This will be just the second time that the World Championship has been decided in the chess equivalent of overtime.
By Eli Shvidler | May.30, 2012 | 5:16 AM
MOSCOW – This time, there will be a winner. After 10 draws and one victory apiece, Israel’s Boris Gelfand and defending world champion Viswanathan Anand will today begin a series of rapid chess tie-breakers to determine which of them will emerge victorious.
This will be just the second time that the World Championship has been decided in the chess equivalent of overtime. Six years ago, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik and his Bulgarian opponent Veselin Topalov ended their highly acrimonious World Championships showdown – which even included an argument over bathroom arrangements – tied at 6-6. In the tie-breakers, the Russian had the upper hand and was declared the champion. The Anand-Gelfand series has proved that even when two perfect gentlemen are sitting opposite each other, a tie-breaker is sometimes needed to separate them.
After a rest day yesterday, the drama will resume today in Moscow at 11:00 A.M. Israel time. Gelfand and Anand will play four games, with the Israeli taking the white pieces in the first and third games. Each player will have 25 minutes to complete his moves; once that time has elapsed, they will each have 10 seconds per move. There will be a 10-minute break between games, during which the players are allowed to consult with their advisers. The first to reach 2.5 points will be declared the winner.
In the event that the four-game tie-breaker also ends in deadlock, they will move on to a series of lightning games, with each player allocated five minutes for the entire game, followed by three seconds per move. Each lightning series is comprised of two games. If the first series ends in a draw, then another will be played – up to a maximum of five series. If, at the end of five such series, the players still cannot be separated, the dreaded Armageddon rule comes into play. This is a single game guaranteed to produce a result, since black has draw odds – that is, for black, a draw is equivalent to a victory. To compensate, white has more time on the clock (five minutes, compared to black’s four minutes ).
Many chess experts question whether this is a fair way to end such a tense series. This system was introduced in 1984, in the aftermath of the seemingly endless series between two Russian greats, Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov. After five months and 48 games, the chairman of chess’ world governing body, FIDE, was forced to step in, with both players reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Since then, series have been limited to 24 games. Karpov has since gone on record as stating that the maximum number of games in a series should be limited to 16 – but that will mean nothing to Anand and Gelfand as they prepare for today’s finale.
So who is the favorite to win? If you had asked that question of anyone in the chess world two years ago, the consensus would have been unequivocally in favor of the Indian. But Anand has gone through many changes since then. Since the birth of his first son in 2010, and the decision by Anand and his wife to “return to their roots” (as Anand himself said in an interview with this newspaper in September last year ), his priorities appear to have changed.
Anand and his wife spend six months of every year in his hometown of Chennai (formerly known as Madras ), having previously lived year-round in Madrid, which is considered one of the centers of world chess.
Stats favor Anand
The dry statistics are very heavily in Anand’s favor. In lightning games, he holds an 8-1 advantage over Gelfand. However, Anand’s last victory over his Israeli rival was in 2007; since then, they each have one victory.
In the last two games of their World Championship series, Anand appeared to have woken from the slumber he was in for most of the tournament. And that is not such good news for the Israeli. After all, when he is on his game, Anand is head and shoulders above anyone else in the world and, as former world champion Kramnik put it, possibly one of the greatest chess players who ever lived.
But none of the experts who have descended on the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow can quite escape the feeling that Anand is afraid of Gelfand. Otherwise, they find it hard to explain why he did not try to play for a win in the last two games, when it appeared that the Israeli had little chance of forcing a draw. Several other decisions by the Indian grandmaster have also raised eyebrows and suggested that he was rattled by Gelfand’s strong start to the tournament.
That is why many people are now predicting that Gelfand’s versatility will give him the upper hand; after all, they say, it’s a lot harder to find a novel way to break down an opponent in 25 minutes of chess than in a regular two-hour game. Kramnik also feels that Gelfand’s concentration in the rapid game is greater than his rival’s and that his nerves will hold out better. Either way, it will be a tense affair, between two of the best chess players of the generation. Either of them would be a worthy champion.