The 9th Pawn

Boxing experts will tell you that when a boxer wins the title, he becomes a better boxer. I believe that also occurs when a chess player wins the world title. In chess I liken the holding of the title to having a ninth pawn. I feel the world championship belt can be worth a pawn to a good champion. Now the title must also be backed up with talent and hard work. It’s the experience of winning a world title that a champion can draw  strength from. It gives the champion confidence when the going gets tough.  The 9th pawn comes in handy in those tough intense positions, where it's any one's game. 

    Leko said it best, “I Am Challenging Kramnik. The man who convincingly defeated Kasparov, one of the strongest players ever.".  Kramnik’s been through a world championship match. Kramnik knows what to expect. Does Leko know what to expect? Unless you have experienced it, I am not sure you can know what it's like. Prior to the 2000 match, Kasparov called Kramnik his most feared opponent. Prior to that match they had an even score with 3 wins and 17 draws. Kasparov said in a chess life interview, he could lose this match. Kasparov, weary from 9 world championship matches and the burden of holding the title for 15 years, did not bring the 9th pawn with him during the 2000 world championship match. That contributed to his defeat.

       Kramnik has the match experience. He played in a few candidate matches against top players such as Kamsky and Shirov. During the 1998 candidate cycle, Kramnik lost the final to Shirov.  In 1995 Kramnik was an important part of the Kasparov’s team that successfully defended the title against Vishy Anand. Kramnik used this experience to win the title in 2000. Leko does not have that kind of experience. Leko does not know what it's like to be in a world championship match. Kasparov said that a world championship match is different; it’s not like a candidate match. in 1983 Kasparov had a relative easy time getting thru his candidate matches. Only Victor Kortchnoi gave him a tough battle. Kasparov did not appreciate the effect a world championship match would have on him. So after the first 9 games of the 1984 world championship  match, Kasparov found himself down 4 games to love.

      I recall the 1988 NBA final, the Pistons had just eliminated the Celtics. Celtic's Kevin McHale told Piston's Isaiah Thomas, “Don’t be happy just to get there, win it”. Thomas did not understand what that meant. The Pistons lost to the LA Lakers in the 1988 finals. Thomas realized what McHale meant after the loss and the Pistons went on to win two NBA championships.  

Both Kramnik and Leko are extremely difficult to defeat. In the head to head match ups, according to, Kramnik leads with 7 wins, 5 losses and 41 draws.  Since 2003 they played 15 times, with Kramnik holding a slight lead with 1 win, 14 draws and zero losses. Leko has already conceded Kramnik’s superior chess knowledge. Leko said recently " In my opinion Kramnik is the player with the deepest understanding of the game in the world”, Kramnik has assembled his Dream Team, it’s a great blend of experience, youth, and talent. Evgeny Bareev is again part of Kramnik’s world championship team. Bareev was Kramnik’s second in 2000. In the early 90’s Bareev was 3rd in the world, and is currently rated 13th in the world.  Miguel Illescas is also returning to the Kramnik team. Miguel was a team member of two teams that defeated Garry Kasparov in match play. Illescas help prepare both Deep Blue in 1997 and Kramnik in 2000. Top that off with Peter Svidler, 3 time Russian champion, and currently rated 9th in the world. Svidler could be a future world champion. 

     Leko has also assembled an excellent team of Vladimir Akopian who is currently rated 17th in the world. Leko will call upon Arshak Petrosian, his father in law and chess trainer. The team is top off with  Vladislav Tkachiev  rated top 60 in the world.  I would have to give the edge to Kramnik. He’s got the more seasoned dream team, two of his members have been involved in world championship matches.  World Championship match experience is so very important.   I hope the intense Peter Leko has not over trained and left the fight in the gym. Kramnik is an expert at conservation of energy. Match play suits Kramnik well. Kramnik is a champ on the rise, he’s gaining momentum. He started building it late in 2003, when he lost the Cap D ‘Adge final to Anand. In 2004, Kramnik won both super tournaments in Linares and Amber (combined). If Kramnik is to win this match, he will do so with the help of the 9th pawn.


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World Championship at hand