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,
able to tie and save his title. Bronstein never challenged for the world
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.