Kramnik Sacrificing Exchange

Last time I seriously studied chess, back in 1997-1998, I was amazed how Vladimir Kramnik treated certain line of Sicilian defence. Black didn’t have to fear of direct attack on his King and position was dynamic and full of strategical possibilities for both players, so I wanted to play it myself. Eventually, I had only one shot in the junior league, but I still remember many of Black’s fantastic resources. One of them is presented bellow.

Vassily Ivanchuk – Vladimir Kramnik

Dos Hermanas, 1996

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.O-O-O h6

This is the line in question. Very popular in the late 90’s, nowadays out of fashion. Still worth of studying, take a look at couple of games, you’ll like it. More popular today is YY variation with 8…Bd7.

Black is forcing White do decide what to do with the Bishop. 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 is plain equal because White gets no benefits for pair of Bishops thrown away. 9.Bh4 Nxe4 is poisonous pawn sacrifice, but Black can hold with precise move order. 9.Bf4 Bd7 was favorite of Anatoly Karpov and not dynamic as the main 9.Be3.

9.Be3 Be7 10.f4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5

Black wants quick queenside development and castle is delayed. Now, 12.Bd3 was most popular for White, 12.Be2 was the sharpest, while game move 12.Qe3 was liked because of the crazy line which Ivanchuk avoided after all.

12.Qe3 Qc7 13.e5 dxe5 14.Bxe5

14.fxe5 is leading to an amazing imbalanced position – 14.fxe5 Nd7 15.Ne4 Bb7! 16.Nd6

16…Qxd6! 17.exd6 Bg5 18.Qxg5 hxg5 19.Bxg7 Rh4 first seen in Varavin-Makarov, 1994 and later wildly explored.

14…Ng4!

Novelty at that time. Previously known was 14…Qa7 15.Bd4 Qb8 16.Be5 Ng4 Erneste-Serper, 1992 where Black is keeping material equality. Kramnik is offering exchange sacrifice for couple of tempis in return. While White takes on a8, retreats Queen to f3 and move it again after developing Bb7, Black will have wonderful pieces’ play and his Bishops will delve the board. Furthermore, White will have problems with including Bf1 and Rh1 into the game, while his most valuable piece, dark-squared Bishop, is gone. Simple Queens exchange with 15.Bxc7 Nxe3 was giving permanent slight advantage for Black thanks to his pair of Bishops, therefore Ivanchuk decided to dive in hoping to later solidify his position.

15.Qf3 Nxe5 16.Qxa8 Nd7

Caution! 16…Nc6? 17.Nxb5! axb5 18.Bxb5 and White regains the piece keeping two extra pawns.

17.g3

Interesting attempt to return the exchange and create attack on Black King, but Ivanchuk will be surprised on 21st move. The “regular” 17.Qf3 Bb7 18.Qg3 Bf6! with future b4 gives wonderful play to Black according to GM John Nunn and IM John Watson.

17…Nb6 18.Qf3 Bb7 19.Ne4 f5

Ivanchuk obviously wanted to provoke this move when pushing g3. Idea was to hinder Black from castling, but we will see how Kramnik didn’t mind…

20.Qh5+ Kf8 21.Nf2 Bf6!

Correctly evaluating that Bb7 is far more useful than Rh1, thus declining the return. Rook will find it’s “nice” file, but that won’t impose big danger to Black. Bf6 now joins the attack on White King while Queen is sleeping on h5.

22.Bd3 Na4 23.Rhe1 Bxb2+ 24.Kb1 Bd5 25.Bxb5!

By giving away b2 pawn, Ivanchuk bought some time to bring Rook to e-file. The sly Bb5 was counting on 25…axb5 26.Rxd5 Nc3 (26…exd5 27.Re8 mate) 27.Kxb2 Nxd5 28.Rxe6, but Black is not forced to take! Actually, he’s the one who’s “holding tempo” in his hands, and Kramnik performs his own attacking operation.

25…Bxa2+! 26.Kxa2 axb5

Now there are no moves for White Rooks (27.Rxe6 Qc4), and Black is threatening Qc4-b4 and Nc3 mate.

27.Kb1 Qa5

Kramnik later pointed out that 27…Qe7 was better (safer!?), but nevertheless Qa5 also wins. Now best try was 28.c3 Nxc3 29.Kxb2 Na4 30.Ka2 Qb4, which is still winning for Black. 28.Rd7 Qxe1 29.Nd1 Kg8! 30.Qg6 Bf6 is not enough for save (IM John Watson).

28.Nd3? Ba3 29.Ka2 Nc3+ 30.Kb3 Nd5 31.Ka2 Bb4 32.Kb1 Bc3 0-1

Reference games for this Sicilian line:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 h6 9.Bh4 Nxe4

Dragan Solak – Andrey Zontakh, Sabac 1998

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 h6 9.Be3 Be7 10.f4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5 12.Be2

Friso Nijboer – Boris Avrukh, Antwerp 1997

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 h6 9.Be3 Be7 10.f4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5 12.Bd3 b4

Judit Polgar – Vladimir Kramnik, Moskow 1996

Robert Huebner – Vladimir Kramnik, Dortmund 1996

Semen Dvoirys – Peter Svidler, Elista 1997

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 h6 9.Be3 Be7 10.f4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5 12.Qe3 Qc7 13.e5 dxe5 14.fxe5 Nd7 15.Ne4 Bb7 16.Nd6+ Qxd6 17.exd6 Bg5 18.Qxg5 hxg5 19.Bxg7 Rh4

Nigel Short – Viswanathan Anand, Dos Hermanas 1997