In today’s series of four 25-minute games, Viswanathan Anand defeated Boris Gelfand 2.5-1.5 to retain his world championship crown. Grandmaster Sergey Shipov commented on all four games at www.crestbook.com, and you can find Colin McGourty’s translations at Chess in Translation.
In spite of my comments in the last post about the way that the tiebreak cheapens the world championship title, it certainly wasn’t the players’ fault that the rules were what they were. In fact they treated us to four incredibly complex, hard-fought games. After a “regulation time” that was disappointingly short on drama and long on quick draws, the “overtime” was absolutely fascinating and the battles raged deep into the endgames, often down to the very last pawn.
As Shipov commented at the end, really the decisive factor in the match was the fact that Anand was always way ahead in time. As far as the play over the board went, he really didn’t get the better of Gelfand at all. In fact, Gelfand had very serious winning chances in both the third and fourth games, and only Anand’s incredibly resourceful play, plus the fact that Gelfand simply had no time to work out all the tactics, made it possible for Anand to save a draw in both games. Most of the time Gelfand was playing with a “hanging flag” (though because of the time-delay, he at least had 10 seconds per move to work with), while Anand generally had 5 to 10 minutes in reserve.
Here’s a very short recap. In the first game Gelfand had White and Anand went back to the Slav Defense. It looked as if Anand was a little better prepared, and Gelfand made a mistake at move 19 that simply dropped a pawn. But he did an excellent job of creating counterplay and Anand went into a long forced variation that led to a drawn endgame.
Game two was really the gem of the match. Anand again played the Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian (hooray!) and went back to the move order 5. b3 that didn’t work in game ten of the main match. This time he was ready for Gelfand’s 5. … e5 and played 7. d4. He eventually won a pawn, and then Gelfand sacrificed another for a huge amount of compensation. At one point Shipov said that Anand had a position you wouldn’t wish on your best friend. But in spite of all that, he did have an extra pawn, and he managed somehow to get to a bare-bones endgame with rook, knight and pawn against Gelfand’s rook and bishop. I’m sure that the analysts will tell us that it should have been a draw, but with Gelfand’s flag hanging Anand handled his knight like a virtuoso, like the wand of a conductor leading an orchestra, and he finally got to a winning rook and pawn endgame. What a masterful performance! This was really the only game of the four-game match where Anand had serious winning chances, and he kept the flickering candle of hope alive for 50-plus moves and finally carried it across the finish line.
Game three was the one that Gelfand will probably regret for the rest of his life. It was a Slav Defense again, Anand playing Black. Anand uncharacteristically placed his pieces very badly, with a bishop on b8 that was blocked by a rook on c7 and a pawn on a7. Gelfand opened the b-file and it looked as if he was simply going to win the trapped bishop. In fact, as Shipov pointed out in his commentary, for two consecutive moves he could have done so, and the game would have been simply over. But he confused the move order — it’s action chess after all, and Anand squirmed out of trouble. But then he got back in trouble again! I didn’t quite see how it happened, but Anand got into a lost rook and pawn endgame. But here, Gelfand was unable to produce the sparkling endgame technique that Anand had showed in game 2; he gave up a tempo for absolutely no reason (59. Rh7?) and the game was drawn. “Vishy had luck on his side — World Champion’s luck!” Shipov said.
Finally, game four was absolutely a gut-wrenching battle. In another Rossolimo Sicilian, Anand was a little bit too eager to trade pieces in the early going, and he allowed Gelfand to get the two bishops against his bishop and knight. It was a position where Black could “torture” White forever on both sides of the board. There was never a point where you could say that Gelfand was clearly winning, but still it was an incredibly tough position for White to defend in practice. But two factors worked in Anand’s favor — his stoic, Olympian calm and his advantage in time. Nothing that Gelfand did could bother him. He eventually got to a bishops of opposite color endgame and set up an impregnable fortress. Draw! And the set and match went to Anand.
You and I can only imagine what an ordeal this was, to play such tense games, four games in a row with hardly a break between, and with the eyes of the whole chess world upon you. Both Gelfand and Anand deserve praise for their heroic efforts in the tiebreak, and we can only wish that they had played with equal daring in the main part of the match.
For all the thousands of readers — and I mean literally thousands — who have come here to read GM Shipov’s commentaries over the last two weeks, I hope you have enjoyed them. Let’s do it again two years from now!