The time has come again when I award the accolade of most spectacular game of the year. It adds lustre if this is from one of the great matches. However, not one of the games from the London World Championship comes close to creating the requisite brilliance and drama. Instead, my choice falls on the game Aronian-Kramnik from the Fidé Candidates in Berlin.
Aronian-Kramnik: Fidé Candidates Berlin 2018; Ruy Lopez
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 d3 Bc5 5 Bxc6 This kind of ‘delayed exchange’ is a popular counter to the Berlin Defence 5 … dxc6 6 0-0 Qe7 7 h3 Rg8 (see diag 1) This is an extraordinary idea and shows an admirable flexibility of thought. White’s play has been a little passive and Kramnik alertly realises that he can exploit this with a rapid kingside advance. 8 Kh1 Nh5 9 c3 White needs a more robust response to Black’s aggressive plan. The alternative 9 Nc3 fits the bill so that if Black continues as in the game with 9 … g5 10 Nxe5 g4 11 d4 Bd6 12 g3 Bxe5 13 dxe5 Qxe5 then the white e-pawn is protected and he has time for 14 h4 with unclear play. 9 … g5 This shows up White’s 9th move as being too slow. The black attack now develops with terrifying speed. 10 Nxe5 g4 11 d4 11 Nxg4 is destroyed by 11 … Bxg4 12 hxg4 Qh4+ 13 Kg1 Ng3 and mate on h1 is inevitable. 11 … Bd6 12 g3 Bxe5 13 dxe5 Qxe5 14 Qd4 Qe7 Black could play 14 … Qxd4 15 cxd4 gxh3 but he much prefers to keep queens on and play for the attack. 15 h4 For the moment White has sealed up the kingside but Black now swiftly mobilises the rest of his army and quickly opens further lines. 15 … c5 16 Qc4 The loss of time that White suffers over the next few moves proves to be disastrous. 16 Qd3 minimises White’s disadvantage. 16 … Be6 17 Qb5+ c6 18 Qa4 f5 The key breakthrough. This creates possibilities of advancing with … f4 as well as the prospect of levering open the h1-a8 diagonal. 19 Bg5 White cannot play 19 exf5 as Black then has a winning combination — see today’s puzzle. 19 … Rxg5 20 hxg5 f4 21 Qd1 Rd8 22 Qc1 fxg3 23 Na3 Rd3 24 Rd1 Bd5 (see diag 2) A brilliant coup. If now 25 exd5 then 25 … Qe4+ 26 Kg1 gxf2+ forces a quick mate. 25 f3 gxf3 26 exd5 26 Rxd3 Qxe4 27 Re3 f2+ 28 Rxe4+ Bxe4 is a beautiful finish. 26 … Qe2 27 Re1 g2+ White resigns 28 Kh2 g1Q+ 29 Kxg1 f2+ mates.
I recommend a new book on Kramnik, written by his long-term manager Carsten Hensel. Vladimir Kramnik: the Inside Story of a Chess Genius (Quality Chess) tells the fascinating story of Kramnik’s battles against unscrupulous organisations and devious individuals. The discredited old guard of Fidé figure prominently.