Viswanathan Anand's world title now hangs on a series of rapid chess games after he and challenger Boris Gelfand finished tied at 6-6 at the end of regulation time in their world chess championship contest here on Monday.
In the critical twelfth game, Anand shocked the spectators by offering a draw to Gelfand in a position where Gelfand had no winning chances and needed to make 18 moves in 16 minutes to avoid a time forfeit. Gelfand accepted immediately, ending the game after 22 moves and just under 3 hours play.
Some observers in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery viewed Anand's offer as an act of sportsmanship — not attempting to win a game purely on the clock — while Anand's old world championship rival Vladimir Kramnik was less generous, saying “This is a clear sign that Vishy is lacking self-confidence.”
At the packed press conference after the game, Anand explained that his offer was simple realism; “To play for a win, you need some pieces left. Boris's position was very easy to play, so I didn't see any point in playing on. Here we have only drawn when the game is going nowhere.”
Earlier, Anand, playing with the white pieces, had looked to be getting on top early with an eighth move pawn sacrifice described by Gelfand as “brilliant”.
On his tenth move, Gelfand thought for 37 minutes before deciding to return his extra pawn and soon sacrifice one of his own.
Instead of retreating to a room behind the stage, Anand stayed at the board to gain extra calculation time and put extra pressure on Gelfand.
“Boris reacted well,” said Anand “[His tenth move] showed that he was very alert. After I win the pawn, Black is always going to have compensation.”
The two players reached a complicated endgame where pundits had violently opposed views on who might hold the advantage, with Kramnik going so far as to say that “Anand's decision to take the pawn is hard to explain; a sign that Vishy is out of shape or that tiredness has started to play its role.”
Anand's main hope lay in Gelfand's time shortage but a series of accurate moves by the Israeli challenger convinced Anand that a draw was inevitable, meaning that the two players will have to return on Wednesday for series of up to 15 tie-breaking games.
Neither player was willing to give an opinion as to who is favoured in the rapid time limit tie-breakers.
Anand has an outstanding record over his career at rapid chess but has lost two important world championship rapid tie-breakers — the playoff for the FIDE world title against Anatoly Karpov in Lausanne in 1998 and a Candidates semifinal match against Gata Kamsky in Sanghi Nagar in 1994.
Just play my best chess
“Boris and I have played each other in rapid,” said Anand, “I am not sure about the exact score. I don't know if it is possible to train for these things, but it is certainly an abrupt shift in the tempo of the match. I will just play my best chess. Tthat's all I can do.”
Gelfand, who came through one rapid tie-breaker against Kamsky on his way to qualifying to challenge Anand, was also unwilling to make predictions. “I am here to play chess. It is up to others to assess the chances.”
The tie-breakers, starting with four games of 25 minutes per player per game plus a 10 second increment per move, will be played on Wednesday from 1.30 p.m. IST.
Ian Rogers is an Australian Grandmaster