Pursuits: Chess

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WITH THREE rounds to go, Vladimir Kramnik was looking increasingly well set to win the Dutch multimillionaire Joop Van Oosterom's Eighth Amber blindfold and rapidplay tournament in Monaco.

Kramnik suffered his very first defeat against Jeroen Piket in the Rapidplay discipline on Tuesday but came back to beat Piket in the Blindfold and on Wednesday emphasised his position with a fine 1.5-0.5 victory against the Fide world champion Anatoly Karpov, starting with the rapidplay game below. Following the rest day on Thursday he led overall with 11.5/16, clear of Shirov and Topalov 10 and Anand and Lautier 9.5. His domination of the Blindfold has continued with a splendid 6.5/8, ahead of Shirov 6, Topalov 5.5 and Karpov 5. In the blindfold Kramnik is clear second on 5/8, a point behind Anand who lost his first Rapidplay game to Ljubomir Ljubojevic but has since then added 6/7; and half a point clear of Lautier and Topalov on 4.5/8.

In the opening, they continued a long-standing "discussion" except that Karpov has generally omitted ...c5 reaching, after 7 Re1, a similar position but with his king already castled and the pawn on c7. They had a couple of games with this, with Karpov opting for 9 ...Nxc3 10 bxc3 Nc6 in each case. The first at the Sixth Amber tournament two years ago was drawn; but Kramnik won an off-puttingly nice game in Dortmund later in 1997.

With 7 Re1, White aims for an improved version of the normal "Hedgehog" which is reached by 7 d4 cxd4 8 Qxd4. Karpov's principled reaction of 7 ...d5, attempts to exploit what Black claims is a slight waste of time as compared to immediate central action. Black can also recapture 8 ...exd5 but after 9 d4 White gets some pressure against Black's central pawns.

13 Nxe6 fxe6 14 axb4 is also possible but Kramnik, as is generally his wont, preferred to keep it simple. The resultant position looks fairly harmless but as Kramnik quickly demonstrated, the white space advantage can cause serious trouble.

If 17 ...Rxd8 18 Nb5 Rd7 19 f4 looks dangerous and if a6 20 Rc1 Nxe5 21 fxe5 Bxg2 22 Kxg2 axb5 23 Rc8+ Bf8 24 Bxb6 is deadly. Perhaps Karpov should have tried 21 ...Nd3 though 22 Rc8+ Rxc8 23 Nxc8 Bf6 24 b3 looks strong. As played, Black suddenly collapsed.

29 Nc5? at once can be met by Be7 30 a6 Bxc5 but after 29 Kf1 Kf8 this sequence wins for White since the recapture on c5 is with check. Still, if eg 29 ...Be7 30 Ke2 en route to c4.

At the end the "a pawn" will cost Black at least a piece. A fantastically smooth victory!

White: Vladimir Kramnik

Black: Anatoly Karpov

English Opening


1 Nf3 Nf6

2 c4 b6

3 g3 c5

4 Bg2 Bb7

5 0-0 e6

6 Nc3 Be7

7 Re1 d5

8 cxd5 Nxd5

9 e4 Nb4

10 d4 cxd4

11 Nxd4 0-0

12 a3 N8c6

13 Nxc6 Nxc6

14 e5 Qxd1

15 Rxd1 Rfd8

16 Be3 Rab8

17 Rxd8+ Nxd8

18 Nb5 Bxg2

19 Kxg2 Nc6

20 Rc1! Nxe5

21 Nxa7 Bf6

22 b3 g5

23 Rc8+ Rxc8

24 Nxc8 b5

25 Nd6 b4

26 a4! Nc6

27 Nb7 g4

28 a5 Nb8

29 Kf1 Kf8?

30 Nc5 Nc6

31 a6