struggle is over, it is appropriate to ask certain critical
questions and reach some conclusions about the whole encounter.
Did the best man win? Why and how? Is this the dawn of a new era
in Chess? Is it the end of Kasparov?
To begin with,
there is no doubt that Kramnik won fair and square. He simply
played better that the ex-World Champion and dominated the match
right from the start. He won only two games, but he was very close
to winning at least two more and managed not to lose even one!
This is a magnificent accomplishment, especially given that
Kasparov had White 8 times in the 15 games that were necessary to
decide the title. Kasparov has been one of the most fearsome and
winningest players of all time, while Kramnik one of the most
solid. This time the irresistible force gave way to the immovable
object -simply because it moved towards the direction of the force!
Initially, it was
neutralisation of Kasparov’s Whites that played the most
important role in conquering the throne. The ex-Champion is famous
for his ferocious attacks, but Kramnik would have none of it. He
had detected a relative weakness in Kasparov’s play without
Queens and when the pawn structure is stable enough to discourage
significant pawn breaks. Kramnik correctly decided to play
variations that limited his opponent’s creativity and thus
undermined his confidence.
From this it
might seem that the most crucial aspect of the match was opening
preparation. However, as the match progressed it became clear that
much more important was the energy level of both players and their
relative ability in the endgame. In particular, Kasparov failed to
summon enough reserves in two critical points of the match, namely
Games 7 and 13, when he agreed in unprecedented quick draws in 11
and 14 moves respectively (and with White at that)!
and possibly affected by the above considerations, was Kasparov’s
inability to perform as usual in critical transitional phases.
Several times he was unable to increase an advantage that normally
would be enough for him to win or at least give his opponent much
more difficult problems to solve, while in some instances he
exposed himself to unnecessary danger. By steering the games away
from positions that demanded primarily concrete calculations,
Kramnik demonstrated that his positional judgement was at least
equal and probably superior to Kasparov’s.
One problem is
that both players made serious mistakes in the endgame. This can
be attributed partly to the lack of adjournments, especially if
one compares the level of play to previous World Championship
matches, but there is surely more to it. Most of modern chess
emphasises opening research, with the result that top players lack
study time and experience with unbalanced endgames. It seems to me
that either player could have swung the match to his favour by
playing the endgame at a slightly higher level.
of the whole encounter reminds me of the chess world’s
astonishment when Petrosian won the title. It seems impossible and
even undesirable that somebody can reach the very top without
creating some positive values in chess. No significant novelties,
no memorable attacks against the King, not even some strategic
masterpiece and, of course, no great endings. I think Kramnik’s
best creative effort came in Game 6, when he imagined and brought
about an amazing situation with Kasparov’s pieces better
centralised but unable to move: a middlegame zugzwang at the
highest level! Unfortunately, he was unable to crown this
magnificent effort with a simple application of schematic thinking,
probably because time trouble and the prospect of a second win so
early in the match clouded his thinking. Despite its mistakes,
this was probably the only game in which both players fought
almost to the limit of their powers -a real struggle!
to diminish Kramnik’s accomplishment, I believe this was a match
both won by the Challenger and lost by the Champion. It was more
of a sporting event than a creative clash, as both players have
demonstrated in the past that they can play at a much higher level.
Kramnik was the better prepared participant and also the most
practical, but I sincerely hope there will be a rematch in 2002.
Both Kasparov and the new World Champion have shown that they can
be self critical and improve on previous performances, so I am
eager to see them clash in Wijk aan Zee in January.
will not be so easy for them to adjust in their new roles,
especially Kasparov. Adding an «ex» to his title should be
psychologically very harsh, since he was groomed to be the best
player in the world almost from infancy. As a matter of fact, the
only people still around that are comfortable with the same «ex»
are Smyslov and Spassky, the latter having been World Champion
almost 30 years ago! Both Fischer and Karpov have shown great
reluctance to accept that «their» title is no longer theirs,
despite the fact that they no longer participate at the highest
level -how will Kasparov react? If I understand him well, we shall
see more of him in great tournaments, presenting great opening
novelties and springing fierce attacks against the very best
Kramnik will need
a good rest, let it sink in that his life dream has come true and
ponder his new responsibilities to a world that greatly
appreciates his enormous talent and abilities. He will need to
adjust to a much more positive environment, but this will not be
easier -just more pleasant. A thorny issue will be possible
reconciliation of the title business with the mess that F.I.D.E.
has created, a F.I.D.E. Kramnik was never at the same odds with as
Kasparov is. Hopefully, he will not be distracted by chess
politics from chess itself.
There is no doubt
that a new era is beginning -the younger generation has finally
arrived. It will not be an era without Kasparov, who is not ready
to retire conclusively beaten, but one with another worthy
Champion. The King is not dead, long live the King!