreed with him.)

Instead Kramnik played a fairly risky … “all-or-nothing” try, nothing is probably what should have come of it. Some serious tactical blows were traded. Suddenly, Leko was TWO Pawns ahead, and the computer was showing a serious edge for Black. Kramnik offers a draw … and Leko accepts?!?!?!???

If GM Peter Leko’s total failure to win the title could be traced to any one game, this was definitely the one where the Hungarian missed his big chance!! 

Game Thirteen:  This was a real firestorm of a game. (A MODERN BENONI???) Kramnik launches a very powerful and somewhat risky attack. While all the pundits were busy chalking up the win for Black, Leko again defended like a monster, despite being perpetually behind on the clock. (See my “News Page Excerpts,” – from this match -- for more details. I am also thinking about annotating this exciting game for my website.)

Game Fourteen:  This was a game that Kramnik HAD to win … and he did. He pulls a MAJOR TN out of his bag of tricks, after White’s sixth move … WE ARE ALREADY OUT OF BOOK!!! (Insane! Is this even possible?)

Leko’s play here is simply atrocious; he goes from weak move to weak move. Either he was tired, or he simply folded from the constant mental pressure that his opponent had subjected him to for the last few games. Kramnik played one of the most epic games ever in a WCS Match. Only Lasker, Botvinnik and Kasparov had previously been in a “must-win” situation to save their title, and actually managed to pull it off.

Kramnik, on the other hand, played brilliantly. He sacrificed all of his pawns and went straight for his opponent’s throat … this was definitely super-predatory behavior from the Champ. The game was also a hoot for the spectators, all the observers on the web had a blast with this game.

My chess fans can find many links for this contest on my  “News Page Excerpts.”  


Copyright © A.J. Goldsby, 2004.  All rights reserved.   

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  This page was created in 10/04 and first posted on my website on October 25th, 2004.  Page last updated on: 04/29/2015 .