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The chess world has got the championship decider it wanted. The opponent for India's Viswanathan Anand in November will be Magnus Carlsen, after the 22-year-old Norwegian last month won the great London tournament between the eight qualifying challengers.

Yet it could so easily not have happened. As this column noted ahead of the event,while Carlsen was the favourite, the Russian ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik "is an awesome competitor, who will not yield an inch, even under the most extreme pressure". So it proved: Carlsen (five wins, seven draws and two losses) tied with Kramnik (four wins, nine draws and one loss) for first place, and since they drew their two games against each other, the Norwegian won the tie-break on the basis that he had scored more wins. As Nigel Short pointed out, this was somewhat perverse as it meant that Kramnik was eliminated for having lost fewer games than Carlsen.

 More frustrating still for the 6 ft 5 in Russian, his only loss came in the last round. Knowing he probably had to win, Kramnik took uncharacteristic risks and spurned several drawing opportunities against the volatile but immensely dangerous Vassily Ivanchuk. As it turned out, a draw would have been sufficient to earn Kramnik the right to a revenge match against Anand (who took his title in 2007), because Carlsen also went down in defeat in the final round. 

 It must have been a bitter disappointment for the 37-year-old Kramnik, who had been half a point ahead of Carlsen with two rounds to play. Yet when I spoke to him at the prize-giving (presented by the chess enthusiast Chancellor George Osborne at 11 Downing Street) Vladimir seemed serenely untroubled and as good-natured as ever.

Some days later I called him, if only to find out how he managed to behave with such equanimity. He laughed: "I suppose I have this typical Russian fatalism; it's an attitude I have to life generally." When I pointed out a little tactlessly that he had given the media a present by not winning, since Carlsen is seen as the fresh face from the West, rather than just another Russian, Kramnik replied "If everyone was rooting for Magnus and not me, I don't mind. He is the big Western star, I understand that. I understand that all the so-called progressive world was behind him. But I don't think of that world when I am playing."

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