Twenty Three Years Later
"The uniqueness of the forthcoming match, as I see it, is in the fact that for the first time in the modern World Chess Championships history the match between the legitimate world champion and a legitimate candidate won’t be a fight for the title of the strongest chess player of the world." Garry Kasparov
The date of the first game of the 12-game World Championship match Anand-Gelfand, which will take place in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow between May 10th and 31st, is fast approaching and so I would like to share with you some thoughts about it. Let's start with some statistics, even though you could find detailed ones on the official website of the upcoming match: http://moscow2012.fide.com/en/ Curiously enough the first game between the two players occured nowhere else, but in Moscow back in 1989. By that time both players were already extremely strong and had a number of impressive victories under their belts.
Thus, Gelfand had already won the very strong Sokolsky Memorial (one of the very few master tournaments in the former Soviet republic of Belarussia, current Belarus) in his native Minsk with 11.5 out of 16 at the age of 15, which is similar to Kasparov's achievement, who won the same tournament at the same age five years earlier. This success was followed by his win in the adult championship of Belarus in 1984 at the age of 16, tailing Fischer's win in the US Championship by just a bit. The next year he won the extremely strong USSR Championship under 18 where most of the world's future top players took part. In 1987 he tied for 2-3 in the extremely strong Young Masters tournament, in which only the best young Soviet players were invited to play. Later that year he qualified for the World Youth Chess Championship tying for first in the qualifier with the best young Soviet players under 18 and then won the European Championship under 21 with the impressive 11.5 out of 13. In 1988 he tied for first in the USSR under 20 Championship, then in the World Youth Championship, 1st League of the Soviet Championship( a qualifying tournament to the adult Soviet Championship, in which he played later that year) and finally in the European Championship under 21, which he won.
Meanwhile Anand, who is one year younger than Gelfand, won the World Under 20 Championship in 1987 and the adult Indian Championship in 1988. He also scored +5 in the 1988 Thessaloniki Chess Olympiad. However by the time of their first encounter Gelfand's results looked more impressive, maybe because he had more opportunities being a product of the Soviet Chess School.
Indeed, in their first 10 games Gelfand clearly dominated with 5 wins and just one loss-- by the way this was the only loss of white pieces in all their games between each other with the classical time rate! However, Gelfand's last win over Anand dates back to 1993. Here is the game with my short annotations:
Earlier that same year Anand beat Gelfand, which became the turning point in their encounters not only because this was Anand's first win over Gelfand, but also in view of the way he did so. In most early games Gelfand managed to outprepare his opponent, but here exactly the opposite occured. White got in trouble right out of the opening. Now I have the pleasure of annotating this fascinating game for you:
Since then Anand won no less than five more classical games (the last win occuring more than six years ago in Wijk aan Zee 2006) and lost none.
However their last seven games were drawn and none of them reached move 30! The classical score is now 6-5 in Anand's favor and he hasn't suffered a single defeat from Gelfand for as long as 19 years!
Vishy was also dominant in their rapid games (most of them were played in Monaco) winning no less than eight games, losing just once. Curiously, even here we see a high importance of the white pieces in their encounters. Surprisingly, they played very few official blitz games, though Anand's superiority here is also out of question (3 wins, 4 draws, no losses). In spite of these statistics, the match is not going to be a cake-walk for the World Champion. Gelfand showed high determination when play for the title was involved. He played rather successfully in many candidate matches in the 90s, tied for second in the FIDE World Championship tournament in Mexico in 2007, won the World Cup in 2009, which qualified him for the Candidates tournament in 2011, which he also won. The latter yielded him the right to play for the crown. On the other hand Anand has already played a few World Championship matches and thus is much more experienced in this respect, as the match in Moscow is Gelfand's first attempt to fight for the title. However it's obvious that Gelfand will be much more motivated to win the title for the first time than Anand to keep holding it. As many top players indicated Gelfand also has stronger nerves, which is a very important factor in such a match. Although Gelfand's score against Anand in rapid chess is disastrous I can't be sure that the Indian GM would be a favorite if they reached the tie-breaks, since then the nerves factor will come into play. However the Israeli grandmaster will try to finish the match in the classical games.