Playing a World Championship in Russia against an opponent, who was born there and still has massive Russian connections cannot be easy. It can safely be said that Boris Gelfand had more supporters than Viswanathan Anand, even though the Indian is a much liked guy worldwide. No one knows that better than Anand, who for almost his entire career has had to be ‘that one outsider’ who did not learn his chess in the erstwhile Soviet Union or Russia. And he never had the support system that any Soviet player has.
Through the three weeks of the match Anand spoke little. His answers were often laconic and he said just as much he needed to answer a question without sounding rude. No, he is not the guy who opens his heart after the first meeting, but he is friendly alright.
But, when it was all over, the creases on his forehead in a manner of speaking, had disappeared. That shy smile was back and he was literally a joy (pun intended) to watch, as he was coming to terms with his ‘High Five’ moment after winning the World title for a fifth time.
The match that began on May 11 finally ended on May 30. Twelve classical games could not separate them and finally it took four Rapid Games and it was close to being a photo-finish, though that would logically have been so if it had gone to the Armageddon.
The margin was really razor thin and Anand was once again champion – for the fifth time and he could well be defending that title in his hometown Chennai in 2014.
There was more relief than ecstasy. “I’m mainly relieved, because I understood that in all fairness this match simply could have gone either way. Personally I never felt like a favourite. I knew I would have my chances but I never really felt like a favourite, I know Boris much to long for that. Right now I’m just relieved. I can’t think beyond that,” said Anand moments after the match ended.
Through the last four games, there were some unfair comments from outside to the effect that the players might be playing draws and looking at the tie-breaker at the stage itself.
Anand said, “I know some of you thought we were already heading for the tie-break but it wasn’t like that. But the thing is we’re not heading for it but I’m not going to do something insane just to avoid it because then you might not even get there. So in game 12 for instance we had some interesting ideas but every time Boris would pull some move out, I mean c4 was brilliant, he found it over the board I think, and this showed his reaction was very good. And so again this equalising tendency just continued.”
Even as he was trying to gather his thoughts, there came a metaphorical question on his next move. Anand smiled and said, ”I barely got through this one and you’re asking me about the next one. No, I have no thoughts whatsoever, it’ll take some time even for today to sink in.”
Anand had his moments of doubt, too. When asked on the most crucial moments of the match, he said, “The problem in such a tight match is every mistake has a much higher value than in a match where there are mistake flowing back and forth in every game. In a match where there were so few chances for me it was a really incredibly heavy blow to lose game 7 and I count myself extremely fortunate that I was able to come back the next day. For me I would even say this was the critical moment in the match from my perspective because I was not getting a lot of chances and that’s exactly the situation where you don’t want to be behind.”
He added, “If I had to pick a moment I’m really proud of it’s my reaction to the 8th game. I understand it wasn’t Boris’ best game, but still I cannot remember such a black day like after game 7, I couldn’t sleep. That day I really thought I’d blown the match. Because the tendency was also getting tough I mean I was still going to give it my best shot. Game 8 was just very, very important for my morale also. “
Anand’s prowess in Rapids is well-known, so would he have been waiting for it? “You simply play the tie-break. I think given that we drew our first 12 games deciding it by a tie-break is quite a reasonable situation. … After such a long and tough match may it’s the only thing that could separate us. Well even the tie-break was just incredibly tense…I think I can say that I won because I won and that’s it.”
“I woke up this morning knowing my fate would be decided today. I had no sense of what shape the tiebreak would take. In the second game, he lost because of time pressure and in the third game I was just lost. He also had his chances in the fourth.”
Gelfand was even more forthright on the rapids. “I wouldn’t say it was an equal match, I would tend to believe that it was proceeding with my edge in it. In the second game for example I had more than enough compensation for the pawn and good chances there. Probably the problem of the whole match for me was lagging behind in time and sometimes when you are developing a time deficit it is difficult to find the best move on the sport which happened with blunders in the second and the third game and in the fourth game, too, I had an advantage but probably because of the same problem with the time limit it couldn’t be realised.”
Finally, one more noticeable thing was that both players are polite to a fault. Things are not supposed to be that friendly between two men who are fighting for the World Chess Crown – or well at least that’s what I had come to believe over the past 30 years and more of watching chess.
Anand said, “In all fairness this match simply could have gone either way. I noticed it already starting 2009. At that point I didn’t know that Boris was going to win Kazan of course. In Khanty Mansiysk I saw his enormous determination and his strength, I mean the tests he survived there to qualify and then again in Kazan. So I think he showed that he was really motivated.”
QUICK SUMMARY OF RAPID GAMES
Game 1: Gelfand v Anand (Slav, Anti-Meran): Anand worked a big advantage at the start but Gelfand fought back, recovered very and then took the sting out of the game and then eventually got a draw. Draw.
Game 2: Anand v Gelfand (Sicilian Rossolimo): Anand improved on his improved preparation from Game 10 and got a huge plus and an extra pawn. Gelfand had the light coloured bishop and activity, but Anand was still ahead. Then came the time pressure. Gelfand had 10 minutes left after his first 14 moves but then surged back with his brilliant 23…Bc8! For almost the next 45-50 moves Gelfand was in real time pressure and he almost equalized. But he kept fighting not just his opponent, but also the clock. He was often under 10 seconds, and at one stage he had two seconds, but incremental time – 10 seconds added per move – kept him afloat. Anand kept pushing knowing Gelfand’s struggle with the clock and ultimately the Israeli made a mistake and allow Anand to win the Rook-pawn ending. Anand wins.
Game 3: Gelfand v Anand (Slav): Gelfand got a near-winning edge from the opening. But which could have been crowned with a Knight move 26.Nxe4. Then Anand raced his way through the position but his time advantage helped find a draw and it was a big blow for Gelfand. Anand had a big error of sorts around the 43rd but Gelfand down to just few seconds was unable to press home the advantage. Draw.
Game 4: Anand v Gelfand (Sicilian Rossolimo): Playing with Black it was going to be tough for Gelfand as an energized Anand could sense the win. He played a drawish line in the Sicilian which gave Gelfand a small advantage but it was never going to be enough. Anand found equalization and the game was drawn. Draw.