The world championship chess match in Moscow between Indian titleholder Viswanathan Anand of India and challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel has reached the quarter post, with a few fireworks but no decisive results in the first three games of the scheduled 12-game match.
Gelfand, the underdog, came under heavy pressure in Monday’s Game 3, but managed to double his rooks on the seventh rank and force a perpetual check. Play continues through the end of the month, and it’s looking like the first player to notch a win could gain a decisive edge.
It was the underdog Gelfand who scored the first (psychological) point in the very first game, throwing the champion off stride with his unusual opening choice of the Grunfeld Defense as Black, an opening he would repeat with less impressive results in Game 3.
White’s 8. Bb5+!? was perhaps Anand’s way of sidestepping his opponent’s prematch preparations, as after the game’s 8. … Nc6 9. d5, the line 9. … a6?! 10. Be2 Bxc3+ 11. Bd2 Bxa1 12. Qxa1 Nd4 13. Nxd4 cxd4 14. Qxd4 0-0 15. 0-0 is one of the classic Grunfeld variations where White’s two bishops are considered worth at least as much as the lost exchange.
The contest’s most intriguing moment, superbly negotiated by the challenger, came on 14. d6! (setting a high-class trap) Ra7! 15. Bg5, when the plausible 15. … f6? runs into 16. Rb8! and Black may already be lost: 16. … 0-0 17. Ne5!! exd6 (best; losing are 17. … fxg5 18. Nxc6 Qxc3 19. dxe7 Re8 20. Rxc8 Rxc8 21. Qd5+ Kh8 22. Qd8+ Rxd8 23. exd8=Q+ Bf8 24. Qxf8 mate, and 17. … fxe5 18. dxe7 Re8 19. Qb3+ Kh8 20. Qf7 Raxe7 21. Bxe7 and wins) 18. Qb3+ Kh8 19. Nxc6 c4 20. Qb2 Qxg5 21. Nxa7, and White is clearly better.
But Black finds 15. … exd6! 16. Qxd6 Rd7 17. Qxc6 Qc7, consolidating nicely. White’s attack peters out and in the final position, Gelfand’s bishop pair give him a distinct edge. The challenger may regret later in the match playing on a few more moves in a position in which he could hardly have lost.
As Anand-Gelfand was kicking off, the men’s and women’s U.S. national championship tournaments were getting under way last week at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Through five rounds on the men’s side, former champion Hikaru Nakamura leads at 4-1, a half-point ahead of defending champion Gata Kamsky. Kamsky’s 51-game unbeaten streak in this event was broken with an upset loss to GM Gregory Kaidanov in Round 4.
Things are tighter on the women’s side after four rounds, with IMs Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih and WIM Iryna Zenyuk all at 3-1. We’ll have a full update next week.
Nakamura, the No. 1 seed, got off to a fantastic start with a brilliant demolition of New York GM Robert Hess, knocking his younger opponent off-stride with the venerable Evans Gambit.
Admitting later he was flummoxed by White’s opening choice, Hess goes for a lesser-played sideline with 5. … Bd6 (Ba5 is the classical way to handle things) 6. d4 Qe7 7. 0-0 Nf6 8. Nbd2 0-0 9. Re1 Ba3?!, attempting to remove one of White’s most dangerous attacking pieces right at the start. But with 10. Nxe5! Nxe5 (Bxc1 11. Nxc6 dxc6 12. Rxc1 gives White the better pawn structure and good central control) 11. dxe5 Ne8 12. f4 Bxc1 13. Rxc1 d6 14. exd6 cxd6, White has more space and a weak pawn on d6 to target.
Hess struggles gamely to stay in the contest, but never quite claws his way back to equality. An ill-judged pawn-hunting expedition by Black’s queen sets up the denouement: 24. Rd1! (as Black labors to recover his lost pawn, Nakamura positions his pieces for the kill) Qc7 25. Rdd3 h6 26. Bd5 Qb6 (Rb5 27. Kh2 Rb2 28. Qf5 leaves White in charge) 27. c4! (Black, to sidestep the threatened 28. Rb3, grabbing even more space, fatally allows his queen to be drawn far from the action) Qb1+?! 28. Kh2 Qxa2?. The last fighting chance for Black may have been 28. … Rc7 29. Ra3 Qxe4 30. Rxe4 Rc5 31. Kg3, though the pawn-down ending is still probably lost.
With Black’s major piece basically irrelevant, White concludes with panache: 29. Bxe6! fxe6 (Rxe6?? 30. Rd8+) 30. Rd7 Kh8 31. Rxg7! Kxg7 32. Rg3+ Kf8 (Kh8 33. Qg6 mates, as does 32. … Kf7 33. Qh7+ Kf8 34. Rf3 mate) 33. Qh7, and Hess, unable to stop mate, resigned.
And finally, from our “Why Don’t Grandmasters Do This When He Plays Me Department,” we present the bizarre finale of the Round 1 game between GMs Alex Stripunsky and Alex Onischuk. White, a onetime runner-up in the event, suffered a remarkable case of chess blindness with 11. d3??, after which 11. … Qxc1 12. Qd1 Qxb2 wins the house. Stripunsky resigned as soon as his hand left the piece, in what was the third shortest game since the modern title tournament was instituted in 1936.
Anand-Gelfand, Game 1, World Championship Match, May 2012