Yesterday Peter Leko fought back in the chess world championship and equalized the match. Here are some comments about the match strategy of the contestants:
Kramnik tries to play very solid with Black. He even plays positions which are supposed to be slightly better for White. However these positions usually involve an early exchange of queens, and are very technical. Kramnik hopes to make use of his superior technique. These positions are also very thoroughly prepared, usually a small novelty or deviation from previous play. In addition, if Kramnik feels that the opponent has prepared something during the match, he will vary slightly to avoid the preparation.
In his match against Kasparov in 2000, Kramnik had prepared the Berlin defence. In game 1 Kasparov achieved absolutely nothing, and a draw was agreed after 25 moves. In game 3 an interesting fight happened, but the game ended in a draw after 53 moves. Then Kasparov switched the battle ground and played 1.c4, without achieving anything at all, playing draws in game 5 after 24 and in game 7 after an abysmal 11 moves, despite trailing the match since game 2. In game 9 Kasparov returned to the main battle, but this time Kramnik played a different line with 9...h6 instead of 9...Bd7, sidestepping Kasparov's preparation and drawing after 33 moves. In game 11, Kramnik didn't play the Berlin but played another very technical position with two Bishops against a rook and two pawns in a ...Bc5 Ruy Lopez. In game 13 another Berlin led to a draw in 14 moves only. Finally in the last game Kasparov eventually started the 1.d4 battleground and for the first time in the match got a somewhat promising position with White, but Kramnik was able to hold and win the match.
We can't really say Peter Leko is more successful so far, as he also lost one game with White, but some thoughts about what he is trying to do differently. First, Peter wants to show that his technique is no worse than Kramnik's. Second, while Kramnik stopped smoking and drinking a long time ago and is in very good shape now, Peter is one of the finest sportsmen in the chess cirquit. This means Peter will try to play many long games, hoping that Kramnik will get tired sooner than him.
Apparently for this match, Kramnik has prepared the Petroff defence. While Peter certainly has a good record against the Petroff, Kramnik seems to have prepared an arsenal of small improvements, and I am sure he will be able to switch to a slightly different line again, as he did in the previous match with the Berlin.
Peter must have anticipated this, and prepared a second battle ground in 1.d4, which he never played before. Out of several hundred of Peter's games, the Megabase only has 2 where he did play 1.d4, and those were Trompovskies. He got a very technical position where he was able to put some pressure on Kramnik. While the position must have been a draw theoretically, he managed to win after a long fight.
It is interesting to note that Kramnik - in contrast with the 2000 match - is now able to play both 1.e4 and 1.d4 as well. So far, Peter has had no problems against Kramnik's Anti-Marshall, so it will be interesting to see if Kramnik will also open a 2nd battleground with 1.d4 today or in the upcoming games. I don't think that Kramnik has prepared, or will play the main line Marshall, but it would make an interesting surprise.
I am looking forward to the forthcoming games in this interesting match.
Update: In game 6 Kramnik got no advantage again with the Anti-Marshall. I haven't analysed the position at the end in detail, but to me it looked like Peter should have grabbed the chance and played on. He may have been tired, but as I said above, I would believe Kramnik was more tired.