It was not like the greatest baseball comeback when the Boston Red Sox came from a 0-3 deficit to beat the New York Yankees 4-3 and moved to the World Series last week. But chess historians may argue that Vladimir Kramnik's victory last Monday at the Classical World Championship in Brissago, Switzerland, comes close. The Russian world champion won the last game against the Hungarian challenger Peter Leko, tied the match 7-7 and defended his title. Only a few world champions have accomplished a similar feat. In 1910 in Berlin, Emanuel Lasker prevailed from a lost position in the last game over Carl Schlechter and tied the match 5-5. Schlechter never recovered from the tragic loss, didn't play a world championship match again and ended in poverty. In 1987 in Seville, Garry Kasparov was able to keep the world title after he beat Anatoly Karpov in the last game, equalizing the match score 12-12.
The Comeback Game
Kramnik believes that Leko is the world's best defender today. But the Hungarian cracked under the pressure in the last game, giving up too much space in a passively played Caro-Kann defense.
Kramnik's pawn play was impressive throughout the game.
Kramnik-Leko, Game 14
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4!? h6 5.g4 (One of the sharpest lines in the Advance variation.) 5...Bd7 (After 5...Bh7?! 6.e6! the pawn sacrifice jams black's kingside.) 6.Nd2!? (Amazingly, this move, anticipating the advance c6-c5, was never played before.) 6...c5! 7.dxc5 e6 (Leko avoids complications, although after 7...Nc6!? 8.Nb3 Nxe5 9.Qxd5 Bxg4! [Not 9...Bc6? 10.Qxe5 Bxh1 11.f3 and white wins.] 10.Bb5+ Nc6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.Qxc6+ Bd7 13.Qb7 Qc8 he should be fine.) 8.Nb3 Bxc5 (Leko surrenders a bishop pair, leaving Kramnik with a small but lasting advantage. Otherwise, it is not easy to get the pawn back, for example 8...a5 9.a4 Na6 10.Be3 Qc7 11.Bxa6 Rxa6 12.Nf3, with a clear edge for white.) 9.Nxc5 Qa5+ 10.c3 Qxc5 11.Nf3 Ne7 12.Bd3 Nbc6 13.Be3 Qa5 (Threatening 14...d4.) 14.Qd2 Ng6 (Kasparov suggested a Karpovian pawn sacrifice 14...d4!?, creating a nice blockading square on d5, for example 15.cxd4 Nb4 16.0-0 Qd5! 17.Be2 Bb5 and black has an excellent play on the light squares.)
15.Bd4 (Apparently, Leko was surprised by this move allowing the queen exchange. But what else can white play?) 15...Nxd4 16.cxd4 Qxd2+?! ( After the game Leko preferred 16...Qb6, following it with 17...Bb5.) 17.Kxd2 Nf4 (Hoping that the knight can create chaos. Moving it to the queenside, 17...Ne7, leaves white with a clear space advantage after 18.b4!) 18.Rac1! h5 (After the simple 18...Nxd3 19.Kxd3 Bb5+ 20.Ke3, white's flexible knight has a clear edge over black's passive bishop and can support pawn advances on the kingside.) 19.Rhg1! Bc6 (It seems that Leko missed 19...Nh3?!, but after 20.Rg3! Nxf2 21.gxh5, black's kingside becomes vulnerable, for example 21...Ne4+ 22.Bxe4 dxe4 23.Ng5 Bc6 24.Rf1! Rxh5 25.Nxf7 and white should win.) 20.gxh5 Nxh5 (Black is left with a lousy knight on the edge of the board.) 21.b4 a6 (What next?)
22.a4!? (Giving up a pawn to get the rook to the seventh rank.) 22...Kd8? (Too passive. Leko had to snatch the pawn: 22...Bxa4 and after 23.Rc7 play either 23...0-0 or even 23...Bb5.) 23.Ng5 Be8 24.b5?! (Kramnik is in a hurry to get his rook to c7, but 24.Ke3!? would have taken the knight on h5 out of play and after 24...Rc8 25.b5! would have been much stronger.) 24...Nf4 (Not adequate is also 24...axb5 25.Bxb5, threatening 26.Bxe8 Kxe8 26.Rc7.)
25.b6! (Establishing the outpost on c7 for the soft landing of his rook.) 25...Nxd3? (Giving up the fight. Leko must have seen that the piece sacrifice 25...f6 26.Nf3 Bh5 27.Rxg7! wins quickly, for example 27...Bxf3 28.exf6 Nxd3 29.Kxd3 Rb8 30.Rcc7 and after the pawn on b7 falls, white will most likely promote his own b-pawn.) 26.Kxd3 Rc8 (On 26...Rxh4 comes 27.Rc7!) 27.Rxc8+ Kxc8 28.Rc1+ Bc6 (After 28...Kb8 29.Rc7 Rf8 30.a5! completes the siege and white can march his king to e7.) 29.Nxf7 Rxh4 30.Nd6+ Kd8 31.Rg1 Rh3+ (On 31...Rh7 32.a5 white will soon brake with his f-pawn.) 32.Ke2 Ra3 33.Rxg7 Rxa4 (With the black rook out of play, white concludes the game in a grand style.)
34.f4! (Kramnik is going for his beloved pawn breakthrough.) 34...Ra2+ (The idea becomes clear after 34...Rxd4 35.f5! exf5 36.e6!, threatening to promote the pawn and forcing 36...Re4+ 37.Nxe4 dxe4 38.Rc7! [with 39.Rxc6! in mind]. 38...Bb5+ 39.Ke3 and white wins.) 35.Kf3 Ra3+ 36.Kg4 Rd3 37.f5! Rxd4+ 38.Kg5 exf5 39.Kf6! (Creating a mating net.) 39...Rg4 40.Rc7 Rh4 41.Nf7+ (On 41...Ke8 42.Rc8+ Kd7 43.Rd8 mates.) Black resigned.
U.S. Teams Advance
After yesterday's ninth round Ukraine still leads at the 36th Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, with 27 points in 36 games. Russia has 241/2 points. The U.S. team moved into third place with 24 points. China dominates the women's olympiad with 231/2 points out of 27 games. The U.S. team shares second place with Russia, Hungary and India -- all with 171/2 points. Solution to today's problem by P. Orlimont (White: Ke1,Qh1,Bg5,Nb4; Black: Kg3,P:e3,g4,h2,h3): 1.Na2! e2 2.Be7 Kf4 3.Nc3 Kg3 (Or 3...Kf5 4.Qe4 mate; or 3...g3 4.Qe4 mate.) 4.Nxe2 mate.