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World Championship Chess: a state of insecurity in final

Saturday’s 11th game of the World Chess Championship in Moscow ended in a draw, leaving world champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Boris Gelfand  tied at 5.5-5.5 and with the world title hanging on a single game.

Yet after the game, Gelfand was at pains to explain to the packed press room that the tension and high stakes would not affect the spirit in which the match has been played so far.

There are many positions between just friends and enemies,” said Gelfand. “In this match we are opponents but of course we respect each other greatly. I am very happy that there are no scandals around this match as we had in 2006 with Kramnik’s [Toiletgate World Championship match against Topalov]. Similar incidents haven’t happened in this match, nor will they happen.”

In 2006, Bulgarian Veselin Topalov accused Russian Vladimir Kramnik of using computer assistance during his toilet breaks and the world title match almost collapsed in acrimony. Before and since, plenty of players, including one Australian junior, have been caught obtaining computer help through secret devices and suspicion is rife that those caught represent only the tip of an iceberg of unknown size.

(The problem has surfaced several times in Anand’s native India, where the national federation once selected a player for their Olympic team based on computer-assisted results. He was given one Olympic game before his true strength was understood and he was dropped for the remainder of the event.)

It is therefore not surprising that, with so much on the line, some paranoia about possible cheating is apparent in world championship events — competitions so tight that a warning to take care just once during a game might decide the result.

Stringent measures were in place during Anand’s bitter defence against Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov in 2010; a translucent curtain between players and audience to stop signalling, a mobile phone ban for players and audience and a (strangely ineffective) electronic signal blocker. Add to that Topalov’s refusal to speak to Anand — even to offer a draw — and the atmosphere was poisonous.

Fortunately in 2012 Anand and Gelfand remain unquestioningly confident of their opponent’s integrity, with good reason. At an existential level, both have spent so many years of study and foregone so much to become the best chess player they possibly can be, that it would be a personal humiliation — an admission that their life’s mission has been wasted — to seek help from anyone or anything during a game.

And so, despite the division of $2.5 million being at stake in tonight’s final game, security measures at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery will be the minimum required to keep up appearances.

The players and audience at the in the Tretyakov theatre are checked for metal items and separated by a special glass wall which enables the crowd to see the players… and the players to see the crowd!

The glass is not sound-proofed either — as noise-sensitive Gelfand has discovered a few times — so one journalist concluded that, since it does not stop signalling from the audience, the main reason for its existence must be to stop the audience throwing rotten tomatoes at the players after they terminated another struggle early by agreeing to a draw.

For the spectators at least, the metal detectors are also pointless, since whether you buzz or not you are allowed to enter the playing hall. Security guards do, however, patrol the aisles, expelling those whose mobiles phones start ringing or spectators who have their iPad open with an analysis engine visible. (Audience members are provided headsets with audio channels giving game commentary in Russian or English — plus a third channel covering the artworks in the Tretyakov but the temptation to view the game position on an iPad as well as hear about it has proven too much for some spectators to resist.)

In fact for the first time in at least 15 years, the world championship has been played without any serious security at all and the relaxed atmosphere is appreciated by players, journalists and spectators — just as the “Have you got any glass in that bag, mate? — OK go through” lack-of-security check at the 2000 Sydney Olympics helped to turn the event into the Friendly Games.

Tonight at 9 o’clock AEST the two will test themselves one last time in this contest, with Anand holding the advantage of the white pieces. Should the game finish as a draw, a completely new battle will begin and end on Wednesday, playing at faster and faster time limits until a winner is found. It is far from an ideal way to crown a world champion — equivalent to ending a competitive climb up Mount Everest with a 200-metre sprint. However, the modern world requires a winner and the old tradition of the world champion retaining his title in the case of a tie appear gone forever — and good riddance too, said Gelfand.

World Championship 2012 Game 11

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White: B. Gelfand
Black: V. Anand

Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defence

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd7!?

Varying from game nines 8…b6 with a move that was born and almost retired half a century ago. Not surprisingly, Gelfand thought for almost 40 minutes before replying. “He surprised me a bit,” admitted Gelfand. “It is a rare system and I had to find a plan.”

9.a3 Ba5 10.Qe2 Bc6 11.Rd1 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Nbd7 13.Bd3 Qa5 14.c4

By now Gelfand was almost an hour behind on the clock, so it is not surprising that he did not venture the pawn sacrifice 14.e4!? After the game Gelfand explained that he did not like 14.e4 c4! 15.Bc2 Qxc3, which a cagey Anand described as “a reasonable idea” — clearly he was planning to play something else.

14…cxd4 15.exd4 Qh5 16.Bf4 Rac8

Anand is not interested in 16…Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Qxf3 18.gxf3 when White’s bishops control the board.

17.Ne5

Too direct. 17.Nd2 was a better version of the same plan, but Gelfand who judged this the critical moment of the game, regretted not trying 17.a4.

17…Qxe2 18.Bxe2 Nxe5 19.Bxe5 Rfd8 20.a4

Had I found time for 21.a5 and 22.f3, I would have had a serious advantage,” said Gelfand, “but [Vishy gave me] no time.”

20…Ne4! 21.Rd3

There was not time for 21.Ra3,” explained Gelfand, “because of 21…f6 22.Bf4 Bxa4! 23.Rxa4 Nc3.”

21…f6 22.Bf4 Be8! 23.Rb3

Needing to make a move a minute to reach the first time control, Gelfand decides to liquidate to a draw. 23.c5 Bg6 24.Rc1!? Nxf2! 25.Rb3! Rxd4 26.Rc4!! looks like a clever trick but even here 26…Rxc4! 27.Bxc4 Ne4! avoids material loss with a likely draw.

23…Rxd4 24.Be3 Rd7 Draw Agreed

Anand offered the draw as after 25.Bxa7 Rd2 26.Bf3 Bc6 there are no targets in either position.

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  • 1
    Rourke
    Posted Monday, 28 May 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to say thanks Crikey for this gripping coverage of what has been an underwhelming World Championship. I’m not a big chess fan but Ian Rogers’ commentary has brought it to life for me

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