The element of surprise – Part 1
I was in Moscow last year to follow the World Championship match – and to be honest, to see Boris Gelfand become World Champion. I was quite sure that his chances were about 50/50 and I think the match showed that fully. In the end the only reason he did not take the title was because Anand was already World Champion. What I mean by this is that when it came to the decisive moments, Anand had less to lose; no matter what happened, he would forever be a part of chess history. Gelfand did not have this luxury and I think it affected him slightly. He said he was extremely calm during the games, but this feels a bit like a counter-reaction. Who knows – it is all guesswork – but anyway, those were my thoughts.
Anand made mistakes preparing for the match. His team was the same as the previous two title defences and consisted entirely of dynamic 1.d4 players, just like himself. Not really a moving target.
Gelfand’s team, on the other hand, was largely a secret and continues to be so to this day. Some were official seconds, while others had helped prior to the match, like for example Aronian.
Gelfand’s choice of the Grünfeld Defence was a big surprise for Anand’s team. I am sure they had expected the match to be fought on the Semi-Slav battlefield, as this was both players’ main defence against 1.d4 prior to the match. But they were experienced and ready for surprises.
Still, it took them a long time to recover from the surprises of the Grünfeld and the Sveshnikov – which Gelfand had not really played for a decade. Quickly they decided to leave the main lines behind and tried 3.f3 against the Grünfeld and the Rossolimo Sicilian.
At the same time, Anand had initial success with the 5…a6 Semi-Slav. Some good novelties led to effortless draws, but after the free day Gelfand finally managed to come up with an idea that gave him chances to play for an advantage. White had a better pawn structure and even if the computer indicates 15…Bf4 as an equalizing moment, the variation seemed a bit suspicious for Black. Anand had to give up the defence he had intended to last the entire match and revert to obscure lines of the Nimzo-Indian, where he was surviving more than thriving.
By this stage Gelfand’s surprises were no longer surprises to the Anand team. Even if you have a few months head start, you will not be able to guess what the opponent will come up with again and again. The 12th game should have been a warning to Gelfand that the Rossolimo was becoming a dangerous fortress and that he should start moving before it became his death ground. Unfortunately he was too worried about the state of other lines and allowed Anand to show his preparation in the rapid games. Anand, on the other hand, reverted to the Semi-Slav and got out of the opening okay. He did not play the rapid match better; in fact he probably played slightly worse than Gelfand, but the advantage on the clock in the 2nd game made all the difference. The World Championship was decided on a blunder in a drawn ending – because one of the players was running out of time.
If you look forward to 2013 you will see that Gelfand’s work on his openings in 2012 is occasionally still rewarded, but less and less so. I personally think he made a mistake in repeating his openings for the Candidates tournament. I was of the opinion that two different defences against 1.e4 were needed and that a certain amount of bluff would have fared better than defending an objectively equalizing defence. To put it bluntly, the novelty was over.
This blog entry will be continued next week. I am just back from holiday and a lot of things are waiting for my attention; not least the final typeset of Attack & Defence, which, I am happy to say, looks quite a bit like Calculation – Part II, which should make a lot of people happy, as for some reason this is the most popular book in the series (though my favourite is Positional Play).
A funny thing about coming home from holiday and celebrating three birthdays – Anne’s, my 40th and Rebecca’s 4th – the kids suddenly have to entertain themselves again. Cathy has decided that Rebecca needs to learn to play chess and has found a most willing student. Armed with the chess set she got for her own 4th birthday from my dad (and signed by Judit Polgar after Cathy lost to her in a simul last year) and Judit’s Chess Playground app, she is going at it methodically. I was looking forward to teaching Rebecca to play, but it seems I will not have that honour. It is already too late… Let’s see if Rebecca can repeat Cathy’s record, and beat Anne at the age of 4 as well!