A Smorgasbord of Match Stats

Game 12 was a draw, although it wasn’t a boring draw I think. Anand’s positional pawn sac was met with a positional double-pawn sac to equalize – in fact, most everybody seemed to like Black’s position in the pawn-down endgame more. Anand again had a sizable time advantage when he offered the draw with 22.Bxe7, but like in game 11, I just don’t see what his plan to continue the game would be. He’s got weak pawns on a2 (because of the …a4 lever), d3, and h4 and Black’s rooks are the more active set.

GM Balogh on ChessBomb suggested 13.Qg3 (instead of 13.Qxd5) as an objectively better, but riskier, move. I don’t see the point, though, as after 13…Bxc4 14.bxc4 Qa5+ (14…Bb4+? 15.Ke2!) seems fine to me. Black isn’t in any danger in my view, all thanks to the brilliant 10…c4! double pawn-sac:

(FEN: r1bqkb1r/p4ppp/2p1p3/2p1p3/7P/1P1P4/P1PN1PP1/R1BQK2R b KQkq - 0 10)

And so the classical portion of the match ends in a 6-6 tie! This has happened before but all-but-one of the previous cases saw the sitting champion retain his title. In 2006, though, Kramnik beat Topalov in the rapid-chess tiebreaks 2.5-1.5.

Anand holds a huge career advantage over Gelfand in rapids – 8 wins, against 1 loss and 19 draws. Still, I don’t think this will be quite as much of a cakewalk as that would suggest. Opening preparation and nerves will be a bigger factor here than in a lot of those rapid games (from Melody Amber tournaments, etc), and thus far and more recently, I’d say Gelfand has had the edge in both areas. Gelfand has his openings in order, whereas Anand has more fundamental decisions to make as to what openings to play as white and black. One good thing about Anand’s play since his win in game 8 is that he’s been generally playing more quickly in the last 4 games.

With only 2 decisive games out of 12, the match was tied for the 2nd highest drawing rate in World Championship matches at 83% (tied with the aborted 1984-85 Karpov-Kasparov match). The record holder? That’d be the 2000 Kramnik-Kasparov match, which saw an 87% drawing clip (however, that wasn’t the most boring match chess-wise). Previous 70+% matches were Alekhine-Capablanca (73%), Kasparov-Anand (72%), Kramnik-Leko (72%), Petrosian-Spassky 1966 (71%), and Kasparov-Karpov 1990 (71%).

However, from an “interesting games” point-of-view, this match was below the Kramnik-Kasparov one. That pretty much means I’m taking all decisive games, games played out to trivial draws (R + P vs R, for example), and games with about 20+ moves after the first surprise/novelty as interesting. (EDIT: I should amend that to say all decisive games, and draws with a meaningful surprise/novelty that are played out until a trivial position or for about 20 more moves. From a technical standpoint, I think all the draws in this match were the correct result without question. But I was much more impressed with Gelfand’s 5…e5! idea in game 10 than with a technical novelty on move 15 in the 5…a6 Semi-Slav)

Here’s my count then:

  • Kramnik – Kasparov 2000: 87% drawing rate, but 10/15 games were pretty interesting, and only 2 were totally devoid of any interested (2 sub-15 move draws with Kasparov as white).
  • Kramnik – Leko 2004: 72% drawing rate, with 8/14 games were interesting. The other 6 though were pretty banal.
  • Kramnik – Topalov 2006: 55% drawing rate (classical only), and all 11/11 games being engrossing (the 1 missing one was the forfeit win for Topalov). Throw in the tiebreak, and it goes up to 15/15. An incredibly impressive 100%, starting a nice trend for the last few years!
  • Anand – Kramnik 2008: 64% drawing rate, with every game being interesting again. There were two less interesting games among the bunch (the Exchange Slav and the QGD), but both had some interesting moments and were played out to essentially the end.
  • Anand – Topalov 2010: 59% drawing rate, and again, every game was interesting. With an average length of 52 moves, this was also tied for the longest average-length match in history. The only other 50+ move matches? That’d be Kramnik – Topalov 2006, at 51 (or 50 if you include the rapid games) and Alekhine – Bogoljubow 1934 (at 52; and what?? I can’t recall ever having seen a game from this match)
  • Gelfand – Anand 2012: 83% drawing rate (classical only), but with only 6 interesting games to me out of the 12 (games 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12), it’s really the worst of the bunch in terms of chess content. The average length here has been 29 moves, and the only other sub-30 average length match was Kasparov-Anand 1995 (also at 29 moves)!

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