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World Chess Championship Candidates 2011 (6)

Boris Gelfand qualifies for World Chess Championship match against Viswanathan Anand

Winner Boris Gelfand is interviewed. Photo ©

Winner Boris Gelfand is interviewed. Photo © |

Boris Gelfand's victory against Alexander Grischuk in the FIDE Candidates Final takes the Israeli player to the summit of his profession at the age of 42. Gelfand beat Grischuk on the white side of a Gruenfeld to win the only decisive game of the 6 game match and prevent the match going into a final day of rapid and possibly blitz. I look back at the event and ask whether some of the criticisms of the players weren't just a bit over the top. IM Malcolm Pein annotates this decisive game.

Boris Gelfand

Boris Gelfand. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

The Final Game

Gelfand finally stopped trying to break down Grischuk's defence to the English with c5 and e5 which had already been successfully employed against Aronian, Grischuk and Gelfand in the first two games in the match. As expected Grischuk played the Gruenfeld defence against 1.d4

Boris Gelfand against Alexander Grischuk

Start of the final game. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

The Fianchetto Variation had been played a few times recently, Grischuk chose to play 11...Bg4 with the idea that 12.h3 might not be a move that white wanted to play, but it isn't really clear whether this is the case or not. Gelfand's 13.b3 was new in this move order and immediately Grischuk said he felt under pressure.

Black's plan of Ra5-h5 was an attempt to get counter play but the placing of this rook remained a problem for black for most of the rest of the game. Grischuk admired Gelfand's 19.f4 threatening just to overwhelm the centre with his pawns. It might be that it was here Grischuk started to panic a bit because 20...Bxh4 is not forced and may be the real source of his problems.

Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

After 23 moves Grischuk was very pessimistic about his chances and down to less than 20 minutes on his clock to make move 40. Here he chose to grab a pawn on the queen side with 23...Rb5 which afterwards both players thought was the decisive mistake, Grischuk however did not like the idea of 23...f5 which looks like the only alternative.

After that with the clock ticking down and Grischuk's pieces becoming more uncoordinated in the face of white's pawn avalanche Gelfand brought home the full point fairly securely.

Thus Gelfand won the only game with white in classical chess in the whole event and two out of three of the decisive games in that phase.

Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

IM Malcolm Pein Annotates

Gelfand,B - Grischuk,A [D76]

WCh Candidates Final Kazan RUS, 25.05.2011
IM Malcolm Pein

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.e3 0-0 9.0-0 Re8 10.Re1 a5 11.Qe2 Bg4

[11...e5 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.Nxe5 Bxe5 14.f4 (14.e4 Be6 15.f4 Bd4+ 16.Be3 Nc4 17.Bf2 c6 18.Red1 Bxf2+ 19.Qxf2 Qb6=) 14...Bxc3 15.bxc3 Bf5 Ljubojevic-Grischuk 2009]

12.h3 Be6 13.b3

Alexander Grischuk


Boris Gelfand

Position after 13.b3

New but otherwise Black will play a4 Bc4 and e5

13...a4 14.Rb1 axb3 15.axb3 Qc8

Black's plan is to control white squares and prevent White's centre pawns rolling as we shall see he momentarily forgets this and is punished. Black likes to exchange a pair of knights and play Bd5 in an ideal world

16.Kh2 Ra5

Alexander Grischuk


Boris Gelfand

Position after 16...Ra5

More combative than the standard Rd8

17.Rd1 Rh5!? 18.Nh4 Bf6 19.f4!


19...Rd8 20.Qf2 Bxh4!?

[Risky of course in conjunction with the upcoming exchange sac 20...Nd5 21.Nxd5 Rhxd5 Keeping watch on d4 to restrain e4 and welcoming a capture on d5 which gives Black complete control of the white squares. But Black still has problems to restrain e3-e4 in the long run]

21.gxh4 Nd5 22.Nxd5

[22.Ne2 f5 23.Bf3 Rh6 24.h5 Ncb4]

22...Rhxd5 23.Bb2!

Alexander Grischuk


Boris Gelfand

Position after 23.Bb2

Threat e3-e4

[23.Bxd5 Bxd5 followed by Qf5 with lots of play]


[The pawn grab proves disastrous but maybe this position is difficult for Black because the exchange sac doesn't seem to work because of the h5 move but it was probably a better chance as now White activates everything 23...f5!? 24.h5 Ra5 (24...Bf7 The computer doesn't like it and neither did Grischuk but Black has some control 25.hxg6 hxg6 26.Qh4 Qe6) 25.d5! Bxd5 26.hxg6 hxg6 27.b4 Rb5 28.Qe2!; 23...Qd7!? 24.e4 Rxd4 25.Bxd4 Nxd4; 23...Qd7!? 24.Bc3 building slowly 24...h5!?]


[24.e4 Bxb3 25.Rdc1 e6 (25...Na5 26.Bf1 Rb6 27.Bc3+/-) 26.d5 exd5 27.Rxc6 bxc6 28.Qd4 f6 29.Qxf6 d4 30.Bxd4 Rxd4 31.Qxd4]

24...Rh5 25.e4! Bxb3 26.Rdc1 Na5

Black can hardly get out of the way

27.d5 b6 28.Be5 c5

Black is lost here probably


[29.Qb5 Ba2 30.Rb2 was also strong]


[29...Rxe5 30.fxe5 Qe6 31.c7+-]


[30.c7 Rd7 31.Rxb3 Nxb3 32.Qc4+ Kg7 33.Qxb3 fxe5 34.Qxb6 exf4 35.Qb8 Rxc7 Gives White technical problems]

Alexander Grischuk


Boris Gelfand

Position after 30.Ba1


[30...Bf7 31.e5 Qc7 32.Qb5 Rd2 33.Kg1+- (33.Qxb6 Bd5!!=) ; 30...b5!? 31.e5 Bc4 32.Rxc4 bxc4 33.Bc3+-]

31.Rxc5 bxc5 32.Qb5

[32.e5 Bd5 33.Bxd5+ Rxd5 34.exf6 Nxc6 35.fxe7+- Kf7 36.Re1 Ke8]


Alexander Grischuk


Boris Gelfand

Position after 32.Qc7

Time trouble blunder

[32...Ba2 33.Rb2 Qc7 34.Rxa2?? (34.e5+/- Be6 35.Qb6 Qxb6 36.Rxb6 fxe5 37.c7 Rc8 38.Rxe6) 34...Qxf4+ 35.Kg1 Rd1+]

33.Rxb3 Nxc6

[Now if 33...Qxf4+ 34.Rg3]

34.e5 Nd4 35.Qc4+


Post-match press

Boris Gelfand

Boris Gelfand. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

Boris Gelfand

I was lucky I got a position which I knew and I liked in the opening. Black slightly squeezed and that's the main problem.

Alexander tried to find counter-play with putting the Rook to h5 with a threat. I think I played pretty well, and after mistake Rb5, even he let me play Qe2 and e4, I think the position is lost. f5 was necessary, maybe I'm better after h5, hard to say. But I think statistically my chances were very good because I think it was the first victory by white in these matches, so it was very unlikely that there would be no victories by white in such a cycle.

Alexander Grischuk

White played an absolutely great game, it started with a novelty b3 which made my position cramped and I had to find this manoeuvre with Ra5-h5 to find any counter-play.

But then Boris found an amazing concept with this f4, just giving up the pawn, it didn't even cross my mind this idea.

And then I thought, like, I have extra pawn, better pawn structure, white squares are weak, at first I thought, but then I realised that I'm just completely lost.

And yes I think it was much better to play f5 to not allow white this pawn avalanche in the centre but still after h5 I don't really trust in black position. I think white will attack, attack, attack after h5. Like Rook to g1, something then exchange queens and then in the endgame Bd5 he will just get an endgame with an extra exchange.

Lies, damn lies....

Statistics about the number of drawn games to decisive ones (just three in classical chess this time) have drawn a lot of criticism towards the players. In my view in a World Chess Championship, the players are entitled to do whatever they need to do within the rules to emerge as winners, and the very short match format almost forced players to be cautious.

This will be a life changing event for Gelfand as it would have been for Grischuk and they took decisions on what was best for them.

Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

Grischuk in particular seems to have take the most criticism, mostly for his quick draws with white in the rapids against Kramnik. I think this is really unfair and disrespectful. Grischuk spent the most time at the board of anyone, had many of the most interesting games, and his troubles were with his opening repertoire as white, not any unwillingness to fight. He also without a doubt had the toughest draw and managed to get past both Aronian and Kramnik. His decision to duck out against Kramnik was against the special background of Kramnik's black repertoire being absolutely rock solid and the fact that he already had had an exhausting event.

But also people seem to be taking all the draws in this Candidates tournament so personally. Why people didn't just drop in say, OK draw, and get on with their lives I don't know. Do people really get this wound up by say 0-0 draws at football? Silvio Danailov called the short draws a "shame and disaster for the image of chess and FIDE" which in my view is a total over-reaction. I don't think the Sofia Rules would have saved us from a lot of insipid chess, the Queen's Gambit games would just have gone on longer.

I believe instead, the chaotic leadership of FIDE, and its dubious leading personalities is responsible for the decline in media interest in the game, but that's been true for a long time and Ilyumzhinov's hold on the Federation is as strong as ever. Holding most of their major events in oil-fields rather than major world cities hardly helps either.

If any blame is to be attached as to the lack of decisive results I think it is as to the format. This Candidates event was only marginally better than the final stages of the old FIDE knockout. With the matches being so short, and the penalty for losing even a single game so comparatively great, of course caution was going to come to the fore. Returning to the heavily criticised Grischuk, he actually played some pretty interesting openings as black, which was not the case with some of the other players. I'm not sure longer matches are necessarily so very much more expensive, and aren't longer events better for sponsors? If the Candidates do have to be held as a single event then I have long believed a double round robin Candidates tournament is the better solution, but I have also long been in the minority there.

Maybe people are extrapolating to the future and saying things will always be like this. But chess has been resilient so far. I was one of the first to be worried about the impact of computers on chess and I don't like their central role. But I think we'll see players find a way to battle in the future. These things come and go. I was depressed by the many boring Petroff Defences for a few years but we seem to have got past that at least for the moment.

Chess in High Definition

The TWIC Press Centre on my TV in my front room. Live pictures and ICC commentary via HD cable from a laptop

The TWIC Press Centre on my TV in my front room. Live pictures and ICC commentary via HD cable from a laptop. For Sofia the ICC Board was bigger than the live streamed pictures, Kazan it was the other way round. Photo © Mark Crowther

One universally praised element of the matches was the official coverage. Kazan had high quality video streaming from three cameramen and a producer. It was like you were actually there, in fact it was better than being there, in the early rounds the close ups of the players were almost intrusive. Also the streaming did not fail at peak viewing times, and you could go forward and backwards, just amazing. No-one should doubt just how much money this would have cost but I think high quality fixed cameras with zoom could have reduced this. More please.

Alexander Grischuk

So now we know where Kazan is! And hosts the Universiade 2013 (World University Games) and some matches for Russia's 2018 World Cup. Photo © Russian Chess Federation

The upshot of this was that I saw a lot, I would be interested to hear what viewer ship they got as a whole and even how it broke down country by country. But I'm sure those who did watch came away with a favourable impression of Kazan as a modern city, which was the aim of their sponsorship.

They had some pretty slick advertising showcasing of their city throughout the play and from what I saw it looked like a place I might want to visit.

They even made the effort to get some comments in English from the players, and largely did (Kamsky was particularly grumpy for some reason) and now the point occurs to me that brief comments in Russian and Spanish (at the least) at press conferences of English Speaking events would probably not go amiss as a thought, especially involving with players from those nationalities. Probably doing post match interviews in several languages is something tennis players take for granted, we're not quite there in chess yet.

If we want to increase the popularity of chess then this was definitely a good starting point.

Anand 41 against Gelfand 42

So in an era where the top players are generally getting younger we have a World Champion who is 41 a challenger who is 42 and to use an old fashioned term a "Crown Prince" in Ivanchuk who is also 42. It seems that so long as a player remains reasonably fit and works hard with modern technology it is possible to be pretty close to being the very best into your 40s.

Gelfand is a dedicated professional and probably has a wider and deeper knowledge about all phases of the game as anyone in the world. It has always seemed to me that Gelfand was made for match play and in my view he would have been a perpetual candidate as Portisch or Petrosian were in the past had such matches been around. Now he has the chance to take this to the highest level. This is the culmination of a Candidates career going back to 1993. The second lowest seed in an event with no real weak links his qualification would have come as something of a surprise. Nevertheless I think he and Grischuk clearly played the best chess in Kazan.

No-one watching the footage of Kazan would have failed to notice the perpetual fiddling with pieces and really rather expressive reactions of Gelfand, nevertheless it seems that his nerves generally held very well at key moments which perhaps they didn't when he was younger.

Gelfand came through a must win game against Kamsky in the Semi-Finals straight after a loss that was his only real weak moment of the event. His win against Mamedyarov with black was the most attractive game and finally he played pretty well in the final game against Grischuk. I'm pretty sure he'll give Anand at least a run for his money.

Now the search is on for a venue for the match.

World Chess Championship Final Kazan
Grischuk, Alexander - Gelfand, Boris ½-½ 49 D37 QGD 5.Bf4
Gelfand, Boris - Grischuk, Alexander ½-½ 58 A37 English Symmetrical
Grischuk, Alexander - Gelfand, Boris ½-½ 14 D37 QGD 5.Bf4
Gelfand, Boris - Grischuk, Alexander ½-½ 18 A37 English Symmetrical
Grischuk, Alexander - Gelfand, Boris ½-½ 39 D37 QGD 5.Bf4
Gelfand, Boris - Grischuk, Alexander 1-0 35 E60 King's Indian without Nc3
World Chess Championship Final Kazan (RUS), 19-26 May 2011
Name Ti NAT Rtng 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total Perf
Gelfand, Boris g ISR 2733 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 2804
Grischuk, Alexander g RUS 2747 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 2676
World Chess Championship Semi-Finals 2011 Kazan RUS Thu 12th May 2011 - Mon 16th May 2011
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Alexander Grischuk RUS2747 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2
Vladimir Kramnik RUS2785 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2 ½
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Boris Gelfand ISR2733 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2 2 6
Gata Kamsky USA2732 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2 0 4
World Chess Championship Quarter Finals 2011 Kazan RUS Thu 5th May 2011 - Mon 9th May 2011
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Levon Aronian ARM2808½ ½ ½ ½
Alexander Grischuk RUS2747½ ½ ½ ½
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE2772½ ½ 0 ½
Boris Gelfand ISR2733½ ½ 1 ½
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Teimour Radjabov AZE2744½ ½ ½ ½ 2
Vladimir Kramnik RUS2785½ ½ ½ ½ 2
Name FEDRtg1234RapidBlitzS/DPts
Gata Kamsky USA2732½ 1 ½ ½
Veselin Topalov BUL2775½ 0 ½ ½

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