Raymond Keene

Kramnik retires

Kramnik retires
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A notable feature from the recently concluded elite tournament at Wijk aan Zee was the abject failure of former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, who finished in equal last place. I have been conjecturing that it might be time for him to put his pieces back in the box, in the style of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days.

Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

And one by one back in the closet lays.

He could evolve into an elder statesman for the new Fidé regime led by Arkady Dvorkovich and his vice-president Nigel Short. Now, at the age of 43, he has stunned the chess world by taking this dramatic step, announcing his retirement from active play. This week’s game must be one of the reasons that persuaded him the time had come to withdraw from the hurly-burly of international competitive chess.

Vidit-Kramnik: Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee 2019

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 exd5 8 e3 c4 This is a well-known variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. The struggle primarily revolves around White’s efforts to advance in the centre with e4. If he can achieve this he will gain the advantage. If not then Black will be okay. A vital component of White’s strategy is to position his king’s bishop along the b1-h7 diagonal. Black has two methods of forestalling this, either by ... Bf5 or, more radically, here with ... c4. 9 Ne2 Nc6 10 g4 Na5 11 Bg2 Nb3 12 Rb1 In an almost identical situation from their 2013 World Championship match in Chennai, Anand chose to place his rook on a2 against Carlsen. 12 ... 0-0 13 0-0 b5 Kramnik had doubtless underestimated White’s following pawn sacrifice. In any case after 13 ... Re8 to restrain White from playing e4, White can continue with 14 Ng3 when White’s central advance cannot be held back long. 14 e4 dxe4 15 fxe4 Nxc1 16 Qxc1 Bxg4 17 Nf4 Rb8 18 h3 Bd7 19 e5 Ne8 20 Qe3 (see diagram 1) 20 ... Rb6 The black position is somewhat depressing to defend but the text move fails to untangle his pieces. The best defence is 20 ... Nc7 21 d5 Qg5 intending ... Rbe8. 21 d5 Nc7 22 d6 Bisecting the board and leaving Black’s queen’s rook stranded. 22 ... Ne6 23 Nd5 Ra6 24 Rf5 White’s concentration of force against the black king is utterly decisive. Kramnik indulges in a harmless flank demonstration with his queen’s rook but by this stage his position is beyond good and evil. 24 ... Qh4 25 Rbf1 Rxa3 26 Ne7+ Kh8 27 Rxf7 Rxf7 28 Rxf7 Qh5 (see diagram 2) 29 Qf4 Black resigns An elegant conclusion. The threat is 30 Rf8+ and 29 ... Nxf4 evidently fails to the immediate 30 Rf8 mate.