Moscow: The opening match of the first chess title to be decided in Moscow since the Cold War, ended in a cagey draw on Friday as the rivals probed for weaknesses ahead of an epic three-week series.
India’s title-holder Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand of Israel shook hands after a compelling start to a clash that chess authorities hope will grip the public as it did when the Cold War shadowed the game in the 1970s and 80s.
Moscow is hosting the 12-match series at the State Tretyakov Gallery with a view to bringing back some of the Soviet-era magic to a city that many Russians regard as the game’s natural home.
The 42-year-old Anand began his third defence of the world title since 2007 playing white and the overwhelming favourite despite a recent run of uninspired form.
His Minsk-born rival for his part was making his maiden challenge at 43 and hoping to fulfill the promise that once made him a hope of the great Soviet chess machine in his youth.
Gelfand opened with a classic Grunfeld defense but turned a deep red and cupped his ears in his palms when Anand surprised him with a quick sixth move that shredded the challenger’s queen-side defense.
But things turned sour for the Indian grandmaster when he tried to break the game open in the 14th move by pushing his queen’s pawn down the flank instead of taking material at c6.
Gelfand — spending much of the match pacing and wandering off stage — raised his eyebrows in surprise when he returned to the board and quickly struck back with a flurry that had Anand playing for a draw by the 20th move.
The Israeli in fact looked the slightly more frustrated player as the two spent a few minutes amicably discussing the match after shaking hands on a draw after 24 moves.
“The black position looked better, but I could not find a way to close out the match,” Gelfand told at the post-match press conference.
Anand simply admitted that he was “not playing with an advantage” at the end.
The series marks the World Chess Championship’s first return to Moscow since the epic 1984-85 clash between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov was controversially aborted and replayed at the end of the year.
The flamboyant Kasparov then went on to infuriate the Soviet authorities by beating their strait-laced favourite Karpov to become the youngest chess champion of the time.
Organisers decided to add drama to this event by staging it in the 19th century splendour of the Tretyakov — the first title decided in an art gallery since Stalin ordered one played at the Pushkin Museum in 1935.
But both Anand and Gelfand enter the $2.55 million face-off smarting from a string of disappointing performances that saw the world champion slip to fourth in the rankings and below the coveted 2,800-point chess rating mark.