Gelfand neutralises all the world champion's threats

World chess champion Viswanathan Anand suffered a nervous start to his world title defence against Boris Gelfand of Israel, drawing the first game despite holding the advantage of the first move.

Anand opened with the queen pawn, the move he had used almost exclusively in his two previous world title contests.

Boris Gelfand reacted by choosing the venerable Grunfeld Defence, an opening system he had never previously used in a serious tournament game.

“You expect to be surprised,” admitted Anand at the post-game press conference.

“I had taken a look at [the Grunfeld opening], but it was difficult to expect since I can't remember a single game with the Grunfeld by Boris.

However Anand, 42, had his own surprise in store, playing an unusual bishop check on the eighth move and following it up with a pawn advance that sacrificed material and had been thought to be dubious.

Walking a tightrope

English Grandmaster Nigel Short commented that the two players were walking a tightrope, saying, “there is a high premium on every move.”

Gelfand, 43, replied only after 16 minutes' thought, declining the offer.

Anand insisted on sacrificing his pawns and Gelfand was finally tempted to grab a pawn with his queen and attempt a getaway.

Anand kept up the pressure, but Gelfand neutralised all the world champion's threats and soon Anand had nothing better than exchanging pieces after which only Gelfand could play for a win.

“Once the queens were swapped, I had to be exact,” said Anand. “At that point, I am [definitely] not fighting for an advantage.

“In my opinion, [a draw] was an inevitable result.”

The Israeli challenger ran himself low of thinking time — each player has two hours to make their first 40 moves — but Anand's defences held firm and a draw was agreed on Gelfand's offer after 24 moves and just over three hours play.

No big advantage

“My perception was that I was a little better, but there was no big advantage,” Gelfand explained after the game. “I spent half an hour trying to find a way through.”

The result will be a slight disappointment for Anand who nonetheless took the result in his stride, saying “I will try to get on with the task in hand and reflect on it later.”

Gelfand, however, seemed to be relishing his underdog status, saying that he had not felt the amazing pressure that is supposed to accompany a world title match.

A member of Anand's camp confirmed that the world champion was keen to get the match underway after so many months of preparation. “Vishy was very, very nervous — he had tunnel vision only for the game.”

At the press conference, Gelfand and Anand, who enjoy excellent relations, both seemed content but Gelfand looked more at ease.

“As favourite, this is Anand's match to lose,” explained Short.

The second game, with Gelfand controlling the white pieces, will be played on Saturday.

Ian Rogers is an Australian Grandmaster

More In: Sport | Other Sports