14 June 2012

Gelfand's World Championship Career

One of my personal discoveries during the recent Anand - Gelfand match was Gelfand's My Most Memorable Games (Olms, 2005). In the Preface, Kramnik wrote,

In 1994 Boris Gelfand and I were drawn together in a quarter-final Candidates match for the FIDE world championship. That same year the Professional Chess Association (PCA) organised a parallel cycle. I (like the majority of players, however) did not see any reason not to play in both. Boris took the difficult decision not to participate in the PCA world championship, in order to concentrate on one. I remember very well how, in an article devoted to the match he had won against me, he quoted Seneca : 'The one who is everywhere is nowhere'. (p.7)

This reminded me of the important role Gelfand played during World Championship qualifications. Following are other excerpts from his book on this subject, interspersed with links to my own pages about the events.

He is capable of achieving anything. His victories in two successive Interzonal tournaments, a series of World Championship Candidate matches, as well as first prizes in prestigious tournaments such as Moscow 1992, Belgrade 1995, or Polanica Zdroj 1998 and 2000 are eloquent proof of this. (p.9)
His rise to world-class status began in 1989. At Palma de Mallorca Gelfand won the qualifying tournament for the GMA World Cup. This was a fearfully strong Open with more than 150 grandmasters. (p.12)
In 1993 Gelfand managed to achieve a unique double by winning the Interzonal, run as in 1990 under Swiss-system rules, for a second time. Once again he scored 9/13, but this time he won outright. An outstanding achievement was his fifth victory in important tournaments over Viswanathan Anand (alongside three draws and one defeat). In the Candidates matches he first defeated Michael Adams 5-3. In the spring of the same year 1994 he underlined his good form with victory in the tournament in Dos Hermanas, in southern Spain, where Anatoly Karpov, among others, finished behind him. Then followed the duel with Vladimir Kramnik. The Russian, who was then just 18 years old, was generally regarded as a future world champion, especially after Kasparov had described him as a potential successor. Although Gelfand, at the age of 26, could demonstrate a plus in experience and achievements, Kramnik was publicly regarded as slightly the favourite. Or perhaps Gelfand was being underestimated - not for the first time and not for the last. Could this be due to the fact that Boris sometimes looks like an absent-minded professor? Gelfand ultimately won 4.5-3.5. (p.13)
The man from Minsk was only two steps away from conquering the FIDE world chess throne, which had been vacant since 1993 , when Kasparov parted company with the World Chess Federation. Gelfand 's match with Anatoly Karpov took place in 1995 in the Indian town of Sanghi Nagar, where he had also played his match against Kramnik : parallel with this was the other semi-final duel, played between Salov and Kamsky. Gelfand went 2-1 ahead before his opponent, the 12th world champion in history, managed to even the scores. In the end , after losing a more or less equal bishop ending in the seventh game, Gelfand crumbled and succumbed, far too badly, 3-6. (p.13)

If 'the FIDE world chess was throne vacant since 1993', where do we place the 1993 Karpov - Timman FIDE Title Match?

FIDE had now abolished the traditional cycle of Candidates matches in favour of a World Championship knock-out tournament, which was staged for the first time in 1997 in the Dutch town of Groningen. Gelfand summoned up the energy to reach the semi-final of this exhausting mammoth tournament. There he lost a mini-match against Anand by 0.5-1.5. His earlier outstanding record of success against the Indian player was reversed and his third assault on the world title was once again brought to a standstill just a few short steps from his goal. (p.15)
His luck ran out at the knock-out World Championship in the gambler's paradise of Las Vegas and he lost, at the last sixteen stage, to the eventual title-holder, Alexander Khalifman." (p.15)
In addition to qualifying for the quarter-finals of the knock-out World Championship in Moscow, stand on the credit side. Here Gelfand lost out to the Russian, Peter Svidler - after a truly titanic struggle. In the ensuing tie-break, watched by more than a hundred spectators inside the Moscow Kremlin, determined to see the match out to the end, he saved a rook versus queen endgame. Svidler, faced by an opponent defending like a computer, felt absolutely crushed, but Boris, due to his own exhaustion, could not take advantage of the psychological advantage thus obtained and went out in the blitz-game phase of their match. He has always made it clear, that he is by no means a supporter of this lottery-like deciding phase, which has been used since the Moscow tournament, especially since it has operated alongside the time reductions introduced by FIDE. Boris has campaigned for the reintroduction of classical time controls. More than once he has spoken out in the press, vigorously and convincingly, for the withdrawal of the countless FIDE innovations. Although the new system does not suit his style of play at all, he has managed in four appearances in the knock-out World Championships to always make the last sixteen. (p.15)
At the Candidates tournament in Dortmund Boris did all he could to secure the best possible playing conditions for himself. In addition to Huzman he recruited the former Soviet national team trainer Postovsky, who had emigrated to the USA, to join 'team Gelfand'. It is probable that his defeat to Topalov in the second round broke his resolve. In this game Gelfand, next to Kasparov the greatest exponent of the Najdorf in the world, found himself playing the Caro-Kann for the first time in his life and he managed to convert a superior position into a loss. This remained for the time being his last attempt at the world title, because, as Gelfand himself said, 'Unfortu nately, FIDE organised the 2004 worldchampionship in Libya, a country where the authorities stated that players from Israel would not be admitted. A shameful act in the opinion of many chess players, spectators and organisations!' But further opportunities will occur in the future, even if the situation in the chess world remains unpredictable. (p.16)

As we know now, Gelfand's greatest successes were still to come.

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