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Martinez Beats Kramnik In Clash Of Claims

Martinez Beats Kramnik In Clash Of Claims

Colin_McGourty
| 67 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Jose Martinez has won what IM Levy Rozman described as "one of the craziest chess events in history," the Clash of Claims in Madrid. He beat former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik 14.5-11.5, with two games to spare, losing 6.5-7.5 over the board before winning 8-4 online. “I didn’t play my best chess but I think I played decent chess,” said Martinez, while Kramnik called it “an experiment that failed,” since he claimed technical issues invalidated the contest.

The Clash Of Claims was a three-day match that took place June 7-9 in the Casino Gran Via in Madrid, Spain. It brought together two unlikely gladiators with utterly contrasting careers.

Jose Martinez

Twenty-five-year-old Martinez is a Peruvian grandmaster who now lives in and represents Mexico. He’s come to prominence for his performances in Titled Tuesday, two events each week in which all players with official FIDE titles can compete for a $1,000 top prize. He’s currently fourth in the 2024 Titled Cup standings, behind GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and Alexey Sarana.

One week recently, he was followed by a Chesscom film crew as he finished in second place.

Vladimir Kramnik

48-year-old Kramnik is one of the greatest chess players of all time and most famous for wrestling the crown from 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov in the 2000 world championship match. He held on to the title until 2007, and although he retired in early 2019 he came back and took bronze in the World Blitz Championship at the end of that year.

Recently, Kramnik has turned his focus to the subject of cheating in online chess. His methods, particularly posting statistics naming players, have proven controversial, though he insists he’s just following the data. He told Rozman, acting as a commentator and promoter in Madrid:

"I just look at data, I don’t look at names or anything. There is data and if someone has very, very strange data, to put it mildly, I just tell it… There is always a chance that a player is playing fair, but it has to be examined. It’s like there is a crime, you see. OK, there is a body with a knife there, and the police come and says nothing happened. You have to find who, why, what, but it happened, don’t pretend that it didn’t happen!"

Martinez, also interviewed by Levy, explained how that feels to those mentioned:

"For me and for the 200 people he indirectly mentioned in the stats, I think for some people it’s OK, they don’t care, for other people maybe like me they will care. I don’t have any direct emotion against him, I just want to play my best chess and prove myself..."

The Clash Of Claims

The match itself grew out of a single tweet in which IM David Martinez, a top coach and long-term employee and commentator for Chess24 and then Chess.com, noted that the players had the same 2703 over-the-board blitz rating and that he’d really like to see them play a match. Both players agreed almost immediately.

Translation

David Martinez: "I just learned that [Kramnik] and [Martinez] have the same elo rating in OTB blitz, 2703, and are ranked numbers 23 and 24 in the world. I'd love to see a match between them."

Jose Martinez: "If we're doing this, I'm going to train for a few months to show my true potential"

Soon it was a reality, with a plan devised to play 36 games, with six over-the-board (OTB) and six online games each day for three days. It suprised many that both formats would use the same time control—three minutes for all moves plus a two-second increment each move—since the much faster 3+1 is the time control of Titled Tuesday, but Martinez agreed and the contracts were signed.

The players drew lots for the starting color, with Kramnik getting White...

...but the smooth sailing wouldn’t last long.

Day 1: 6-4 OTB After Online Games Abandoned

The pattern of the match would develop early on. Martinez had said in his pre-game interview that he was worried about the Berlin Defense, almost the invention of Kramnik, and that “I think he will not repeat in many games the same opening.” Nothing could have been further from the truth since Kramnik played a Catalan system with g3 and Bg2 in every game with White and played the French Defense (1.e4 e6) in every game with Black.

The match opened with a draw, but then in the second game, we got 31.Ba7!, a sudden blow that induced Kramnik to give up his queen for two rooks. Martinez took the lead, though the bumpy conversion that followed was typical of a blitz game.

Kramnik hit back to outplay his opponent in a rook endgame in game three, then took an early lead with a nice win in game four.

By the end of the classical games, however, the score was 3-3, and it was time to move on to six online games.

Finally, Kramnik and Martinez met over the board. Photo: David Martinez.

This is where the drama began, since Kramnik had insisted on unboxing new laptops for each player each day, as well as having fair play officers on hand during the games. The usual fun of installing operating systems followed before we finally got more chess. 

In the first online game, Kramnik went for a flawed sacrifice, after which he had one minute and 38 seconds on his clock, and Martinez won to narrow the gap. 

A rollercoaster second game followed, but when it ended in bare kings, that turned out to be the end of the day’s online action.

Kramnik claimed, and arbiters confirmed, that his clock had been behaving strangely. It would later be concluded that the issue was likely that the laptop was still going through Windows updates, some of which had failed, and had issues with how time was synching.

The match was hanging by a thread, but Martinez made two concessions to keep it going. First, he agreed that both online games would be ignored for the score, since there had also been issues with the clock in the first game. Second, he offered to play an extra four OTB games on day one.

Translation

"It was difficult to foresee the meaning this image would have a few minutes later. Kramnik prepares his computer, just opened, under the gaze of Jose Martinez."

Martinez would later have some regrets. He played badly and lost the first two games, and it could easily have been 3/3 for Kramnik. Instead, the third and fourth extra games were drawn, so the scoreline was 6-4 for Kramnik.

Day 2: Negotiations Before Martinez Narrows Kramnik’s Lead To 7.5-6.5

Day two was a marathon, but not on the chessboard. Instead, the players and organizers were locked in a four-hour negotiation until it was finally agreed that the match could go on. They decided to play just four more OTB games on Saturday, making it 14 in total, and then play 14 online games on the final day, Sunday. The 36-game match had become a 28-game match.

Rozman (aka GothamChess, with over five million subscribers on YouTube), provided some more details in his final recap and also in a post on X.  

Things were looking tough for Martinez, since after a draw in the first game of the day, Kramnik lived up to the saying “Kramnik's passed pawns always queen” as an a-pawn brought him victory and a three-point lead. Everything was also going smoothly for Kramnik in the next game until 31…Rf3? suddenly allowed the winning trick 32.Ne3!, trapping the rook.

Kramnik also blundered in the final game of the day, so that he led by just a point, 7.5-6.5, going into the online section.

Day 3: Martinez Triumphs, Match Almost Completed

Martinez was considered by many a favorite in online blitz, but the first game wasn’t ideal. He moved his rook to f5 to reinforce the f7-pawn, but overlooked the blow 34.Ne6+!, when there was nothing better to do than resign.


The Peruvian was unable to convert an extra pawn in the next game, but then hit back to clinch a wild third. This time, however, the match ground to a halt since Kramnik began to calculate move times and lag by hand. Martinez kept his calm during the 20-minute break.

He then won the next two games as well to take the lead, delighting many fans in the venue.

Translation

"In the #clashofclaims, you can say that the grandmasters are rooting for [Martinez]. This is how his last victory was experienced."

It wasn’t that he was giving no chances, however. 30.Nxd5!! would have been an amazing tactical shot for Kramnik.

Kramnik did hit back in the next game, but Martinez regained the lead by outfoxing Kramnik in a drawn but incredibly tricky rook endgame. 80.Kh1? instead of 80.Kf1 condemned the former world champion to a loss, with the reaction of the Spanish commentary team one of the day’s most memorable moments.

Martinez missed a clear chance in the next game but then did take a two-point lead in the game after that, while Kramnik was missing things.

31…Rxf2! picks up a free pawn since 32.Kxf2 runs into 32…Ne4+, forking the king and queen. Although Martinez should have won that game, he didn’t, but time was still running out for the former world champion.

Another draw followed before Martinez clinched victory with a well-played final game.

The match was over, or was it? The plan was to play all the games, but that only lasted until game 27. Kramnik built up a completely winning position but then suddenly lost on time, as his opponent’s move had failed to show up on his screen. The match was abandoned without playing the final game.

The match had enhanced Martinez’s reputation, especially for how calmly he’d dealt with the chaos and negotiations around it. The young grandmaster had managed to live with the formidable former world champion and also use his practical skills to good effect, even if the environment in Madrid could hardly be compared to the usual online setup. As he told Levy: “It’s easier when you are at home listening to music with your coffee playing Titled Tuesday!”

It’s easier when you are at home listening to music with your coffee playing Titled Tuesday!

—Jose Martinez

Kramnik had some kind words to say about his opponent, who he called “a very nice guy, a gentleman,” but he also called the match “an experiment that failed.” “You can tell he’s a very good player, that I already knew,” he said, with his argument being that lag and server issues had made it impossible to focus on chess. In the tweets that followed Kramnik would suggest Chess.com had somehow manipulated things to give an advantage to Martinez.

Some top players responded to the match, with GM Levon Aronian posting:

When asked who he would like to play in another Clash of Claims, Kramnik mentioned GM Hikaru Nakamura, but don’t expect that match anytime soon.

Giri responded to that tweet:

"I partly agree, but I was thinking about this the other day and I think the reward is for being an ex-World Champion. That still counts for something."  

In any case, it was a memorable match, but the chess action isn’t over in Madrid, with Rozman and GM Pepe Cuenca among the players in action in a GM-norm tournament as part of the Madrid Chess Festival.


The IM norm tournament may be even more interesting since 10-year-old Faustino Oro from Argentina has a chance to become the youngest ever player to hold the international master title. 

Colin_McGourty
Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with Chess.com a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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