CHESS Magazine: Anand vs Gelfand – a preview

4/23/2012 – The build-up to the Anand-Gelfand world championship is in full swing. There is now an official website, and a couple of press releases have been issued. The CHESS editor John Saunders takes stock of the two players, their careers, rating development, scores against each other, their repertoires, and their chances of winning. John even predicts the openings and the character of the winner.

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CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood, who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by John Saunders. The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organised the London Chess Classic.

Anand-Gelfand

Preview of the World Championship match, by John Saunders

Let’s take stock of the schedule first: the opening ceremony is on 10 May, with game one on 11 May. Games are played on successive days with a rest day on every third day. That takes us through to the final game 12 on 28 May, followed by a rest day and tie-breaks happening on 30 May if required. Then, on 31 May, the world champion will no doubt be garlanded in traditional fashion at the closing ceremony.

The prize fund: $2.55 million, with the winning taking 60% and the loser 40%. And the venue: the games will be played inside Moscow’s Tretyakov State Gallery.

Who's favourite: Vishy!

What are the odds? A public poll at www.anand-gelfand.com has received in excess of 450 votes at the time of writing, with 85% of the voters expecting Vishy Anand to win during the regulation 12 games. 8% think Gelfand will win within the 12, with 4% favouring an Anand tie-break win and 3% taking Gelfand. Phew! 89% plumping for Vishy Anand... perhaps the greatest odds on a champion since... Kasparov in 2000? Or Alekhine in 1935? Well, we know what happened in both of those cases, don’t we? The champion lost! Maybe Boris Gelfand should take this as a good omen.


Boris Gelfand and Vishy Anand met in a mini-match to decide the semi-final of the FIDE
World Cup in 2000 in China. The match was decided in Anand’s favour in a blitz play-off.

Why are the odds on Anand so heavy? He’s been a consistent world champion since taking the title from Vladimir Kramnik, winning matches against both Kramnik and Topalov. And yet his recent tournament form has been sub-standard, suggesting either that his mind is on his title defence or that perhaps the usual chessplayer’s decline in his forties is beginning to kick in. But neither factor holds much consolation for Gelfand: he too is well past his 40th birthday and his tournament form is not currently tip-top. It is presumably Anand’s huge experience of big-time events and his rating, which has been consistently well ahead of Gelfand’s for decades, which make him the odds-on favourite.

Head-to-head records

What can past performances tell us about the coming encounter? Let’s look at their head-to-head record at classical time controls. They first met at Moscow in 1989, when Anand was 19 and Gelfand was 20, and the game ended in a draw. Gelfand then won three games on the bounce against Anand, in 1990 and 1991. The next two meetings were draws and then Gelfand beat Anand at the 1992 Alekhine Memorial tournament.

So, +4 from seven games for Boris – an excellent score. But in 1993 Vishy recorded his first win in their head-to-head games, at Linares (with the black pieces). Boris secured his revenge at Biel but since then he has not won a single game against Vishy with White, and won just one rapidplay game with Black (at the 2008 Melody Amber). From 1994 onwards, they have played a further 28 classical games, with Anand scoring +5, =23, -0. Not much fun for Boris. Prospective spectators of the 2012 match, on the other hand, might be concerned about all those draws. Worryingly, their last 15 classical games since 1997 have produced just one decisive result!

Turning to rapidplay (which, we must remember, could decide the title in Moscow): they have played 26 formal rapidplay games, mainly at the Melody Amber tournament, with Anand scoring +9, =17, -1 (although four of Anand’s wins were at blindfold rapidplay). They have met six times in significant blitz competitions, with Anand scoring +2, =4, -0. So Boris won’t want the match to go to ‘extra time’. Even so, given his winless run against Vishy, it might be a better chance for him than winning a longplay game.

Matchplay against each other? They have not played a formal match as such, but met in the 2000 FIDE World Cup Semi-Final for two regulation games, followed by two rapidplay games and two blitz games, with Anand clinching the tie in the final quick game

Ratings compared

The Venue

The State Tretyakov Gallery is the national treasury of the Russian fine art and one of the greatest museums in the world. Founded in 1856 by the Moscovite merchant Pavel Tretyakov, the Gallery was donated to the city of Moscow in 1892. Throughout the years, the Tretyakov Gallery developed into not only an immense museum known around the world, but also an important research center engaged in the preservation, restoration and study of its treasures, as well as raising public awareness of them. Today, the Tretyakov Gallery is home to over 170,000 works of art.

The Tretyakov Gallery Engineering Wing which will host the match is designed for large exhibitions, conferences and other cultural events.

Ratings tell a similar story. Vishy Anand entered the rating list as a mid-teenager in 1984 with a humble grade of 2285, though he progressed rapidly to 2500 in 1987. Boris Gelfand was a relatively old 19 when his rating was published for the first time in July 1987, but it was mightily impressive: he sprang into the FIDE List fully armed, like Athene from the head of Zeus, with a phenomenal first rating of 2510, just eclipsing Anand’s 2505 rating for that period. By January 1989 Boris had raced to 2600 (which meant he was 27th in the world on only his fourth published list!), while Vishy had wobbled a bit and recorded a relatively modest 2515 rating.

In July 1990 Boris leapt up to 2680, which was good enough in those days to make him the third ranked player in the world after Kasparov and Karpov, while Vishy had just entered the top 20 with 2610. Boris topped 2700 to hold his world number three spot in January 1991 but a year later Vishy overtook him – and he has stayed ahead of Boris ever since, usually by 30-80 rating points.

So we have the same story as with their head-to-head: Boris making the better progress whilst the two were in their late teens and early twenties, perhaps with the benefit of the better Soviet chess education then on offer, but Vishy zooming ahead in his mid-twenties and leaving Boris in his wake.

Openings

Gelfand with White Against Anand

What openings can we expect in Moscow? In games with White, Boris has nearly always played 1 d4 against Vishy, with a handful of 1 Nf3s and one 1 c4. The last game between them, at the Tal Memorial in November 2011, saw a QGD with Bf4. Two years before, at the same event and with the same colours, it was a fairly orthodox Catalan and drawn in a similar number of moves. In fact, they have played the Catalan several times, including an instance in the Mexico world championship tournament of 2007 when Anand became undisputed world champion. Earlier the same year Anand had pushed 1...d5 and a Semi-Slav ensued. About 12 years ago, Vishy was more likely to go for a Nimzo-Indian, with Boris steering for the line named after his hero Rubinstein.

As mentioned above, we have to go all the way back to 1993 to find Gelfand beating Anand with White. It was a game of some interest and is well worth revisiting.

[Event "Biel Interzonal"] [Site "Biel"] [Date "1993.??.??"] [Round "8"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D47"] [WhiteElo "2670"] [BlackElo "2725"] [Annotator "Saunders, John"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "1993.07.??"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1993.12.01"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. a3 b4 ({Anand employed} 9... Bd6 {to defeat Gelfand at the Melody Amber in 2008. Gelfand himself has been known to push 9...b4 for Black.}) 10. Ne4 Nxe4 11. Bxe4 Qc7 ({A move long since abandoned by opening theorists, who now favour} 11... bxa3 {.}) 12. axb4 Bxb4+ 13. Bd2 Bxd2+ 14. Nxd2 c5 15. Qc2 {This awkward pin on the c-file is one reason why 11...Qc7 has gone out of fashion.} Qb6 16. dxc5 Qxc5 17. Qa4 (17. Qxc5 Nxc5 18. Bxb7 Nxb7 {was equal in Bareev-Kramnik, Linares 1994, but the text looks better.}) 17... Rb8 18. O-O O-O {The best of a bad job but White is better.} 19. Qxd7 Rfd8 20. Bxh7+ $1 Kxh7 ({Gelfand, in his ChessBase notes, preferred} 20... Kf8 21. Qa4 Rxd2 { which he thought led to equality.}) 21. Qxf7 Rxd2 $2 ({The correct continuation is} 21... Bxg2 $1 22. Kxg2 Rxd2 {but now there is a curious oversight in the notes given by Gelfand on ChessBase. To} 23. Ra4 {he appends two question marks on the grounds that it loses to} Qc6+ {but your analysis engine will blithely inform you that} 24. Kh3 $1 Qxa4 25. Rg1 {wins out of hand. This perhaps shows the difference in strength between analysis engines of 2012 and those available in 1993. Black has to play 23...Rb4 rather than the check, when he is worse but might survive the ending.}) 22. Ra4 Qg5 23. g3 {Supporting the rook check and thus winning the queen.} e5 24. Rh4+ Qxh4 25. gxh4 Rd6 26. h5 Be4 27. Qe7 Rbb6 28. Qxe5 Re6 29. Qf4 {A very nice win, but 19 years is a long time to wait for the next one!} 1-0

A very nice win, but 19 years is a long time to wait for the next one!

My guess: Maybe it will be back to a Semi-Slav again – but might Boris try trampling on Vishy’s own territory by playing the Queen’s Indian? We need to think in terms of surprise choices, so maybe this will be it.

Gelfand with white in general

So Gelfand has not played 1 e4 against Anand before. Can we rule it out of contention in Moscow, then? Not entirely: Boris does punt 1 e4 now and again, mainly in less serious chess but also very occasionally in classical games. He wouldn’t be the first player to make a radical change of opening philosophy in a world championship match if he did. One of his most notable wins, against Karpov in the FIDE Candidates’ competition in 1995, started with 1 e4, with Gelfand probably targeting Karpov’s Caro-Kann. Whether he would risk moving away from familiar territory against a player with such a sturdy Black repertoire as the current world champion remains to be seen. Otherwise, his main general repertoire is much as he plays against Anand.


An ailing but good-humoured Boris Gelfand resting up for a coming battle in the early
1990s. Tea and strawberry yoghurt – for secret messages? [Photo Rosa de la Nieves]

Anand with white against Gelfand

Anand’s last four games with White against Gelfand have begun 1 Nf3 (a blitz game in 2007); 1 c4 (2008, Amber Rapidplay); 1 e4 (2009, blitz); and 1 d4 (2011, Amber Blindfold). Just to give Boris something to think about! Their last ‘real’ game with Vishy having White, in the 2007 World Championship tournament, was a Petroff, as were quite a number of its predecessors. Their last decisive game, at Wijk aan Zee in 2006, was a Najdorf Sicilian: a lively encounter in which Vishy sacrificed the exchange for a pawn and eventually won, though it was a tough struggle.

As well as Najdorfs and Petroffs, their rapidplay and blitz head-to-heads have featured the French Defence, with Vishy playing 3 Nc3 and Boris opting for the exchange variation. One of Vishy’s earliest successes against Boris, at Wijk aan Zee in 1996, was with the Grand Prix Attack – let’s hope we get to see this again (although I am not optimistic).

My guess: unless Vishy has found something to concentrate on in Boris’s Petroff, I suspect he’ll go for 1 d4 and we’ll be seeing a Queen’s Indian or two (though I’ve already guessed this for when Boris is White! Well, who knows...).

Anand with white in general

Vishy was almost exclusively a 1 e4 man until his 2008 world championship match with Kramnik when he switched allegiance to 1 d4. These days his opponents don’t know which centre pawn will be advancing towards them: he mixes it up, making it harder to prepare for him. That said, he stuck to 1 d4 during his Topalov match, so perhaps Boris can theorise it that it is his preference for world title matches. Vishy’s choice of variations is mainstream: Ruy Lopez and Sicilian main lines with 1 e4, with the occasional slightly offbeat 3 Bb5 against 1...c5. After 1 d4, he is similarly mainstream, even having the courage to play the Catalan against the world expert in the line, Kramnik.

Anand with black in general

Anand’s repertoire with Black against 1 d4 is built around 1...Nf6 and 2...e6, often with ...b6 (Queen’s Indian) or transposing into a QGD or QGA. He also plays 1...d5 and often a Semi-Slav or Meran, with an early ...c6 ensues. Were Gelfand to try 1 e4, he could expect a Scheveningen or Najdorf Sicilian, or perhaps a main line Ruy Lopez, either open or closed.

Of course, players like to spring surprises in title. Anand memorably played the Scandinavian Defence (1 e4 d5) against Garry Kasparov in their world championship match in 1995, though the experiment proved costly and one imagines he would be unlikely to repeat it. In rapidplay games against Alexei Shirov in 2011, Vishy also tried the Caro-Kann, and very successfully too. One wonders whether he might be tempted to promote it to his ‘test match’ repertoire in 2012. Whilst on the subject of surprises, Vishy has also been known to play the Grünfeld – in the tenth game of his title defence against Topalov in 2010 – so Boris (or one of his seconds) will have to spend time looking at that, too.

So my overall prediction? I am absolutely certain that the world champion, come 31 May, will be one of the most affable, courteous and gentlemanly chessplayers you could wish to meet. In fact, I’m prepared to put money on it. Anyone care to make a bet?


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