Every so often a game is played which is worthy of joining the immortals in the pantheon of chessboard masterpieces. Anderssen v. Kieseritsky, London 1851, Zukertort v. Blackburne, London 1883, Botvinnik v. Capablanca, AVRO 1938; these are the jewels to which every chess player aspires. As Marcel Duchamp once observed: ‘not all artists are chess players, but all chess players are artists’.
The former world champion Vladimir Kramnik played such a game against Levon Aronian, one of the pre-tournament favourites in the Berlin Candidates to determine the challenger to Magnus Carlsen’s crown. The championship match itself is set for London in November.
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 diagram 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 diagram 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.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free