Vladimir Kramnik is something of an anomaly in the chess world, a top-seeded grandmaster who has refused to devote all his energy to the game. "By nature, I am not ambitious," he says. Nevertheless, the Russian-born prodigy has managed to float to the top of the chess world, ranked just behind champion Garry Kasparov at the turn of the millennium.
The subtitle to Kramnik's book is "My Life and Games," but there is, in fact, little distinction between the two; the game has dominated Kramnik's life from the age of 5. By age 16, he was playing on the world chess scene, and at age 25, in 2000, he is one of the few players who can regularly hold his own against Kasparov.
Kramnik reads less like a traditional autobiography than a transcript of 50-plus games from his career. They include key matches with Kasparov, Karpov, Anand, Topalov, Ivanchuk, Shirov, and other greats, stretching back to 1984. Colorful biographical tidbits appear between games, offering glimpses of Kramnik's life outside chess--we learn he's a lousy cook, suffers insomnia from the pressure of the game, and tries to stay philosophical about winning and losing. But most revealing are the interior dialogues that accompany his matches; they are deeply annotated. Kramnik explains exactly what was running through his head as he pushed a pawn or sacrificed a queen at key points, and it's a marvel to watch his mind at work. His comments are never boastful and even betray a self-effacing wit--a refreshing change in a profession known for its outsize egos. Chess enthusiasts should find plenty to occupy them in Kramnik and would do well to take a page from his playbook. --Demian McLean
Since he arrived on the chess scene in 1992 at the age of 16, Vladimir Kramnik has been tipped as a future World Chamption. Here, he annotates 100 of his best games, and talks about his life and unusual childhood.