22 December 2013

Commentary: Nakamura-Kramnik, World Team Championship Round 2

The following game, a Nimzo-Indian opening played in late November between Hikaru Nakamura and Vladimir Kramnik during round 2 of the World Team Championship, helped the U.S. team defeat Russia 3-1 that round.  I picked it out at the time for being of particular personal interest and have now gotten around to doing commentary for it.

The game stands out in several respects, including:
  • The way Nakamura is able to use his dancing central knight, creating two different outposts for it and also bolstering it with his rook, while Black's knight languishes in the corner.
  • White's ability to see key tactical ideas and use them strategically, for example how moves 16 and 19 change the course of the game.
  • The simplification into a winning endgame for White and the tactic that justifies it.
  • The psychological dynamic, as Nakamura has developed a personal edge in his games with Kramnik, who seems to either not be coping with Nakamura's style or perhaps is psyching himself out too much.
For improving players, the game I think is both comprehensible in terms of tactics (with some work) and an outstanding example of some key strategic and positional ideas.  It's also useful to study in terms of the decision points and why Nakamura chose to go a particular way - not necessarily the best according to the engine, but that's real chess.

For another take on the game, you can also see this video analysis by Kingscrusher.

[Event "World Teams 2013"] [Site "Antalya TUR"] [Date "2013.11.27"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E36"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2013.11.26"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 {entering the Classical variation of the Nimzo-Indian. White, at the cost of some time, secures the bishop pair and keeps his pawn structure intact.} O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d5 {an uncommon variation that the ChessBase database however flags as "hot" and has been favored by Kramnik. White scores 58 percent in the line overall.} 7. Nf3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 b6 {the position now takes on some of the Queen's Indian Defense characteristics. At this point the database shows that White's score is down to 52 percent, with an even position.} 9. Bg5 Ba6 10. Qc3 {a more modest move than the favored and "hot" Qa4.} h6 11. Bxf6 {a novelty, although not surprising; only one other game in this line is in the database. The exchange ensures that White does not lose time by retreating his bishop. With its Black counterpart already exchanged, White also does not have to fear the bishop's absence on the dark squares.} Qxf6 12. g3 Bb7 13. Bg2 Na6 {this is intended to support the ...c5 advance, but in fact is not necessary, as the below variation shows.} (13... c5 14. dxc5 Qxc3+ 15. bxc3 Rc8 16. cxb6 axb6) 14. O-O c5 15. Rac1 {placed in order to pre-empt a Black attempt to gain control of the c-file.} Rac8 (15... Rfd8 {is preferred by Houdini. It is notoriously difficult to decide where to place one's rooks and this often comes up in analysis. In this case, it can be seen that Black is unopposed on the d-file and has better long-term chances of penetrating there. In the short term, the Rd8 covers the d7 square, a weakness which Nakamura now targets.}) 16. Ne5 { this move is one of the key ones for the game, as it provokes a change in a number of different positional characteristics.} cxd4 {Black tactically avoids the threat of Nd7 with counter-threats. After the queen recaptures on d4, the Ne5 is also pinned to it.} 17. Qxd4 Bxg2 18. Kxg2 Nc5 {finally coming out of its hole on a6.} 19. b4 {the obvious idea in the position, kicking the knight off of its outpost, but perhaps premature here according to Houdini.} (19. Qe3 {would prepare the pawn thrust by taking away the b3 square from the Nc5.} Qf5 {Black needs to avoid being forked on d7} 20. b4 $14) 19... Nb3 20. Rxc8 { the tactical justification for the previous move.} Rxc8 {superficially this looks good for Black, but the rook is just going to be chased away on the next move.} (20... Nxd4 $5 {creating a material imbalance, queen for two rooks, and un-trapping the knight.} 21. Rxf8+ Kh7 (21... Kxf8 $2 22. Nd7+) 22. Nxf7 Qf5 { a subtle move that allows the queen to go to e4 and then potentially capture on e2} (22... Nxe2 {does not work, due to threats against Black's king. For example} 23. Re1 Nd4 $2 (23... Qb2) 24. Rh8+ Kg6 25. Ne5+ Kf5 26. Nd7 Qe7 27. Rf8+) 23. f3 Nxe2 {and now Black's king is OK, for example} 24. Rh8+ Kg6 25. Re1 Nf4+ 26. gxf4 Kxf7 $11) 21. Qd7 $14 Rf8 22. f4 {a marvelous example of creating an outpost. White's knight has already been a star of the game and it will keep getting stronger. Meanwhile, Black's equivalent on b3 is trapped.} Qf5 {preparing to come to the rescue of the Nb3} 23. Rf3 Qc2 24. Qd3 {White defends e2 and forces a queen exchange under favorable circumstances.} Qxd3 25. Rxd3 Nc1 26. Rd2 (26. Rd7 $5) 26... Rc8 27. h4 {restraining a potential ...g5 break from Black that would undermine the e5 outpost.} h5 {restrains in turn a g-pawn advance and takes away the g4 square from the knight.} 28. b5 {White seizes the opportunity to create another, more effective outpost for his knight.} Rc7 {protecting the a7 pawn in advance of the knight move.} 29. Nc6 $16 {at this point White has a clear advantage, with Black's pieces tied down on defense (the rook) or out of place (the knight), while their White counterparts are active and dominant.} Kh7 30. Rb2 a5 {Black takes the opportunity to tactically remove the a-pawn from threat; the b-pawn cannot capture en passant, which would abandon the Nc6 to its fate.} 31. Kf2 Rd7 32. Ne5 {with the a-pawn now out of reach, the knight returns to its previous outpost to again threaten a 7th rank target.} Rc7 {the rook is still tied to defending the 7th rank.} 33. Rd2 {White anticipates Black's next move, kicking the knight.} f6 34. Nd7 Nb3 {Black now seems to have some breathing room to regroup and the position is more symmetrical. However, White retains all the winning chances.} 35. Nf8+ (35. Rd6 $5 {would be a more direct approach.} Nc5 36. Nxc5 Rxc5 37. Rxb6 $16) 35... Kg8 36. Rd7 Rxd7 (36... Rc3 {is preferred by Houdini, although it also seems to lead to a losing game for Black.} 37. Nxe6 Nc5 38. Rxg7+ Kh8) 37. Nxd7 Nd4 38. a4 {White has consolidated and with the win of the b-pawn coming, has a won ending. Black appears to realize this and therefore attempts to shake things up with a piece sacrifice, but to no avail.} Nxb5 39. axb5 a4 40. Nc5 {this seems like such an obvious move when you see it played, although for "normal" chessplayers it could be hard to find. There is no other way to get the knight back in time to stop the a-pawn, so it is forced in that respect. It is immune from capture because then White's b-pawn would win the queening race.} a3 41. Nb3 a2 42. Ke3 {the game is essentially over now, as the king can march over to take Black's passed pawn, but Black plays on in hopes of generating something on the kingside in compensation.} Kf7 43. Kd4 Ke7 44. e4 e5+ 45. fxe5 Ke6 46. Na1 {this is superior to capturing on f6, since the Black king will now not be able to penetrate nearly as easily.} fxe5+ 47. Kc3 g5 48. Kb2 gxh4 49. gxh4 Kd6 50. Nb3 {the Black king is barred from the 5th rank and the game is sealed.} 1-0

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