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Kramnik vs Leko, 2004
Brissago, Switzerland

In 2002, the annual Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting had an added significance: it also functioned as a Candidates Tournament, for the winner would earn the right to play Vladimir Kramnik for the title. Seven of the top ten players competed in Germany, and emerging as winner was the Hungarian chess prodigy, Peter Leko.

 Kramnik-Leko 2004
 Leko (left) playing Kramnik in Switzerland, 2004
The financial backing for the match (a prize fund of $1.2 million) was contributed by the the cigar manufacturer Dannemann, the latest in a line of corporate sponsors (Intel, Braingames, and Einstein) for the non-FIDE World Championship title. The match was only 14 games, one of the shortest in World Chess Championship history. Kramnik was to retain the title in the event of a tie match, a detail which was to prove very important.

The very first game illustrated Kramnik's incredible defensive techniques. Leko, by most accounts, had the advantage by move 23; but Kramnik's masterful handling of the ending, combined with an error by Leko, enabled the Russian to take the full point. Not until the fifth game was Leko able to accomplish what Garry Kasparov could not: beat Kramnik in a World Championship match. Then in the eighth game, Leko was able to take the lead, when he achieved victory with the Black pieces by alertly finding over the board a serious flaw in Kramnik's immense opening preparation. Games 9 through 13 were all draws, leaving Leko ahead in the match with only one game left.

Come game 14, Leko needed only one more draw to secure the title of World Chess Champion. Kramnik was faced with the task of winning, at all costs, in order to save his title. Chess author and grandmaster Raymond Keene wrote of this phenomenal game:

Kramnik, the defending world champion, scored a brilliant victory in the 14th and final game; Peter Leko resigned after 41 moves when faced with checkmate. This is only the third time in the entire history of the World Championship that the defending champion has saved his titled by winning in the final game.

The game itself was a jewel of controlled aggression. Despite consistent exchanges throughout the game, Kramnik maintained an iron grip on the position and ultimately blasted his way into the black camp via the dark squares. Taking no account of material sacrifices it was Kramnik's king that dealt the fatal blow when it marched right into the heart of the opposing position.[1]

After 14 games, with a tie score of 7 to 7, Vladimir Kramnik defended his title of World Chess Champion.

click on a game number to replay game 1234567891011121314

FINAL SCORE:  Kramnik 7;  Leko 7
Reference: game collection Kramnik - Leko WCC Brissago,2004

NOTABLE GAMES   [what is this?]
    · Game #14     Kramnik vs Leko, 2004     1-0
    · Game #8     Kramnik vs Leko, 2004     0-1
    · Game #1     Leko vs Kramnik, 2004     0-1


  1. World Chess Championship: Kramnik vs Leko by Ray Keene, 2004, Hardinge Simpole, p. 145.

 page 1 of 1; 14 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Leko vs Kramnik 0-1652004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC42 Petrov Defense
2. Kramnik vs Leko ½-½182004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
3. Leko vs Kramnik ½-½232004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC42 Petrov Defense
4. Kramnik vs Leko ½-½432004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
5. Leko vs Kramnik 1-0692004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchD37 Queen's Gambit Declined
6. Kramnik vs Leko ½-½202004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
7. Leko vs Kramnik ½-½212004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchD16 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
8. Kramnik vs Leko 0-1322004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC89 Ruy Lopez, Marshall
9. Leko vs Kramnik ½-½162004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchE15 Queen's Indian
10. Kramnik vs Leko ½-½352004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchC78 Ruy Lopez
11. Leko vs Kramnik ½-½172004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchE15 Queen's Indian
12. Kramnik vs Leko ½-½342004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
13. Leko vs Kramnik ½-½652004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchA61 Benoni
14. Kramnik vs Leko 1-0412004Kramnik - Leko Classical World Championship MatchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 73 OF 73 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Feb-10-06  TylerD: I meant, of course, 1 player in the same room as 1 of any of the other mentioned categories... Or, if u will: 100 chess players in the same room as 100 of any of the other... (A crowded room any way you look at it!)... I did not intend to put one single chess player in the same room with 100 writers... Even though the thought is interesting - maybe those 100 would put together some interesting stuff based on the 1...
Oct-17-06  Whitehat1963: Who takes the credit for this super exciting match that included six draws of 23 moves or less?
May-20-07  Scarecrow: I see this match is linked to the series of WCC matches now. This was a great match, for the first time in history a Hungarian player had a shot at the world title. It still hurts to recall how Leko lost that last game.

<> I spot an error in the text above. Leko's second win was not the seventh game but game 8. And, although it's not my task to judge it, he won it not because of his immense preparation but because of Kramnik's preparation errors and his own calculation OTB. The game is special because it's an OTB masterpiece in the era of home prep.

May-20-07  Plato: <Scarecrow> You're absolutely right, in my opinion, and <> should change their summary accordingly.
Sep-24-07  Karpova:

User: offramp became famous

Dec-14-07  amadeus: 4 wins out of 32 games?
Dec-14-07  Illogic: The text in the description is still the same. It was the eighth game Leko won, and Scarecrow and Plato are correct, Leko busted Kramnik's prep OTB, it was not a win with his own prep.
Feb-20-08  positionalgenius: A fine match with deep chess.
Feb-25-09  WhiteRook48: the match was a tie? Aww...
Mar-31-09  WhiteRook48: why didn't they play one more game?
Jul-03-09  WhiteRook48: therefore, Leko is better than Kasparov
Jul-20-09  dumbgai: Too bad there were so many short draws in this match. But the rest of the games are genuine treasures.
Apr-02-13  Xenon Oxide: Remarkable to remember how Leko was considered one of the strongest and most promising talents. He was phenomenally strong back then. Pity he's never been the same since this match. Seems like he peaked rather early.
Jul-18-13  notyetagm: Leko vs Kramnik, 2004

45 ♕f4-f6

click for larger view

45 ... h7-h6!

click for larger view

<45. Qf6 h6

This is a very clever move from Kramnik, clearly overlooked by Leko, whose last move could have no other purpose than to threaten h6. <<<If now 46Qxh6, then ...R8a6 traps the white queen.>>>>

45 ♕f6xh6?? ♖a8-a6! <trapped piece: h6-queen>

click for larger view

click for larger view

Nov-10-13  InfinityCircuit: Remember watching this as it was happening, the final game was so exciting.
Premium Chessgames Member
  whiteshark: Leko talking about this match (during rd 1 of the Tromsö Olympiad 2014) audio starts around 3m30s
Jul-09-18  ColdSong: Leko was so close to become the 15th World Champion.that can (must ?) be hard for him.Now this chance has gone forever it seems.
Jul-09-18  offramp: <ColdSong: Leko was so close to become the 15th World Champion.that can (must ?) be hard for him.Now this chance has gone forever it seems.>

That reminds me of this great piece of prose from Mr G G Marquez:

<In December, when the Caribbean world turned to glass, he would take the closed carriage on a climb along the cornices of crags until he came to the house perched on top of the reefs, and he would spend the afternoon playing dominoes with the former dictators of other nations of the continent, the dethroned fathers of other countries to whom he had granted asylum over the course of many years and who were now growing old in the shadow of his mercy, dreaming in chairs on the terrace about the chimerical vessel of their second chance, talking to themselves, dying dead in the rest home he had built for them on the balcony of the sea after having received all of them as if each were the only one, for they all appeared at dawn in the dress uniform they had put on inside out over their pajamas, with chests of money they had pilfered from the public treasury and suitcases with boxes of decorations, newspaper clippings pasted into old ledgers, and photograph albums they would show him at the first audience, as if they were credentials, saying look, General, that’s me when I was a lieutenant, this was the day I was inaugurated, this was the sixteenth anniversary of my taking power, here, look, General, but he would give them asylum without paying any more attention to them or inspecting credentials, because the only document of identity for an overthrown president should be his death certificate, he would say, and with the same disdain he would listen to the self-deluding little speech of I accept for this short time your noble hospitality while the justice of the people brings the usurper to account, the eternal formula of puerile solemnity which a while later he would hear from the usurper, and then from the usurper’s usurper, as if the @#$%*!&ed fools didn’t know that in this business of men if you fall, you fall, and he put all of them up for a few months in the Presidential Palace, made them play dominoes until he had fleeced them down to their last cent, and then he took them by the arm over to the window looking out onto the sea, he helped them grieve over this stinking life that only goes in one direction, he consoled them with the illusion that they would go over there, look, he said, over there to that big house that looks like an ocean liner aground on the top of the reefs, where they would have some lodgings with good light and good food, and plenty of time to forget along with other companions of misfortune, and with a terrace overlooking the sea, where he liked to sit on December afternoons not so much for the pleasure of playing dominoes with that bunch of boobs but to enjoy the base good fortune of not being one of them, to look at himself in the instructive mirror of their misery while he wallowed in the great slough of felicity, dreaming alone.>

Jul-09-18  JimNorCal: <ColdSong> Leko came up short at San Luis 2005 as well. But he has had more chances than most players.

FIDE World Championship Tournament (2005)

Premium Chessgames Member
  0ZeR0: One of the very best World Championship matches of its time. It has since become one of my favorites. As much as Leko is disparaged for his style of play, these games are his ultimate legacy. In which he should be remembered for fighting tenaciously and coming up just short of the highest honors.
Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: I attended an online workshop with Nigel Short yesterday. His take on this match was that Leko committed a crime against chess by trying to draw the last six games, and the goddess Caïssa punished him for it. He had a similar view of M Gurevich vs Short, 1990.
Oct-18-20  SChesshevsky: <...His take on this match was that Leko committed a crime against chess by trying to draw the last six games...>

Maybe true but probably a bit over dramatic.

Think the overriding basis of the entire match was that Kramnik was going to have a major advantage in complicated, dynamic positions. Especially with any sort of initiative. So Leko's play in the last six games have some logic. Though admittedly not the most ambitious.

Gm 9: Game 8 probably an unexpected win which puts Leko in the lead. So a quick draw to help settle the nerves and reset not a bad or unknown idea.

Gm 10: Leko probably lucky to escape a not great opening. The early ...Bc5 Ruy was maybe a bit aggressive but figured a change was needed.

Gm 11: Could be after the escape in game 10, Leko not inclined for anything that's going to get out of control. Preferring another safe reset. Can see the sense but can also see the argument for more enterprising play with the white pieces.

Gm 12: Leko goes to his backup defense. Seems preferred the Caro in this match rather than mix it up with Sicilian. Draw probably acceptable.

Gm 13: Kramnik really shines. Benoni likely totally surprised Leko. And gets a game that is going to have to be unbalanced and complicated. Think Leko does well to hold the match lead.

Gm 14: Kramnik probably wins the opening again. Going with the aggressive early h4 line. Delivers a complicated game with white initiative. Seems just what Leko wouldn't want. Apparently being inaccurate in the middle game and going down. Maybe can disagree with Leko going with the Caro but think Kramnik more took this game rather than Leko being too passive.

Overall, think Kramnik was just the better player. Especially in complex and unclear positions. Think an argument might be made that Leko actually over achieved and Kramnik only saved his title with clever and brave opening choices in the last two games.

Oct-18-20  Petrosianic: : <...His take on this match was that Leko committed a crime against chess by trying to draw the last six games...>

<Maybe true but probably a bit over dramatic.>

Over dramatic, yes. (Not a crime, just bad match strategy). The worst offenders in the list are Game 11, where Leko agreed a GM draw with White, and Game 12, where he agreed a draw in a superior position where it had seemed that victory was near. At the end, Black has a clear edge with little chance of losing, but is still anxious to draw.

Oct-19-20  SChesshevsky: <Petrosianic: Over dramatic, yes. (Not a crime, just bad match strategy)...>

Felt more that Short's statement on Leko's last six games was over dramatic. But do agree that the match strategy probably wasn't best. Though maybe more on a retrospective basis. Can imagine, if Leko could have saved the last game, analysts would be praising his ability to completely stifle Kramnik's potent offense with draws.

But your take on game 12 is spot on. Even believe Leko would have continued play had he foreseen Kramnik's aggressive opening choices in 13 and 14.

Game 11 is a bit of a mystery. Think something bothered him in or after game 10. Or he just didn't feel comfortable with anything he had against Kramnik's QID. Wonder the real reasoning for the pass with the white pieces?

Mar-09-21  Allanur: I am curious: Did Kramnik spend lots of time in bathrooms in this match as well? What about his match against Kasparov? What about his tournament performances circa 2006? Did he used to spend his time in bathrooms as he did against Topalov? I am trying to decide if his behaviour in that toiletgate was his usual way or unique to that match only
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