As Viswanathan Anand enters the Kremlin this morning to be congratulated by Vladimir Putin after his successful world title defence, the Indian will be aware that his place could so easily have been taken by Boris Gelfand.
Having been held 6-6 by the challenger in the regular games over the previous three weeks, Anand survived a series of dangerous positions in the four rapid tiebreakers before prevailing over his Israeli challenger by the narrowest of margins.
Anand, 42, survived against Gelfand only through persistence and speed — particularly speed.
“I started playing fast again [like the old days],” said Anand, who as a teenager received so much attention for his incredible speed that in a World Championship quarter-final against Anatoly Karpov he decided to stare into space to use up extra time rather than be deemed disrespectful by playing too quickly.
Anand’s recipe for survival was remarkable; “Sometimes when you are in a bad position it is, jokes apart, better not to think about it. If you see all the possibilities for your opponent it just makes you feel even worse and when you can’t do anything about it you might as well just get on with it.”
Gelfand looked close to tears as he faced the press after his one shot at the world title had failed due to a couple of endgame errors when his thinking time had been reduced to only seconds on the clock. He had not been outplayed over the board, but his good ideas had not come quickly enough. The million dollar loser’s purse, some of which he had already spent bringing all his childhood coaches from Minsk to Moscow to watch the match, was cold comfort for someone who had been little more than two good moves away from the world title.
Gelfand made an impassioned plea for the momentum generated by his success and the media coverage in Israel not to be wasted, where he said chess was currently not regarded highly and players discouraged from pursuing chess as a career.
Anand has no such problems with respect in India. Within minutes of his victory, Anand had received a message of congratulations from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chess fans in India, who had followed the final battles via a special live broadcast in their millions, were renewing calls for Anand to receive India’s highest honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Nonetheless, “the only feeling I have is relief,” said Anand. “It was incredibly tense and the match could have gone either way. My nerves held out better and I hung on for dear life.”
The final day of the world title match felt like the good old days for reasons other than Anand’s speed. The playing hall at the Tretyakov Gallery was filled, with the overflow watching on giant screens inside and outside the Tretyakov. The press room also could barely hold the extra numbers, with 200+ attending the final press conference. Live television crosses, front page newspaper stories — in Moscow chess was again king for a day.
So Anand being called up to see the Russian President after his victory did not seem extraordinary; though when Soviet Presidents of old met up with World Chess Champions after their triumphs, they were always greeting fellow Soviets.
As one well-travelled observer commented, “Every time I come back to Russia after a period away, it seems more and more like the old USSR.” This might not be great news for the Russian people but for chess a return to the golden age in Russia might be on the cards.Watch the video replays of teh four rapis game tie breakers:
World Championship 2012 Game Playoff Game 3
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Slav
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6 7.Nxg6 hxg6 8.Bd3 Nbd7 9.0-0 Bd6 10.h3 0-0 11.Qc2 Qe7 12.Rd1 Rac8?
“I just had a black-out,” said Anand. “Of course I should take on c4.”
13.c5! Bb8 14.f4! Ne8 15.b4 g5 16.Rb1 f5 17.b5 gxf4 18.exf4 Nef6 19.bxc6 bxc6 20.Ba6 Rc7
Ugly, but on other moves the c6 pawn will be exposed.
21.Be3 Ne4 22.Rb2 g5!?
“Once I got my bishop trapped on b8, I thought I might as well just get on with …g5 and …e5 and all this stuff without thinking,” said Anand.
23.Rdb1 gxf4 24.Bxf4 e5 25.Bxe5 Nxe5 26.Rxb8?
Played instantly, but 26.Nxe4! fxe4 27.dxe5 would have won the unfortunate bishop on b8.
26…Ng6 27.Nxe4 fxe4
“I was just lost,” said Anand, “but I was lucky that I was lost in a way that I would always have some counterplay.”
28.Qf2 Qg7 29.Kh2 Rcf7 30.Qg3 Nf4! 31.R8b3
With one and a half minutes left to Anand’s 17, Gelfand does well to make anything out of this position.
31…Qxg3+ 32.Rxg3+ Kh7 33.Rd1 Ne6 34.Be2 Rf2 35.Bg4 Nf4 36.Rb1!
As usual, Gelfand finds a way to stay active.
36…Rf7 37.Rb8 Rxa2 38.Rc8 e3?!
38…Rf6 was safer, but Anand, still with a ten minute advantage, was looking to end the match with a win. His dreams of victory do not last long.
39.Rxe3! Rxg2+ 40.Kh1 Rd2 41.Rxc6 Ne6 42.Rf3 Rxf3 43.Bxf3 Nxd4 44.Rc7+ Kh6 45.Bxd5 Rc2 46.Be4 Rc3 47.Kh2 Kg5 48.Rd7 Nf3+
Now it is Anand’s turn to panic – 48…Ne6 should hold comfortably.
49.Bxf3 Rxf3 50.Rxa7
Played with 5 seconds to spare.
50…Rc3 51.Rc7 Kf5?
“Originally I thought I could just draw with 51…Kh4 but then I saw his king coming over to help the c pawn,” explained Anand. He was seeing ghosts – 51…Kh4 does draw after 52.Kg1 Kxh3.
52…Rc2+ hangs on.
53.h4! Kd6 54.Rc8 Ra3 55.Kg2 Re3 56.Kh2 Ra3 57.Kg2 Re3 58.h5! Re5 59.h6 Rh5 60.Rh8 Kxc6 61.Rh7?
Despite having built up almost a minute on the clock through four quick moves, Gelfand returns the favour. The obvious 61.Kg3-g4 wins, whereas the text move is too slow by one move.
61…Kd6 62.Kg3 Ke6 63.Kg4 Rh1 Draw Agreed
Had Gelfand won this game, he would have been level with one game to play. Instead, after a final game draw, his world title hopes were over.