The Drive 
Peter Leko's dramatic win
in game 8

   10/11/2004 -

    When you talk about great sport events, you come up with Ali vs. Frazier III, the 1975 thriller in Manilla. You talk about NFL’s John Elway and his “Drive” against the Cleveland Browns to win the 1986 AFC conference championship. You talk about Garry Kasparov dramatic game 24 of the 1987 world championship match. There are numerous others. Now, we can add another to the list. I remember watching the first two of these events as they occurred.  I especially recall John Elway’s winning touch down drive. Cleveland was winning 20-13. Elway needed a touchdown to tie the game. There was only 5 minutes left on the clock. Elway’s on his own 2-yard line, he’s got 98 yards to go. It was a kind of drive that you had to execute flawlessly or the game was over. That’s the hallmark of a great player. He comes thru when the chips are on the line.  John Elway took advantage of his last shot and engineered a touchdown drive with flawless perfection.  Elway leads his team to a touchdown and the Broncos won the game in overtime 23-20.  

    I compare Leko’s win in game 8 to Elway’s winning drive. Both were important games. Both required perfect execution. Both required a great athlete to perform at his best, and lastly because this is not the end of the story.  Elway's team got to the Super Bowl and lost to the Redskins. Leko’s work is also not complete. He still has 6 more games and the defending World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is in the way. Regardless of the outcome of the match,  this chess game will go down in history, just like Elway’s drive. 

   Chess and football have much in common. Both are very much a team sport. The chess player can be considered the coach and even the quarterback. The quarterback leads his team. His team consists of the linemen, the running backs, and the receivers. The quarterback calls the plays. Each of his teammates has a specific job to do. The chess player has his teammates as well. He also calls the plays. He has his pawns, his knights, his bishops, his rooks and the king and queen. Each of his teammates has a specific job to do. If one of the pieces or teammates fails to execute, the play could fail. If a play fails, so can the drive. The game could be lost. I think a successful attack in chess is similar to a successful touchdown drive in football. Peter Leko had his drive in game 8 of the 2004 Classical Chess World Championship. I recall vividly the famous Elway Drive. Now I will recall Leko's 16-move drive, as I lived and felt it at the time. Here is Hangin’s call. 

    Leko starts this drive on his own 15. Leko needs to get something going, he’s gotten nowhere in games 1,3, and 7. Kramnik’s got a very tough defense. Defenses win championship. Leko has got to be wondering when he will get another serious shot. There is only time for one more drive. Kramnik just moved 16 Qf1, attacking Leko’s queen. Kramnik is offering a trade. Kramnik wants to suck the life out of the position and end the drive. Leko wants to keep the drive going, so it’s best to keep the queens on the board. He's got to make it count this time. He used a lot of clock so far. He’s got to get into his two-minute offense. Leko is a heck of a quarterback. 

   The play clock is running down. Leko’s been in the huddle a very long time. The huddle breaks, Leko walks under center. Can he get the play off in time? Leko shouts “ Hut 1, Hut 2, Spring right.” The ball is snapped with just 1 second left on the clock.  Leko fades back. He fires the ball; he completes the pass to the 30-yard line with 16... Qh5. Boy, that ball was roped down field. Leko has  a tremendous arm. The clock is still ticking; Leko has used all his time outs. He motions the team up to the line of scrimmage. Leko has 5 pieces attacking Kramnik’s castled king.  Kramnik brings his linebacker in with 17 Nd2. Leko does not have time for huddle; he’s probably called several plays in the last huddle. He gets his men to the line of scrimmage and he walks under center. He checks off at the line of scrimmage. Leko reads the coverage perfectly; he snaps the ball from center, a quick three-step drop. He completes another short pass with 17... Bf5. Kramnik’s rook is under attack. Kramnik consolidates his defense and offers to sacrifice his rook for the bishop by playing 18 f3. Leko ignores the gift and regroups his attack. Another quick snap and a running play for 5 yards with 18...Nf6. Leko is putting pressure on e4. Kramnik, dropping back into zone coverage, retreats his rook back with 19 Re1.

     The clock is still running. Leko and his team quickly run up to the line of scrimmage. He calls a quick signal and hands off to his running back for 8-yard game with 19... Rae8. Leko challenges the E-file. This quick no huddle offense has Kramnik unable to organize his defense. Kramnik is clearly back on his heals. Leko brings his a8 rook into the battle to exchange it for one of Kramnik’s key defenders. Kramnik knows that Leko is short on time. Time is Leko’s enemy and Kramnik’s ally. Kramnik is going to have to use drastic measures. He’s got to give Leko something to think about. Kramnik knows Leko needs big plays now or he will lose. Kramnik needs to pressure the quarterback so he can’t have time to react or think. Kramnik has got to rush the quarterback. Kramnik tries to create pressure by pushing his A-pawn with 21. a4.  Leko is unfazed; he hits his safety valve, with 21 .. Qg6. Leko puts more pressure on the d3-square. Kramnik blitzes again with 22 axb5. Leko again picks up the blitz and plays 22…. Bd3 attacking Kramnik’s Queen.  Kramnik plays 23 Qf2. Leko fades back and completes a big pass to Kramnik’s 35-yard line with 23 … Re2. Kramnik’s queen is trapped on the 2nd rank.

    The clock is still running. Kramnik is forced to sac his queen, with 24 Qxe2. Leko grabs the queen with 24… Bxe2.  Time is a key factor in this game. Kramnik is banking on stopping Leko’s attack by creating a dangerous passed pawn on the A-file. Kramnik is hoping to force Leko to give back more material. Kramnik is hoping Leko will sac his bishop for the dangerous passer. This would stall Leko’s drive. 

      Leko walks under center, he checks off at the line of scrimmage. He notices that Kramnik will blitz again. Leko audible at the line  “RED Dog Right, Red Dog Right.”  Leko has read the safety blitz. He knows it coming. Kramnik is going to create that pass pawn. He’s going to send that safety blitz, try to create a queen with check.  Leko shouts “Hut, Hut, Hut”. Leko takes the snap from center and fades back; he sees the blitz coming with Kramnik’s 25 bxa6. It’s a short three-step drop; Leko knows the center of the field will be open for a short pass to Kramnik’s 15-yard line. He quickly releases the ball and completes the pass with 25 … Qd3. All of Kramnik’s pieces are on the queenside, cut off from coming to the aid of his king. However time is still a factor. Kramnik does have his chances, a dangerous pass pawn just two squares from queening with check. Does Leko feel the pressure? Based on the time and the unstoppable passed pawn, Leko can’t afford the slightest slip. So far Kramnik’s blitzing strategy has not caused Leko to make any mistakes. Kramnik is hoping for a fumble or a turnover by Leko. If Kramnik could queen a pawn with check, this would disrupt Leko’s attack and stall Leko’s drive. Kramnik goes into a deep think and calls a time out.

    Kramnik needs the time to work out the defensive assignments. Leko certainly will benefit from this time out as well. Leko has been in the no-huddle two-minute offense.  I got to figure Kramnik is going to go for the all out blitz. Leko’s team is in the huddle. The time out ends. The clock is ticking, only time for a few more plays. Leko and his teammates break out of the huddle. Leko hurries his men to the line of scrimmage. Leko walks under center. Regardless of the outcome of this game, it's been a great one.  

     Leko shouts right “DOWN SET. He shouts left “ DOWN SET”. The tight end is in motion. Leko checks off at the line of scrimmage. Leko reads the defense. Leko notices that the a-pawn is not leaning towards a7. Leko knows that Kramnik is not going to send the blitz. Leko knows he has time to pass. Leko audibles at the line of scrimmage. He yells right “Blue 32, Split Eagle”. He yells left “ Blue 32, Split Eagle”. Leko shouts “ Hut Hut Hut Hut”. Leko gets the snap from center. Kramnik does not send the blitz with a7; he drops back into coverage with 26 Kf2. Leko takes a five-step drop; he knows he has time to pass. He looks right. He looks left. He looks off the cornerback.  He pump fakes with 26 … Bf3. Kramnik’s safety takes the bait with 27 Nxf3. Leko stays in the pocket, he has the time to throw, he waits for his receives to finish their routes. The pocket is collapsing around him. Leko’s running back breaks off his block and goes out to the flat with 27… Ne4+. Kramnik's Linebacker shadows the back with 28 Ke1. Leko steps up into the pocket. He freezes the linebacker. This allows Leko’s receivers to split the defenders with 28 .. Nc3. Kramnik's linebacker must choose with 29 bxc3.  The opening that Leko’s been waiting for appears. Leko, in statuesque passing position, pats the ball three times. Leko's target is open. Leko lets it rip. He passes the ball to his wide receiver on the 3-yard line with 29 .. Qxc3+. Kramnik’s defenders are too far way, they try to close with 30 Kf2. Leko's wide receiver catches the ball on the 3 yard line with 30..Qxa1. He evades one tackle. He stiff-arms his way into the end zone for a TOUCHDOWN.  IT'S A TOUCHDOWN. The GAME is OVER. LEKO WINS. LEKO WINS.


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