Vladimir Kramnik – World Chess Champion Candidate

Vladimir Kramnik is the player who managed to end Garry Kasparov’s 15-year reign of terror as World Chess Champion.

Vladimir Kramnik grew up in the sleepy provincial Black Sea town of Tuapse, but soon appeared on the radar of Garry Kasparov, who accepted him into the school he ran with Mikhail Botvinnik. New in Chess Editor-in-Chief Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam tells the story of how the youngster shot to prominence when he scored 8.5/9 for the Russian team as a 16-year-old at the 1992 Olympiad. The youngster would go a long way, with current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen assessing the career and impact of his great predecessor.

Candidate Kramnik (?)
After 1995 there wasn’t to be another match for Kasparov’s title for another five years. The Professional Chess Association collapsed and the World Chess Association was created. There were competing World Championship cycles, with the Candidates final of the one that mattered most being played between Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov. This took place in 1998 and was won by Shirov, who then earned the right to challenge Kasparov.

‘Money, Money, Money…’
Somehow, the funds could not be raised for a Kasparov – Shirov match. Incredible, but true. Attempts were made to create another match with Anand, which failed to reach fruition. Even more incredibly, yet another organisation was created – BrainGames.com – and a title match was finally organised between Kasparov and… Kramnik. Shirov, who had defeated Kramnik by the score of two wins, seven draws and no losses, was unceremoniously pushed aside. It is hard to imagine such a scenario happening in any other sport. Chess was sustaining damage, due to egos and the coming and going of too many temporary organisations.

Destination: London
The ‘Braingames World Chess Championships’ took place at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, from 8 October 2000 to 4 November 2000. Riverside Studios had witnessed the filming of numerous popular television shows, such as Hancock’s Half-Hour, Quatermass and the Pit and Doctor Who. In the Autumn of 2000, a different kind of drama was about to take place.

After all of the politics, chaos and confusion, it was a relief to have some important chess games back on board. 16 games were scheduled. English Grandmaster Raymond Keene was at the helm, as he was for most of the important chess events in London from the 1980s up until the 2009 London Chess Classic, the first in the wonderful series created by Chess in Schools and Communities.

I was present for part of the match and it was the first time I had seen electronic scanners used on the audience as a matter of course. There were also numerous arguments at the reception desk, when people were asked to hand over their mobile phones before entering the auditorium. Chess had entered a new age. Machines were stronger than humans; devices were small enough to enable people to send messages to discrete earpieces if people were intent on cheating at chess. It all sounds like a leftover plot for one of the Doctor Who shows.

The Favourite
Kasparov was the favourite to win the match, of course. Yet there seemed to be an element of the ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’ at work when it came to his thoughts on Kramnik. The former definitely saw the latter as his natural successor. Did this have any impact in the match?

Game one brought a very important moment on the third move: Kramnik used the Berlin Defence against Kasparov’s Ruy Lopez. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6.

The Berlin Defence
The game was drawn after 25 moves. The Berlin Defence would not be breached at any time during the match. Kasparov’s fearsome Ruy Lopez was shorn of its power. He even tried 1.c4 on two occasions, presumably to give his team the time to work on the Berlin, but they ended up being wasted Whites. One of them was drawn after just 11 moves. Was Kasparov really out of ideas?
Kramnik’s Powerful 1.d4

Not only could the champion make no headway with White, but he was also struggling with Black. A defeat in the second game saw his favourite Gruenfeld Defence retired from action for the rest of the match. Kramnik came very close to winning again in games four and six. Then came a second victory for the challenger, in game 10, with Kasparov – having to rely on the Nimzo-Indian Defence, with which he never did have a good score – being crushed by pure preparation. Kramnik was firmly in the driving seat and there were just six more games to go. Kasparov was unrecognisable, but he had been in tight situations before. He would hit back strongly… wouldn’t he?

The End is in Sight
Three more draws followed. Game 13 lasted just 14 moves, as Kasparov once again showed nothing significant with White against the Berlin Defence. It was hard for Kasparov’s fans to take. All of his other matches had been filled with fighting spirit, energy and extreme determination. Why was the World Number One sleepwalking his way to the end of his reign?

The next two games brought back some of the fighting spirit. Kasparov had the advantage – with Black – in game 14, but Kramnik held firm in the endgame. This left Kasparov needing to win the last two games. There was no safety net.

Game 15 finally brought a change, as Kasparov opened with 1.d4. The game developed into a Catalan Opening. For a while, Kasparov seemed to be building an edge, but accurate play by Kramnik ensured it was never going to be enough.

Aftermath

Garry Kasparov spent some time trying to force a rematch with Kramnik, but to no avail. He remained the World’s Number One player in terms of ratings and his tournament performances remained excellent.

Plans to play matches against FIDE World Champions Ruslan Ponomariov (in 2003) and Rustam Kasimdzhanov (in 2005) also came to nothing. Kasparov was unwilling to ever play in another Candidates event and that left him without a route back to being champion of the world. In 2005, after winning the Linares tournament, he announced his retirement from chess. It was a strange end for the man who looked to be very much on course to maintain his title for many more years to come.

Vladimir Kramnik – who effectively qualified for a title match by losing a Candidates match – played his part in the unification of the two world titles, defending his title against Peter Leko in 2004 and Veselin Topalov in 2006 before conceding the title to Vishy Anand in 2007 and 2008. That, of course, is a story for another day. Today’s piece is all about his moment of triumph in 2000, when he famously dominated Garry Kasparov in a match which still leaves plenty of unanswered questions.

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Nov 02, 2020

World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik gave a QA session

In the run-up to the chess24 Legends of Chess, 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik gave a Question and Answer session where he talked about his matches against Garry Kasparov, Vishy Anand and Peter Leko, his experience working with young Indian chess prodigies, how his style changed over the course of his career, and much more. It’s a must-watch, in case you missed it, and now we’ve added transcripts of some of the highlights from the over one-hour show.

Vladimir Kramnik was interviewed by Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau, with questions posed by chess24 premium members. You can rewatch the full show below:

On what chess can teach

For me personally I’ve been blessed. I have a lot of gratitude to chess and to my father, who showed me chess, as I mentioned, without any bad intentions! He never thought I’m going to be a professional chess player. It was just a part of culture, I was just 5 or 6, and he couldn’t do anything better than that, because since then it’s been my passion, it’s been my profession, but also my hobby – my passion and a very important part of my life, which I believe helped me in a way, created me as a personality as I am, like it or not. It’s been a very important part of my life.

I think chess, I can say, there is no harm studying, and lots of positive aspects, especially for the kids to start to play chess. One of the aspects is that nowadays the world is changing quite significantly, I’m also partly involved in certain AI projects… and I can clearly see many experts are already telling that the world is going to be very different in the next maybe 10-20 years. I fully agree with it, it’s true, I really believe so, and actually the ability of critical thinking, strategical thinking will be important, even more important than nowadays – so called soft skills.

See also:

  • Kramnik on seeing Carlsen was the next Federer
  • AlphaZero, Vladimir Kramnik and reinventing chess
  • Kramnik on retirement and life after chess
  • Vladimir Kramnik’s chess24 profile
Aug 07, 2019

Kramnik makes winning return in blitz opener of the Levitov Chess Week

Vladimir Kramnik retired from classical chess in January, but in the blitz opener of the Levitov Chess Week he showed he’s still not so rusty. He matched the 5/7 of Vishy Anand but took first place after winning their individual encounter. Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Boris Gelfand, Anish Giri and Evgeny Bareev all finished below the former World Champions in the unusual closed event in Amsterdam. Peter Svidler is making highlight videos each day.

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk also made the short trip from Paris to Amsterdam, while Peter Svidler had to cross the Atlantic after commentating on the Paris event from Saint Louis. Our very own Jan Gustafsson is also on location, or at least we think that’s what he’s been doing in Amsterdam…

The line-up, including veterans Boris Gelfand and Evgeny Bareev, is down to the organiser, Ilya Levitov, for whom the event is partly a 40th birthday celebration. Ilya was in charge of the Russian Chess Federation from 2010 to 2015, when he oversaw the Russian team captained by Bareev and, among other things, helped organise the 2012 Anand-Gelfand World Championship match in Moscow.

So for his birthday, of course, it was rapid and blitz on the menu, with the tournament in the 5-star Amsterdam Waldorf Astoria beginning with a 7-round 3+2 minute blitz tournament. The games aren’t being broadcast live on the internet, but you can watch them all after they’re over. Here’s Saturday’s blitz.

Vladimir Kramnik got off to a slow start with a draw against Nepomniachtchi and a loss to Evgeny Bareev (now living in and representing Canada), but he began a run of 4 wins in 5 with victory over Peter Svidler. 29…h5? “wins a piece”, but it’s one of those things not to try at home.

It seems as though Black has everything under control, but the e8-rook is undefended, which Kramnik was able to exploit with 27.Bxe5! Qxe5 28.R7d5! Vishy gave up his queen with 28…Reb8, but Vladimir went on to grind out a win in 57 moves.

The final standings of the blitz looked as follows:

See also:

  • All the games from the Levitov Chess Week: Blitz, Rapid