Archive for June, 2012

… in itself the title of world champion does not give any significant advantages, if it is not acknowledged by the entire chess world, and a champion who does not have the chess world behind him is, in my view, a laughing-stock.  –  Emanuel Lasker

A week on from the conclusion of the Anand – Gelfand match I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on the matter… .

What we saw in Moscow was not a great advert for chess. Though Anand was the winner, Gelfand was not the loser…professional chess was and to a lesser extent F.I.D.E too. Gelfand, in fact, returned home as something of a hero, and Anand went into the record books.

The Drawn Games -what did they signify?

In the context of the modern game, the strings of eventless draws represented a paradox. On one level they did not signify anything, and on another told us everything we needed to know. Computer-aided preparation dominated affairs so greatly that few ideas were generated over the board. We saw a lot of defensive play but nothing bold or adventurous. Anand, especially at the London Chess Classic last year, ( defends the role of computers & preparation in the modern game, suggesting that they stimulate creativity as much as they take it away, so I was particularly disappointed by the long periods in the match where little effort was made to go outside preparation. We did see novelties early in the games but they were nearly always within drawish lines. Both players chose to play it safe for professional reasons; Anand is better at faster times controls and had a natural advantage going into the play-offs, plus he had a title to defend, Gelfand was the underdog and wanted to keep it tight in the beginning, and then push later in the match. The drawn games confirmed that the players were too similar in approach and style. The chess was subsequently lifeless, mechanical, and bereft of artistry…and in an art museum of all places! Nigel Short said on the first day that he particularly enjoyed reading the quotation in the museum by Marcel Duchamp that while ‘Not all artists are chess players, all chess players are artists’. The match that unfolded in Moscow was a counter-argument to such a claim.

Botvinnik once claimed that clash of individual style is of paramount importance for great matches. As the match unfolded I became more and more convinced of how right he was, and how the modern game lacks the characters of his generation. I kept asking myself if an Anand V Carlsen match up would have made much difference. If Botvinnik is correct in the sense that clash of style ranks more highly than quality of play, then probably not. For this reason, Anand’s match against Topalov is likely to stand out is the most inspiring match. Though Topalov was not his strongest opponent, they differed in style sufficiently to generate enough exciting chess.

Anand’s Loss -a surprise of sorts.

Fischer once said that he didn’t believe in psychology, he believed in good moves but before Anand played Qb8 in his loss to Gelfand, even an amateur psychologist could see he was giving off multiple signs of distress. He seemed to know he was in trouble early on, much passive play followed with a victory which seemed all too easy for Gelfand.

Gelfand’s Loss -a record breaker.

The history books tell us that the fastest loss ever in a world championship match wasn’t Euwe’s in the revenge return match against Alekhine but it was Zukertort’s 1886 loss to Steinitz, as pointed out by flamboyant GM Danny King until the game in question that is. It’s easy to say what should have happened in retrospect, so I won’t say that Gelfand should have been more cautious but why did he choose the provocative Nh5, and go head-to head in this game?

It’s difficult to be sure but I wonder if he let his heart rule his head? He may have had a slight surge in confidence from taking the lead and thought that the match was there for the taking. In this post-match interview,, Anand does concede that he felt he was in trouble at that point, perhaps then, Gelfand sensed this and acted. Given that chess teaches you to control your emotions rather than act upon them, he shouldn’t have made a decision on that basis, if I am right that is. He should have remembered that Anand is a better tactician and been more cautious. The very strange thing about this game, which is the first time I have ever seen it live in a match of such stature is that Gelfand didn’t see that Qf6 was a blunder at any point.

The last few moves were played quickly but he should have told himself that world champions do not drop rooks early in the game, and that something MUST be afoot. A critical moment had clearly arrived, why couldn’t he act accordingly? I didn’t buy into the talk concerning this trap, it is a neat trap, Fritz blundered straight into along with Gelfand, but that’s hardly the point. Gelfand had enough experience to know he should have taken a very big step back. Watching it live I saw him arch over the board and go into a think. He saw a combination which he thought was winning, only to resign minutes later. The look on his face as he resigned said it all, he had been completely caught out. He didn’t see Qf2 but he really should have questioned the ease with which he was about to win the rook. How many candidate moves were chosen here? Yes Qf2 was hard to spot but this irrelevant. He did not give himself enough time to find it by half. His play was out of character a little, something slight had changed inside him. Perhaps it was merely pressure alone, perhaps his desire to become the world champion increased a notch after taking the lead, just enough to cause a change in approach which he himself was not quite ready for. The balanced play we had become accustomed to seemed to go straight out of the window in this game.

The play off’s -a sad end.

I don’t want to comment because I don’t believe that matches of that calibre should be reduced to rapid chess. Obviously Vishy took the lead, and also obviously, Boris had the chance to equalize. The only notable feature of them was that Vishy showed that he is clearly better at a faster time control.

The aftermath -welcome to Russia.

Leaving the disappointment of the chess aside, the media centre and live feeds were certainly….different? I was a little surprised to find that play was broken up by frequent adverts and long lectures on Russian art. As a lover of chess, I would have liked the option of watching the lectures at my own time, rather than be forced to sit through them. A number of crucial points were missed throughout the match, and much play was lost generally. We were lead to believe that the museum was a truly wonderful venue yet the playing hall was small and austere. You felt as though the price to pay for obtaining such a venue was was that chess itself was denied the centre stage, there was a sense in which being now entirely bereft of Communist ideals, Russia is no longer the home of chess. A heavy-handed commercial shove left chess as a side-show at times. Some of the lectures were an hour long, some of the ads for the museum went up to ten minutes at times, and what was that so called amphitheatre they played in, wasn’t it a broom cupboard in disguise…if Lenin were alive today, he’d be turning in his grave.

Another questionable facet of the match concerned the on-line relay in information. The commentators were usually between 1-3 minutes behind actual play, due to a lag, the screen above the players was also out slightly. This meant that at times, you had the board itself, the screen behind, and the analysis board in the commentary room out of synch and showing different positions for minutes on end. At times the players in the commentary room were completely in the dark over what had been played and were trying to guess the moves based on a panoramic overview of the theatre itself. How can such basic errors remain prevalent throughout a match of that calibre?

Concerning the commentary team, the editor of New In Chess Dirk van long Dutch name was a very good choice indeed, thoroughly professional. Many of the commentators were great too, Svidler was very interesting to listen to indeed, as were several others. The only thing to ponder was the freedom of speech they had. Debate and critique are always best yet nothing critical was said about the match itself on any level, though you many times felt it was coming. Given the number of commentators there were, it does beg the question whether they were asked to refrain from negative comments, which if so is a shame. It was only Kasparov who broke rank and spoke his mind at one point.

Kasparov’s comment – was this man really the World Chess Champion?

To begin, you can find it here, it’s worth a look I thought the whole issue concerning Kasparov’s visit to the match was badly handled. It wasn’t explained why Kasparov thought the Kramnik V Aronian match was such a big contribution to chess, and it wasn’t clear why he thought Anand had lost his motivation to play. Frankly I thought both comments were naive. Anand has had a dip in form, that is clear, but to claim it is down to a lack of motivation is highly questionable. Firstly, motivation is an internal phenomenon, results and play are external. Motivation doesn’t have to be directly manifest in any particular action, it can be an internal commitment towards something. Someone can be inwardly passionate about retaining their title, for example, whilst displaying a veneer of disinterest. They can choose to play quieter lines if they offer a greater chance of success generally. It’s precipitant to say that Anand has lost his motivation just because you cannot remember the last time he had won a tournament, and the chess so far was dull. In my opinion Anand became entirely focused upon the match many months before, and began making minor modifications in his general play and approach. If so then his commitment towards retaining his titled cannot be questioned and thus neither his motivation to remain at the top. The strange thing is that Kasparov lost his title to a similarly quiet strategical approach by Kramnik, who also sacrificed his own preferred style of play in favour of winning the title. Of course we know Anand to be tactically astute but if he assessed that quieter play in the classical phase of the match to be part of a more effective strategy, we should not be too critical. Personally I found the Azerbaijani anti-hero to be off the mark there.

Concerning the players, I don’t want to blame the players as the qualifying matches were no better, instead some thought should be given to the direction chess is going. On the whole, I thought this match exemplified how creativity has become stifled by ‘professionalism’  in the modern game. It was a poor advert for our game, and had I gone along and bought a ticket, I would be asking for my money back. We weren’t provided with a chess spectacle, rather a reduction of chess. Anand was Anand: he was conservative, quiet in method and professional, he seems to have -temporarily- lost the cutting edge to his play but did what he needed to do; paradoxically, it was what he didn’t do that showed us what is great abut him. He is the first Asian world champion, and thus more measured and pragmatic than certain ‘Great Predecessors’. It would have been easy for him to react to Kasparov’s comments at the time but given the turmoil that has surrounded the game at the top level over the last few decades, having a conservative world champion isn’t so bad in some respects. Instead of reacting, Vishy remained true to his quiet, title-orientated strategy, the kind that Kramnik used effectively against Kasparov himself.

Gelfand was Gelfand: a slight -not big- underdog (apologies for the insert of a poker term), he lost his cool in one of the classical games but stabilized immediately. His etiquette left a lot to be desired at times, trying to stare-down (once again apologies for the poker term [though much more popular, poker is a vastly inferior game and does not deserve a mention by jealous chess players] Vishy seemed inappropriate and you couldn’t help but wonder whether the primary motivation for the blind over-the-board analysis was to distract. I knew very little about him before the match, given that I am not a fan of the modern game, that is precisely how it will stay: his play is the embodiment of the strengths and weaknesses of the modern professional game.

To conclude, there wasn’t much to get your teeth into. The only thing that was really talked about was the quick loss Gelfand suffered. The expectations were low for the match, and in retrospect, justifiably so. Anand did what he needed to do, Gelfand didn’t quite do enough, all in all the match will be largely forgotten about.

He is not the most talented or the strongest player but certainly the most inconvenient player in the world! His ambition is not to play actively, but to paralyse his opponents’ intentions.  – (Botvinnik on Petrosian)


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