The title of "World Champion" is the most coveted award in chess. It is desired by millions, but reached by only the chosen few. Behind each champion there is a story of years of hard work. Some great chess players never became world champions for one reason or another. Traditionally, the fate of the title is decided in a match between the champion and the challenger. At certain points in history knock-out events and tournaments were used to determine the champion, but I believe that a match is the most exciting and attractive way to find out who the world’s #1 player is.
The 2012 WCC match is taking place in Moscow, Russia in the famous Tretyakov Art Gallery. The quality of the video broadcast is, as usually, unmatched. Over a dozen of top GMs have been invited to commentate on the match at the official website in both Russian and English. Even more of them are scattered all over the other chess media. Every day there are press conferences with celebrity guests; simuls for children and other interesting events. The organization of the tournament is actually beyond praise. The only thing that is getting widely criticized is the art & commercial breaks that are very long and sometimes occur at the critical moments. The idea to entertain the viewers and educate them about arts is generally good, but the implementation hasn’t received much positive comments. Make sure you visit the official website of the WCC if you haven’t bookmarked it already.
Viswanathan Anand has a unique record of having won the title under all the three systems: knock-out, tournament, match. He has been holding the title since 2007 and defended it in 2008 against Kramnik and in 2010 against Topalov. This time he is being challenged by Boris Gelfand, who had to win first the World Cup and then the Candidates Matches to qualify. They are of about the same age; both are very experienced. Don’t be misled by their relatively modest ratings: 4th and 20th. Clearly, both of them were focused on the WCC match and didn’t show their best during other tournaments. As a result, both have lost quite a few rating points.
To prepare for a WCC match one has to undertake a tremendous amount of work. Gelfand has been known to study up to 12 hours a day. We don’t have the relevant information about Anand, but it’s clear that he wasn’t idling either. A critical component of success is finding the right team of seconds. These people must get along well with each other, be truly motivated to help, ready to work hard and be innovative and creative enough to generate top-level ideas in the opening.
The pressure on them is extremely high. Usually they are not even getting enough sleep, not to mention any other pleasures. Few grandmasters can handle it. To get a sense of the atmosphere, you can read a frank book by Bareev and Levitov called “From London to Elista”, which is dedicated to Kramnik’s WCC matches against Kasparov, Leko and Topalov.
A common practice is to prepare a new opening specifically for the match in order to surprise the opponent. The other team must try to anticipate such surprises. After the first half of the match it became obvious that both Anand’s and Gelfand’s teams have worked very well on the repertoire for Black. Also, both teams have failed to predict what the other side has prepared. Anand was clearly not ready to face the Gruenfeld and the Sveshnikov, while Gelfand hasn’t foreseen that Anand will employ the hybrid of Chebanenko and Meran in the Slav.
At first glance it looks like Gelfand has some advantage after the first half of the match. He is taking more risks and obviously enjoying the games while, at the same time, not falling for gambling ideas. The price of making a mistake in this match is very high. Anand looks very tense and sapless. His posture is saying “don’t beat me” and reminds of a diligent student who hasn’t learnt his lesson. When he faces risky continuations, he replies very carefully, trying to avoid risks at all costs. We haven’t seen the real Anand so far – witty, sharp-eyed, unpredictable, swift!
The first 6 games in the match were drawn, and only in the third game one of the opponents had real winning chances.
Game #7 stands alone in the sense that Anand played very strangely. Unlike normally, I could hardly guess his moves at all while commentating on the game online. A few mistakes untypical of Vishy’s level, and the duel was decided in Boris’ favor.
Update: in game 8 both partners have demonstrated interesting ideas in the opening (Nh5 for Gelfand, Qd2 for Anand). Alas, the struggle ended on move 17 after a terrible blunder by Gelfand. This seems to be an anti-record: the shortest loss in the history of the WCC matches!
I would like to annotate for you game #3 of the match. It was a good fighting game which Anand could have won if he hadn’t gotten into time trouble. Usually he is playing very quickly, so this was a bad sign for Vishy. Game #7 has confirmed the diagnosis: Anand is in a bad chess shape.