Vladimir Kramnik: My Path to the Top

by Rucha Pujari
2/20/2015 – Watching Vladimir Kramnik analyse his games is pure pleasure. The former World Champion eloquently reveals his thoughts during the game, showing a blend of deep and sophisticated variations with acute positional assessments. A few years back Kramnik recorded a ChessBase DVD in which he describes his "Path to the Top". It is still worth viewing - every minute of it.

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A review

On his DVD My Path to the Top Vladimir Kramnik, World Champion from 2000 to 2007, describes his career in twenty instructive videos with a runtime of more than six hours. Kramnik analyses selected games and reveals his thought processes. He talks about his first introduction to the royal game, his early chess experiences, his matches for the World Championship and presents us with some of the most important games and memorable moments of his career.

The DVD also contains an exclusive four-part interview, in which Kramnik shares his thoughts about various topics such as World championship formats, cheating in chess, controversies in the World Championship Match 2006, et cetera.

In the introduction Kramnik reveals how he started to play chess and he describes the atmosphere and the chess culture in Tuapse, a small town on the Black Sea where he was born and brought up. You will hear charming and humorous anecdotes you have not heard before: “I had a normal childhood. When I was seven, I went to a normal school. I would say Tuapse was a normal provincial Soviet town. It is an industrial town with working people, and I can say that I was not in the elite atmosphere, I’d say as far I am aware quite a few of my classmates, they went to prison rather soon after finishing the school (laughs). So it was a normal worker’s place with rather tough working lessons…”

Kramnik also reveals what his first chess book was. Can you guess? A collection with the Best Games of Anatoly Karpov! Kramnik was fascinated by the games of Karpov and studying them had a big influence on his style.

“Hello, I am Vladimir Kramnik. I would like to tell you a bit about my story, my life in Chess and it all started 25th of June 1975 when I was born...”

As a junior player Kramnik joined the famous Kasparov-Botvinnik chess school. A member of Kramnik’s chess club in Tuapse was working for the post and decided to research the phone number of Mikhail Botvinnik to call and to tell the patriarch of Soviet chess how gifted this young boy in Tuapse was. Botvinnik agreed to look at some games, which Kramnik duly sent. Botvinnik was impressed and invited Kramnik to training sessions in his school.

Kramnik also gives credit to Kasparov who really supported Kramnik’s career, particularly so, when he insisted that Kramnik should play in the Russian team at the Chess Olympiad 1992 in Manila. At that time Kramnik was not even an International Master but Kasparov believed in the 17-year old talent. Kramnik proved him right. He scored 8.5/9 at the Olympiad and won gold with the Russian team and for the best individual result on board four.

“If my first book would have been a collection of the best games of Kasparov or Tal, I am sure that I would have a different playing style. But it happened as it happened, and I have nothing to complain about.”

This was also Kramnik’s international breakthrough, and on the DVD he tells anecdotes about the party-life of the Russians at the Olympiad and analyses one of wins. Soon after Kramnik joined the elite class of the world’s best chess players.

Then we see Kramnik getting more immersed in chess as he shows us victories over Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. He analyses the games in detail, explains what went on his mind during play, and reveals his thoughts about his great opponents.

“Winning my first game against Garry Kasparov was an incredibly pleasant moment for me.”

After these instructive games, we reach the point when Kramnik talks about his first World Championship Match, played in 2000 against Garry Kasparov in London.

He says: “You can win some tournaments, you can play well, you can win some games against Kasparov or Karpov. But a match against probably the World’s best player ever in a World Championship Match is a real test. … A World Championship Match is not just about playing the games on the board. It is also about the experience that you have, it’s about stamina, and it’s about your strengths of character and the strengths of your nerve system. It is the ability to hold attention and to perform well under the very serious tension which is not comparable with games in any other tournament.”

Kramnik talks about his preparation, his psychological approach, his team, and his mindset.

“It was difficult to assess my chances. I didn’t care much about this question. I knew they were more than zero, and that was enough for me to start working hard.”

But what to play with Black against the famously well-prepared Kasparov? At this point Kramnik introduces us to the Berlin defense and the ideas behind that line. As we know, the Berlin became very popular after the match, and Kramnik’s success with it was crucial for winning the match.

On the DVD Kramnik shows crucial moments from the match which Kramnik won with two wins, 13 draws and no losses.

After winning the highest title Kramnik had to defend it. So we are taken to Kramnik’s next World Championship match in 2004 where he faced the strong Hungarian Grandmaster Peter Leko. After thirteen dramatic games Kramnik was trailing 6:7 and needed to win the final game at all costs to retain his World Championship title. Kramnik reveals how he approached this ‘must win’ situation.

“I decided for a loser’s approach! I convinced myself of the positive aspects of losing the title. I said let’s give it a try. And after doing so I found myself in a win-win situation. And I was ready to fight.”

Kramnik indeed won the final game against Leko and retained his title. Two years later he had to defend his title against FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov in Elista 2006. This match was to determine the undisputed World Chess Champion.

Different opponents call for different strategies. Kramnik speaks about the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent and his own preparation for this Match. About the match itself he says, “If you want me to describe this match in two words, I would probably say tense and nervous.”

It was a bitter match, accompanied by scandal and accusations, but in his videos Kramnik discusses the match purely from a chess perspective. However, he reveals his views about the atmosphere surrounding the match in a separate interview on the DVD.

Here we see Kramnik analyzing one of his most fascinating games of the World Championship Match against Veselin Topalov.

After twelve games the score was 6-6, and a tie-break of four rapid games had to be played. Kramnik analyses the important moments in these rapid games and discusses the different psychological approaches of playing with classical and shorter time controls. After three rapid games the score was even, but Kramnik won the fourth and final game of the tie-break and kept his title.

Conclusion: I find Kramnik’s My Path to the Top very instructive and entertaining. I enjoyed watching the entire content and I feel that I learned a lot. The DVD is easy to follow, you can think as Kramnik explains his games, and you can pause and replay whenever needed.

It is not often that we get to see the game from a World Champion’s perspective. Kramnik is very enthusiastic whether it is chess analysis or sharing his stories. There is something in this DVD for every chess player and every chess fan.

And even though this DVD was recorded few years back, I recommend it highly. Every chess enthusiast should have it in their evergreen collection. 

Vladimir Kramnik:
My Path to the Top

€39.99
€33.61 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$38.09 (without VAT)

This DVD can be be downloaded directly from the Internet, that way sparing you the few days needed for it to arrive by post.

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Rucha Pujari is a Woman FIDE Master from India. She fell in love with Chess when she was six, and ever since has been actively competing in tournaments. Apart from Chess she likes to read, paint, write, travel and take on new challenges. She has written around 35 articles in a weekly column of a very famous Marathi newspaper, where she talked about Chess and life of a sportsperson. She has also taken part in promoting Chess in her city. Presently she is studying English Arts and literature. You can follow her blog at http://www.ruchess.blogspot.in/
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