Saturday, September 22, 2007

Should Gelfand have gone for it?

I'm not normally in the camp which demands that chessplayers - or any other sportsmen - always attack. It's a limited view at best- it fails to appreciate how much there is to chess as well as attack. It's also easier to demand from the sidelines than to deliver in practice. Me, I was brought up on Karpov and on Nimzowitsch and on the Italian teams of Enzo Bearzot: and I like intelligent defence, the war of manouevre, defeating the opponent by out-thinking rather than out-calculating them. I like the clash of styles rather than having two tacticians at the board, and I like to appreciate the viewpoint of the player, the particular perspective of the competitor, rather than demand that everybody plays like Shirov just because the fans may wish them to.

For that reason, too, I've always been fairly understanding of the short draw, of the desire to put off battle till it's necessary, of the choice to stay in the pack as long as you can rather than take the risk that might knock you out of the competition. It's how professionals approach the job, and professionals don't take advice from amateurs. You need to be in the shake-up at the end: take your risks when you have to, in the last two rounds, because if you take them earlier and as a resultm you're halfway down the field, then who will care how admirably brave you were? Fortuna favet fortibus, but sport often does not. It is about winning and world championship tournaments all the more so.

That said - why did Boris Gelfand give Anand such an easy time last night? A draw in twenty moves, the Catalan bishop easily swapped off. Black in fact looks slightly better, to my eyes, in the final positon, so perhaps this was discretion rather than an absence of valour, but it's hard to believe that Gelfand went into the game with the intention of putting Anand under any serious pressure. And you might, drawing on the paragraphs above, think that makes perfect sense - he was just half-a-point behind the leader, and he stays that way, tucked in, as it were, with just a few rounds to go. Ready to have a go if anything should befall Anand in the run-in.

Maybe. But just for once I wonder if caution was not the wrong option. In the next round, tomorrow, Anand is the only one of the top three to have White - against Aronian. A point (or more) would be a big lead when you are solid as he is. If a half-point behind is as close as Gelfand gets, then he may come to regret that he did not use his White game aganst Anand to try and take the lead.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly - what message did Gelfand give Anand last night? More importantly still, what message did he give himself? Did he not say that he does not think he is as good as Anand, that the best he can do against him, with White, is to swap off the pieces? It's a long, long time since Gelfand beat Anand - never, if my researches are correct, with the Black pieces and not for more than twenty games (and almost as many years) with White. I'm sure that sort of sequence leaves an impression, but it's surely an impression that you have to shake off if you're to win a tournament like this. Chess is a game played in the head and if you don't believe that this can be your week, that just for once, you can beat the other guy, then surely you will not.

There's one other thing too. When the professional ensures than he, or she, is in the chasing pack, it's partly because there are more prizes than the trophy to be won. There are livings to be made. You do your best to make sure you win something, and if you do that often enough, then surely, sometimes, sooner or later, the top prize will be yours.

But in Mexico City there are no real prizes except winning (unless you're Kramnik). Especially for the Gelfands, the outsiders, the players who have not had a chance before and may never get one again. Presumably, and wholly understandably, that's why Gelfand kept it quiet last night. He didn't want to thow it away. Maybe he'll turn out to be right. But if it slips away from him over the next couple of days, he may find himself thinking that he could have had a go for first place, but lacked the strength, the will, to do so. And the worst position to be in is, surely, the one where you ask yourself what might have been.


Anonymous said...

I doubt Gelfand entered the tournament expecting he could win it. Unlike Anand and Kramnik and perhaps to a lesser extent Aronian and maybe even Leko, Moro etc.

Perhaps he was playing for place - and prize money. I'm assuming the higher a player finishes in Mexico City the more prize money he gets. Also, there maybe some advantages in byes in the next cycle - whatever that turns out to be.

perhaps he calculated to extra risks of losing were he to play more sharply were not justified by the potential benefits of (presumably the less likely possibility) winning.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure.

Gelfand's had a good tournament so far and maybe he didn't want to push for too much with the risk of coming unstuck. He's now +2, having got his two games against the strongest player in the field out of the way.

In any case, I'm not sure how else he could have played in the game... Kudos to Anand for playing the opening well and reducing his opponent's prospects.

If he wanted to win, perhaps Gelfand might have chosen a different opening.


ejh said...

Well quite.

ejh said...

Mind you Gelfand rather vindicated by tonight's performance from Anand.

ejh said...

...or not!