Who really won 
the Kramnik vs. Leko World Championship ?

3/2/2005 

Who won the Kramnik vs. Leko match?
Who really wins a drawn world championship match?

     This is an interesting question to ponder. Of cause the champion keeps his title and should be somewhat happy. But it has to leave a bitter taste in the championís mouth. A tied match means the champion isnít the best any more. His title is a bit tarnished. True he should be happy to retrain his title. As far as a challenger, he should be happy that he showed he was the championís equal. But with chess and boxing, the challenger must take the title from the champion. The challenger's mission was not accomplished.  I think to determine who really came out the winner, you must look into the future, or how the players do after the drawn title match. For a young challenger, a drawn match can build character and experience. It can lift the player to new heights. It can give the player hope for the future. 

    Since 1950, there have been two examples of first time challengers tying matches for the world championship. In 1950 it was David Bronstein, who as challenger, would draw his match against then world champion Mikhail Botvinnik.  With next to last game heroics, Botvinnik was able to tie and save his title. Bronstein never challenged for the world title again.

  Vassily Smyslov challenged for the world championship in 1948, however he did not play a match against a defending champion. The 1948 championship was a tournament of challengers. It was held to find a new champion to replace the late Alexander Alekhine. Mikhail Botvinnik won the tournament and became the 6th world champion. In 1954 Vassily Smyslov challenged the champion for the title.  By winning two of the last 5 games, Vassily Smyslov performed last minute heroics to tie the match with then world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. Smyslov became a stronger player after that match and would again challenge for the title in 1957.  Smyslov was clearly energized by his experience. It showed in his tournament play after the drawn match. He put in two top performances at the 1954 and 1956 Olympiads. In 1955 he finished first at Hasting and tied for first in the 22nd USSR championship. In 1956 he would finish first at the Amsterdam Candidates Tournament and tied for first in the Alekhine Memorial Tournament. In 1957 world championship match, Smyslov, the challenger, would not be denied. He bested World Champion Botvinnik by three games.  Vassily Smyslov reign as the 7th world champion would be short. He would lose his return match with Botvinnik in 1958.   

  The Kramnik vs. Leko match ended in a dramatic finish. Trailing since Leko's heroic win in game 8, Kramnik was able to tie the match in the 14th and final game. Kramnik the champion retain his title. Since the match was drawn, we must look deeper to see who actually won. At the end of the match, Leko was disappointed, but he was not defeated. As a first time challenger to the title, he should be somewhat pleased with fighting the champion to a draw. This showed he was the Kramnikís equal. After the match, Leko said he had mixed feelings. He said he was disappointed, but he also said the 7-7 result against the world champion is a very good result. He didnít get the title, but heís young and looking towards the future. Thatís a great, winning attitude to have. 

     Leko made two mistakes, which cost him the match. The failure can be attributed to lack of match experience, and not because he was inferior to Kramnik.   In the first game, Leko over pressed his position with white and lost a game he could have easily drawn. But Leko was feeling the pressures of performing in a world championship match. The whole world was watching. He made an error in judgment.  Bobby Fischer made a similar mistake in game one of his 1972 world championship match. Bobby in a completely drawn position goes for a speculative pawn grab and soon lost. Even Garry Kasparov made major mistakes at the beginning of his first challenge for the title. 
 
    The 2nd mistake that Leko made was at the end of the match. He went into prevent defense mode. As a challenger, when you have a one game lead in the championship match, it pays to continue with your match strategy. A one game lead by a challenger is a very strange lead, itís not strong, and it can be lost in a single game. The champion retains the title with a drawn result. Leko has learned from his mistakes, he has hope for anther shot at the title. Leko has continued with this post match attitude. Leko appears to be following Smyslov's footsteps. Leko went on to win Corus in 2005. He did it in grand style, by defeating Anand. This was Lekoís first tournament win since Linares 2003. Leko has ratcheted up his game a notch. He is sitting at the number 5 rating spot, but will move up after his successful run at Corus. 

    What has become of Vladimir Kramnik? He seems to get weaker after each world championship match. At 29 years of age, you would think he would be coming into his peak chess years. He did climb over 2800 in early 2002, but he wasnít very active.  He has been in steady decline since. After the drawn match, he was completely out of form at the start of Corus-2005. Topalov crushed him in 20 moves. Kramnik finished in the middle of the pack.  I am not sure Kramnik will be successful in his next title defense. Kramnik is currently sitting in 4th place in the rating charts. I am not sure he will remain there after Corus. Leko might take Kramnik's place in the 4th spot. Unwisely Kramnik has decided to skip Linares.

     Kramnik and Boris Spassky have something in common. They both declined a year or two after winning their titles. Spassky, by his own admission, said that 1970 was his best year. He declined there after.  Spassky failed to retain his title in 1972. Both seem to lose interest in chess. I think Kramnik is going to have the same problems in his next defense, unless he can find sufficient motivation. Kramnik recently stated that he is an artist and the artist just paints. There is no doubt that each title fight zaps the energy from Kramnik.

 

 

 

1951 Botvinnik vs. Bronstein world championship match
1954 Botvinnik vs. Smyslov world championship match
1957 Botvinnik vs. Smyslov world championship match
1958 Smyslov vs. Botvinnik world championship match
1969 Petrosian vs. Spassky world championship match
2000 Kasparov vs. Kramnik world championship match
2004 Kramnik vs. Leko world championship match
Chess Reporters coverage of Kramnik vs. Leko 
Hangin's conversation about who won the Kramnik vs. Leko match
Kramnik the artist - The artist only paints

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