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Kramnik collapses October 7, 2006

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, internet, news.

Game 9 of the World Chess Championship match took place in Elista this morning. The day of rest following the defeat in game 8 seemed to give no benefit to Vladimir Kramnik, who did not show the kind of play to which he had accustomed his fans in the past few years.

Indeed, it looks as if the controversies arisen over the complaints by the bulgarian team – which caused Kramnik to forfeit game 5, and seriously threatened the completion of the match – affected Kramnik psychologically in a devastating way. Faced with the task of defending a +1 score for the remaining 5 games, he lost in game 8 with white by defending an inferior ending (something he champions with undisputed class) in a dubious, un-Kramnik way, and lost with black today giving the impression that Topalov’s game was quite easy to play.

Topalov’s win was not easy by any mean, but flowed smoothly from an aggressive opening which seemed to give black chances of taking the initiative, to an impressive accumulation of small advantage by white in the middlegame, to the inevitable conclusion of total collapse of black’s fortress. The game, commented by star Grandmaster Susan Polgar (several times woman’s world champion), can be best seen at http://susanpolgar.blogspot.com/ . Here, I will just show a position which demonstrate the unsoundness of Kramnik’s approach today:

White has just played 36.Rdf1, increasing the pressure on f7 beyond the breaking point. There followed 36….,Re7 (what else ?) 37.Be3 (threatening Bg5, winning a rook) Nh7 (again, little choice for B, since Bg5 needs to be parried) and now Topalov just picked up what was already his with 38.Rxf7! Indeed, after 38….,Rxf7 39.Rxf7 Qxf7 40.Be6 would win the black queen. Black tried 38….,Nd5 instead, but resigned after 39.Rf3. White is a pawn up, defends the Be3, retains all his threats, and has a totally dominating position – Kramnik evidently could not bring himself to play this position any longer.

A very instructive game to study, indeed. More interesting, for psychologists, the behavior of Kramnik – who at this point nobody credits with any chances to win the match, with a score of -1, three games to play, and confusion in his head.

If you read the press release after game 8, it looked like everything was fine with Kramnik:

“[…]   there is no psychological blow: a loss is a loss, no big deal. I am not going to cry to my pillow because of that; I am too old for it. We will play on. I’ll try making the best use of the rest day. The match situation is quite acceptable.”

“[…]I played very sluggishly. It happens. I know from my experience at the World championships that one cannot always play at one’s best. From time to time there are bad days. Today I was not playing like myself, handing the whole game poorly. There is nothing to fear: I’ll relax tomorrow, and everything will be okay at the finish. Bad days just happen…”

Alas, nobody believes there is no psychological blow. At this point, many indeed think he will lose at least one more of the last three games… As for me, I just hope to see more fighting chess. Today’s game, while featuring a half-powered Kramnik, was exceptionally instructive. This world championship rocks despite the polemics!

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