Candidates matches end with a bang!

by admin on May 25, 2011

The interminable series of draws … finally terminated! In the last “classical” game of the final match to determine Viswanathan Anand’s next challenger for the World Championship, Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Grischuk. Thus Gelfand wins the match, 3½-2½.

Because I haven’t written about the challengers’ matches for a couple of weeks, let me give you a quick recap (although I suspect that most readers of this blog already know what has been happening). The new, hyper-abbreviated candidates’ cycle brought eight players to Kazan for a month-long elimination tournament. In the first round, almost all of the favorites were shown to the exit. Gata Kamsky beat Veselin Topalov, 2½-1½. Boris Gelfand beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2½-1½. The matches Kramnik-Radjabov and Grischuk-Aronian were both tied, 2-2, but Kramnik won in the 5-minute playoffs and Grischuk won in the 25-minute stage.

The semifinal matches, Kamsky-Gelfand and Grischuk-Kramnik, were again 2-2 ties. Both matches were still tied after the 25-minute playoffs, and so once again they went to 5-minute playoffs, where Gelfand and Grischuk won.

For a long time it appeared that the final match, which was 6 games instead of 4, would go the same route. Gelfand and Grischuk drew their first five games (although they were for the most part hard-fought battles, not “grandmaster draws”), and today’s game was the last chance for either of them to draw blood before going to the rapid-chess and blitz-chess playoffs.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, both players chose aggressive openings. Playing White, Gelfand switched from the English Opening (which he had played in his two previous games as White) to 1. d4. Grischuk had clearly prepared for the sharp Gruenfeld Defense (as GM Sergei Shipov notes in his commentary, one of his seconds is Peter Svidler, the world’s expert in the Gruenfeld), and so he chose that opening instead of a more solid Slav. In the middlegame, Grischuk gave up his dark-squared bishop for a knight in order to weaken Gelfand’s kingside. But the threats never materialized, and Gelfand played in classical style: answer an attack on the flank with an attack in the center. Black’s pieces were all swept away to the sides of the board: rook on h5, knight on a5, bishop on b3, queen on c8, rook on d8, while White’s pawns steamrolled up the center to e5 and d5. Meanwhile, Grischuk got in horrific time pressure: 15 minutes for 18 moves, then 7 minutes for 15 moves, and finally 3 minutes for 10 moves. Even I can tell you that you can’t win a world championship that way! Finally Grischuk ended the slaughter by resigning on move 35.

This abrupt ending rewrote the story line of the tournament to some extent. Previously the biggest story was the incredible number of draws: 27 draws in the first 29 classical games of the tournament. (By “classical” I mean played at a standard, slow time time control.) I think that the format clearly should take part of the blame. Four games are just not enough for a serious match. The cost of one loss in such a short match is too high; the result was a lot of careful play, as several players (especially Grischuk) seemed to count on winning in the 25-minute or 5-minute playoffs. So the challenger for the classical World Championship was nearly decided by action chess and blitz. I believe that 5-minute games are a ridiculous way to pick a challenger for the World Championship. Fortunately, Gelfand’s last-minute triumph restored some sanity to the process.

I’m certain that there will be endless discussions of ways to improve the system. It always happens. Unfortunately, chess has not had a stable system for determining a World Champion for many years. To be honest, Bobby Fischer started the trouble with his insistence on a championship match where draws wouldn’t count. That led to the famous debacle of the first Karpov-Kasparov match, where FIDE President Florencio Campomanes intervened to stop the match after 48 (!) games. That led to Kasparov’s feud with FIDE and eventually to the splitting of the world championship into two. We are still recovering from that; FIDE has finally gotten control of the cycle again and we have an undisputed champion, but there is no standard procedure for choosing him (or her). It’s all politics.

But anyway, we now have a very worthy challenger for Anand, in Boris Gelfand, and I’m sure that the match between them will be hard-fought and less plagued by draws than the Kazan elimination tournament was.

By the way, GM Sergei Shipov’s commentary on the final game, at www.crestbook.com, was excellent. His commentary on some of the previous games was lacking in its usual verve and color, as he became discouraged by all the draws. But in the last game, when there was finally something exciting happening on the chessboard, he completely lived up to the challenge. I am not translating Shipov’s commentary here, but “MishaNP” has been translating it at www.chessintranslation.com, and I’m sure that Shipov’s comments on the final game will be posted there soon.

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Marc May 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I’m glad to see Gelfand win this. I’ve been a Gelfand fan ever since Jesse Kraai’s lecture on his win with Black vs. Karjakin in the 2009 World Cup. I also love this 4min video showing how he swindled a draw out of Aronian in 2008 Amber blindfold game:

http://www.mefeedia.com/watch/23142883

Aronian’s disbelief is priceless. At 1:12 he cries, “I cannot win because he gives all his pieces!” I really admire the fighting spirit it takes to find such a defense under any conditions. But it is especially impressive in a blindfold game.

I can’t blame Bobby Fischer for the mess he created with the World Championship Cycle. His idea to have a decisive result by not counting draws is a very principled approach that is primarily satisfying to the players in the match, but incredibly inconvenient for everybody else. I blame FIDE because they should have never allowed the possibility of an unlimited match.

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