The 2014 Candidates Tournament is in the books, and as you probably know, Anand took 1st place! In so doing, he set up a rematch with Magnus Carlsen (currently scheduled for end of this year), the first World Championship rematch since Kasparov-Karpov in 1990.
He’s also the first ex-Champion to re-qualify via a Candidates Cycle (tournament or match format). There’ve been plenty of rematches in the past, but most were via an automatic rematch clause that most Champions enjoyed from the 1930s through the 1980s.
Also, since then, I’d say the chess world has generally advanced at a faster pace and so if you were Champion and then lost the title, it was probably a sign that your time was up rather more than it used to be in the 1950s, for example.
Anyway, sometime last summer, after seeing Anand beat Topalov in Norway, I became interested in figuring out how World Championship match opponents did against each following their match. I resurrected that old analysis and then added some stuff in for rematches. Here’s what I found …
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.
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:
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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.
Game 11 was a draw, so that leaves one regular game for all the marbles tomorrow. If that one is a draw as well, they go to tiebreaks (4 games of G/25 + 10 sec/move, I believe). And if it’s still tied, they’ll end all the fun with an Armageddon game.
From my perspective, Game 11 featured a couple interesting moments:
- It was no surprise that they repeated a Rubinstein Nimzo, but Anand dusted off the ancient 8…Bd7 (it’s given in Gligoric’s book on the Nimzo as Bronstein’s Variation – amazingly, he spends 20 of 27 chapters on 4.e3 variations). I played the same 4.e3 Nimzo about 20 times (only switching to 4.Qc2 once) and I couldn’t remember seeing this move at all. Gelfand obviously couldn’t either, as he spent about 35 minutes trying to figure out what to do. Continue reading
Well, we have our first decisive game. The two players went into the 5…a6 Semi-Slav again, and Gelfand deviated with the expected 6.c5. But Anand didn’t lose because of the opening (even though 10…c4 looks like a faster equalizer to me than 10…cxd4). He lost because he just played the middlegame poorly. I’m not sure he would avoided this result today even if he had switched openings.
Gelfand is now up 1 with 5 to play – can Anand break through with White? I think the idea that Anand was playing himself into form can be discounted now, but the gloves have to come off unless he wants to go down without a fight like Kasparov did in 2000.
Meanwhile, I’m walking around like this:
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.
The 2012 World Championship match between Anand and Gelfand begins tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to this match, and it’s probably the most anticipated event for me since the Candidates Matches that saw Gelfand emerge as the winner.
While trying to find some articles about the match, I came across a couple that I thought were interesting and worth a look:
1. First, one from the match website itself – link. It provides an annotated history of their encounters, starting with Gelfand’s early wins and then the tides slowly turning followed by a longer period with some Anand wins and a number of draws.