At the (Classical) Halfway Point

I had to put Classical in parentheses because if the current drawing rate holds up, the match will go on for more than just 12 games. Lots of people have opined on the state of the match, so I’ll throw my 2 cents onto the pile too.

Have I found the match exciting? No.

Have I found the match interesting? Yes. It’s interesting for me to see how matches develop, what strategies the players are generally choosing, what openings they’re selecting, etc.

In this case, Gelfand’s choices of the Grunfeld and Sveshnikov look inspired to me. They fit his opening style quite well in that both are extremely concrete. Still, I never would’ve guessed that he’d play them. It’s no real surprise to me that Anand hasn’t found much with 1.d4 – his results with that have never been as good, his World Championship win against Kramnik notwithstanding, and it’s a reminder that he’s really been a 1.e4 player for 90% of his career. In the first Sveshnikov, I don’t think he wanted to take any chances – I do expect him to probe there some more, there are a couple recent lines I saw today that might be fruitful. Before the match, I thought his move order progression would go 1.d4 –> 1.c4 (1 game at most) –> 1.e4, but given Gelfand has prepared the Sicilian for the match, I’m less certain about 1.c4 popping up now.

On Anand’s side, his choice of the 5…a6 Semi-Slav is pretty cool – I started playing that line in 2006 and generally had good results with it. I occasionally found it difficult to generate winning chances (from both colors actually), but it was a lot easier to maintain than the normal Meran complex, which probably required 10 times more analysis to keep track of. It’s not especially surprising to me that Gelfand has found it a tough nut to crack – my own feeling is that he’ll have to turn to the 5.Bg5 Semi-Slav (Moscow Gambit, specifically) or to the Slav to generate real winning chances. Anand hasn’t shown himself to be as accurate in his calculation (something the Moscow Gambit demands) and occasionally lazy in positional defense (as the Slav demands), but he is still very precise in finding “short” defensive moves – the kind that are needed to equalize in this 5…a6 variation. Still, I wonder if at some point (specifically game 7 tomorrow) Anand will show his next defensive scheme in order to sidestep whatever new trickery Gelfand has prepared. A pre-emptive sidestep, if you will.

I also found Kasparov’s comments (from his stop in the commentary booth during game 6) to be pretty amusing – he’s still the same old Garry! And that means with all the great chess ability, you get a lot of bluster and foolish talk. I don’t disagree that Anand has lost motivation, but some of his other comments were pretty shortsighted:

  • On Anand needing to sit down and spend 20 minutes to find the “winning” line in game 3 – as Mark Crowther wrote on TWIC, “Not his best suggestion, Anand had only 10 minutes left.” As a side note, the endgame, as far as I’ve seen it worked out with some engine help, also doesn’t actually seem to be won and Kasparov admitted that he hadn’t analyzed the game at all.
  • On this being the first World Championship where the winner will not be the strongest player in the world. I can’t argue with the “not the strongest player part” – Carlsen and Aronian are both better right now … but they also didn’t qualify. I can take issue with this being the first though. Did the #1 ranked Kasparov not consider himself to be the best when Kramnik and Leko tangled in 2004?
  • On the Kramnik – Aronian match being a very exciting match. To me, there were 2 exciting games in that match – the 3rd game which Kramnik won and the 6th game which Kramnik nearly won. Game 1 was “exciting” in that it was decisive, but was of a pretty low objective quality. The two Berlin endgames and the game 5 Semi-Slav (Moscow Variation) were about as interesting as the 3 games with the 5…a6 Semi-Slav. So one more exciting game thus far, despite not being for anywhere near the same stakes.

Anyway …. do I like seeing 6 relatively bloodless draws in 6 games? Not especially. I’d prefer if each of the games was more like game 3, with opening surprises, complicated play, and full-board struggles.

But just like it’s easier for me to suggest that my opponent sacrifice his pieces, it’s easy to tell two players playing for the World Championship that I want them to take more risks and possibly lose.

So instead, I’ll just echo what Aronian himself just said yesterday: “World Championship matches should be take [sic] as a single game of chess. First you develop, then you try to find a weak spot, then you attack.” After all, like Aronian, I’m still interested in this match.

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