11 April 2012

Lessons from Boris Gelfand

To my mind rating is overrated.
Boris Gelfand*

Nearly everyone believes that Vishy Anand will defeat Boris Galfand in the upcoming World Chess Championship Match, 10-31 May 2012 in Moscow, Russia. Boris Gelfand, the challenger, is not only older than the defending champion, but he is not even in the top ten on the FIDE rating list.

A quick search of Big Database 2011 turns up seventy games between these two players (Gelfand mentioned in an interview that they have played more than 100, including blitz). When Gelfand has had White, he leads 5-4 with 27 draws (only counting the 70 in my database). When Gelfand has had Black, Anand leads 13-1 with 20 draws. Gelfand's last win with White was in 1993, while his only win with Black was more recent in 2008. Such a record does not bode well for the challenger. Still, Bobby Fischer had never won against Boris Spassky when their World Championship battle began.

In their first few encounters, Gelfand drew with Black and won with White. Their second game was in an Interzonal.

Gelfand,Boris (2680) - Anand,Viswanathan (2610) [B38]
Manila Interzonal Manila (3), 1990

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.e4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Be2 d6 9.0–0 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.f3 a5 13.b3 Nd7 14.Be3 Nc5 15.Rab1 Qb6 16.Rfc1 Qb4 17.Rc2 Rfc8 18.Qc1 Qb6 19.a3 Qd8 20.Qd2 e6 21.Bf1 Be5 22.b4 axb4 23.axb4 Na4 24.Ne2 Qh4 25.g3 Qe7 26.Nd4 Be8 27.Rbc1 Nb6

White to move

An elementary tactical shot wins a pawn.

28.Nxe6 Qxe6 29.Bxb6 Ra3 30.f4 Bg7 31.Qd5 Bc6 32.Qxe6 fxe6 33.Bg2 e5 34.Rd2 exf4 35.gxf4 Bc3 36.Rxd6 Bxb4 37.c5 Rf8 38.e5 Bxg2 39.Kxg2 Rxf4

White to move

Anand wins back the pawn, but Gelfand's e-pawn becomings menacing.

40.e6 Re4 41.Rd8+ Kg7 42.Rd7+ Kh6 43.e7 Re2+ 44.Kf1 Raa2

Anand generates threats.

White to move

45.Bc7 Ba3 46.Re1 Rf2+ 47.Kg1 Bxc5 48.Kh1

Black to move

Anand is in a quandary.

48...Bxe7 49.Rdxe7 Rf5 50.Bb6 Rf6 51.Be3+ g5 52.Rg1 Rf4 53.Bxf4 1–0

Gelfand's second win came in an endgame with dancing knights.

Gelfand,Boris (2700) - Anand,Viswanathan (2635) [E32]
Munich SKA Munich (10), 15.05.1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 b6 7.Bg5 Bb7 8.e3 h6 9.Bh4 d6 10.f3 Nbd7 11.0–0–0 d5 12.c5 Bc6 13.cxb6 cxb6 14.Kb1 Rc8 15.Rc1 Bb7 16.Qe1 Rxc1+ 17.Qxc1 Qa8 18.Bd3 a5 19.Qf1 e5 20.Ne2 e4 21.Bb5 Bc6 22.Nc3 exf3 23.gxf3 Re8 24.Qd3 Bxb5 25.Nxb5 Qc6 26.Re1 Nf8 27.Bg3 Ng6 28.Nd6 Re6 29.Rc1 Qd7 30.Nf5 Rc6 31.Rg1 Re6 32.Rc1 Rc6 33.Rg1 Re6 34.Be5 Nxe5 35.dxe5 Rxe5 36.Nxg7 Rg5 37.Rxg5 hxg5 38.Nf5 Qe6 39.Nd4 Qe5 40.Qf5 Qxf5+ 41.Nxf5 Kf8

White to move

42.Kc2 Nd7 43.Kc3 Ne5

White to move

44.f4 gxf4 45.exf4 Ng6 46.Kd4 Nxf4 47.h4 f6 48.Ne3 b5 49.Nxd5 Ne6+ 50.Ke4 Nc5+

White to move

51.Kd4 Ne6+ 52.Ke3 Nc5 53.Nxf6 Na4 54.Nd7+ Kg7 55.b3 Nc3 56.Kd3 Nd1 57.Kd4 Kg6 58.Ne5+ Kh5
White to move

59.Nc6 1–0

The final position is the sort of position that I like to play against the computer. For instance, what happens after 59...a4?

*"The Homecoming: Boris Gelfand is Back, Part I" ChessBase News (2011).


  1. What are the time-controls? Anand knows how to blitz, and will surely incorporate this into his game, as he did against Kramnik. Gelfand will need to make sure to hang around for the endgame, and try to turn things around there on occasion.

    It would be a total shock to me if this match were even that close, but of course I'm hoping it will be close and will be rooting on Gelfand. I like both players, actually, just want to see tough, tight games.

    1. I really expect Anand to take it decisively as long as he puts forth serious preparation. On the other hand, Gelfand has nothing to lose and might prove suprisingly able. He is a strong player with many years of experience and was a long-shot just to get into this match. He has already beaten the odds, and may do so again.

      It took a few minutes to find the time controls ob the official site. They are part of the rules to which there is a link in the left column. "The time control for each game shall be: 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting after move 61 has been made."