In the 1990s, Vladimir Kramnik was considered one of the elite players in the world. Yet when he found his way into a World Championship match against the legendary Garry Kasparov in 2000, few gave him a chance to beat one of the titans of the game. But Kramnik prevailed, using his match strategy to perfection in order to neutralize Kasparov' chances and become the World Chess Champion. More than a decade later, Kramnik is still one of the world's premier chess players, and remains a threat to regain the World Championship at any time.
Early Life and Career:
Vladimir Kramnik was born in Tuapse, USSR (now Russia) on June 25, 1975. He was a talented player from a relatively early age, and took part in Mikhail Botvinnik's chess school to further his studies.
When Kramnik was selected to take part for Russia in the 1992 Chess Olympiad - albeit as a reserve - it caused some controversy, as Kramnik was just 16 and had yet to formally receive the grandmaster title. But his inclusion on the team was supported by Kasparov, and the move paid off: as the first reserve, he scored eight wins and just a single draw with no losses in the matches he participated in.
It wasn't long after that performance that Kramnik moved into the ranks of the world elite. In 1993, he finished in the middle of the pack at Linares in his first supertournament, and by 1995, he was able to win his first major tournament with a victory in Dortmund. That same year, Kramnik worked with Kasparov in his successful World Chess Championship defense against Viswanathan Anand.
World Number One:
The excellent results continued for Kramnik, and he quickly moved up the FIDE rating list. By January 1996, he had equaled Kasparov as the highest-rated player in the world, earning the official #1 ranking because of his greater number of games played in the most recent rating period. He would hold on to the top ranking for six months - the only time from 1986 to early 2006 when a player other than Kasparov held that title. He also became the youngest #1-ranked player ever, though that record would later be shattered by Magnus Carlsen .
Playing for a World Championship
While Kramnik had consistently put up good results and was generally regarded as being as strong as any of his contemporaries, match play success did not immediately follow. Starting in 1994, Kramnik would lose early-round candidates matches to Gata Kamsky and Boris Gelfand, ending his dreams of winning the Classical and FIDE World Championships respectively.
In 1998, Kramnik proved more successful, reaching the Candidates final. There, he faced Alexei Shirov for the right to challenge Kasparov. Once again, Kramnik came up just short, losing the match 5.5-3.5.
But that wouldn't be the end of the story this time. Unable to find suitable sponsorship for a match with Shirov, Kasparov eventually cancelled the match and organized a match with Kramnik instead. While it was a great opportunity for Kramnik, it left him as a severe underdog: not only had he already lost to Shirov, who few thought would defeat Kasparov in a match, but Kramnik was now a controversial figure, becoming the first challenger in over 60 years not to have qualified to play for the title.
Despite this, Kramnik came into the match well prepared and ready to claim the World Championship. Kramnik was able to neutralize Kasparov's advantage with the white pieces, as he countered the Ruy Lopez with the solid Berlin Defense. Meanwhile, Kramnik was able to gain the advantage in several of his games with white, winning the second and tenth games. Down two games, Kasparov seemed to lose hope, and Kramnik ultimately won the match 8.5-6.5 without losing a single game.
As champion, Kramnik showed his strength in tournament play. He continued his dominance in Dortmund - a tournament in which he continues to have success to this day - while also picking up his first Linares tournament victory in 2004.
That was also the year of Kramnik's first title defense, which took place in a match against Peter Leko. This time, the match was a back and forth affair, with Kramnik winning the first game before losing the fifth and the eighth to give Leko a 4.5-3.5 lead. The match then hung in the balance as there were five consecutive draws, giving Leko a 7-6 lead heading into the final game. Kramnik managed to win the final game with the white pieces, drawing the match at 7-7. Under the rules in place at the time, Kramnik retained his title despite the fact that the match had no winner.
In 2006, Kramnik took part in one of the more important matches in recent chess history. At this point, there were two World Chess Championships: the Classical championship that was derived from the long line of champions dating back to Steinitz, and the FIDE championship, which the world's governing body for chess had held onto when Kasparov chose to split with them. In 2006, Kramnik agreed to a reunification match with FIDE Champion Veselin Topalov.
The match started well for Kramnik, who held a 3-1 lead after four games. But then - in what would become known as the Toiletgate incident - Topalov accused Kramnik of using the bathroom too often, suggesting that he may be receiving computer help or other assistance during his trips. The tournament organizers declared that to get past the issue, both players would use a shared toilet.
However, Kramnik refused to play unless the original match conditions were reinstated. This led to Kramnik forfeiting the 5th game of the match when he refused to play. The original conditions were then put back into place, with Kramnik playing the remainder of the match under protest due to the unplayed 5th game. Topalov would end up reaching a 6-6 draw with Kramnik, leading to rapid tiebreakers. With the chess world wondering how the controversy would be resolved should Kramnik lose the match, he pulled through to win the rapid games 2.5-1.5, securing the title and avoiding any further controversy.
Losing the Title
After the reunification match, Kramnik won the right to participate in the planned 2007 World Championship tournament - a departure from the normal match play format that had decided World Champions traditionally. However, Kramnik agreed to play and recognize the winner as champion. In the end, it was Viswanathan Anand who would win the tournament ahead of Kramnik and Gelfand, becoming World Champion.
With much of the chess world uncertain about Anand's status, there was plenty of excitement for the 2008 match between Kramnik and the new champion. Unfortunately for Kramnik, Anand out-prepared him for the match and ultimately defeated him by a score of 6.5-4.5.
Since that match, Kramnik (as of the end of 2012) has been unable to return to the World Championship. However, he is a candidate for the title in 2013, and will play in the Candidates' Tournament for the right to once again challenge Anand for the championship.
Won Chess Oscar Twice (2000, 2006)
- Won Dortmund tournament ten times (1995-1998, 2000-2001, 2006-2007, 2009, 2011)
- Won Linares tournament twice (2000, 2004)
- Won Wijk aan Zee tournament in 1998
- Won London Chess Classic in 2011
World Championship Matches and Tournaments
2000: Defeated Garry Kasparov 8.5-6.5 (+2 =13) to win Classical World Chess Championship
2004: Drew Peter Leko 7-7 (+2 -2 =10) to retain Classical World Chess Championship
2006: Defeated Veselin Topalov 8.5-7.5 after rapid tiebreaks (+3 -3 =6 in standard play, +2 -1 =1 in rapid tiebreak) to win Reunified World Chess Championship
2007: Scored 8/14 to finish second in World Chess Championship Tournament; Viswanathan Anand becomes World Champion
2008: Lost to Viswanathan Anand 6.5-4.5 (+1 -3 =7); Anand retains World Chess Championship