World champion Viswanathan Anand prevailed in a series of rapid chess games against challenger Boris Gelfand to retain his world title here on Wednesday.
After three weeks of regular play ended with the score tied at 6-6, Anand and Gelfand faced off in a series of tie-breakers on Wednesday, with the title of world champion and $1.53 million going to the winner.
Showing the speed and coolness under pressure which has characterised his career, the Chennai-based Grandmaster stayed ahead of Gelfand on the clock at the key moments in the 25 minutes per player tiebreakers and, despite plenty of chances, Gelfand was unable to break through Anand's defences in any of the four games.
Anand, who won the four game series 2.5-1.5 (with a win and three draws), will keep the FIDE world title he has held since 2007 for another two years.
“The only feeling I have is relief,” said Anand after the final playoff game ended in a hard-fought draw, leaving him with the title. “What can I say? It was incredibly tense and the match could have gone either way. After we drew the first 12 games, the only thing that could separate us was the rapid games and things really went my way today. My nerves held out better and I hung on for dear life.”
Gelfand could only rue his missed chances, saying, “It was a very equal match. I had an edge in most of the rapid games but my problem was always my lack of time — I made blunders in the second and third games.”
Anand, the heavy favourite at the start of the match, admitted that he thought he might have lost the world title after losing the seventh game to fall behind Gelfand in regulation time with just five games to play.
“It was a heavy blow to lose game seven. I can't remember such a dark day as after Game 7. I couldn't sleep and I thought I had blown the match. I was very fortunate to come back and win the next day even though I know it was not Boris' best day. I was very proud to win the next game.”
Anand said that he had never been sure of victory. “I never felt like a favourite. I know Boris too well for that. I am just relieved.”
The first play-off game was a violent affair where both players attacked their opponent's kings without concern for lost pawns. With both players down to less than three minutes on the clock, most of the attacking pieces were neutralised and a draw was agreed after 32 moves.
The second rapid playoff game was an epic battle which Anand won only on the 77th move, the longest game of the match. Anand surprised Gelfand in the opening phase and gained plenty of time on the clock but the Israeli challenger sacrificed a pawn and soon acquired powerful counter-play.
Gelfand succeeded in doubling his rooks on the seventh rank on the 31st move, normally a crushing manoeuvre, but by then he had only 42 seconds left on his clock to avoid a time forfeit and he was relying on the 10 second increment per move to keep him in the game. Anand defended stoutly and, after a mistaken series of exchanges by Gelfand, reached an endgame which was a technical draw, despite Anand's extra pawn.
However the Indian, with a four-minute time advantage persisted, seized the moment to induce a mistake from the previously nerveless Gelfand. “Boris defended well,” said Anand, “and the result should have been a draw.”
However on move 70, Gelfand ran himself down to two seconds before moving and his next move, made at speed to avoid a loss on time, was a fatal error.
Anand exchanged into a technically winning rook endgame and on move 77, faced with a slow but sure winning manoeuvre well known from all endgame books, Gelfand resigned.
Just ten minutes later, Gelfand and Anand were required to front up for the third tie-break game and it turned out to be another marathon, this time with Anand, playing Black, on the defensive throughout.
Gelfand achieved a dominating position after the opening and missed a clear win on his 26th move, after which Anand was able to hold his losses to a single pawn.
Anand stayed active but every time he threatened to take control, Gelfand had the answer.
“I was just lost,” said Anand, “but I was lucky that I was lost in a way that I would always have some counter-play.”
Anand, gambling with his opponent again down to just a few seconds, exchanged into a rook endgame which should have been losing but Gelfand had insufficient time to find the correct path and a faulty 61st move allowed Anand to scramble a draw two moves later.
The fourth game and final rapid began with Gelfand desperate for a win, but an unorthodox choice of opening by Anand forced the queens off the board and left another ending for Gelfand to play with less time on the clock. “I know you are not supposed to play too hard for a draw,” said Anand, “but I did exactly that.”
With no realistic winning chances in a rook endgame, Gelfand offered a draw after 56 moves, to help Anand end his toughest world title defence successfully.
Ian Rogers is an Australian Grandmaster