Well, after 6 psychologically interesting draws, the match veered off into strange territory starting on game 7. Anand played pretty poorly while Gelfand played quite well and won. Then in game 8, Gelfand lost in just 17 moves. After that, two draws, one where Gelfand was pressing (as white) and one where Gelfand’s opening novelty (as black) largely equalized on the spot.
About game 8, I was wondering if Gelfand would go the Kasparov route and adopt what Yermolinsky has called a “++” attitude. By that I mean, push harder when you sense any weakness in your opponent. It’s why after 8 straight draws, an Anand win, followed by a spectacular Kasparov win, Kasparov turned to the Dragon in game 11. The idea was that the only challenging lines were to enter a super-sharp Yugoslav Attack, but that he sensed that Anand would be reluctant to do so after falling victim to some amazing preparation in the previous game. And as he expected, Anand didn’t attempt to put any pressure on Black and quickly found himself worse and then lost.
So maybe that’s why, up 1, Gelfand went with 3…c5 and then tried to provoke Anand with the funky …Nh5. And like in 1995, Anand eschewed the most critical lines with g4 (twice!) and tried to keep a lid on things. However, instead of making do with only a slightly worse (but quiet) position, Gelfand didn’t pull up and found his queen trapped thanks to a miscalculation.
One thing I found amusing about the reactions to the game was a lot of people (not the commentators, though) saying something along the lines of – “well, he should’ve thought more about it if Anand was offering an exchange and a pawn!” Easy to say in hindsight, because taking on h5 wasn’t forced – it just happened to win. Gelfand, Leko, Nepo, and others were all focused on Kc2 instead. By the time Anand took on h5, it’s just over – what else are you going to do? Play on down a knight? At a professional level, you might as well be down a queen.
Anyway, after games 9 and 10, I’m inclined to say I expect Gelfand to win. He’s largely been the creator in the match while Anand’s middlegame disaster in game 7 and opening disaster in game 9 are worrisome. Had Gelfand held it together in game 8, he’d be the obvious favorite. Even if it goes to rapids, Gelfand’s opening preparation and recall has been a step above Anand’s. And even though he has a terrible record against Anand in rapids, Gelfand’s no slouch at fast time controls and better preparation would go a long way to making life uncomfortable for Anand.
I don’t expect Anand to risk much with white in game 12 if it’s still tied, but I’m interested to see what he’ll do tomorrow as black. Running away from the Semi-Slav doesn’t make sense to me, since he was getting fine positions with it. The argument that one loss with it brings back bad memories is kind of silly in my view. Gelfand showed nothing against the line after all. Still, knowing Gelfand has prepared the 4.e3 Nimzo, he might play into that again after reviewing his lines this time. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 4.Nf3 Nimzo either, although I’m not sure Gelfand has played that before. Gelfand could play into the QGD (with 3.Nf3) or the Catalan (with 3.g3), but I have some strong doubts that he prepared either of those for this match.
(And yes, I am going for a reverse jinx here!)