Protesting in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is tricky and is likely to get trickier tomorrow when the Duma passes a bill to increase fines for participating in unauthorised protests from 1000 roubles (about $A35) to 900,000 roubles. Protest organisers will pay more.
As a result, protesters are testing the authorities’ limits, with “walks” (as opposed to marches, which need permission).
A week ago, a writers’ walk attracted many thousands and on Saturday a similar artists walk was timed to coincide with Moscow’s Museum Night — the night when all museums and galleries stay open and offer free entry.
An enthusiastic bunch of a few hundred carrying artwork and brooms — presumably expecting a brush with the law — perambulated along Moscow’s main boulevards. Some were no doubt puzzled to see a group assembling a 300-kilogram monstrosity — a German-made chess-playing robot, one of the more unlikely parts of the cultural program accompanying the World Chess Championship.
An hour after the march passed by, the appropriately named KUKA Monster took on and beat one of the world’s best players, Alexander Grischuk.
It must be admitted that Grischuk, who was handed a Red Bull by the robot at the start of the game as a substitute for the nicotine he could only ingest between games, played at a disadvantage. The fast time limit certainly didn’t help; humans cannot play at speed without making mistakes, whereas averaging three seconds per move (as here) or three minutes per move (the time limit Gelfand and Anand are using) makes only a marginal difference to a robot.
However, the major problem for Grischuk was the robot’s arm, which would reach out to Grischuk’s end of the board and almost knock the Russian Grandmaster out. Time and again, Grischuk would jerk his head back to get out the way — not conducive to concentrating on the game. To his credit, when it was suggested to Grischuk that he could even the odds by placing his pieces at the very edge of the squares, making it impossible for the robot to grasp them properly, he refused.
Of course, the main intersection between chess and the opposition to Vladimir Putin is always going to be Garry Kasparov who, after dominating world chess for two decades, retired from tournament play in 2005 and went into Russian politics, forming the United Civil Front.
The Russian government has placed many obstacles in Kasparov’s path — arresting him, allowing proxy groups to assault him — with implements ranging from eggs to chessboards, placing pressure on venues to refuse him a platform and ridiculing him in the media as a dilettante. When in Russia he now travels with bodyguards and he has moved his family to New York.
Kasparov made his first and only appearance at the world championship match on Friday, giving an exhibition, joining the commentary teams and holding a packed press conference.
Recent opinion polls may have indicated that Kasparov’s name recognition among young people is low but he certainly drew crowds to the Tretyakov Gallery. His simultaneous exhibition against young players had spectators crowding five-deep to watch and his press conference was crammed to bursting in an area equipped to hold only the 40-50 media representatives who regularly follow the Anand-Gelfand match.
Kasparov had agreed with the organisers that he would stick to chess, not politics, but when a journalist asked him why Russia was no longer the dominant world chess power, he could not resist.
“I didn’t want to touch on ground not directly linked to chess so as not to disappoint the organisers but a worthy answer to your question requires that I stop using only chess terms.
“It is quite obvious that the current regime in Russia is at least suspicious of any intellectual activity.
“The fact that the current emigration from Russia has reached the highest level since 1917 and most of those emigres are young and energetic people is the best indication of the prospects of young people in Russia.”
Warming to his topic, Kasparov continued: “You don’t need a lot of intellectual effort or intellectual ability to manage a pipeline. They say that Alexander the Third had a famous saying — ‘Russia has only two allies, the army and the navy’. Putin’s Russia also has two allies — oil and gas.” Then he stopped, and restricted his criticism to FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his “extraterrestrial nonsense” and, to the discomfort of some Indian journalists, Viswanathan Anand.
The Indian world champion was, Kasparov said, not the player he used to be, sliding downhill, shallow (in his analysis) and lacked the sparkle in his eyes that indicated that he was ready for battle. “Gelfand’s chances are improving with each draw,” said Kasparov. “Boris is trying to raise the stakes. Vishy knows he is a better player, but that is not enough. If the chess becomes subordinate to psychology then Gelfand’s chances are better; both can stumble but the chances of Vishy stumbling are higher.”
Kasparov’s words proved oddly prescient. Although Anand drew game six while Kasparov was present, he crashed to defeat in the next game.
Anand lacked the alleged sparkle during and after the game, going down almost without a fight to Gelfand, an opponent who had not beaten him in a classical game since 1993 (a fact Kasparov pointed out more than once when suggesting that the Anand of old would have been coasting to victory).
Now Anand trails 3-4 with only five games remaining. He has always been a front runner, though he did fight back to win the final game of his FIDE world title contest in 1997 against Anatoly Karpov (going on to lose the playoff). However, that was a younger and more “sparkly” Anand and the glum player who attended Sunday’s press conference after game seven seemed to be a different person.
As Karpov said while watching Sunday’s game: “A world champion is automatically in the inferior position because it is more difficult to defend what you have achieved than to achieve it in the first place.” Add to that Gelfand’s massive underdog status and the expectations of Anand’s millions of fans in India and the defending world champion has the weight of the world on his shoulders going into tonight’s eighth game.
World Championship 2012 Game 6
White: B. Gelfand
Black: V. Anand
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 a6
“Previously this opening was only used by lazy players who wanted to avoid the main lines,” said Hungarian Grandmaster and commentator Peter Leko, “but Vishy has changed everything. Boris was ready to attack Anand in his regular lines, but first he must break down this.”
A change from 6.b3 which served Gelfand so poorly in earlier games of the match.
6…c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Be2 Be69.0–0 Nc6 10.Rd1 cxd411.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Rxd4
12.exd4 is too symmetrical to offer problems for Black.
12…Bc5 13.Rd1 Qe714.Bf3 0–0!?
Anand’s new idea, sacrificing a pawn. As usual in this match, everything has been checked and double-checked with his seconds and computers beforehand. The normal move was 14 … Rd8 but Anand wishes to place his king’s rook on d8 and use his other rook on c8.
15.Nxd5 Bxd5 16.Bxd5 Nxd5 17.Rxd5 Rac8 18.Bd2
After 12 minutes thought, Gelfand decides to return the pawn. On 18.Qe2, Qe4 is awkward, though hardly fatal.
18…Bxe3! 19.Bc3 Bb620.Qf5
Anand admitted to feeling a little nervous around here, but three accurate defensive moves leave Gelfand’s attack going nowhere.
20…Qe6! 21.Qf3 f6! 22.h4 Qc6! 23.h5 Rfd8
Now exchanges leading to an equal endgame are more or less forced.
24.Rxd8+ Rxd8 25.Qxc6 bxc6 26.Re1 Kf7 27.g4 Bd4 28.Rc1 Bxc3 29.Rxc3 Rd4 Draw Agreed
World Championship 2012 Game 7
White: B. Gelfand
Black: V. Anand
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 a6 6.c5!? Nbd7 7.Qc2
“As expected, the battle heats up today,” said Leko. Gelfand’s seventh move is quiet but far from innocuous.
7…b6 1.53 8.cxb6 Nxb6 9.Bd2 c5 10.Rc1 cxd4?.
Too casual. Leko suggested that 10…Nfd7! was the most precise move, after which Black can maintain his c5 pawn and leave White’s pieces misplaced.
11.exd4 Bd6 12.Bg5 0-0 13.Bd3 h6 14.Bh4 Bb7 15.0-0 Qb8
“I started to drift in the opening, and the rest of the game revolved around [the passivity of my light-squared bishop],” said Anand. “15…Qb8 is not a very pleasant move to have to play.”
15.Bxf6 gxf6 relieves the pressure on Black.
15…Rc8 17.Qe2 Bxg3 18.hxg3 Qd6 19.Rc2! Nbd7 20.Rfc1 Rab8 21.Na4 Ne4?!
A pawn sacrifice to achieve some activity, but Gelfand refutes it by ignoring it. 21…Rxc2 was necessary, but after 22.Qxc2! Rc8 23.Nc5 White maintains an edge.
22.Rxc8+ Bxc8 23.Qc2!
Simple chess — 23.Bxe4 dxe4 24.Qxe4 Bb7 would be less clear. “Throughout the game Black had problems with his light-squared bishop,” said Gelfand, “so I built my strategy on this; my knights dominated and the bishop never entered the game.”
Desperation, but “in a bad position, usually all moves are bad,” said Anand.
24.Qc7! Qxc7 25.Rxc7 f6
Preventing a knight invasion on e5, but now danger strikes from another angle.
26.Bxe4! dxe4 27.Nd2 f5 28.Nc4 Nf6 29.Nc5 Nd5 30.Ra7 Nb4 31.Ne5 Nc2
Finally sacrificing the entombed bishop for counterplay — too little, too late.
32.Nc6 Rxb2 33.Rc7 Rb1+ 34.Kh2 e3 35.Rxc8+ 07.12 35…Kh7 36.Rc7+ Kh8 37.Ne5! e2 38.Nxe6! 1-0
A stylish finish from Gelfand; Anand can have an extra queen with check via 38…Rh1+ 39.Kxh1 e1(Q)+ but after 40.Kh2 he cannot reasonably prevent 41.Ng6+! Kg8 42.Rg7 checkmate!