Anand-Gelfand: Psychology

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | May 29, 2012

In chess, like in any other sports, psychology plays a critical role. One doesn’t become a world champion having a weak character. However, even the bravest and most self-confident player isn’t guaranteed anything. The higher the stakes, the more nerves matter. Vladimir Kramnik mentioned while commentating on the match that probably the main difference between the very top players and the top-100 grandmasters is that the former can handle stress better. The game is not decided only on the board; it’s a clash of minds, personalities. One can be better prepared in the opening, generally play chess better, but still lose due to being overemotional. Even the best of the best falter sometimes.

I don’t know for sure what Anand and Gelfand are feeling, but even by observing them one can gather food for thought. From the psychological point of view the match can be broken down into two parts: before game 8 and after. Clearly, Anand is not in his best shape. One can tell that both by the way he is playing and by the way he looks. During the first 8 games Vishy gave the impression of an unconfident and passive person. He was hiding in his shell and avoiding answering questions during the press conferences. And I don’t think that was due to trying to save energy. Moreover, Gelfand had excellent preparation with Black, and this contributed even more  to Anand’s psychological problems. Game 7 (which he lost in a terrible fashion) became a true shock for the World Champion. Many analysts were expecting him to pull himself together after the defeat, but that wasn’t the case. However, luck was on Anand’s side at this point: Gelfand blundered a queen, and the score became equal again.  Now Vishy became way more relaxed and concentrated than before. For example, in game 9 he was defending a fortress against Gelfand’s queen. Having made a few quick and strong moves, he offered a draw to his opponent. Usually the stronger side is supposed to offer a draw, so this was a psychological trick in some respect. During the press conferences Vishy started smiling and making jokes, as well as answering the questions before Boris, not after.

Maybe Anand’s sapless play is connected with his lack of motivation. He has defended his title twice already. What else does he want to achieve in chess? When preparing for the match against Gelfand, Vishy was playing rather mediocre chess in tournament, apologizing shyly before his friends on Twitter. Probably he lost focus, and his thoughts were elsewhere. Alas, Caissa is a cruel goddess that rewards only her most loyal servants. By playing in an energy-saving mode one risks forgetting what it feels like to give 100% of yourself to the game. Not to mention losing self-respect by being a World Champion who doesn’t win the tournaments he is playing in.

On the contrary, Boris Gelfand knows no rivals when it comes to preparing himself for top tournaments. For him it is the very first WCC match, and he is clearly enjoying it. He is clearly more motivated to win than Anand, and it can be seen from the way he is playing. Boris dismissed a question about him not being experienced enough and being unused to handling the pressure of such a match by saying he doesn’t feel any special pressure. He is not afraid to answer even the most provocative questions. His opening repertoire is more flexible too. While Vishy is playing for a draw with Black and a minimal advantage with White, Boris is ready to seize the initiative with any color.

The critical point of the classical part of the match was game 8. Boris was obviously feeling that Anand had lost his balance. He decided to finish his opponent off: it’s very hard to come back after two losses at this level and in such a short match. After having played the opening in a creative way, he got into a situation where he had to play very precisely in order not to get a significantly worse position. Looking quite satisfied, he played the horrible move 14..Qf6?, thus implying that he thought he was winning. Anand reacted almost instantly; he had seen the trap coming a while ago.  Nonetheless, one has to give credit to Boris: he wasn’t demolished by such a blunder.

Summarizing, before game 8, psychology was on the Challenger’s side. Now Gelfand and Anand are about equal in this respect. This will make the tie-break even more exciting. Who do you think will win?

Today I would like to annotate for you game #7. Anand’s loss was caused by his lack of self-confidence. In a somewhat inferior position he talked himself into believing that he was hopelessly lost already and started making one bad move after the other, not even trying to put up any defense.


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

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  • 4 years ago


    that's great annotation which make every player understand quickly. Thank you.

  • 4 years ago


    This is one of the best articles I have read in this web site.

  • 4 years ago


    Very nice and instructive, thank you!

  • 4 years ago


    @ chessofclass: And the fun fact is, despite you shouting your lungs out at Natalia; you are still a friend(!) of her on :P

  • 4 years ago


    actually yeah i think nat is right come on guys just because anand is indian doesnt mean have to crudely nationalistic.andbesides all of us are seeing anand is playing like how he has been and besides what else does he have to prove  @chessfoclass.

  • 4 years ago


    He(Anand) will definitely lose in chess.

  • 4 years ago


    we should appreciate all player of chess it's the rool of the game we can draw with a world chesschmpion and we can also won .like for example alexandra kostinuk won anand in blitz and she won also  mangus carlsen in blitz ar we can not said that anand is bad player of chess. we should appreciate  that :one juddgement is the  board and is the position and we shuould  let people talk about this game ,they love this game and  they never hate why delate any comment ? please let people talk .kasparov also loose many games in his life so he cannot  evaluate the psychology of anand is not true what he said a bout anand anand is active and kasparov is not active if kasparov want to return in world chesscompionship so he can do it im not sure that in our day kasparov is the best chessplayer. in our day many women grand master are very active like valentina gunina muzuchuk or also lahno also kostenuik koneru and houyifan and the evauation of each  grand master is not  easy we see that china is world chess chompion . we see that all  gradmaster want to dominate the ruy lopez opening and who is best? because who play well the ruy lopez it's the wolrd chesschompion.please i want that world chessfederation give a chance for all player to participate in the worldchesschampion in our country we has a good chessplayer why not participate in the wold chesschampion?

  • 4 years ago


    I just can't understand a couple of things...

    1.if it is said that the games that Anand played were mediocre then obviously by my little logical sense Gelfand played even worse..then why doesn't Anand's critics say it was a "mediocre WorldCh match" this year?Why only things like 'Anand...mediocre' and so on.

    2.According to Ms.Pogonina Anand lost motivation...and Gelfand was super motivated.How can that be proved at the end of the day?A super motivated top GM doesn't lose if his opponent has no interest in defeating him..we can safely say they were equally motivated given the number of draws..

    I am not saying this bcoz im an indian as looking at it from a neutral perspective gives me no reason to accuse anand of the accusations given above..they seem to be rather vicious since they only imply 'dry,boring Anand games' but not 'dry boring WorldCh matches'

  • 4 years ago


    It is misleading to say Gelfand blundered ....

    The position was hopeless.... the game was lost after Q-f6 .   

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for the insightful annotations on game 7 that helped me understand it better.

  • 4 years ago


    Not bad, but could be better.

  • 4 years ago


    good view wildsicillian, very good observation.

  • 4 years ago


    "....Many analysts were expecting [Anand] to pull himself together after the defeat [in match 7], but that wasn’t the case. However, luck was on Anand’s side at this point: Gelfand blundered a queen [in game 8], and the score became equal again...."  

    I think this comment in the article is misleading. Two of the world's most formidable chess players are competing. The challenger always holds an edge early in the WCC tournament, because of his solid preparation (check history). Now, Boris Gelfand is 43, older than Anand, playing chess for 39 years, with deep experience at candidates level, he is supposed to have strong nerves.

    But Boris

    1. blunders a queen by walking into a simple trap
    2. in just 17 moves
    3. knowing very well that Anand would be at his best in this game after losing Game 7.

    Now that says more about nerves than anything else.

    What was possibly going on in Boris's mind sitting on move 10...f5 "Kasparov became World Champion at 22. Anand competed in World Championship at 26. And I am already 43...its now or never... and it has to be this game. If Anand recovers now, its over for me"

    And Boris's mind gets distracted from chess. And he goes for a line without correct calculation, and then continues to go down the line, and eventually, makes a simple blunder on move 14, that any 1500+ player would not make even in a G/60. 

    I think 14..Qf6 speaks more about psychology than anything else in this entire match. This move should be in the category of famous blunders up there with 34..Qe3 (Deep Fritz-Kramnik)

  • 4 years ago


    Why is there even people taking offense to Nats article?  She just threw her opinion out there, you don't like it then just ignore it and move on.

  • 4 years ago


    Inferiority complex is better than self obsorbed naivity.  

  • 4 years ago


    At Natalia: Frankly I didn't find your article objectionable in the sense that your detractors have. I suppose like beauty, "offense" is often in the eye of the beholder. Alot of people have chips on their shoulders from an inferiority complex. These types try to make themselves feel better by ad hominem attacks on others. They shall have their reward. In any case, Natalia, a glass of wine with you! Laughing

  • 4 years ago


    @chessdoggblock, please don't make personal remarks on Natalia Ma'am. I also don't endorse her views( or Kasporov's views)  on Anand, but I never made personal comments on her. I had always respected her and liked her articles very much on this site.

  • 4 years ago



    You are embarrassing yourself. Tongue out

  • 4 years ago


    Comments are getting ugly and personal.Tracking off.

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