Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2008 arrow October arrow The Fan's Guide to Kramnik-Anand
The Fan's Guide to Kramnik-Anand Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
October 13, 2008
Kramnik and Anand in Bonn. Photo Cathy Rogers

BONN, GERMANY--On Tuesday at 9 AM EST October 14, Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanthan Anand will begin battle in one of the most eagerly awaited title matches in recent years.

Thousands of words have already been expended on who is really the defending Champion – Kramnik, because he is undefeated in world title matches since knocking over Garry Kasparov in 2000, or Anand because he won FIDE’s designated World Championship tournament in Mexico City in 2007.

Others argue that this match should have taken place in 2001 at the time when the players held rival world titles for the first time and both were close to their peak. However at the time Kramnik and Anand were enjoying their newly acquired world titles and had no incentive to seek a reunification bout. Even then there would have been the world number one Garry Kasparov on the sidelines insisting that history demanded that he be given a chance to regain the crown.

In  2008, what is unquestionable is that the winner of the Bonn contest will be the one and only World Champion – and the match could also be seen as the final act by the two most consistent players of the last decade.

The Statistics

Kramnik and Anand have played 51 serious games against each other since they first met at the GMA qualifying tournament in Moscow in 1989. Less than 20% of their games against each other have been decisive, with Kramnik holding a slim overall lead, 26.5-24.5.

Kramnik is 33 years old and has fought three previous world title contests: An 8.5-6.5  win against Kasparov in 2000, a 7-7 draw with Leko in 2004 and a controversial 8.5-7.5 victory against Veselin Topalov in 2006.  

Kramnik has been one of the world’s top three players for most of the last decade, the exception being in the years 2004-2006 when he suffered from a rare arthritic condition and fell to as low as ninth.

Anand is 38 years old and, leaving aside various  knock-out Championships, has only once played a traditional match for the world title, losing 7.5-10.5 to Kasparov in 1995.

Anand has not only been among the top 3 players of the decade; he also was ranked number one from April 2007 until October 1 2008.

Like Kramnik, Anand’s current ranking reflects his obsession with this match; both Anand and Kramnik have apparently been unconcerned by their mediocre results in recent warm-up events and have fallen to fifth and sixth place in the rankings respectively.

Pre-match press conference in Bonn, Photo Cathy Rogers

The War of Kind Words

Two days before the match began, Anand and Kramnik gave a joint press conference, attended by a handful of officials and around 50 journalists, mostly photographers.

Before boxing matches, the weigh-in is viewed as an opportunity to throw a few choice insults at the opponents, if not to get into immediate fisticuffs.

In Bonn, Anand and Kramnik could not be provoked into saying anything even mildy critical of their rival; in fact they seemed determined not to hurt the other’s feelings.

What has Vishy done to annoy you?, Kramnik was asked. “I was annoyed by the high level of chess my opponent has shown,” Kramnik parried.

Was Anand upset that Kramnik has chosen a player you worked with, Peter Leko, as one of his seconds? “Leko worked with me for my match against Karpov in Lausanne [1997], but that was about 10 years ago. It is normal for him [Leko] to take an attractive offer. Our relations are fine except that we have to play a match that we both want to win.”

Kramnik was confident that the off-board problems he had experienced in his previous match against Veselin Topalov would not be repeated. “I am sure there will be gentlemanly behaviour [on both sides here]. I would be very surprised if there are any off-board problems.” Anand just smiled – does he have something in mind?

Both players expressed impatience only with the fact that the match had not started yet.
“This match will show that half a year of work was not in vain,” said Kramnik “I am tired of working - it is time to play.”

“[For me] it is the highlight of the year,” added Anand “and I am eager to get going.”

When asked if it was a concern that he had never beaten Anand with Black, Kramnik replied that “the theory of big numbers is [in my favor] and one day I will beat him with Black. It is not so easy but if I get a chance with Black I will go for it.”
World Championship Preparation

While Anand and Kramnik are immersing themselves in the finer points of Petroff’s Defence, the dedicated World Championship spectator should immerse themselves in useful information about the match and its surroundings.

Here are some talking points, in case someone asks your opinion on the match:

(i) “The match means more to Anand – only if he wins will he ever have been a ‘real World Champion”

(ii) “The Rhine looks so lovely flowing through Bonn in autumn. The Germans should never have moved their capital from Bonn to Berlin after reunifying.”

(iii) “Why do you think Anand chose the little known Polish GM Wojtaszek as one of his seconds?”

“Maybe Carlsen was too expensive.”

(iv) “Kramnik has a French wife - does he really need a French second (Fressinet)?”

(v) “Do you think the German film ‘The Edukators” was an allegory for Kramnik’s subtle manoeuvring style?”

“No, but when I watched ‘The Lives of Others’ I started to wonder if the players had their rooms scanned for listening devices.”

(vi) “I hear Kramnik has given up smoking. No sneaking off to his private bathroom for a puff this time.”

(vii) “The sponsors of the match are a maker of coal-fired power stations and a giant gas company. I wonder how long it will be before fossil-fuel companies will become the new pariahs, like tobacco companies, and be forbidden to sponsor major sporting events?”

Watching the games

For online spectators the match promises to be a treat, if a delayed one.

The organizers have required the press to observe a half hour time delay before transmitting the moves, not to avoid cheating but to allow Foidoschess.Tv to sell their live coverage. If you have $110 to spare you can watch the moves lives, along with commentary, close-ups of the players and other bells and whistles. But if you want to watch for free, all is not lost.

For a start, the games are due to start at around 9 am EST/6 AM PST (CORRECTED from 7 AM EST), so an extra half hour’s sleep can't hurt.

Secondly, whether a half hour time delay can be maintained in the internet era is highly unlikely..

While the official website and the official relay site Foidoschess.tv site will give the best coverage, plenty of other web sites will give the games with commentary. 

Large organizations like the Internet Chess Club and Chessbase’s Playchess.com probably cannot afford to provide a live relay without losing their press accreditation. 

Our Eastern European friends at Crestbook , ChessDom and ChessPro have already established themselves as informed commentators, especially Crestbook’s Sergey Shipov. I would also expect that one of these sites will, sooner or later, choose to show the games in real time, rather than accept the half hour delay.

For informed post-game comment, it is hard to go past Chessvibes . The Dutch site uses the players’ comments to inform their annotations and also provide videos of the press conferences up within hours of the end of the games.

The French magazine Europe Echecs will have video round-ups of the action in multiple languages, while Mig on ChessNinja is always opinionated and wry and has a direct line to Kasparov’s views on the match.

And of course Chess Life Online will have regular blogs from Bonn with annotations and inside news from the two camps.