I am not sure how I felt the moment I read that Vladimir Kramnik was retiring. But I am sure that the next day I was sad.
If I could condense into one single word what I feel and think about the man that word would be respect. He earned it when he beat The Unbeatable in 2000 without losing a game. Nobody else could do that, it had to be him. Smyslov’s theory that World Champions are born immediately came to mind and it definitely applies to Kramnik.
Whenever I would check games from a tournament I would always check Kramnik’s games first. Because of the openings. If you want to see the state of theory, not the present, but also the future, you should look at Kramnik. What he does, everybody else does next.
Two things – beating Kasparov and enriching theory. That’s Kramnik for me in a nutshell.
I have followed Kramnik from the very beginning. Not surprising if you take into consideration that he is only half a year older than me. I remember the orange cover of the Russian 64 magazine with the report from the junior match Yugoslavia-USSR in 1991. Kramnik played in that one. The next year he scored 8.5/9 at the Manila Olympiad, won gold medal, both individual and team, and became a star.
In 2015 the European Club Cup was held in Skopje. A very good friend of mine managed to arrange an interview with Kramnik. But he couldn’t do it while in Skopje and told us to contact him in a few days when he would be home. Our thoughts – no chance he’s taking that call.
But he did! He didn’t know us, yet he spent several hours (!!) talking to us on all possible subjects. His kids were running in the background, but Big Vlad with big headphones on his head was having a video call with some guys he saw for the first (or second, in the case of my friend who arranged the interview) time in his life. RESPECT!
One of the things he didn’t know, and something we informed him about during the interview, was the existence of Kramnik humour. He loved it. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a glimpse:
- When Kramnik was invited to the Melody Amber blindfold tournament for the first time he couldn’t understand what the difference was.
- In 1991 Kramnik was surprised to learn that the Berlin wall has fallen and promised he will fix it soon.
- Kramnik was named the best painter of all times since no one can match his drawing technique.
- Russia is working on a new supercomputer with an exceptional hard drive since no other machine can store Kramnik’s analyses.
- Houdini managed to beat Rybka after studying Kramnik’s games.
- Magnus Carlsen is so popular in Norway he even got an invitation to the TV show “Who Wants to be Vladimir Kramnik”.
- Even God is afraid of playing Kramnik. The games always end in a draw, but Kramnik still knows how to put pressure on his opponent.
- While Kramnik’s classmates were busy proving the Pythagorean theorem, little Vova proved that chess is a draw.
I’ve often been critical of Kramnik’s play in the last period, especially at the Berlin Candidates and since, but now it all has a different meaning.
Kramnik said he came to this decision a few months ago. So Wijk must have felt like a last round on the merry-go-round. Like a kid, he wanted it to last as long as possible. He knew that when the music stops he will come down never to go back again. He wanted to make it memorable, he wanted to squeeze the last single drop of joy out of it. Because it was the last one.
It is a pity to finish a stellar career with a last place in a tournament, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Vladimir Kramnik did it his way, from start to finish.
Kasparov said that only the player knows when it’s time to go. And Vladimir Kramnik always knew what he was doing.