Vladimir Kramnik’s decision to retire has ended a glorious chapter in the world of professional chess. The last of the products from the once-feared Soviet “school of chess” to leave an indelible mark on the sport, the 14th World champion announced the decision that left the chess world sad, to put it mildly.
A disarming smile, a touch of genius, and ruthless precision over the board, Kramnik possessed it all. In a career spanning over 25 years among the chess elite, Kramnik changed his style with passing years.
From being flamboyant and fearless in his younger days to being a master of opening ideas, Kramnik gained the reputation of the one who seldom lost a game.
Between late 2000 and till 2008, the purists from the chess fraternity considered him as the true World champion. It was only befitting that Viswanathan Anand, who took the FIDE world titles in 2000 and 2007, decisively dethroned Kramnik in their memorable match at Bonn.
Such was Kramnik’s stature in the game that the triumph in 2008, besides helping Anand keep the world crown in a classical match format, also played a huge part in the Indian gaining more respect and admiration from the erstwhile Soviet block.
By becoming the only player to defeat Garry Kasparov for the world title – days before Anand won his first FIDE World crown in 2000 – Kramnik realised the potential he showed as a prodigy.
Mentored by Grandmaster Vitaly Tseshkovsky, Kramnik went on to make a mark in the Botvinnik School, in Moscow. This made Kasparov, then World champion, insist on the inclusion of this 16-year-old in the team for the 1992 Olympiad. Kramnik validated Kasparov’s confidence by scoring a whopping 8.5 points from nine rounds.
In 1995, Kramnik became the youngest World No. 1, a record eventually broken by Magnus Carlsen.
For nearly the next two decades Kramnik remained a dominant name. After Kasparov retired a month before turning 42 in 2005, Kramnik became the flag-bearer of the Russian school of chess.
From now, Kramnik will be seen only in rapid and blitz versions of the game. For the chess lovers, it is some consolation that the legend has chosen to stay on, on the big stage, for the shorter formats.