Martínez beats Kramnik in controversial match

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/12/2024 – On June 7-9, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik faced Peruvian GM José Martínez (now representing Mexico) in a blitz match consisting of over-the-board and online games. A total of 36 games were supposed to take place, but only 26 ended up being played due to Kramnik’s complaints regarding technical issues in the online games. In the end, Martínez secured overall victory with two games to spare.

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A clash of claims

After retiring from classical chess in 2019, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik has remained connected to the royal game, training Indian talents, playing blitz tournaments, trying out the no-castling format in Dortmund, and more recently using forums and social media to question how effective anti-cheating measures are in the world of online chess.

Kramnik has been using his X account to share statistical analyses (often disavowed by other users) about what he considers to be results that should generate serious suspicions of cheating. His main concern is related to online events with prize funds, in which players might have a strong incentive to cheat. Often, he focuses particularly on chess.com’s Titled Tuesday events, which take place twice a week with a $2,500 prize fund on offer per event.

As he told Levy Rozman in a recent interview, Kramnik is convinced that cheating is much more prevalent than people might think, and believes that the chess.com representatives choose not to deal with the problem seriously enough.

On the other hand, many of the posts shared by the former world champion on X seem to imply that specific players have cheated either in a single tournament or throughout a number of tournaments. Though he always denies this claim, he has from time to time used particular performances of a single player as examples of why he is so concerned about cheating.

An incident three months ago indicated that Kramnik apparently suspected that a specific player might be cheating. During a Titled Tuesday event, the Russian GM resigned a game after only two moves while playing black against Peruvian GM José Martínez. Also known as Jospem (the nickname he uses on chess.com), Martínez has become well-known for his strong performances in online tournaments.

Currently representing Mexico, Martínez is in fact placed fourth in the Titled Tuesday yearly leaderboard, standing only behind Hikaru Nakamura, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexey Sarana, all of which have a higher classical-chess rating than him — as per Martínez’s FIDE profile, his current ratings are 2612 (standard), 2641 (rapid) and 2703 (blitz).

IM David Martínez, a long-standing coach and outstanding promoter of the game in the Spanish-speaking world, noted that Kramnik and Martínez had the exact same OTB blitz rating (2703), and decided to organize an event to give the Peruvian GM a chance to prove his mettle against the living legend.

David Martínez invited both contenders to play a 36-game blitz match at the Gran Vía Casino in Madrid, with half the games taking place over-the-board and half the games taking place online (with heavy supervision). Kramnik and Martínez agreed, and the match was scheduled for June 7-9.

It should be noted that David Martínez is part of the chess.com staff, a conspicuous fact for people in the Spanish-speaking world, as ‘El Divis’ had a leading role in chess24 and has made a name for himself among fans in Spain and Latin America. Kramnik apparently was not aware of this fact, though — a detail which became relevant after the match in Madrid.

During the negotiations for the match, Kramnik highlighted the fact that he had never accused Martínez of cheating.

The match

Dubbed the “Clash of Claims”, the match was supposed to consist of 36 blitz games, with a time control of 3 minutes plus 2-second increments per move (the Titled Tuesday tournaments are played with a 3+1 time control), spread over 3 days. Half the games would be played on a physical board, while the remaining 18 would take place online, using the chess.com platform. Each day of action would see 6 OTB games and 6 online games.

As per Kramnik’s request, brand-new laptops were unboxed live before each of the 3 sessions to prevent any manipulation of the operating system.

Day 1: First issues with online games (results ignored)

  • The first 6 over-the-board games saw the contenders trading wins to go into the first session of online games with a 3-3 score.
  • Martínez scored 1½ points in the first 2 online games, but Kramnik protested, noting that his clock was behaving strangely.
    • The arbiters looked into Kramnik’s complaint and agreed with him, realising that the brand-new laptops were running Windows updates while the games were taking place, thus affecting the time synchronization.
    • It was agreed for the two first results of online games to be ignored, and Kramnik refused to continue playing online.
  • Negotiations led to both players agreeing to play four more over-the-board games on the first day of action.
  • Kramnik scored 2 wins and 2 games ended drawn, thus leaving the scoreboard 6-4 in favour of the former world champion.

Day 2: Change of plans

  • The start of the day’s action was delayed, as players and organizers struggled to agree how the match would continue. In the end, it was determined that 4 more OTB games would take place (for a total of 14), and 14 online games would be played on day 3.
  • Martínez won 2 games, Kramnik won 1 game, and 1 game ended drawn, which meant Kramnik had a 7½-6½ lead going into the final day of action.

Day 3: Match ends abruptly, Martínez secures victory

  • The first 3 online games saw a win by Kramnik, a draw and a win by Martínez.
  • At that point, Kramnik again complained about an alleged strange behaviour related to the time increments (probably having to do with network latency, also known as lag).
  • The games resumed, with Kramnik still 1 point ahead in the scoreboard. Martínez began to outplay his famed opponent, winning 4 out of the 7 games that followed.
  • By game 26, Martínez had amassed a 3-point advantage, thus securing overall victory with 2 games to spare (the score was 14½-11½ in favour of the Peruvian).
  • The contenders agreed to play the remaining 2 games, but play was abruptly stopped when a malfunction in Kramnik’s laptop prevented him from continue playing — the move played by Martínez did not show up in Kramnik’s screen, and the platform suddenly indicated that Martínez had won on time. Kramnik had a completely winning position at that point.
  • Kramnik refused to continue playing.

Aftermath

Both the organizers and the players were aware of the fact that it is impossible to assess whether a player is a cheater or not by just playing a match. However, as David Martínez repeatedly asserted during the live webcast, the match had more to do with demonstrating that Martínez is a strong player capable of holding his own against elite opposition.

Kramnik himself complimented his opponent’s behaviour, noting that Martínez was both very polite and a strong chess player.

It was made clear once again that playing online is not exactly the same as playing on a physical board, as has been often highlighted by Levon Aronian, among others.

Nevertheless, Kramnik continued to question the organizers regarding the technical conditions and the server issues that impeded the match to take place smoothly. As mentioned above, the former world champion was surprised to find out that David Martínez works for chess.com.

Levy Rozman, a.k.a. Gotham Chess, commentated the games live, and later published an excellent recap of what transpired in Madrid.

All games (results in games 8 and 9 were ignored)

Links


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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