From cover to cover: Vladimir Kramnik – My Path to the Top

by ChessBase
9/17/2007 – He did what Karpov, Short and Anand had failed to do: defeat the almighty Garry Kasparov in a match for the world title. Today he is the reigning world chess champion, defending his title in a world championship tournament in Mexico. On the latest ChessBase DVD Vladimir Kramnik describes his arduous path to the top of the chess world. Review by Edwin Lam.

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From Cover to Cover

Vladimir Kramnik: My Path to the Top

Review by Edwin Lam Choong Wai

Vladimir Kramnik – the ice cool World Chess Champion from Russia, who succeeded in doing what Karpov, Short and Anand failed, and that is to defeat the larger-than-life Garry Kasparov in a match for the world title. Taught the Game of Kings at the age of five by his father, Kramnik developed a liking and inclination for it and asked his father to buy him a chess book. The first one he got was a collection of 100 of Anatoly Karpov’s best games. Idolizing the world’s chess numero uno at that time, Kramnik read and studied this collection, day-and-night.

This is how Kramnik recalls his early years of learning the game, on the new Chessbase DVD entitled Vladimir Kramnik: My Path to the Top. What is this DVD about? It is an account of a world chess champion’s chess journey from Tuapse, on the shores of the Black Sea, all the way to the pinnacle of his professional achievements. The DVD consists of 20 sections in which Kramnik analyzes 15 of his games (or, parts of the games) for the viewer. Amongst these games are encounters with Nunn (1992 Olympiad), Kasparov (1996 Dos Hermanas), Karpov (1997 Dortmund), Topalov (1997 Linares) and crucial games from his world championship matches against Kasparov (2000), Leko (2004) and Topalov (2006).

On the DVD, Kramnik speaks about his career from the time of his breakthrough into world’s elite group of chess players at the age of 16 in 1992. He also describes the circumstances surrounding his inclusion into the national team for the 1992 Olympiad. As a talented but unknown player at that time, it was quite an honor to have Kasparov’s backing for inclusion into the Russian team. After that there was no looking back. He made his debut at the Linares tournament a year later, at the age of 17.

Throughout the DVD, one gets to see the metamorphoses of Kramnik’s chess playing style. From being an aggressive player whose second nature are tactical complications, Kramnik matured over the years into one who is tough, loses quite rarely, possesses good technical skills and is a tough defender. As with all good autobiographies, this DVD also contains deep descriptions of all Kramnik’s three world championship matches.

With the total running time of all the 20 videos sequences exceeding six hours in length, this DVD is also filled with anecdotes and contains practical advices on chess psychology and insightful ideas on chess training methods. Kramnik shares many of his own theories on competitive chess and provides many examples of how to convert the tiniest advantages in an endgame into a victory. This DVD is an excellent tool for anyone wanting to learn more about transposing from an advantageous middle game into a won ending.

Not surprisingly, the viewer also gets to hear first hand about Kramnik’s strategic preparations for his world championship matches against Kasparov (2000), Leko (2004) and Topalov (2006). This includes the preparation of the infamous Berlin Wall that helped Kramnik stop the Kasparov bulldozer in their world championship match.

Besides that, Kramnik also dwells on the differences between fighting to win a world title in the year 2000 compared to the opposite scenario of defending it against a younger and much more motivated man (Leko, in 2004). According to Kramnik, in the lead-up to his match against Leko there were “difficult moments" which he found very hard to deal with.

On his match against Topalov, Kramnik has this to say about the second rapid tie-break game, “I decided to play a very quiet opening… Especially in rapid chess it is even more difficult to fight against strong novelties… So I decided to play a very safe, solid line where there is practically no chance for Black to show some big improvements and create problems for me.” This is undeniably the best way to fight Topalov in a game.

On this DVD Kramnik also talks about a fifth-hour weakness in his game. Here’s how Kramnik described the situation: “My problem quite often has been the fifth, sixth hour, when I was missing victories and I was making mistakes, probably due to tiredness. To combat this, prior to the match against Topalov, Kramnik undertook a special training, every day for one whole month. “After analyzing with my trainer for four, five hours certain openings or variations I would try solving chess studies,” he recalls. At the end of the training period he found that he had been quite successful in ironing out his fifth-hour weakness! Apparently he solved close to 1,000 studies during the entire one-month period.

Kramnik also has a lot of practical advice on chess psychology on the DVD. Coming from a man accustomed to high pressure situations, such as the must-win 14th world title match game against Leko, and also the final 12th game of the match against Topalov, Kramnik is surely the best person to provide advice on chess psychology.

On the subject of playing safe to secure a draw, here’s what the great man has to say: "I think you shouldn’t be afraid of complications, even if you just need a draw. Play objectively the best move.” However, in matches where the score is equal going into a final game, there exist a different kind of pressure. The contestants get the feeling that everything is at stake and one little mistake can be really costly. Kramnik: “To be successful in such games, you simply have to forget about the result of the game…” He also goes on to say that it is important to simply concentrate 100% on the game in such crucial circumstances, and not think about what would happen in case of a blunder or a loss.

On top of the 20 main videos, this DVD contains another four segments with exclusive interviews with Kramnik, which total another 48 minutes in running time. These discussions give the viewer a glimpse into the personal side of Kramnik’s life, such as on his health, marriage, toilet-gate, cheating in chess and the World Championship in Mexico.

That aside, this DVD also provides a glimpse of the world’s other top players – through Kramnik’s eyes! About Topalov he says: "In endgames he plays like in middle games. He pushes pawns with not much hesitation…”. Kramnik commends Leko for being someone who is very good at match play, and absolutely well prepared in the opening phase of the game. “He will not give up a point, you have to come and take it.”

My verdict is simple: what are you waiting for? Go and get Kramnik’s DVD now!! As mortal chess players, how many of us would get the opportunity to meet up with Kramnik? The next best option is to get hold of Kramnik’s My Path to the Top from Chessbase. For just Euro 39.99, you are able to take Kramnik home, on a DVD!

Vladmir Kramnik:

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