Who will win the Topalov-Kramnik world championship?

9/3/2006 – In a recent interview FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumshinov revealed that the Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga had predicted his presidency and also multiple Bulgarian world chess champions. Unfortunately Vanga died in 1996, so we cannot consult her on the outcome of the upcoming world championship in Elista. André Schulz tries it with statistical methods.

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Reunification match Kramnik against Topalov
Why Kramnik is the favorite

By André Schulz

Background

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 match

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.

The players


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 2005.

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

The chances

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 24 draws.

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 draws.

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.

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