The last time a World Championship match was decided in a tie-breaker was six years ago between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. The two players were locked in a scathing battle even beyond the checkered board.
Everything from bathroom arrangements to suspicion about a computer coming into play threatened the match, that saw Kramnik forfeit a game in protest with accusations flying everywhere.
Yesterday, India’s Viswanathan Anand and Israel’s Boris Gelfand were in a similar situation but without the acrimony of 2006.
Boris short of time
After 575 moves, 12 classical games, and 4 rapids, Anand emerged as the champion for the fourth time in a row, having won the competition previously in 2007, 2008 and 2010. He had also won the world title in 2000.
Anand earned the necessary 2.5 points having won game 2 playing white after keeping up the pressure on as Gelfand ran short of time and eventually blundered in his endgame.
In the rapids, where the Tiger of Madras held an 8-1 advantage over his opponent going into the match, Gelfand was often seen down to the last few seconds while Anand still had a few minutes left on his clock.
The win means much more to Anand than the $1.4 million he stands to earn. Former champions and commentators had unequivocally slammed the Chennai man’s ability; some, like former world champion Garry Kasparov, even saying that he “has obviously lost interest in the game” and that he “is sliding downhill”.
Even the excitement quotient was no where close to that chess connoisseurs have been used to in the past. When Hungarian-American GM Susan Polgar ran a poll on her blog asking visitors to rate the match, 64 per cent participants found the match anything between ‘boring’ and ‘very boring’.
Though none of this meant anything to the two gentlemen warriors who over 21 days made Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery their battlefield trying to stamp supremacy on the chess world.
“It was incredibly tense. Well, when I woke up this morning, I knew it would end one way or the other but didn’t know how it will go. It was so even that I didn’t know how the tie-breaker will turn,” Anand said after the game. “I am too tensed to be happy but really relieved. Today, it is difficult to claim anything. I would simply say that my nerves held on better. I simply hung on for dear life.”
The thrilling tie-break was worthy of a tournament whose history also includes the historic 1972 clash in Reykjavik at the height of the Cold War between Bobby Fischer of the USA and Soviet great Boris Spassky.
The Minsk-born Israeli had chances in all four tie-break games to put pressure on Anand and at times showed magnificently resourceful defence against the Indian’s attacks.
As tension mounted, Gelfand indulged in his favourite stress-busting habit of repeatedly rotating one of the taken bishop pieces in his right hand.
But he did not find a way to break down the Anand defence and seeing no chance of the victory he needed in the final fourth game Gelfand offered the draw which gave Anand the tiebreak by 2.5 points-to-1.5 and the title. After four-and-a-half hours of extreme tension, the two men shook hands and immediately left the stage.
“I think the decisive factor was that fact I did not use my time so wisely,” Gelfand said.
The two masters displayed titanic control of the board in the regular 12-game series earlier this month but it ended level with just a win apiece and 10 draws. Anand lost game seven but then levelled the scores by coming back to win game eight. He revealed Wednesday that he could not “remember such a bad day as after game seven. I mean I could not sleep”.
Now, he can.