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Vladimir Kramnik

Kramnik at the 2005 Corus chess tournament
Full name Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik
Country Russia
Born 25 June 1975
Tuapse, Krasnodar Krai, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Title Grandmaster
World Champion 2000-06 (Classical)
2006-07 (undisputed)
Peak rating 2811 (May 2013)
Ranking No. 2 (January 2016)
Peak ranking No. 1 (January 1996)

Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik (Russian: Влади́мир Бори́сович Кра́мник; born 25 June 1975) is a Russian chess grandmaster. He was the Classical World Chess Champion from 2000 to 2006, and the undisputed World Chess Champion from 2006 to 2007. He has won three team gold medals and three individual medals at Chess Olympiads.

In October 2000, he defeated Garry Kasparov in a match played in London, and became the Classical World Chess Champion. In late 2004, Kramnik successfully defended his title against challenger Péter Lékó in a drawn match played in Brissago, Switzerland. In October 2006, Kramnik, the Classical World Champion, defeated reigning FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov in a unification match, the World Chess Championship 2006. As a result, Kramnik became the first undisputed World Champion, holding both the FIDE and Classical titles, since Kasparov split from FIDE in 1993. In 2007, Kramnik lost the title to Viswanathan Anand, who won the World Chess Championship 2007 tournament ahead of Kramnik. He challenged Anand at the World Chess Championship 2008 to regain his title, but lost.

Early career

Vladimir Kramnik was born in the town of Tuapse, on the shores of the Black Sea. His father's birth name was Boris Sokolov, but he took his stepfather's surname when his mother (Vladimir's grandmother) remarried; his mother is Ukrainian. As a child, Vladimir Kramnik studied in the chess school established by Mikhail Botvinnik. His first notable result in a major tournament was his gold medal win as first reserve for the Russian team in the 1992 Chess Olympiad in Manila. His selection for the team caused some controversy in Russia at the time, as he was only sixteen years old and had not yet been awarded the grandmaster title, but his selection was supported by Garry Kasparov. He scored eight wins, one draw, and no losses.

The following year, Kramnik played in the very strong tournament in Linares. He finished fifth, beating the then world number three, Vassily Ivanchuk, along the way. He followed this up with a string of good results, but had to wait until 1995 for his first major tournament win at normal time controls, when he won the strong Dortmund tournament, finishing it unbeaten.

In 1995, Kramnik served as a second for Kasparov in the Classical World Chess Championship 1995 match against challenger Viswanathan Anand. Kasparov won the match 10½-7½.

In January 1996, Kramnik became the world number-one rated player; although having the same FIDE rating as Kasparov (2775), Kramnik became number one by having played more games during the rating period in question. This was the first time since December 1985 that Kasparov was not world number one, and Kramnik's six month stretch (January through June 1996) as world number one would be the only time from January 1986 through March 2006 where Kasparov was not world number one. By becoming number one, Kramnik became the youngest ever to reach world number one, breaking Kasparov's record; this record would stand for 14 years until being broken by Magnus Carlsen in January 2010.

Kramnik continued to produce good results, including winning at Dortmund (outright or tied) ten times from 1995 to 2011. He is the second of only eight chess players to have reached a rating of 2800 (the first being Kasparov).

During his reign as world champion, Kramnik never regained the world number-one ranking, doing so only in January 2008 after he had lost the title to Viswanathan Anand; as in 1996, Kramnik had the same FIDE rating as Anand (2799) but became number one due to more games played within the rating period. Kramnik's 12 years between world number-one rankings is the longest since the inception of the FIDE ranking system in 1971.

Chess career

Early setbacks

In the mid- and late-90s, Kramnik, although considered one of the strongest players in the world, suffered several setbacks in his attempts to qualify for a World Championship match. In 1994, he lost a quarterfinal candidates match for the PCA championship to Gata Kamsky 1½-4½, and later that year, lost a semifinal candidates match for the FIDE championship to Boris Gelfand with the score 3½-4½. In 1998, Kramnik faced Alexei Shirov in a Candidates match for the right to play Garry Kasparov for the Classical World Chess Championship, and lost 3½-5½. In 1999, Kramnik participated in the FIDE knockout championship in Las Vegas, and lost in the quarterfinals to Michael Adams 2-4.

2000 World Championship

Read main article: Classical World Chess Championship 2000

Suitable sponsorship was not found for a Kasparov-Shirov match, and it never took place. In 2000, sponsorship was secured for a Kasparov-Kramnik match instead. This was somewhat controversial, making Kramnik the first player since 1935 to play a world championship match without qualifying.

In 2000, Kramnik played a sixteen-game match against Garry Kasparov in London, for the Classical Chess World Championship. Kramnik began the match as underdog, but his adoption of the Berlin Defence to Kasparov's Ruy Lopez opening was very effective. With the white pieces, Kramnik pressed Kasparov hard, winning Games Two and Ten and overlooking winning continuations in Games Four and Six. Kasparov put up little fight thereafter, agreeing to short draws with the white pieces in Games 9 and 13. Kramnik won the match 8½-6½ without losing a game (this was only the second time in history that a World Champion had lost a match without winning a single game). This event marked the first time Kasparov had been beaten in a World Championship match.

Kramnik's performance won him the Chess Oscar for 2000; this was the first time he had received the award.

After London

In October 2002, Kramnik competed in Brains in Bahrain, an eight-game match against the chess computer Deep Fritz in Bahrain. Kramnik started well, taking a 3-1 lead after four games. However, in game five, Kramnik made what was described as the worst blunder of his career, losing a knight in a position which was probably drawn. He quickly resigned. He also resigned game six after making a speculative sacrifice, although subsequent analysis showed that he had drawing chances in the final position. The last two games were drawn, and the match ended tied at 4-4.

In February 2004 Kramnik won the Tournament of Linares outright for the first time (he had tied for first with Kasparov in 2000), finishing undefeated with a +2 score, ahead of Garry Kasparov, the world's highest-rated player at the time.

2004 title defense

Read main article: Classical World Chess Championship 2004

From 25 September 2004 until 18 October 2004, Kramnik retained his title as Classical World Chess Champion against challenger Péter Lékó at Brissago, Switzerland, by barely drawing the match in the last game. The 14-game match was poised in favor of Lékó right up until Kramnik won the final game, thus forcing a 7-7 draw and ensuring that Kramnik remained world champion. The prize fund was 1 million Swiss francs, which was about USD $770,000 at the time. Because of the drawn result, the prize was split between the two players.

2006 Reunification match

When Garry Kasparov broke with FIDE, the federation governing professional chess, to play the 1993 World Championship with Nigel Short, he created a rift in the chess world. In response, FIDE sanctioned a match between Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman for the FIDE World Championship, which Karpov won. Subsequently, the chess world had seen two "champions": the "classical" championship, claiming lineage dating back to Steinitz; and the FIDE endorsed champion.

When Kramnik defeated Kasparov and inherited Kasparov's title, he also inherited some controversies. Because the arrangements for the Kasparov Shirov match fell through, (it appears Shirov refused to play for what he considered too small a prize fund) Kasparov decided to try to arrange a match with the highest rated player according to FIDE's rating list. At the time Anand was the highest rated player but Anand refused the match. In the meantime Kramnik overtook Anand in rating and so he was offered the match. Kramnik accepted and ended up playing the match despite his loss of the qualifying match against Alexei Shirov in 1998.

At the next FIDE world championship (FIDE World Chess Championship 2005), Kramnik refused to participate, but indicated his willingness to play a match against the winner to unify the world championship. After the tournament, negotiations began for a reunification match between Kramnik and the new FIDE World Champion - Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria.

In April 2006, FIDE announced a reunification match between Kramnik and Topalov - the FIDE World Chess Championship 2006. The match took place in Elista, Kalmykia. After the first four games, Kramnik led 3-1 (out of a maximum of 12). After the fourth game, however, Topalov's coach/manager Silvio Danailov protested that Kramnik was using the toilet suspiciously frequently, implying that he was somehow receiving outside assistance whilst doing so. Topalov said that he would refuse to shake hands with Kramnik in the remaining games. The Appeals committee decided that the players' toilets be locked and that they be forced to use a shared toilet, accompanied by an assistant arbiter.

Kramnik refused to play the fifth game unless the original conditions agreed for the match were adhered to. As a result, the point was awarded to Topalov, reducing Kramnik's lead to 3-2. Kramnik stated that the appeals committee was biased and demanded that it be replaced. As a condition to continue the match, Kramnik insisted on playing the remaining games under the original conditions of the match contract, which allows use of the bathroom at the players' discretion.

The controversy resulted in a heavy volume of correspondence to Chessbase and other publications. The balance of views from fans was in support of Kramnik. Prominent figures in the chess world, such as John Nunn, Yasser Seirawan, and Bessel Kok also sided with Kramnik. The Russian and Bulgarian Chess Federations supported their respective players.

After twelve regular games the match was tied 6-6, although Kramnik continued to dispute the result of the unplayed fifth game until the end of the match. On 13 October 2006 the result of this disputed game became irrelevant as Kramnik won the rapid tie-break by a score of 2½-1½.

Kramnik's victory helped him win the Chess Oscar for 2006, the second of his career.

2007 world championship tournament in Mexico

Kramnik, winner at Dortmund 2007

Read main article: World Chess Championship 2007

When Kramnik won the 2006 unification match, he also won Topalov's berth in the 2007 World Championship as the incumbent FIDE champion. Although the rationale behind his (and Garry Kasparov's) "classical" title is that the title should change hands by challenge match rather than by tournament, Kramnik stated that he would recognize the winner of this tournament as being the world champion.

In the tournament, held in September 2007, Kramnik and Anand drew both of their games but Kramnik finished second. The tournament, and the world championship, was won by Viswanathan Anand.

2008 match

Read main article: World Chess Championship 2008

Pursuant to the agreement reached before the 2007 tournament Kramnik and Anand played a match of the World Championship title in 2008 in Bonn. He fell victim to Anand's superior preparation, and lost three of the first six games (two with the white pieces). Kramnik's play gradually improved, and although he managed a 29 move victory in game 10, he did not win any other game, and lost the match to Anand by a score of 6½ to 4½ (three wins to Anand, one win to Kramnik, seven draws).


Kramnik had exceptionally good results in 2009, winning once again in Dortmund and then winning the Category 21 (average Elo = 2763) Tal Memorial in Moscow with 6/9 and a 2883 rating performance ahead of world champion Anand, Vassily Ivanchuk, Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Boris Gelfand, former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov, Peter Leko, Peter Svidler and Alexander Morozevich. At the time, the average Elo rating of the field made it the strongest tournament in history. Following this result, Kramnik stated that his goal was to regain the World Championship title.

He also participated in the London Chess Classic in December, finishing second to Magnus Carlsen, losing their head-to-head encounter on the Black side of the English Opening. Kramnik's performance in 2009 allowed his rating (average of July 2009 and January 2010 ratings) to be high enough to qualify for the Candidates Tournament to determine the challenger for the World Chess Championship 2012.


Kramnik began 2010 at the Corus chess tournament in the Netherlands, during which he defeated new world number one Carlsen with the Black pieces in their head-to-head encounter, ending Carlsen's 36-match unbeaten streak. A late loss to Viswanathan Anand knocked him out of first place, and Kramnik finished with 8/13, tying for second place with Alexei Shirov behind Carlsen's 8½ points.

In May 2010 it was revealed that Kramnik had aided Viswanathan Anand in preparation for the World Chess Championship 2010 against challenger Veselin Topalov. Anand won the match 6½-5½ to retain the title.

In April-May 2010 he tied for 1st-3rd with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Gata Kamsky in the President's Cup in Baku and won the event on tie-break after all finished on 5/7.

Kramnik also participated in Dortmund, but had a subpar showing, losing to eventual champion Ruslan Ponomariov and finishing in joint third place with 5/10.

He then participated in the Grand Slam Chess Masters preliminary tournament in Shanghai from September 3 to 8, where he faced world number four Levon Aronian, Alexei Shirov, and Wang Hao; the top two scorers qualified for the Grand Slam final supertournament from October 9 to 15 in Bilbao against Carlsen and Anand. Scoring 3/6, Kramnik tied for second place with Aronian behind the winner Shirov's 4½/6. In the blitz playoff, Kramnik defeated Aronian to qualify along with Shirov for the Grand Slam final.

Shortly after qualifying for the last stage of the Grand Slam, Kramnik played on board one for the Russian team in the 2010 Olympiad. He scored +2-0=7.

Following the Olympiad, Kramnik participated in the Grand Slam Chess Masters final in Bilbao where he competed against Anand, Carlsen and Shirov. The average rating of the field was 2789, the highest in history. After defeating world number one Carlsen for the second consecutive time, and then Shirov in his first two games, Kramnik drew his final four games to finish in clear first with 4/6. This gave Kramnik the distinction of having won the two strongest tournaments in chess history.

Kramnik's attempt to defend his 2009 title at the Tal Memorial in Moscow ended with a 7th place, while he finished 5th in the London Chess Classic in England.


2011 brought varied results. In Wijk aan Zee Kramnik shared fifth with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and in the Candidates he was eliminated by Alexander Grischuk. He won Dortmund for the tenth time, with Lê Quang Liêm in second place, and shared third behind Peter Svidler and Alexander Morozevich in the Russian Superfinal. Kramnik won the third London Chess Classic with four wins and four draws, and a rating performance over 2900 Elo. Hikaru Nakamura came second. However, in the earlier 6th Tal Memorial 2011 Moscow he came 8th out of 10, with 2 losses (to Nepomniachtchi and Svidler) and 7 draws, with Magnus Carlsen winning the overall tournament on tiebreak from Levon Aronian.


Kramnik played a friendly match against Levon Aronian, which finished 3-3 (with a win for Aronian in a rapid game that didn't count as tiebreak). In Tal Memorial he shared fourth place behind Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Teimour Radjabov. He finished second in the London Chess Classic behind Carlsen.


Kramnik played in the 2013 Candidates Tournament, which took place in London, from 15 March to 1 April. He finished with +4−1=9, sharing the first place with Magnus Carlsen, who won due to having better tiebreaks.

In the 2013 Alekhine Memorial tournament, held from 20 April to 1 May, Kramnik finished seventh, with +2−2=5.

In the 2013 Tal Memorial tournament, held from 13 June to 23 June, Kramnik finished tenth out of ten, with +0−3=6.

In the Chess World Cup 2013, held in Norway from 11 August to 2 September, Kramnik finished in first place, defeating Dmitry Andreikin in the four-game final match 2½-1½.


Kramnik in the 18th round of the World Blitz Championship 2015 (winning against Levon Aronian)

Kramnik did not succeed in defending his title in the Chess World Cup. In the third round he was defeated by Andreikin.

He participated as one of 130 grandmasters at the combined World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Berlin that was organized by FIDE from 10 to 14 october. In the World Rapid Championship he remained unbeaton, winning five games of 15 and reaching the 6th place.

In the World Blitz Championship in Berlin with 15 points out of 21, he finished third. Half point behind the winner Alexander Grischuk and lost second place on tie break to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Deep Fritz match

Kramnik played a six-game match against the computer program Deep Fritz in Bonn, Germany from 25 November to 5 December 2006, losing 2-4 to the machine, with 2 losses and 4 draws. He received 500,000 Euros for playing and would have twice as much had he won the match. Deep Fritz version 10 ran on a computer containing two Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs. Kramnik received a copy of the program in mid-October for testing, but the final version included an updated opening book. Except for limited updates to the opening book, the program was not allowed to be changed during the course of the match. The endgame tablebases used by the program were restricted to five pieces even though a complete six-piece tablebase was widely available.

The first game ended in a draw. A number of commentators claimed that Kramnik missed a win. The second game was won by Deep Fritz, due to a mistake by Kramnik, who failed to defend against a threatened mate-in-one. Susan Polgar called it the "blunder of the century". The third, fourth and fifth games of the match ended in draws. In the last game Fritz with the white pieces defeated the World Champion, winning the match.

Personal life

Vladimir Kramnik (right) playing chess with Vitali Klitschko, Dortmund, 2002.

On 30 December 2006 Kramnik married French journalist Marie-Laure Germon. They have two children: daughter Daria, and son Vadim Vladimirovich.

Kramnik has been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an uncommon form of arthritis. It causes him great physical discomfort while playing. In January 2006, Kramnik announced that he would skip the Corus Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee to seek out treatment for his arthritis. He returned from treatment in June 2006, playing in the 37th Chess Olympiad. He scored a +4 result, achieving the highest rating performance (2847) of the 1307 participating players.

Notable tournament victories

World championship matches and qualifiers

Head-to-head record versus selected grandmasters

(Rapid, blitz and blindfold games not included; listed as +wins −losses =draws as of 25 January 2014.)
Players who have been World Champion in boldface

Assessment and legacy

Playing style

Garry Kasparov described Kramnik's style as pragmatic and tenacious, in the latter similar to Anatoly Karpov. He is one of the toughest opponents to defeat, losing only one game in over one hundred games leading up to his match with Kasparov, including eighty consecutive games without loss. Kasparov did not defeat Kramnik during their 2000 World Championship match, partly due to Kramnik's use of the Berlin Defence of the Ruy Lopez. Kramnik is renowned for his endgame skills.

Contributions to chess

Kramnik has significantly shaped opening theory in chess. Viswanathan Anand has said of him "I don't know exactly how many lines he's established, but you get the impression that for the last 10 years we've only been using his ideas. ... His stamp on opening theory is much more significant than mine." Kramnik's results with the white pieces against the King's Indian Defence made Kasparov drop the opening from his repertoire, and caused the opening to disappear from top-level play for many years. Kramnik's use of the Berlin Defence in his 2000 match against Kasparov led to an increase in the opening's popularity. Kramnik also revived the Catalan Opening.

Chess books

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