Provoking a tiger, even an ageing one, is known to be unwise but Boris Gelfand failed to pay due respect to the Tiger of Madras and had his head bitten off by the world champion Viswanathan Anand who until Monday’s eighth world chess championship game in Moscow had looked as if he was unable to maul a mouse.
Allowing Anand to level the match at 4-4 might not seem like a disaster but this was no ordinary defeat for Gelfand — it was an ego-destroying loss, the shortest in world championship history, breaking a 126-year-old record.
After the game, as if to further take the piss out of the world title challenger, the drug testers arrived to check if Gelfand and Anand had been taking steroids in their spare time.
Yet only 24 hours earlier Gelfand had been on a high, beating Anand in a classical game for the first time in 19 years.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
On Monday morning, Gelfand was on the front and back pages of leading Israeli newspapers and Facebook groups supporting him were appearing like mushrooms. The possibility of a rare Israeli sporting world champion had become a probability and plenty wanted to jump on the Gelfand bandwagon.
However with a 4-3 lead and the world title suddenly tantalisingly close, Gelfand finally started to display some nerves. At the start of Monday’s game Gelfand was seen wiping sweat from his brow and as the fight intensified he could be seen frenetically twirling a pawn under the table — a nervous tic for which he was (in)famous but one that he had largely managed to do without during the current $2.55 million world title match.
Nonetheless, Gelfand managed to play creatively and well in the eighth game until all his good work was ruined by one fatal move, falling into a trap long planned by Anand.
“That’s the game of chess — in all its force and cruelty,” said commentator Peter Leko. As in boxing, one lapse of concentration can ruin hours of hard work and here Gelfand became so caught up in his own plans he forgot to look around as well as ahead. It was small consolation for Gelfand that a world-class Grandmaster such as Leko also failed to see Anand’s winning idea until Anand snapped the trap shut.
Losing in 17 moves is by no means a record — Anand as a young Grandmaster lost an embarrassing game in six moves — but Gelfand has never been defeated so quickly in a serious game. Such a mistake engenders self-doubt; if you can play such a bad move once, you fear that you can do it twice. From now on Gelfand will be inclined to check and double-check every move, leading to excessively cautious play and time trouble.
Conversely, Anand, who was smiling for the first time at the post-game press conference, will be brimming with confidence.
Though the score is only back to 4-4, for Gelfand to rebound from here in the final four games will require enormous mental resilience. Certainly, Gelfand’s mantra of playing only game by game without worrying about past or future games will truly be put to the test.
World Championship 2012 Game 8
White: V. Anand
Black: B. Gelfand
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 c5 4.d5 d6 5.e4 Bg7 6.Ne2 0-0 7.Nec3 Nh5!?
“A shock,” said Leko; a move he thought might not even be considered by many grandmasters. In avoiding the standard 7…e6 8.Bg5, Gelfand is almost inviting White to force the knight back with 8.g4.
After thinking for eight minutes, Anand finds an equally unusual response and the players find themselves immediately in uncharted waters.
8.Bg5!? Bf6 9.Bxf6
A big surprise – 9.Be3 was expected.
9…exf6!? 10.Qd2 f5 11.exf5!
Gelfand is on the verge of taking the initiative, so Anand must react bravely. “I was not so nervous after 10…f5,” explained Anand, “because I had already succeeded in exchanging the dark squared bishops, so his attack was not so strong.”
By this time Anand had seen the trick that later won the game.
11…Bxf5 12.g4 Re8+
12…Qh4+ 13.Kd1 would be similar.
13.Kd1! Bxb1 14.Rxb1 Qf6?
Planning a deep sacrifice of rook for knight but overlooking that Anand can play his own sacrifice first. After 14…Ng7 15.Kc2 White would be ready to attack with h4-h5 — “In that case, the whole concept of Black’s play is unfortunate,” said Gelfand.
Gelfand had expected only 15.Kc2 when he intended 15…Nf4 16.Ne4 Rxe4!! 17.fxe4 Nd7 with wonderful control of the board by Black’s knights.
15…Qxf3+ 16.Kc2 Qxh1 17.Qf2! 1-0
The point behind Anand’s play; Black’s queen is trapped and can only be rescued through ruinous material loss, so Gelfand preferred to resign.