Israeli Grandmaster Gelfand Loses World Chess Championship

At the end of a tournament that ended with a score tied 6-6, Gelfand loses to defending champion Anand of India in four-round tie-breaker.

Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler
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Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler

This time its over. After the 12-game FIDE World chess championship tournament that ended with a score tied 6-6 ealier this week, Gelfand lost the title to defending champion Viswanathan Anand, who took the crown after four rounds of rapid chess on Wednesday morning.

The two played four extra rounds, in which each player got 25 minutes to make his moves, plus 10 extra seconds for every move. Between each game, there was a ten minute break, in which each player was allowed to consult their assistants.

Gelfand played white in the first and third rounds, in what was the second time that a chess world championship tournament has reached "extra time." The first time was six years ago, when Russian Vladimir Kramnik and Bulgarian Vesselin Topalov.

Gelfand and Anand drew in three out of the four games. In the second game, Gelfand moved further away from the title, when he lost to Anand.

Playing black in the second game, Gelfand was surprised by Anand's opener, although after that he defended himself very effectively, despite having spent too much time on his defense.

 At the earlier stages of the first game, Anand's position was stronger, and he was close to victory. However, a mistake on the part of the Indian champion enabled Gelfand to reach a draw within a few moves.

In their last tournament game on Monday, defending champion Viswanathan Anand forced Gelfand to think more deeply than during the previous 11 games, but the Israeli came up with a brilliant move that forced a 10th draw and sent the match into a tiebreaker.

The deciding moment on Monday came in the 10th move when Gelfand, who played black, had to think for 40 minutes about his response to Anand's strategy. His brilliant, unexpected move of pawn to e4 saved him from defeat. He sacrificed his pawn but opened up his bishops, sharply cutting Anand's chances of winning.

As befitting a match between two gentlemen, the two declared the game a draw after 22 moves, though some fans wanted the war of attrition to continue.

Gelfand said Anand had opened excellently; later Gelfand had to think about finding a way to survive. He said Anand's plan was clear - to castle and advance his pawns on the king's wing. Gelfand said that at that critical moment, he decided he had to act to free up his bishops. He added that if he had waited one more move it probably would have been too late.

Anand said he wasn't thrilled to capture the pawn. Gelfand said he was happy to get rid of him. Anand added he didn't continue the game even though Gelfand would be under pressure from the game clock after taking so much time because black's game was simple at that point.

"If there were more pieces on the board, maybe I would have continued - but as such there was no point," Anand said.

Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik said Anand is the favorite in rapid chess against anyone in the world. But Gelfand is outstanding at tiebreakers.

The extra round also changes the way the $2.55 million purse will be split up. Instead of 60-40, it will be split up 55-45.

After the game, Gelfand was asked why the two competitors weren't enthusiastic enough to play longer games for the crowd's enjoyment. Gelfand said the two were in a battle to win the championship, not to entertain the viewers.

A Dutch journalist got a chuckle out of the crowd when he asked the players if instead of rapid chess they couldn't just go to penalty kicks.

Gelfand and Anand shaking hands after the match, May 30, 2012. Credit: AFP
Gelfand and Anand face off in Moscow, May 30, 2012. Credit: AFP