Singular strategy

by Sundararajan Kidambi
3/6/2023 – Referring to Boris Gelfand’s style, Vladimir Kramnik wrote: “What impresses me most is his ability to create games, where all the moves, from the first to the last, are as though links in a single logical chain”. GM Sundararajan Kidambi analyses Gelfand’s win over Vishy Anand at the 2012 World Championship match in Moscow, a perfect example of the Israeli’s brilliant strategic aptitude. | Photo: Rodrigo Fernandez

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“This inexorable consistency in the realization of his strategic conceptions is, in my view, the main trait of Boris Gelfand the chess player.”

- Vladimir Kramnik

From experience we know that chess is quite a complex game where we do not comprehend leave alone control things on the board. As an observer, I have always been fascinated by a player having an integral vision of what is going to happen in the longer run and is steering his army in the short run, always keeping the bigger picture in mind. This is clearly illustrated in classical games where one player is clearly stronger than the other and hence is able to carry his plan forward in totality, giving quite an instructive view to the aspiring student.

As many Gurus rightly feel, this has become increasingly rare in modern chess because the contemporary master never willingly submits to the opponent’s will and instead throws the kitchen sink at him, and even if he were to perish, he prefers to alter the course of the game.

Nevertheless there are definitely few occasions in which a player dictates the course of the game as per his vision, and the rarity of such a scenario makes it even more special. Today that Boris Gelfand is playing the European Championship in Serbia seems like a good time to discuss this aspect. I quote Kramnik from the preface to Boris Gelfand’s book My Most Memorable Games (2004)

What impresses me most is his ability to create games, where all the moves, from the first to the last, are as though links in a single logical chain. This inexorable consistency in the realization of his strategic conceptions is, in my view, the main trait of Boris Gelfand the chess player.

As always, World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is clear and to the point! I am sure that Boris would agree with him regarding what he considers as his forte. Games at the very top where miniscule errors are exploited and a grand strategy comes to fruition always enthral me. Boris Gelfand describes this trait of his playing style as one which he imbibed from his childhood hero Akiba Rubinstein, who had shown a consistent flair for this aspect in numerous games throughout his career.

Akiba Rubinstein

Statue of Akiba Rubinstein in Polanica Zdrój, Poland | Photo: Jaroslav Trnka

Let us get started with the chess.


This is the position after White’s 7th move in the 7th game of the World Championship match between Gelfand and Anand. White’s idea is not to worry about maintaining the pawn chain intact on the queenside with an eventual b4, but to be flexible enough to agree to a transformation of pawn structure with cxb6 and play for simple development. The game continued

7...b6 8. cxb6 Nxb6 9.Bd2 c5 10.Rc1!?

Developing all the queenside pieces features from time to time in Queen Pawn Openings. Here it makes a unique impression. White again gives Black a choice to transform the pawn structure either with c4 or, as happened in the game, with

10...cxd4 11.exd4 Bd6 12.Bg5 0-0 13.Bd3 h6 14.Bh4 Bb7 15.0-0


Quite a few changes have happened since the last diagram. Importantly, the pawn structure has changed. The given pawn structure is optically favourable to Black as he has two pawn islands to White’s three, and also the pawn on d4 is isolated and can become a potential weakness. One is reminded of Capablanca’s famous victory as Black over Lasker in their World Championship match in 1921 (game number 10).

However, things are not this simple. A given pawn structure can become a weakness or not based on the pieces that are present on the board. So here we see a significant difference between Capa’s game, where there were only rook, queen and knight on the board. And, more importantly, the problem child in the Queen’s Gambit (i.e. the light-squared bishop) was no longer there!

Coming back to the present game, Black’s problem piece is the light-squared bishop, which is imprisoned by its own pawns. White’s strategy will be to play against that piece and utilize the queenside majority and the strong squares for his knight that are inherent in this specific pawn structure — namely the e5 and c5 squares. At this moment, Black continued with...


...and as Boris points out in notes to the game, Black could have got his fair share of chances in the game with 15...Bf4!. The problem with this move is that it allows White to trade the dark-squared bishops and thereby increase his influence on the dark square complex for the reminder of the game. The game went

16.Bg3!? Rc8 17.Qe2 Bxg3 18.hxg3


It is clear that White’s chances on the dark squares are significantly improved. Black’s light-squared bishop will struggle to get out as there is never going to be an e6-e5 break in the future too. As Tarrasch observed, the knight on b6 is also a problem piece in many a situation!

White can use the e5 or c5 squares as strong points for his knights and get a back-up support with f4 or b4. As it happens, c5 and play on the queenside is more natural. Added to this, White is going to fight for the control of the c-file.

18...Qd6 19.Rc2 Nbd7 20.Rfc1 Rab8 21.Na4


White starts to get rolling with his plan of playing for the c5 square and the c-file. Here Anand decides to change the character of the game with...


...and even though this has been labelled as an inaccuracy in hindsight, it seems to me that the text move is a very natural bid for counterplay. Even at the cost of a pawn, Black would like to get some breathing space for his bishop on b7.

22.Rxc8 Bxc8 23. Qc2!

White will not waver even a bit from his plan of playing for the control of the c-file. In the live commentary to the game, World Champion Karpov showed another idea to take control of the dark squares: 23.Qe1!?, which was also very strong!

Here Black lashed out with...


...which was unfairly criticized in my opinion. As the World Champion pointed out in his comments at the press conference after the game, “In a bad position all moves are bad”, or some words to convey that meaning. Legends, with their intricate feel for the game, understand (even if computers don’t) about the liveliness of a given position. And even if the move turns out to be bad, I am in complete agreement with the spirit behind World Champion Vishy Anand’s move.



As Nimzowitsch has taught us a long time ago, the idea of controlling an open file comes to fruition when the seventh or eighth ranks can be infiltrated!

24...Qxc7 25.Rxc7 f6? 26.Bxe4! dxe4 27.Nd2 f5 28.Nc4 Nf6 29.Nc5


The game has moved forward like a mathematical problem, where one simplifies the equation and arrives out step by step at the solution. In chess terms, the exchanges have magnified White’s advantage. He is in complete possession of the weakened dark squares of the opponent, and the perennial problem with the light-squared bishop remains for Black.

29...Nd5 30.Ra7 Nb4 31.Ne5?! Nc2! 32.Nc6 Rxb2 33.Rc7 Rb1+? 34. Kh2 e3


35.Rxc8+ +-

...and White was able to capture Black’s problem at the very square where it was born!

35...Kh7 36. Rc7+ Kh8 37.Ne5 e2 38.Nxe6!

With mate to follow, Black resigned.


I have attached Boris Gelfand’s detailed notes to this game as he has annotated for the ChessBase Magazine 149, for readers who want to delve deeper into the truth and the myriad ways to vary. The problem with the dark squares and the development of the light-squared bishop is an age-old problem in such structures, and not even World Champions are immune to this hard defence sometimes. Kasimdhzanov vs Kramnik from the Tromso Olympiad 2014 comes to mind when Kramnik too had to bite the dust in a slightly different pawn structure for White, although Black’s suffering was sort of similar.


Check out the aforementioned games in the replayer below:


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Master Class Vol.11: Vladimir Kramnik

This DVD allows you to learn from the example of one of the best players in the history of chess and from the explanations of the authors (Pelletier, Marin, Müller and Reeh) how to successfully organise your games strategically, consequently how to keep y


Sundararajan is a chess player, enthusiast and Grandmaster from Chennai, India, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of chess classics.