In the years after the Second World War, almost every world chess championship match was held in Moscow.
This was logical since between 1948 and 1972 every titleholder and every challenger was from the Soviet Union. Some were Latvian, some Armenian but it mattered little — the match had to be played at the centre of the Soviet empire.
The world championship matches were held in the mighty Hall of Columns, which at other times hosted Communist Party Congresses and displayed the bodies of prominent figures after their death. Prize money was fixed at 72,000 roubles, with 40,000 going to the winner (an amount that might not have converted to too many dollars on the black market but in 1985 was roughly 80 times the annual stipend for a university student.)
The arrival of American Bobby Fischer and defector Viktor Korchnoi were temporary interruptions, but by 1985 the world title contest was back in Moscow. Indeed the Halls of Columns witnessed two title matches in 1985: an unfinished five-month epic contest between challenger Garry Kasparov and world champion Anatoly Karpov, and the rematch won by Kasparov.
When communism ended and the USSR broke up, chess’ favoured status diminished and 1985 was the last time Moscow had seen a world title match until now. In the meantime, chess became big news outside the USSR and million dollar bids were offered to bring the Karpov and Kasparov show to London, New York, Seville and Lyon.
Chess may have lost status in modern Russia — it is not needed as a path to riches and foreign travel any more — but it retains respect. For politicians chess can also be shorthand for a period when Russia ruled the world; certainly the World Chess Federation (FIDE) is run by a Russian, albeit one who believes that he was abducted by aliens.
In 2011, Chennai, home to world champion Viswanathan Anand, though they had succeeded in bringing the match to India only to have their bid gazumped by a last-minute $2.55 million offer to FIDE from Russian freight-forwarding billionaire Andrei Filatov.
As Vladimir Putin’s economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich explained, for the Russian Chess Federation, the fact that it is organising the world championship match is confirmation that Russia is a leading chess nation — holding the match independently of the participants’ citizenship is important.
The clear message was that chess was returning to its rightful home, Moscow.
Filatov’s motives for spending millions bringing the title match to Moscow again were, however, rather different. He was happy to help his old friend, challenger Boris Gelfand, but more importantly he is an art lover and decided that the worldwide media that accompanies a title match would be ideal to promote Russian art.
“I feel deep inside me the desire to promote Russian artists, who are unknown to the world. Compare Chagall and other [great artists] who emigrated from Russia. They are well known and their works sell for millions of dollars. Yet these people who did not emigrate, they are just as great, if not greater. Nobody knows about Soviet impressionism but thanks to this match it is hoped that millions will learn about it. Chess is a tool to promote this great art.h
Any activity with a fair share of creativity is an art, and chess is included; the best games are pieces of art, Filatov added.
The match venue therefore became Filatov’s beloved Tretyakov Gallery, the biggest collection of Russian art in the world with more than 160,000 items.
At the opening ceremony, with the backdrop of Mikhail Vrubel’s masterwork The Princess of the Dream behind him, Gelfand made a big call, saying he hoped the games played will be on the same level as the the masterpieces of Russian culture seen here.
While the first two games did not look much like fine art, the most recent game at the Tretyakov on Monday hinted at a significant creative achievement by both players.
After original attacks and counter-attacks, Anand looked to be getting on top but ruined everything with one hasty move, expertly defused by the challenger. Filatov may be right about the rare chess game being a work of art but most chess games, like most sporting contests, fall short because there is an opponent trying to ruin the masterpiece at every step.
Anand looked shattered as he explained to the press how he had seen the winning idea immediately after his hand left the wrong piece. Time trouble — Anand had six minutes left for six moves when he made his mistake — may be part of the reason, but the nervous tension of a world title match is more likely to blame.
Anand and Gelfand are now tied at 1.5-1.5 with nine of the 12 World Championship games remaining. The fourth game will be played on Tuesday, starting at 9pm AEST.
World Championship 2012 Game 3
Opening: Grunfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3!?
An unusual sideline, favoured by one of Anand’s seconds.
3…d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 e5 9.d5 c6 10.h4
The start of an attack which has enjoyed a good hit rate in the past, but Gelfand comes well prepared.
10…cxd5 11.exd5 N8d7 12.h5 Nf6 13.hxg6 fxg6 14.0-0-0 Bd7 15.Kb1 Rc8 16.Ka1
Anand spent half an hour over the previous two moves trying to work out what new idea Gelfand has in mind. He did not have to wait long.
Playing safe, but now Gelfand’s counterattack gets going.
17…Na4 18.Nge2! Qa5 19.Nxe4 Qxd2 20.Nxf6+ Rxf6! 21.Rxd2 Rf5 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.d6 Rfc5 24.Rd1 a5?!
Too vague. “gI would have played 24…Nb6 25.Nc3 Rd5!! had I seen it,h admitted Gelfand. gI was trying to take the pawn and equalise but I underestimated a few of his moves.h
25.Rh4! Rc2 26.b3 Nb2 27.Rb1 Nd3 28.Nd4 Rd2 29.Bxd3 Rxd3 30.Re1!
Anand has consolidated his extra pawn but had only 10 minutes left to reach the time control at move 40.
30…Rd2 31.Kb1 Bf5+ 32.Nxf5+ gxf5 33.Re7+ Kg6 34.Rc7?
Played after three minutes thought but, as usual, the right idea came to Anand as soon as he had moved his rook. “gJust too late I saw 34.d7! Rcc2 35.Rc4!!, which is winning,h said a clearly frustrated Anand. Anand then rattled off the long variation 35…Rb2+ 36.Kc1 Rxa2 37.Rc8 Rf2 38.Re6+ Kg7 39.Rg8+! Kf7 40.Rf6+! leading to a position where White queens a pawn with check and wins the game.
34…Re8! 35.Rh1 Ree2 36.d7 Rb2+ 37.Kc1 Rxa2 Draw Agreed
Before playing his 38th move, Anand shrugged his shoulders and offered a draw, immediately accepted by Gelfand.