Vladimir Kramnik: A Russian Chess Machine that Conquered the World

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Vladimir Kramnik, born in 1975 near the Black Sea and probably best known for being a world chess champion, has been a huge name in chess for decades.

Let’s look at a few of the reasons why he is such a chess staple:

  • Was at one point the world’s top-rated player
  • Was the 14th world chess champion
  • Has won six Olympiad medals—three team and three individual
  • Peak rating a blistering 2817
  • Won the two strongest chess tournaments in history
  • Defeated the legendary Garry Kasparov to gain world champion title
  • Known for reviving the Catalan Opening and sharp-edging the Berlin Defense.
vladimir kramnik
Chess Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

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The Beginning…

Vladimir Kramnik began his chess life studying as a child in Mikhail Botvinnik‘s own chess academy, a school that to this day is shrouded in quite a bit of secrecy and legend.

Garry Kasparov also attended this school and, later, became an instructor for some years. It is rumored political differences developed between himself and Botvinnik, causing him to end his tenure at the academy.

1992: Breath-taking Performance at the Olympiad

Sporting a title of FIDE master, or “FM,” which is two tiers below grandmaster, or GM, Vladimir Kramnik was hand-chosen to compete in the Chess Olympiad that was to be held in the Philippines.

This decision ruffled some feathers in the chess world, as “lowly” FMs (rating of 2300) were not traditionally invited to such events.

But Vladimir Kramnik blew the top off of the event by going undefeated with a performance rating of 2958!

Kramnik attained the title of GM that same year.

1994: Fighting to Get to the Top

Although he was a well-known chess name and had shown he had what it took to reach the top, the 1990s weren’t real good to Vladimir Kramnik because he consistently failed to qualify for a world championship match.

For instance, he lost a match to five-time US Champion Gata Kamsky and, later that same year, would also lose a candidate’s match to world-renown grandmaster Boris Gelfand.

Here is a Gelfand victory over Vladimir Kramnik in that match in which the former utilized the English Opening (1.c4) against his formidable opponent.

1995: Kasparov and Dortmund

Vladimir Kramnik was the main advisor, known as a “second,” to chess monster Garry Kasparov for the world championship match against India’s Viswanathan Anand, which Kasparov won by three points.

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Vladimir Kramnik won Dortmund, a very strong tournament, also undefeated. Kramnik, it seemed, had arrived and was going to make his mark.

He would win it ten more times, as well, in the years to come!

Let’s take a look at one of those notable games, which can also be found in this iChess study, along with the other games mentioned in this post.

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The final position in a brutal game.

And this one is just a classic…

Vlad defeats Kasparov at the Intel Grand Prix:

1996: World’s Top Rated Player

This marks the year Vladimir Kramnik became the world’s top-rated player at a staggering 2775 Elo.

Although he technically shared the spot with Garry Kasparov, who had the exact same rating at the same time, Vladimir Kramnik had played more rated games that year and so was recognized as top dog.

It is worthy to note that 1996 marked the first time in eleven years that Kasparov was not the world’s number-one ranked chess player.

Vladimir Kramnik was also the youngest player in history to reach world number one, a record which was later broken by the one and only Magnus Carlsen in 2010.

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The following game, a Semi-Slav opening dubbed “Clash of the Titans” by chess enthusiasts, was played between Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik at Dos Hermanas.

That game is a fine example to remind us of chess basics: Don’t push pawns in front of your castled king when you’re under attack!

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1997 Candidates Match

Vladimir Kramnik faced off with Latvian/Spanish GM Alexei Shirov in a candidates match for a shot at challenging then-world-champion Garry Kasparov to a duel for all the nickels.

For those wondering how strong Shirov is, he was rated number three in the world in 1994, at a whopping 2715 Elo, just below Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov—wow!

Not only did poor Vladimir Kramnik not win the match, but he didn’t win a single game against a very strong Shirov.

Below is a particularly wounding loss he suffered at Shirov’s hands that resulted in Kramnik having the exchange (rook vs. minor piece) in the endgame but still being forced to wave the white flag.

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Black’s king is mobile and there are simply too many pawns to stop for one rook to handle!

Despite Shirov winning a shot at the title, the match against Garry Kasparov never took place due to funding issues.

Because of this, Garry Kasparov chose Vladimir Kramnik to play against in the 2000 world championship match—a controversial decision considering that Kramnik literally lost the qualifier match against Shirov.

This means that Vladimir Kramnik played a world champion match against the infamous Garry Kasparov without even qualifying. There was more than a bit of buzz about this among the various chess circles.

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2000 World Championship Match, Kasparov vs. Kramnik

The world championship chess match in 2000. Vladimir Kramnik was in the Big Leagues, and it was time to play ball. And he did.

Kramnik stole the title from Kasparov with a final score of 8 ½ – 6 ½ – Kasparov hadn’t managed to win a single game.

Let’s have a look at a bout in which Vladimir Kramnik dismantled chess giant Garry Kasparov.

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And this is over!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to bet not a lot of people can say they’ve defeated a sitting world champion in 25 moves—and with a bishop sacrifice, to boot!

The only other decisive game of the match saw Vladimir Kramnik take Kasparov down with the white pieces, as well. All other games were drawn.

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Right out of the opening we see a nasty tactical struggle on the dark squares in a Grunfeld Defense.

Queens were to be traded. Wait, no they weren’t. Yes! Surely this time. No, no trades.

Vladimir Kramnik had a slight advantage all the way through until Garry Kasparov blundered with 39…Ke7, allowing the devastating 40.Bd5 and it’s all over.

Black must move the rook but then comes Re6+ from Vladimir Kramnik, picking up the dark-squared bishop.

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A terrible situation for black!

Vladimir Kramnik vs. Deep Fritz 7, “Brains in Behran,” 2006

In a match dubbed “Brains in Behran,” Vladimir Kramnik battled super chess program Deep Fritz 7, a match that gained some traction with chess enthusiasts and chess program fans.

The only two decisive games were won by Deep Fritz.

In the last game, Vladimir Kramnik was playing the black side of a Najdorf Sicilian and was fighting hard, but the computer slowly took over and squeezed him to death.

The final score of that match was 4-2 Deep Fritz 7’s favor.

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Position after move 27; that is a lot of pressure on Black’s king!
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Vladimir Kramnik

2004 Title Match: Vladimir Kramnik vs. Peter Leko

In 2004, hard-hitter Peter Leko played Vladimir Kramnik for the title of world champion.

Leko played amazing chess and managed to draw the match for a final score of 7-7. In the case of a draw, the current world champion retains the title.

The last game in the match was a pretty spectacular win for Vladimir Kramnik against a Caro-Kann by Leko.

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The final position reveals a mate in two: 41…Ke8 (forced) 42.Rc8+ Kd7 (forced) 43.Rd8# for a pretty finish.

Vladimir Kramnik remained on his throne.

2007 World Championship… Tournament?

Classically, the world champion of chess is decided in a match between two players.

In 2007, however, it was decided that a tournament, instead, would be utilized.

Vladimir Kramnik agreed that the winner of the tournament would be recognized as the world chess champion.

He finished second to Viswanathan Anand, India’s first grandmaster, who took the crown.

Both games played between Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik in this event were drawn.

2008 World Chess Championship Match

In 2008, Vladimir Kramnik went after the title once again, this time in a one-on-one battle with Viswanathan Anand.

Below is a Nimzo-Indian game that Vladimir Kramnik won with the white pieces in this match.

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In 2008, Vladimir Kramnik played vs Viswanathan Anand for the world title

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White’s pieces are all better than Black’s pieces.

2018 Candidates Match

Vladimir Kramnik played in the 2018 candidates match with a whole slew of powerful GM types.

One win in particular, against Armenian GM Levon Aronian, has stood out in the minds of fans.

The game was a Berlin Defense against Aronian’s Ruy Lopez and, as you’ll see, Vladimir Kramnik was out for blood.

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The brutal attack by Vladimir Kramnik worked and White cannot avoid mate.

This game seemed to suggest that Vladimir Kramnik was on his way back to the top – but his play gradually declined and he did not win the tournament.

Tata Steel, 2019

Vladimir Kramnik competed in the 2019 Tata Steel Masters chess tournament and finished dead last with 4.5/13.

Shortly after completion of the tournament, Vladimir Kramnik announced his official retirement from professional chess.

According to Kramnik, he wished to focus on scholastic chess programs and helping children get into the wonderful game we all love so much.

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Vladimir Kramnik, One of the Greats

The 14th world champion will always be heralded as one of the best players of all time.

Not just anyone could take the mighty Garry Kasparov down, after all.

Not to mention Viswanathan Anand.

Although he got off to a rather rocky start, he knocked it out of the park when he finally arrived and showed the world that he belongs at the top, no question.

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