The annual Tata Steel Masters chess tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee ended a few days ago, and GM Magnus Carlsen edged out GM Anish Giri by half a point to win the 14-player single round robin. It was fitting that the two players with the highest score could battle it out in the last round. Giri, with the white pieces, could have caught Carlsen at the top of the tournament standings had he won their head-to-head matchup. Alas, Carlsen held a draw, which confirmed that he would win the tournament. Congratulations to him.
However, the biggest takeaway from the tournament didn’t have anything to do with Carlsen, or even any of the contenders, for that matter. After the tournament, longtime grandmaster and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik announced his plan to retire from classical chess. It’s worth noting that he specified he would only be stepping away from classical time controls, as he added he might return for rapid, blitz, or simultaneous events in the future. He also mentioned he plans to continue scholastic instruction, such as through camps.
Even if Kramnik’s play wasn’t as strong near the end of the career, the announcement is still significant in the chess world as he is still one of the most iconic players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Born in 1975, he first made waves when he joined the Russian team at the World Chess Olympiad in 1992. Three years later, he served as a second for Kasparov, who played and won against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match in 1995. One year later, in 1996, Kramnik briefly usurped Kasparov as the #1 player in the world based on a tiebreak rule, despite both players having the same rating. At the time, Kramnik broke the record for being the youngest player to reach #1 in the world (Carlsen would break that record 14 years later in 2010). In 2000, Kramnik bested Kasparov to win the World Championship, essaying the now-infamous Berlin Defense on multiple occasions as Black to stymie Kasparov while securing a couple crucial wins as White. He kept his title as World Champion until 2007, when he was beaten by Anand. Still, Kramnik maintained top-level play. He continued to win several tournaments, and he notably won the Chess World Cup in 2013. In 2016, he reached his peak rating of 2817 and climbed up to the #2 rank behind Carlsen.
By playing such a long and illustrious career, Kramnik accrued numerous notable games. Thus, in order to appreciate just how well he played some games, I’ve provided a few below for your ultimate enjoyment.
The above four games are just some of Kramnik’s lengthy list of “good” games, with the most recent occurring just this past year at the 2018 edition of the Candidates tournament. In each of these games, Kramnik either had a menacing attack or outdueled his opponent positionally (or a combination of both) to secure the victory in convincing fashion. The amazing thing is that each of these games is from a different period of his career – the first, being before his working with Kasparov; the second, after working as Kasparov’s second and near the time he overtook him as World #1; the third, during his tenure as World Champion; and fourth, much later in his career. It goes to show how Kramnik was able to keep playing at a high level for such a long time, and it’s an admirable quality that I’m sure a lot of chess players strive for, me included.
Overall, Kramnik has had an incredibly successful career, so it doesn’t come as very much of a surprise that he decided to step away at this point. It’ll be nice to see him coming back occasionally for tournaments with shorter time controls, like a few legs of the 2019 edition of the Grand Chess Tour.
Even though Kramnik will (probably) never see this, I wish him luck in his future endeavors and hope he can continue changing the chess world for years to come!