Why Kramnik Can't Get No Respect as World Chess Champion

In spite of defeating Garry Kasparov in match in October, 2000, almost nobody ever refers to Vladimir Kramnik as World Chess Champion. The best he can hope for is to be called the "Braingames World Champion".

Although there have been suggestions that this is because Shirov rather than Kramnik should have been the one to play Kasparov in a match, that is not the real reason that Kramnik is not taken seriously as World Chess Champion.

The real reason is the quality of the games and how Kramnik won the match.

Although the first few games appeared to be legitimate contests, things went rapidly downhill after that. After Kasparov lost the second game, he seemed to lose interest in the match. Soon, Kasparov, besides being white and needing a win to catch up, would just play a few moves and offer Kramnik a draw. This was totally unlike the Kasparov who had fought back so many times such as when he was down by 0-5 against Karpov.

The Final Position in Game 7. White, Kasparov, has just played 11. Na4 and offered a draw.

One can hardly blame Kramnik. When he had white, Kramnik still tried to win. In fact, the most interesting games came when Kasparov as black fought back and seemed to gain advantageous positions, only to draw.

The pathetic effort or lack of effort by Kasparov led to much speculation as to what was going on. Was Kasparov suffering from an emotional breakdown? Had Kasparov become mentally ill? Had Kasparov been bribed by gamblers to dump the match? Did Kasparov receive instructions from the Russian Mafia to lose the match or else?

Here is how Kasparov played game seven of the match, when he was a point down and needed to win as white:

[Event "Braingames WCC"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2000.10.19"]
[Round "07"]
[White "Kasparov,G"]
[Black "Kramnik,V"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A31"]
[WhiteElo "2849"]
[BlackElo "2770"]

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Nc3 e6 6.g3 Qc7 7.Qd3 Nc6 8.Nxc6
dxc6 9.Bg2 e5 10.O-O Be6 11.Na4 1/2-1/2
What is going on here? Kasparov played the opening he wanted, got the position he wanted and even seems to have a small advantage in the final position. He can at some point play Be3 and then sink a bishop or knight into b6 or c5 and possibly loosen up the queen side pawns. Instead, Kasparov offered a draw.

After this game, everybody knew: The fix was in. For whatever reason, mental illness, emotional disturbance or the need to pay off a gambling debt, Kasparov was dumping the match.

In Game 10, Kasparov played pathetically weakly, dropping two pawns to an obvious sacrifice. He played like a Class-A player having a bad day.

The Final Position in Game 13. Kasparov, white, has just played 14. g4 attacking the knight, and offers a draw!

Now, Kasparov was two games down, but he is known for often winning four or five games in a row against the world's leading grandmasters. Had Kasparov been playing normally, there would still have been hope.

But, Kasparov made no effort to catch up. Look at how he played game number 13:

[Event "Braingames WCC"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2000.11.??"]
[Round "13"]
[White "Kasparov,G"]
[Black "Kramnik,V"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C67"]
[WhiteElo "2849"]
[BlackElo "2770"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nc3 h6 10.h3 Ke8 11.Ne4 c5 12.c3 b6 13.Re1 Be6 14.g4 1/2-1/2

Again, the game had gone according to Kasparov's plan. It was not the case that Kramnik had played a surprising new move that threw Kasparov off balance. Also, Kasparov has chances to win in the final position. He has a lead in development and could play f4 and f5 at some future point. Kasparov was two points down with four games remaining in the match, so this was really a must-win situation.

While this match was being played, I was working in the press room at the World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. I was connected to the Internet and watching these games as they were being played. Some of the world's strongest grandmasters were in Istanbul and would come into the press room after their games to ask me how the match in London was going.

I would tell them that the game in London was another draw and was not worth looking at. If they insisted on seeing it, I would show them these games, and of course they would agree.

During the match, a rumor came out in London that Kasparov was distracted by a child custody case that was going on involving his ex-wife in the Bergen County, New Jersey, USA courts. Kasparov immediately denied this rumor.

I know Kasparov's ex-wife and I have known about this child custody case since 1998, because I was called in as an advisor to the wife, since I have eight children of my own and have had a few of my own child custody cases. Nobody can say if this child custody matter upset Kasparov or had an effect on the outcome of the match with Kramnik.

When the match was over after two more draws, Kasparov immediately demanded a rematch. This was a ridiculous suggestion, since nobody would pay ten cents to see more games like these. The fact that Kasparov demanded a rematch raised speculations: Did Kasparov lose to Kramnik on purpose, hoping to get another million dollar payday in the rematch?

Last month, Kasparov and Kramnik played a match in Moscow that was only slightly better, with many quick draws. Spectators who had paid admission fees often left the hall grumbling that they did not know what they had paid for.

One thing for certain: Kasparov has lost all moral right to call himself World Chess Champion, but Kramnik will not be considered to be world champion either, unless it is based on more than this match.

Sam Sloan

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