The tiebreaks featured some very interesting chess and also some bad mistakes. After the smoke cleared, Anand emerged victorious 2.5 – 1.5, retaining the Champion title for a another year or two.
After an exciting Semi-Slav draw in game 1, Anand finally broke through with the Rossolimo in game 2. Anand didn’t maintain his opening advantage, and then instead of bailing out into a pretty easily drawn R + P endgame, Gelfand continued pressing thinking he was better. What appeared on the board was a theoretically drawn endgame, but with no time, I think R + N + P is likely won in such a situation.
Game 3 was the low-point in terms of quality, although there was lots of excitement. Anand went into a …Bf5 Slav (the same opening of his ONLY career loss to Gelfand in a rapid game!) and misplayed it and was quickly much worse. Gelfand’s nerves probably betrayed him at this point, as he missed a couple easy wins in the middlegame and let Anand back in. Then Anand, playing on Gelfand’s time disadvantage, re-complicated a drawn endgame and found himself defending instead. A somewhat bizarre R + P finish ended in a draw, with Gelfand blowing a final win when he miscounted moves leading up to a possible Vancura Position.
Finally, in game 4, Anand only needed a draw as white to retain his title. However, he played the opening in insipid fashion, trying to exchange pieces off without making sure the exchanges were favorable (or at least neutral). As he said afterwards, his brain told him not to play that way, but he couldn’t stop his hand. There is one example that remains stuck in my head for this “Don’t Play for a Draw” mentality: Gurevich – Short, Interzonal 1990 where Mikhail Gurevich (Anand’s second/trainer right around that time!) needed a draw as white to qualify for the Candidates Matches. Short meanwhile needed a win. Gurevich played an Exchange French, did nothing, and was slowly outplayed in fine fashion. However, Gelfand may have been a little unsure of himself, and instead of simplying into a 2B vs B + N endgame, he chose to keep a pair of rooks on with the minor pieces, maybe to give himself more material to work with. However, Anand’s rook became a thorn in his side and Anand avoided his former second’s fate and held a draw.
So what more is there to say? I already wrote that the earlier portions of the match were interesting, even if they weren’t always exciting, and I think that’s how I’d sum up the match. I’m disappointed it came to rapid chess tiebreaks, but at least the person I was rooting for ended up winning (the reverse jinx, hidden in the game 10 post worked!). Also, the rumors of Aronian helping Gelfand were confirmed by Ian Rogers, although I’m not sure whether he really meant to say that Aronian was one of his seconds. I would’ve guessed that he’d be more of a sparring partner.
Meanwhile, the Tal Memorial starts in a few days and with a powerhouse lineup, I’m really interested to see what happens there. It’s a very good field up and down the lineup, with Tomashevsky maybe being the only surprise to me. However, he’s #16 in the world now. Apparently, I froze when asked for a prediction, and I went with a 3-way tie between Carlsen, Aronian, and Kramnik. We’ll see.
Anand plays again later this month in Bazna. I’m curious to see what he’ll show there – will all his opponents purposefully play the Grunfeld and Sveshnikov? Will he play with a new fire after having won an event for the first time in a while? Will the criticism fuel him? The brain says no to all three, but I’m hoping that the last one will be a yes. I wonder whether he’d even defend his title in 2013/2014 (it’s currently scheduled for 2013, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pushed back to early 2014) if he has another year like he had after Wijk aan Zee 2011. I think that was his last good tournament result at +4.