Khalifman holds draw in game 5 in another long endgame

by Sam Sloan

AUG 27: Khalifman came close to clenching the World Chess Championship tonight by holding a draw in an endgame where Akopian held a small advantage. Khalifman now leads by 3-2 in the six game match. Akopian must win tomorrow or else he loses the match. Akopian will have the black pieces against Khalifman and winning will be an almost impossible task in view of the dull playing style of Akopian.

Position after White played 46. h5. If Black tries to queen a pawn by force, White may sacrifice a rook for the pawn and then queen one of the remaining two pawns. Instead, Black played 46. Kd5 and the game was quickly drawn.

In the game today, Khalifman as black played surprisingly passively in the opening, allowing Akopian to have control of the center. This appeared to give Akopian a golden opportunity to come crashing through with a win and even the score. However, Akopian played strangely. Akopian could have played 26. f3, securing his e pawn and freeing his knight to gain a domineering position with Ne2 followed by Nd4 or Nf4.

Instead, Akopian played 26. b3, heading for an endgame. At a press conference after the match, attended by only Khalifman (Akopian has given only one press conference during this match) Khalifman said that 26. b3 was too slow and that Akopian would have done better to try 26. f3, a move which the live commentators and even the spectators had all suggested.

However, 26. b3 did preserve a small advantage. It is the playing style of Akopian to secure an infinitesimally small advantage and then to try to squeeze and squeeze to produce a win.

This time, nobody could see any winning chances for Akopian. However, Akopian did finally win a pawn and eventually reached an endgame of rook and two pawns against rook, but one of the two pawns was so far advanced that it could be easily picked off. This was going to lead to a rook and pawn against rook endgame in a position which is a known book draw. The players agreed to a draw without playing it out.

The endgame did contain some tricky points. Khalifman had an advanced pawn, but had he tried to win he might have lost. The analysts may enjoy looking at this.

At the press conference, Khalifman was asked why in game 4 he did not play 28. Be3, winning a pawn eventually, instead of 28. g4. Khalifman said that it is true that 28. Be3 would have won a pawn, but that the resulting position would have been open and unclear.

Here is the game today:

[Event "FIDE World Chess Championship"]
[Site "Las Vegas USA"]
[Date "1999.08.27"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Akopian,Vladimir"]
[Black "Khalifman,Alexander"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[Opening "Ruy Lopez: closed, Pilnik variation"]
[ECO "C77"]
[NIC "RL.12"]
[Time "17:38:30"]
[TimeControl "6000+30"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 b5 6. Bb3 Be7 7. O-O d6 8. c3
O-O 9. Re1 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. Nbd2 Nc6 12. Nf1 Re8 13. h3 h6 14. Ng3 Bf8 15.
d4 cxd4 16. cxd4 exd4 17. Nxd4 Nxd4 18. Qxd4 Be6 19. Bf4 Rc8 20. Bb3 a5 21.
Rad1 a4 22. Bxe6 Rxe6 23. Rc1 g6 24. Qd3 Rxc1 25. Rxc1 Qd7 26. b3 axb3 27.
axb3 Qb7 28. Qd2 Nxe4 29. Nxe4 Qxe4 30. Bxh6 Bxh6 31. Qxh6 Re8 32. Qd2 Qe5
33. Rd1 Rc8 34. f4 Qc3 35. Qxd6 Qxb3 36. f5 Qe3+ 37. Kh2 Qc5 38. fxg6 Qxd6+
39. Rxd6 Rb8 40. gxf7+ Kxf7 41. Rd3 b4 42. Rb3 Ke6 43. g4 Kd5 44. h4 Kc4 45.
Rb1 b3 46. h5 Kd5 47. h6 Ke6 48. h7 Rh8 49. Rxb3 {Game drawn by mutual agreement}

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