match Kramnik against Topalov
Why Kramnik is the favorite
By André Schulz
Let's first of all briefly explain the initial situation to all younger chess
friends: In 1993 Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short, after quarreling with the then
reigning FIDE president, Florencio Campomanes, organized their World Championship
match without the World Chess Federation. From then on there were two lines
of World Champions. Kasparov played two more matches for the title. In 1995
he beat Viswanathan Anand, and in 2000 he lost against Vladimir Kramnik. The
latter defended his title in 2004 against Leko.
FIDE was at first at a loss what to do after Kasparov had left the fold in
1993. First they organized a number of World Championships as knockout events,
under the leadership of the new FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumshinov. In 2005 they
abandoned this format and staged a round robin tournament in Argentina, which
was won by Veselin Topalov in convincing style.
Previously, at a meeting of the most important people in chess in Prague
2002, an agreement was signed to unify the two World Championship lines.
Now, after the the Argentina match, the desired encounter of the two World Champions
could take go ahead.
The 12 game match will take place from 21. September to 13. October in Elista,
the capital of Kalmykia. The winner is the player who first scores 6.5 points.
If the score is equal, four rapid games will be played, and if the score then
is still equal, two blitz games will follow, and after that a sudden death blitz
game. The guaranteed prize fund of one million US dollars will be equally divided
between Kramnik and Topalov, no matter what the result. However, in a way the
match is still a winner-takes-all match. After all, only the winner qualifies
for the World Championship tournament next year. The loser is eliminated.
Reigning FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov
During the last two years the top-level tournament circuit has been clearly
dominated by Veselin Topalov. Even before the 2004
FIDE World Championship in Tripoli, Topalov was one of the world's stronger
GMs. But it was at the Tripoli tournament that the comet-like rise of the then
29-year-old Topalov began. Within two years a number of spectacular successes
took him to the top of the world ranking list, which he currently leads with
a rating of 2813. After Tripoli the Bulgarian appeared to be a different player.
Although previously he used to play in a very enterprising style, which was
quite entertaining for the public, now, after changing his repertoire he at
times seemed to be able to dominate his rivals almost at will.
Topalov went through to the semifinal of the FIDE World Championship in Tripoli
with a score of 9.5:0.5, though he
then lost against the eventual tournament winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov. After
that he came in "only" third at the Corus
tournament in Wijk aan Zee 2005, taking defeats against Polgar and Adams,
but he went on to win Linares together with Kasparov. He also triumphed at the
M-Tel tournament in Sofia in 2005. Despite two defeats – one against Kramnik
– he came equal 2-5 in Dortmund
Now came the famous Word
Championship tournament in San Luis, where he outplayed all the other top
grandmasters, scoring 6.5 points in the first seven rounds. In the second half
seven draws proved to be enough to clinch victory. He finished the tournament
with 10.5 out of 14, a point and a half ahead of his nearest rival. A tournament
victory in Wijk
aan Zee (together with Anand), and a shared second in Morelia/Linares
after a weak start, and another victory in Sofia
followed in 2006, where Topalov caught the leading Kamsky in the final rounds.
Veselin Topalov's rating progress
Many chess fans were thrilled and saw Topalov as Kasparov's worthy successor,
even if the Bulgarian had started his triumphant way to the top relatively late
in life, and not in his early twenties, as Kasparov had done.
Classical chess world champion Vladimir Kramnik
But much earlier Kasparov saw Vladimir Kramnik as his successor. When he met
the young Kramnik in the beginning of the nineties he was so enthusiastic about
his young colleague's chess insight that he insisted on including the 17-year-old
being included in the Russian team at the Chess Olympiad 1992 in Manila. When
preparing for his World Championship match against Anand in 1995 Kasparov invited
Kramnik to help him. It seems he at that time already sensed that here was a
serious rival in the making. Kramnik was the second player ever (after Kasparov)
to surpass the 2800 rating points barrier.
At the the World Championship match in London in 2000 Kramnik proved to be
an insurmountable obstacle. Kasparov was not able to win a single game against
the now 25-year old. With 2:0 won games Kramnik won the match, and the 15-year
reign of Kasparov as World Champion came to an end. The new World Champion at
this time built up a team of helpers, who also supported him during the title
match against Peter Leko in Brissago 2004. Kramnik had to play this match
under much more unfavorable conditions. Today we know that Kramnik, after his
match against Kasparov, started to suffer from a chronic form of arthritis,
which proved to be a heavy burden, and which also heavily interfered with his
chess and caused him to drop several places on the ranking list. During the
match in Brissago he had to undergo medical treatment in order to be able to
finish the match. He was trailing against the Hungarian challenger, but in the
last game he mobilized all his powers and equalized the match, which allowed
him to keep the title.
This is not the place to list Kramnik's successes as tournament player. There
are numerous great tournament victories in his career, even though the man from
Tuapse might not have been quite as impressive as Topalov has been in the last
two years. In a recent
interview the world champion in classical chess revealed that the treatment
of his illness is making good progress. At the Chess Olympiad in Turin he was
the best overall player, in summer he won the tournament in Dortmund. At the
press conference of the RAG in Essen he presented himself in cheerful, optimistic
mood. No trace of an illness could be seen. The worst seems to be over.
Vladimir Kramnik's rating progress
However, more interesting than Kramnik's success as tournament player is Topalov's
experience as match player. The encounter in Elista is a match, not a tournament.
Here Kramnik has a clear advantage. His two world championship matches against
Kasparov and Leko give him the experience Topalov still lacks.
During his career the FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov has played only a
few and very short matches, and has not been very successful in them. In 2002
at the qualifier in Dortmund he only won the four-game match against Bareev
in the tie-break. Against Leko he lost in the four-game final. In April this
year he won beat Dieter Nisipeanu 3:1. Twelve years ago the Bulgarian played
a six-game match against Miguel Ilescas, but he has never experienced a longer
match than that. The intricacies of a long match are quite different to those
of a tournament – but the FIDE World Champion does not know them yet. How will
this affect the match?
There's another aspect favoring Kramnik. The match will take place in the autonomous
Russian Republic Kalmykia, that is, essentially on Russian soil. In a recent
interview with Sport-Express the FIDE president, who is also president of
Kalmykia, was asked whether both players will have equal conditions. Apparently,
some people in Topalov's camp fear that this might not be the case.
Carsten Hensel, the manager of Kramnik, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of
FIDE, and Alexander Bakh, executive officer of the Russian Chess Federation
Greeting Hensel and Bakh at the airport in Elista
A meeting in the President's office
Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov arrives in Elista
A meeting with FIDE President and other dignitaries
The FIDE President who if not before at least after the World Championship
in San Luis also maintains good relations with Topalov and his team, dispelled
all concerns and guaranteed that the conditions for both players will be equal.
But what are "equal conditions" in Russia, if one of the two candidates
is a Russian?
If Kramnik is able to play in Elista in the shape in which he played against
Kasparov, or even in the shape in which he played at the Chess Olympiad – and
everything indicates he will – then things will be difficult for Topalov. During
the match in London 2000 Kramnik did not suffer a single defeat, and that against
Kasparov! He simply waited patiently for his chances. What will Topalov do if
he game after game runs into a wall? How will he react when he comes under pressure,
and this pressure keeps growing, like the jaws of a giant vice.
In conclusion let us take a look at the statistics of the personal encounters
between these two. If you add all encounters, no matter whether these are long,
rapid, blindfold or blitz games, the result is 19-9 for Kramnik with 34 draws.
If you only look at the tournament games, Kramnik has an advantage of 10-5 with
Only if you look at the last six games Topalov has played, during his run of
successes, against Kramnik, while the latter was still fighting with his illness,
the score is balanced, nothing more. Both won two games each and played three
What would Baba
Vanga predict? The blind Bulgarian clairvoyant, who lived in the the Pirin
mountains of Bulgaria, predicted that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov would win his election
bids as FIDE president, and also that there would be multiple Bulgarian world
champions. Unfortunately she passed away in 1996, so we can only speculate.
Perhaps that the the Bulgarian world championship reign would end in the autumn
of 2006? Or that it would continue for many years to come? At any rate, for
the spectators and chess fans this will be an exciting affair.