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|Games from the 2006 Unification Match|
|Chess Opening Survey|
Did all of the openings in the 2006 Kramnik - Topalov World Championship Unification Match look similar to you? If so, you are not alone. One reason for this is that the same initial move was used throughout the match. Another reason is that both players used the same openings as both White and Black.
Even experienced players who don't play a particular opening can have trouble distinguishing the differences between variations of that opening. This is true not only for the openings used in the unification match, but for all openings. Small differences in similar positions can mean big differences in the subsequent play. This is one reason why chess is such a difficult game to master.
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4. The same first move was used in all the games of the match, except the forfeited game 5, a total of 15 games.
It was the first World Chess Championship where all games started with 1.d4. The only preceding match where 1.e4 was never played was Petrosian - Botvinnik 1963, although 1.c4 was used by both players in about one-third of the games.
Of the 15 games in the 2006 match:
1...d5 2.c4 c6
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6, the Slav Defense. The position was reached 12 times in the unification match.
The opening first saw extensive World Championship action in the 1929 Alekhine - Bogoljubow match, where it was used by both players. It was also used frequently by both players in the Alekhine - Euwe matches of 1935 and 1937.
Of the 12 games in the 2006 match that saw the Slav Defense:
3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3. As we saw in the preceding step, the position after 3...Nf6 was seen in 10 games. The diagrammed position, with 4.Nc3, was seen in 6 games, while the continuation 4.e3 was seen in 5 games.
How is it possible that a position arises in 10 games, and after the next move we find 11 games? By the fact of transposition, an important weapon in the opening repertoire of all experienced players.
After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6, the continuation 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 was played in 10 games. The continuation 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3, which is the same position, was played in a single game. Thus we have 11 games where the same position was reached after White's fourth move.
Of the 6 games in the match that saw the diagrammed position:
This split underscores an important choice in the strategy of this opening. The move 4...e6 limits the further development of Black's light squared Bishop on the c8-h3 diagonal, but continues the guard on the e4 square. The move 4...dxc4 leaves open the Bishop's development, but abandons the guard of e4.
4...e6 5.e3 Nbd7
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7. The position after 4...e6 was seen in three games, while the position after 5.e3 was seen in four. The reason for this is again transposition, just as we saw for an earlier position.
The move 4...e6 marks the opening as a Semi-Slav Variation, where the move ...dxc4 becomes a real threat. Of the 4 games in the match that saw the diagrammed position:
6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5. It was reached in three games, once by Topalov playing White and twice by Kramnik playing White.
The position after 6...dxc4 and the subsequent play is known as the Meran Variation. One of its first appearances was the game Capablanca - Bernstein, St.Petersburg 1914, where Capablanca failed to appreciate its strength.
Of the 3 games in the match that saw the Meran:
8.Be2 Bb7 9.O-O
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Be2 Bb7 9.O-O. The move 8.Be2 was played twice by Kramnik and is less tactical than 8.Bd3 as played in one game by Topalov.
The difference between the two eighth moves highlights the opposing playing styles of the two champions. Kramnik, known for a positional style, chose the quiet continuation. Topalov, known for a tactical style, chose the sharp continuation.
Of the 2 games in the match that saw the diagrammed position, one was won by White, the other by Black.
4...dxc4 5.a4 Bf5
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5. It occurred in three games, Topalov playing White in each game. One game was won by by Black, and the other two were drawn.
You might think that a score of +0-1=2 in the diagrammed position means that the variation is an outstanding success for Black. In fact it is often misleading to draw conclusions from statistical analyses of chess openings, especially when they are drawn from such small samples. In the game won by Black, Topalov missed a crushing move that would have ended the game immediately. The two draws also saw Kramnik under pressure as Black; his outstanding resourcefulness allowed him to escape witha draw in both games.
Of the 3 games in the match that saw the diagrammed position:
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3, which was seen in five games. Topalov played White in four of those games. The outstanding characteristic of the move is that it prepares to recapture immediately on c4 with the Bishop.
Of those 5 games:
4...Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6
The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6, which was played in four games.
1...Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3
Of the 15 games played in the match, only three started with an opening other than a Slav Defense. Those three started 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3, the Catalan System of the Queen's Gambit Declined, with Topalov playing Black. The same opening sometimes starts 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6.