Topalov vs Kramnik – what the world thinks

10/27/2005 – Last weekend we published two interviews, with the new FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov, expressing reluctance to put his title on the line against classical chess world champion Vladimir Kramnik, and with the latter insisting the matter should be settled in a reunification match. So should they play? Our readers' opinion is quite explicit.

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We did not specifically ask for these opinions; but still many of our readers used the feedback button on the left to express their views on these two interviews, which appeared almost simultaneously. The letters came from all corners of the globe and were, somewhat to our surprise, heavily in favour of a match between the two players.

In the feedback section below we have included all the letters we received – omitting only the ones that contained vulgarities, incomprehensible language or chaotic orthography, but none on the basis of their content. So the letters do reflect a general cross-section of opinions that are floating out there.

Before we published these letters we wanted to know: how realistic is a Topalov-Kramnik reunification match? There is little point in discussing the matter so intensely if there is no chance of such an event taking place. In San Luis we had spotted the managers of both players in conversation together: Silvio Danailov, the long-time friend and representative of Veselin Topalov; and Carsten Hensel, the manager of Vladimir Kramnik. The discussions were clearly being carried out in a friendly atmosphere.


The managers, Silvio Danailov and Carsten Hensel, on an evening stroll

In reply to our request for specific information on the subject we received the following reply from Kramnik's representative:

"At the current time Vladimir Kramnik is not giving any interviews in this matter. With regard to the status of affairs in this matter I would only like to say: Veselin Topalov has received in written form a lucrative offer to play against Kramnik in the second half of 2006. Discussions with the Topalov management so far were conducted in a positive and constructive atmosphere. For this reason I can assume that a positive result will be available within the next two weeks. Even though there is massive public pressure and many dozens of press requests, Vladimir Kramnik and his management are not willing to disturb the negotiations under way and cannot, for this reason, make further details available at this time."

Carsten Hensel
(Manager of Vladimir Kramnik)

Naturally we will keep you briefed on any new developments on this front. In the meantime here is the feedback we received from our readers.

Reader feedback

Jacob Portukalian, Indianapolis, IN USA
True, Kramnik may not be the most successful tournament player but he still hasn't been beaten in a WC match after 2000 and his accomplishments, while perhaps not as stellar as others, are nothing to laugh at, as Topalov would put it. Topalov, as much as I love him, must realize that Kramnik is the unbeaten successor of 13 World Champions and if Topalov wants the title, he has to take it from Kramnik in a match, not some goofy round robin. If anyone can beat Kramnik right now, it's Topalov. So why doesn't he quit trying to trash-talk Vlad and just play? Someone needs to tell him to quit talking and do something we all have wanted for a long time – the best player in the world to play a match and take the title away from Kramnik. It's time for there to be no reason to not call the best player the world champion and it's up to Topalov to do that for us now. He's a dominant player and needs to become the Classical World Champion as well as the FIDE champ. That's all.

Roberto Balzan, Roma, Italy
I read with a lot of interest the last news on your website about Topalov refusing to play Kramnik, on the principle that he's 60 Elo points ahead of the Classical World Champion. I felt quite deluded, because I thought: "Here we are again, whenever there is a possibility of a real reunification of the World Chess Champion Title, one of the involved parts finds an (apparently) just cause to refuse to play".

The neat result, seems to me, is a great loss for the entire Chess World, not only for the professional world class chess players like Kramnik, Anand and Topalov himself, but for all of the millions chess players all over the world, the same passionate chess players that followed in many thousands on your Playchess Server the World Chess Championship just finished in San Luis, the same passionate low or medium level players (like me) that followed the wonderful, magical comments of Yasser Seirawan (I really enjoied very much those lessons and really thought it was pure poetry, not merely chess explaned), the amusing and beautiful articles of Nigel Short, your magnificent pictures...

And the real point of this pity is that NOW Topalov is about 60 elo points ahead of Kramnik? Quite sad (or amusing, depending on the point of wiew). So this morning I made a little research on your Online Database, to see if the history clearly demonstrates this astonishing superiority of Topalov in the games he played against Kramnik till now. As you can know, or guess, the results of this little research are quite interesting.

I've found 62 games played between Topalov and Kramnik in the period between 1993 and 2005. Of these games against Kramnik, Topalov won 9 (14%), drew 34 (56%) and lost 19 (30%). As you see, not a good result: the overall Elo performance is a 2700 for Topalov and 2779 for Kramnik.

But, of course, one can say that a lot of these games were not serious ones, i.e. some were rapid games, others were blindfold (all played in the Melody Amber Tournament). So, let's filter out these games and consider only 'serious' tournament play performances. And the 'winner' is... still Kramnik! Of 41 games considered (from Dos Hermanas, Linares, Dortmund, Wiik ann Zee, Sofia and so on) Topalov won 5 (12%), drew 24 (59%) and lost 12 (29%) games. The overall performance in serious tournament play is 2697 for Topalov and 2778 for Kramnik.

Objection, your Honour, the main point in Topalov refusing to play Kramnik seems to be that in the last years (starting from 2000, when Kramnik beat Kasparov) Kramnik has had results well below the par of a real World Champion.

Ok, let's split the performances of the two players against each other in two periods of time, 1993-1999 and 2000-2005. In the first period of time Kramnik leads in direct encounters with +7 (24%) -3 (10%) =19 (66%) and with a 2755 to a 2706 Elo performance. But Kramnik leads also (and more definitely) in the period 2000-2005, with a remarkable +5 (42%) -2 (16%) =5 (42%), with an astonishing Elo performance, in direct encounters against Topalov, of 2831 to 2680.

Frankly speaking, and basing the conclusion on given facts, it doesn't seems to me that Topalov is so superior to Kramnik to refuse to play him for a Unified World Chess Championship Title. Topalov has recently proven indeed, with an excellent tournament in San Luis, to be superior to Anand, Leko, Adams, Svidler, etc. It is nevertheless a single outstanding tournament play performance, and a match against Kramnik could really prove (or not) his superiority.

Perhaps Jeff Sonas could surely make more interesting and accurate calculations of which are the real possibilities of the two great players in a direct match of 16 or 24 games.

Harvey Patterson, Ottawa, Canada
What on earth is Topalov talking about? He just played a whole tournament against opponents whose average rating was 57 points below his own (2731.4), and as much as 118 points below his own. Is he saying that he is unwilling to play a match with a minimum prize fund of $2 million because he would be too likely to win? And what an odd remark from Kasparov. There is a tradition of succession that is unbroken, save for the death of Alexander Alekhine. To put an end to the diverging philosophies on who is the world champion, Topalov needs to play the man who is champion based on the alternate criteria.

Michael Bartlett, filmmaker and chess lover, Chatham, UK
I am just writing to express my disappointment in hearing that Veselin Topalov now refuses to play Vladimir Kramnik in a reunification match for the world chess championship. Likewise, I am even more disappointed to hear that Garry Kasparov has agreed with his decision. I wish I could argue that most of these elite chess players are forgetting that this behaviour will simply continue to split the chess world, but in actuality we all know that they are not that stupid, and that the reason for all of this is cowardice. That's why Kramnik won't enter the FIDE matches and Topalov now will shun the PCA matches. A reunification match may end up denting someone's legacy, but it is absolutely necessary to stop the chaos in the chess world that ended up trashing the career of arguably the greatest chess player of all time. It is time for the politics to end, and time to bring on the reunification and a proper 20 game duke-it-out match between Kramnick and Topalov.

Brian Carson, California, USA
The chess world should unite and rid this gentle earth of any vestages of Vladi Kramnik. He is only an example of the petty insecure fearfulness that he will loose the next fight.

Chris Major, Mountain View, CA
Topalov is my favorite player ever, but Kramnik is right. I'm not willing to accept a world champion based on a tournament. It must be based on a match, and the classical world championship tradition is sacred. Topalov is missing an opportunity to go down in history as one of the greatest champions.

Christopher Hume, Emeryville, California, USA
Vladimir Kramnik makes the valid point that the World Championship Title has been traditionally decided by a head to head match in Classical Chess. It might also be interesting to know the percentage of such matches where there has been less than a 60 point difference in FIDE Rating, or in any estimate thereof. Part of the problem is that FIDE conferred the status of World Champion to the winner of a double round robin tournament. They managed to attract sponsors and much of the world's top talent. However, they excluded a number of the world's best players, who might themselves have placed above the middle of the field in a tournament of this sort.

Perhaps Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov offered his own sentiments a bit too soon, in the euphoria of his charge's victory. I imagine the Topalov camp is engaging in a certain amount of off-board gamesmanship now and that Veselin may be ready for some well deserved rest after his spectacular performances over the past year. Given that Topalov is at top form, why not put his ability to a real test? If he beats Kramnik, reunification will have finally been achieved and his World Champion status will be unassailable. Instead of quarrelling over rating points, the world would be presented with a great match; and I do not thing that the outcome of such a contest can be predicted with any certainty. And: Kasparov may even be enticed out of retirement, to himself meet a much more credible challenge.

Olayemi Abiodun, Lagos, Nigeria
First of all I want to say congratulations to Topalov for winning San Luis. For once (in recent memory) Kramnik is not backing away from a challenge and I seriously believe Topalov should take it up. Let's have a TRUE world champion.

Mon Curameng, Manila, Philippines
I totally agree with Kramnik. Why not Topalov give what Kramnik wants? I just feel quite disappointed with Topalov's reaction in his interview when he was aked if he would face Kramnik in a match. They are both my most favorite chess players of the modern era. They both display deep understanding in the chessboard. I could call them chess genius at the highest level of the game.

As I read Kramnik's reaction, he is very pragmatic and totally correct. Let Topalov beat him in a match. Kasparov's wisdom is not always what should be "priestly". Remember that Kramnik beat him in the world championship match in year 2000. This was no fluke for Kramnik's genius in the chessboard. His total resileicny and understanding in chess is excellent. Now, let Topalov prepare for a match with him. It is true that his Elo rating is "far" higher than that of Kramnik, but let this be put in the test by agreeing in a match. As far as i know about chess, Kramnik is the legitimate and ultimate world champion.

Kramnik is not my number one idol in chess. Not even in my personal top 5 list, but I truly admire his great fighting spirit in a match. This is the ultimate test for whoever wants to be a REAL champion. Just like Kasparov and Karpov. Kasparov destroyed Karpov no doubt, or Fischer and Spassky. Spassky succumb to Fischer. Today, I've never seen who really destroyed Kramnik in a match. Let Topalov in. Let us see. Perhaps, this would be one of the greatest moments in chess with this reunifcation match. The greatest match maybe since the Fischer-Spassky knockdown.

Thank you ChessBase for your great dedication and service in chess. I truly always follow your works in the net.

Eduardo C. Letort, Quito, Ecuador
Topalov should think very carefully before deciding not to play a unification match against Kramnik. Of course Topa was great in San Luis, and many think he is right now the strongest player in the world. But he should also consider that his title is the same held by the likes of Kalifman, and Kasim, great players but in no way world champions. Topalov should go ahead and defeat Kramnik if he can. Only then will he have full rights to be called the Chess World Champion.

Ilya Krasik, Boston, MA
Recent statements by Topalov and Kramnik remind me of two professional boxers who represent different title belts and are trash-talking before the fight in order to create hype. Also it seems like Topalov is saying to Kramnik, "I am too great to play you, so take a number". One key difference here, there is no match scheduled yet, and it is very unclear whether there will ever be one between these two roosters. Oh yeah and I almost forgot: this isn’t boxing. Maybe this is what’s missing in chess, the trash-talk. Maybe this will take chess to another level, make it as popular as boxing, be shown live on pay-per-view for $49.99. Maybe I am dreaming but who knows... for now I just sit back and enjoy the drama.

Steven M, Torreon, Mexico
Hello Chessbase Team, thank you for bringing such amazing chess news to the world through your internet site. Regards your latest update, I agree with Topalov: he is in a class by himself, and such a class is clearly inferior to the class of Kramnik, Kasparov, Fischer, Spassky, and the like.

If we all pretend to be in search for the truth both in life and on the chessboard we need to accept the fact that the World Championship Title (since Steinitz, if my memory does not betray me) had inherited from matches between the current World Champion and a challenger who had emerged from a candidates match or the strong player at that time (except Karpov, but that's another story) and to be honest I think that Karpov also belongs to the class of World Champions stated above. On that basis, Kramnik is still the World Chess Champion, he is the real one, he defeated Kasparov in a set match.

We all know that Kramnik put his title on the line (and retained it) when he fought against Leko on a match, so no one could say that he is afraid to lose his title. On the other hand I agree with Kramnik that is one thing to show great chess on a tournament level and another to show outstanding chess on a match for the World Title Championship.

Thumbs up for Kramnik in showing interest in a match against Topalov, and no comments on Topalov's claim that he is in no way interested on playing a "patzer" of 60 points below his "rating". It will be fair to state that all chess players and chess fans the world over would welcome not a Kramnik-Topalov World Championship Title, but a Kramnik-Kasparov World Chess Championship Rematch.

Finally, I wonder if Mr. Topalov had readen Kasparov's predecessors books to see who is who in the link of World Chess Champions. I think if he is aiming for that list, he is in the right path and there is no other way: Kramnik it is. And he needs to decide before Kasparov returns to the chess scene!!!

Derek Jones, Aylesbury, England
It is absurd for Topalov to denigrate Kramnik in such a fashion even though he is right to avoid a title match. Kramnik is correct in stating that his own performances as "World Champion" have been no worse than those of Botvinnik, Petrosian and Spassky. However, Spassky was the first player to become World Champion via the candidates matches that replaced the candidates tournaments. In order to face Petrosian in 1963 he came first equal in an Interzonal tournament and then won three matches, against players like Keres and Tal. Three years later he won matches against Larsen, Geller and Korchnoi for the right to challenge Petrosian again. What did Kramnik achieve before his match against Kasparov? He lost his single qualifying match against Shirov! Equally important is the fact that Topalov seems content to accept the reduced privileges of the Champion in any system for determining future champions. Kramnik wants to keep the champion's privileges. FIDE is right to reassert control over arrangements for determining who is champion to avoid future schisms such as that created by the Kasparov-Short match – which Kasparov has admitted was a mistake.

Earl Roberts, New Zeeland
My God, has it come to the stage when a website has become the paid mouth peice of the politically correct? Some noddy won't play Kramnik because he is rated 60 points lower than him and the other guy who retired because he couldn't get his own way agrees. Methinks ChessBase should take 5 mintues and reflex upon the childish meanderings of a few grown men from from the European block. It is not a wonder that chess in the rest of the civilised world has such a bad name when two grow men are having a contest over who's rating is the biggest and your site is pouring petrol on the fire. Pppfffffttt!!

Anthony Hann, Portland
Before the recent World Championshop tournament I would have sided with Vladimir Kramnik, but he is forgetting is that the World Champion is not only passed down from champion to champion it is also supported by the playing public. While sometime ago Kramnik might have had an argument his recent performances in tournaments and in the Leko match his credibility is sliding rapidly. History remembers the champions that avoided their rivals, the onus is on Kramnik to create a match or to reassert himself in tournaments. Kramnik's attempt to dismiss his performance and rating slide by pointed at past World Champions such as Botvinnik, Petrosian, and Spassky's tournament records is a poor way of addressing the real problem. The public demands a World Champion in action and not just name.

David Ridge, Ontario, Canada
Kasparov said better than I could..."The schism in the chess world is over, It was brought about by the world champion not being the best player in the world. Now that he is, the matter can be closed." In my opinion Kramnik blew it! He had a chance to be part of the new chess order and now will remain part of chess history. We could not have reunification with Kasparov in the picture. He's gone..we have reunification. Let's move forward. Entertaining anything like Kramnik is suggesting would be two steps backwards and 3 steps to the side.

Ellery Bann, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Even though I believe Topalov is a true World Chess Champion, by sheer power over his peers, he must face Kramnik in a match. Why? Because Kramnik deservedly earned his World Chess Champion title by defeating Kasparov fair and square. THE Kasparov, as in, THE strongest chess player alive, THE true 13th World Champion! Topalov cannot claim that. Ratings is purely cosmetic for one's ego. Many so-called "underdogs" have surpassed their predicted performance in many tournaments. I just believe that Topalov does not want to be Champion for just one year, if he ever faced and lost to Kramnik. Not after spending so much time and effort to conquer such powerful tournament for the FIDE World Champion title. Topalov should just bite the bullet and face Kramnik and be a true hero for all chess players. Like Alexander the Great, like Genghis Khan, like Julius Ceasar... conquer and unify. For me, Kramnik is still 14th World Champion, and Topalov is just another FIDE World Champion among many, though the MOST respected champion. I still believe a unification match is required. This is just my humble opinion.

Arun, India
I was surprised at Mr.Topalov's words. What was Pono's and Kasim's Elo when they become Fide World Champion. Mr. Topalov should show his talent on the board and unify the title. One must really praise TRUE World Chess Champion Kramnik, for he (1) defeated Kasparov, (2) defended against Leko; and (3) complied to the Prague Agreement.

Richard Huntley, Bow, NH
I think Topalov should play Kramnik. This is what I have waited for and hope to see. Only after they play can we have an undisputed chess champion. Topalov sounds afraid of a match. I hope they play, it would be a joy to watch.

Anastacio Teodoro, River Edge, NJ, USA
I think that Topalov is making excuses to avoid Kramnik. Topalov's reasons for denying Kramnik a world title match is exactly why he should quickly take advantage and remove the last doubt about the legitimacy of his crown. Kramnik's spectre will never go away and will continue to haunt Topalov until he beats Kramnik fair and square. Right now, I feel that Topalev is scared and definitely not worth any adulation.

Dan Wigley, Port Saint Lucie, Florida USA
I'm surprised at how easily I'm pursuaded by Topalov's views. But I had always thought that Kramnik was the "real" world champion. So I believe that a "real" unification can happen if Topalov plays Kramnik, and everyone would like to see that. I think that Topalov should play Kramnik to settle this reunification mess. But if the FIDE world championship can continue to produce fighting champions who can maintain superior ratings, I can see how Kramnik, and that line of "real" kings, could eventually fade away.

Mark Warriner, Richmond, VA USA
The only real question as to the Kramnik-Topalov match World Chess Championship Reunification Match is exactly how much verbal "posturing" we are going to have to endure prior to the match being played. I believe this match will be played in 2006.

Alan Hartley, Portland, Oregon, USA
If Topalov wants to assert his superiority to Kramnik as a *match* player, he needs to do it over the board. Perhaps he is just better than Kramnik, but I want to see the games! The best thing Topalov can do now is to rescind his remarks, and quickly.

Predrag Miletic, Belgrade
Is it just me or is topa totally retarted? What's this nonsense about ratings? Petrosian in his day wasnt even close to number one rating, but he was 2 classes ahead of everybody in the field. Rating doesn't mean nothing and Topa knows it. To be the best you have to beat the best. Kramnik beat the best. Topa won a tournament. Does that makes him the best?! I'm not even a Kramnik fan but damn, even I recognize he is the champ and until someone beats him they have no right to call themselves champions of any kind. Just my opinion

Derek Jones, Aylesbury, England
Topalove is right not to consider a match with Kramnik for the title. If Kramnik were to win then he would almost certainly refuse to accept the reduced privileges of the existing Champion, whether FIDE continues with plans for matches or decides on tournaments such as San Luis. It is unlikely that sufficient money for candidates' matches will be forthcoming in future and a tournament once per two years is the obvious - albeit imperfect - solution.

Tom Welsh, Basingstoke, England
I was greatly disappointed to read about Topalov's brusque refusal to play a match with Kramnik (assuming that the report on your website is accurate). This single episode has done much to cancel out the favourable impression I had formed of Topalov due to his impressive play at San Luis.

It is arrogant and presumptuous for a newly-crowned world champion to belittle the strength of another world champion. I am not a professional chess player, but 60 points does not seem to me a very large gap. It could easily be accounted for by Topalov's aggressive style of play, which helps him to defeat more relatively weak players. People like Kramnik and Svidler, on the other hand, tend to be peaceably inclined and concede more draws - as did, for instance, the great Tigran Petrosian, who was not exactly weak in match play.

When Bobby Fischer was about to challenge for the world championship, back in 1970, he might have said the same about Petrosian and Spassky. His grading was about 60 points higher than theirs, but did that put him in a different class? Of course not! The reason we believe that Fischer was slightly stronger than Petrosian and Spassky (if we do) is that he played matches against them both, and won decisively.

Finally, I think Topalov's attitude is disrespectful of Kasparov, whom Kramnik beat in a formal match. Kasparov brushes this off, but I do not think he should disparage the player who decisively beat him and took his world title. Does anyone seriously suggest that Kramnik has become a weaker player since winning the world championship?

Tom William, California USA
Topalov has earned the title and I think the whole world should start refering to Topalov as the FIDE and 15th World Classical Champion because that is what he clearly is. The San Luis tournament was a hybrid tournament that merged the incidences of 1948 and 1975. Topalov is the 15th World chess Champion. Fide and Classical. I absolutely agree with his dismissal of the lowly rated Kramnik.

Greg Koster, St. Charles, Illinois, USA
So... Kramnik invites the San Luis invitees to contend for the title. All decline, citing their FIDE contracts. Except Kasparov, who rediscovers the legitimacy of the classical title and accepts to play a match with Kramnik for multiple millions. Kasparov wins. And voila! The schism is reborn!

Clinton Zimm
That is such baloney. Topolav is simply scared to play Kramnik. Really, if he is so confident that he is superior than why not schedule and easy match for himself, stress that he is doing it to unify chess by making such a sacrifice, and then have the benifit of another year at least as undisputed champion.

Does Topolav seriously think that a round robin tournament is sufficent to determine the world champion for three years? Perhaps they should switch to a "square dancing format". Hilarous And note, Kramnik (who deserves no credit or benifit for stalling himself) was rated under Kasparov when he won. If Topalov had beaten fishy in a 10 game head to head match he would have a stronger case, as it is , he has just proven he is good at managing cames against the lower rated players.



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