Kramnik dethrones Anand

ARVIND AARON

VLADIMIR KRAMNIK, the Russian professional World chess champion, has become the new king of Advanced Chess. Not having won any event since July 2001, Kramnik lived up to the expectations of world champions by winning a closely contested match against three-time winner Viswanathan Anand.

Advanced Chess, which is an invention of Garry Kasparov, is in its fifth year and this year's event was a part of the 15th Chess Festival of Leon. Players from the Open tournament turned spectators and watched the proceedings of this match. The weekend over which the match was held was dominated by Spain's defeat at the hands of South Korea in the penalty shoot out in the soccer World Cup quarter-finals. Nevertheless, a downtrend in spectator support was evident and the once heralded novelty of Advanced Chess seems to be losing its shine.

In Advanced Chess, players are allowed to officially "cheat" and use a computer. They are offered a powerful desktop computer with the latest Chess Base database programme and fitted with chess engines. Engines are the vital programmes that seemingly understand chess and suggest moves in their depth. Anand used both engines, Junior and Fritz, while Kramnik was loyal to Fritz thereby conserving his computing resources. Both programmes are former world computer champions and none of the players used the current world computer champion Shredder.

"With such safety-first methods, these two players should not be allowed to play a match," said an angry chess fan in one of the online websites. This reaction after the first two games however was an unfortunate accusation as both the players tried hard to win. Kramnik hardly loses but then he rarely wins a game. He has also gone on record saying "chess is a drawish game". Anand, the champion in Advanced Chess for the last three years, perhaps took the match as it came rather than make extensive preparation and try out training games. The determination which he had when he beat Kramnik in the tie-break of the rapid chess match at Mainz in Germany last year was not there.

The tie-breaker was not required at Leon in the computer aided match. Kramnik won game three in what looked like an extension of their Dortmund game last year. The same opening, a different line, the same result. Kramnik rivetted his expertise of that variation by winning another rook ending after a powerful queen pawn sacrifice.

Repeating losing ideas might seem foolish but one could admire Anand's self-belief and risk-taking ability that it would work. In game five, Anand repeated the same for a third time but Kramnik, with a 1-0 lead chose a harmless side variation to allow early exchange of queens and play out a draw. He did not accept the challenge thrown by Anand with the black pieces in the queen's gambit accepted.

For Anand, who has been recently working a lot with Paco Vallejo, the teenaged Spanish talent, the positions that cropped up at the board did not offer any tangible advantage. All three of his white encounters flopped and did not offer much and in the lone black game where he entered Kramnik's home preparation, he was busted. With a computer by his left side, Kramnik was staring at the ceiling of the basement hall, trying to recollect his preparation in that crucial game. So, Kramnik relied more on his home analysis than his computer.

One may have expected Anand to make a lasting impression in the early games and prevent Kramnik from settling down in Advanced Chess. However, the first two games were drawn with both players not extracting any initiative from the white pieces. It even made a few think that Advanced Chess had narrowed the gap between white and black considerably.

At Leon, Kramnik was accompanied by his businessman-friend GM Miguel Illescas of Barcelona as his second. He had a warm up simultaneous display en route to Leon at Barcelona before the match.

After several successful years with GM Elizbar Ubilava of Georgia, Anand was accompanied by GM Ferdinand Hellers of Sweden at Leon. This lawyer-friend of Anand was his chief trainer at the World Championship Candidates Match against Alexey Dreev of Russia at Madras in 1991.

Kramnik, who celebrated his 27th birthday on June 25, a day after receiving the trophy for his 3.5-2.5 match triumph has arrested a firm downtrend in his career. Beating Anand in any chess game format is an achievement. Anand is referred to as the "most competent chess software user" in the 2700 rating club. There are many events in which these players could compete this year. It could even be the third Russia versus the Rest of the World match in Moscow in September. The first two held in 1970 and 1984 were won by Russia, which would be the favourite to win it for a third time.

On his experience at Leon, Kramnik said, "Advanced Chess has its own advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, the quality of games is better with the support of computers. But the negative aspect is that the creativity is absent".

The Human+Machine hybrid strength is known to rise the playing strength but the players were given 45 minutes to complete a game and as an increment not to lose on time they received 15 seconds for making each move. This speed of about an hour a side for the game offset some of the quality. Mistakes were less but the strongest Advanced Chess match guaranteed that human ideas, particularly the opening preparations, were needed for success. Most games were flat, without interest. Anand was asked why he chose to repeat the Van Wely versus Short game from Wijk aan Zee, 1997, in game four with white. The Indian replied that it was white which had better chances and in the same press conference Kramnik agreed to that opinion. Everyone felt that black was doing well in game four initially as the player with the black pieces had won the stem game from a tournament at Wijk aan Zee which was jointly won by Anand and Kramnik.

There is no doubt that Kramnik+Fritz is a new strength in world chess and a computer helps him more than it does Anand. Kramnik's choice of Fritz may have other reasons as well. He is playing the demon programme at Bahrain later this year. And everytime he refers Fritz as the best in chess, better than Deep Blue, Kasparov reacts and this cycle continues.

Except for these two games, the match was not very interesting. From Anand's point of view, one defeat in the third game is not of serious concern since he had won the Eurotel Trophy at Prague in May and he has a more important rapid chess match against Ruslan Ponomariov coming up from August 15 at Germany. Spain is one place in the world which hosts matches between players of different nations and takes genuine pride out of it.

The moves:

Vladimir Kramnik plus Computer versus Viswanathan Anand plus Computer, Match Game 3, Advanced Chess, Queen's Gambit Accepted, D27: 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 e6 3. c4 dxc4 4. e3 c5 5. Bxc4 Nf6 6. 0-0 a6 7. Bb3 cxd4 8. exd4 Nc6 9. Nc3 Be7 10. Bg5 0-0 11. Qd2 Na5 12. Bc2 b5 13. Rad1 Nc4 14. Qf4 Ra7 15. Ne5 Rc7 16. Nxc4 bxc4 17. Bxf6 Bxf6 18. d5 e5 19. Qf3 Rb7 20. Qe4 g6 21. Qxc4 Rxb2 22. Bb3 Bg5 23. d6 Be6 24. Qa4 Bxb3 25. axb3 Qb6 26. Qg4 Bf4 27. Nd5 Qd8 28. Nxf4 exf4 29. d7 Rxb3 30. Qxf4 Rb8 31. Rfe1 Qb6 32. h4 h5 33. Rd6 Qc5 34. Qf6 Qf5 35. Qxf5 gxf5 36. Rxa6 Rfd8 37. Rd6 1-0.