If he does nothing else in his career, Vladimir Kramnik will always be remembered for being the protégé who finally dethroned his mentor, the great Garry Kasparov. In 2000 in London, Kramnik won that epic match that put him among the pantheons of greats of the game - and now nearing 41, he proved he still has a certain cache in the game by turning in a wonderful individual performance that proved to be the highlight of the recent Russian Team Championship in Sochi.
In the current May Fide Rating list, the younger generation made their move on Kramnik with Fabiano Caruana - following his recent US Championship win - replacing the ex-world champion as the official world No.2. But with his superb performance in Sochi, Kramnik is once again set to reclaim the No.2 spot when the next official Fide rating list is published on 1 June; and indeed, in the unofficial live list, he’s gained 11 Elo points to be No.2 behind Magnus Carlsen.
Many pundits feel Kramnik’s time may well have come and gone now, and another title challenge seems unlikely. He was unlucky not to have made it into the recent candidates to decide Carlsen’s challenger for the title - and if his current form is anything to go by, had he done so, he would have proved to have been a formidable contender in the candidates; and perhaps it would have been another Russian who would have been facing Carlsen in November.
In the Russian Team Championship, he was the unbeaten talismanic top-board performer for third-placed Siberian outfit Novosibirsk. And perhaps looking for something to prove, he almost beat Carlsen’s challenger Karjakin, who had to defend very resiliently for much of their epic 138-move encounter that went down to the bare kings. And despite the Bronze Horseman of St Petersburg winning the title, it was the in-form Kramnik who also made easy work of their top board, seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler.
May Fide top-10
1. Magnus Carlsen 2851 (=); 2. Fabiano Caruana 2804 (+9); 3. Vladimir Kramnik 2801 (=); 4. Anish Giri 2790 (=); 5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2788 (=); 6. Hikaru Nakamura 2787 (=); 7. Levon Aronian 2784 (=); 8. Sergey Karjakin 2779 (=); 9. Ding Liren 2778 (+1); 10. Wesley So 2775 (+2).
GM Peter Svidler - GM Vladimir Vladimir
Russian Team Championship, (4)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.cxd5 Nxd5 More usual in the Queen's Gambit Exchange is the recapture with 4...exd5; but here, Kramnik is not afraid to keep his opponent thinking with the rarity of recapturing with the knight, and has played it also against Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Veselin Topalov. But Svidler eschews the critical line of 5.e4 and a sort of Grünfeld set-up without Black's bishop being fianchettoed. 5.Nf3 As noted previously, the critical line has to be 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 c5 and now 7.a3 to stop ...Bb4+, the whole rationale of this line. 5...c5 6.g3 Also keeping in the Grünfeld theme and seen more here is 6.Rb1, the idea being that if Black plays ...Nxc3 and ...cxd4, then the Rb1 covers the threat of ...Bb4+. Rather than this, perhaps a bit caught out with Kramnik's 4...Nxd5, Svidler opts instead for a simple idea of fianchettoing his bishop and castling. 6...Nxc3 7.bxc3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Bxd2+ 10.Qxd2 b6 Black really has instant equality now: he's exchanged off his dark-squared bishop, has no weaknesses and a firm grip on the d5 square. 11.Bg2 Bb7 12.0-0 0-0 13.a4 Nc6 14.Ne5 Rc8 15.a5 The immediate exchange on c6 offers Black a small advantage: 15.Nxc6 Bxc6 16.Bxc6 Rxc6 17.Rfc1 Rd6! and suddenly the d-pawn is under threat. 15...b5 16.Qb2 a6 Svidler's tepid response in the opening has given Kramnik a small, yet grudging advantage here: He has a 2 to 1 majority on the queenside, no weaknesses, and White's a5-pawn is weak and could be picked off. All of these are small things - but in the hands of a master of such small advantages as Kramnik, they all add up to a winning hand. 17.Nd3 Ba8! Prophylactically preventing for now White's only threat of Nc5. 18.Bxc6 If 18.Nc5 Nxd4 19.Nxa6 Rc2 wins. 18...Rxc6! This not only defends a6 from Nc5 for Kramnik, but it also keeps the integrity of the long a8-h1 diagonal. 19.Nb4 Rc4 If Kramnik can link his queen and bishop down the long diagonal, then Svidler is doomed. 20.Nxa6 Qd5 21.f3 Rxd4 22.Nc7?! Awkward, and the knight on c7 proves problematic in the long-run for Svidler. He would still have been worse off, but he should perhaps have brought his knight back into a more central role with 22.Nb4 Qc5 23.Na6 Qa7! 24.Kg2 Rd6 25.Nb4 Rfd8 26.Nd3 Qe3 and Black has a dominating position, and ready to strike. 22...Qc5 23.Kh1 Bc6 24.Rfc1 White's a-pawn looks menacing, but alas it cannot be pushed due to the lack of retreat squares for the knight on c7: 24.a6 Rd7 25.Rfc1 Qb6 and the knight is lost. 24...Rc4 25.Na6? [Svidler had to relieve the pressure with an exchange of rooks; after which his a-pawn offers some chances of salvation and saving the game: 25.Rxc4 bxc4 26.Na6 Qd6 27.Nb4 Rb8 28.Rb1 Qc5 29.a6 h5! and with White's queen and rook tied down to the pinned knight, and the a-pawn not able to push on further, Black has a free reign to push his h-pawn and open threats towards White's king - but the advanced a-pawn makes it difficult for Black to push home any attack. 25...Qf2! (See Diagram) Deadly; the threat now of ...Bxf3+ is crushing. 26.Qe5 Bd5 27.Nc7 f6 28.Qd6 Rxc7 29.Qxc7 Qxe2 30.Ra3 0-1 Svidler resigns, with the threat not being ...Bxf3+ but ...b4.