Worst Match Ever? Really?

Время публикации: 02.06.2012 08:33 | Последнее обновление: 02.06.2012 08:33

Few chess players have been hated upon during the World Chess Championship matches as much as Anand and Gelfand. With a little help from Garry Kasparov we have discovered that their confrontation had nothing to do with determining the strongest player in the world. And there we go. “The most boring match in the chess history”; “another dull draw”, “watching the grass grow in my garden is more exciting”; “a clash of the pensioners” – these are some of the epithets Anand and Gelfand have been awarded. But is everything so clear? Let’s address a few delicate and widely quoted issues regarding the match.

«They have low ratings; their tournament results suck; these players are not the best at all». The playing strength of a person depends on the motivation and the format. The struggle for the chess crown and for winning some tournament X are two different things. Gelfand has specifically mentioned that he is highly motivated and playing his best in the tournaments which are directly related to winning the supreme chess title.

A lot has been said about the financial side of the WCC. Let’s note that the match is considerably more lucrative for the participants than any other events. The winner received about $1,500,000 + potential prize money from the next match + probable endorsement offers and awards from the government of his country. And how much does a winner of a super tournament make? $50k? Best case scenario - $100k? It’s a different scale, do you agree? How can it be fixed? Ideally, by increasing the prize money and somehow integrating the tournaments into the candidate cycle. However, this is being done already, and deserves a separate article.

The legitimacy of the players is also unquestioned. It is obvious, like Gelfand has pointed out once, that the public is tired of watching 40+ year olds play. They want to see new faces. But who should be blamed for Magnus Carlsen’s unwillingness to participate in the cycle, no matter how many times FIDE has been trying to persuade him? Why have the top dogs according to the public vote – Aronian, Kramnik and Topalov – failed the expectations? Yes, hardly anyone was anticipating Boris to win, but he came on top in the World Cup and then in the Candidates Matches. Do we have the right to blame him? As to Anand, it is even more obvious. The Indian wizard has defended his title against such heavyweights as Kramnik and Topalov, so he is clearly a legend worthy of the chess crown.

«The Aronian-Kramnik match was much more exciting and innovative than Anand-Gelfand». It came as a surprise for me, but many chess fans honestly don’t understand the difference between an exhibition match and a World Chess Championship event. In a friendly game one can experiment, enjoy himself and entertain the public, take risks. With the stakes being as high as they were at the WCC, the outcome of the match is the primary factor to consider.

«The player didn’t take risks. Where is their fighting spirit?». In my opinion, Anand’s and Gelfand’s credentials speaks for themselves. If anything, they are amazing match players. And I don’t think that any of the amateurs has the right to patronizingly say that he knows best how and when they should be taking risks. Moreover, the short format (only 12 games) doesn’t support risk-taking.

«Sophia rules must be implemented! How dare they make short boring draws?». It seems to me that the problem is deeper than it looks on the surface. Most spectators prefer decisive games to drawn ones. Everyone wants to see a winner. Not to mention unqualified fans who can only keep asking “So, who is winning, our guy or the other one?”. After every draw tension and exasperation are building up. People start talking about players not doing their job. Some are claiming that only the Sophia rules can save the show and make the players fight till the end. Nonetheless, I don’t think that many people would enjoy watching a dead drawn endgame being played out for another two hours just for the sake of reaching move 40. On the contrary, they would be even more displeased: “I have been watching this stuff for 5 hours straight, and it was still drawn!”. Silvio Danailov has mentioned on Twitter that Sophia rules are a must-have and referred to his son not understanding what was going on as supporting evidence. I would like to point out that strong IM Silvio should be one of the last people to complain about it: why not explain why the position is a draw to his child as opposed to telling him to consult the FIDE handbook?

«The quality of the games was low; no new ideas have been introduced». First of all, in classical chess there were hardly any blunders. Games #7 and #8 stand aside in this respect, but was there ever a WCC match without dramatic, inexplicable blunders? Secondly, I, an ordinary candidate master, was shocked by how consistently the players followed the notorious “first line” of the engines. Once again, I am falling back on my impressions, not statistical analysis, but it seems like there were not so many inaccuracies. I doubt there were many matches where the quality of the play was of a completely different, superior level.  Finally, I am not the one to evaluate the number of new openings ideas, but let’s just say that experts’ opinions on this are different, from “none” to “lots”.

«Who are we playing for?». A very instructive moment was when Evgeny Surov asked in a rather disturbed way why the players couldn’t play out the game to entertain the spectators. Boris was clearly displeased with the journalist’s tone. He snapped back and made one of the worst comments by saying that they are purely result-oriented and not playing for the crowd. On the one hand, such a statement expresses disrespect for all the fans of the game, and the wellbeing of such professionals as Gelfand himself is absolutely dependent on the public perception. No fans – no money. On the other hand, I can understand what the Challenger had in mind. He has dedicated all his life to chess, spent countless years climbing the Chess Olympus, demonstrated some incredible performances…only to have amateurs teach him how he should be playing. I guess he should have just waved the question off or made a joke. For example, he could have said that if we all realize that the position is a draw, then isn’t it better to save the viewers two hours to take a look at the Treatyakov gallery or just head home instead of making them waste the time by watching the endgame being played out? Nobody would have questioned this approach, and the chess community wouldn’t have been offended.

Summarizing, I would like to remind you that the world is not black and white. There are other stages between the best and the worst match in the history of chess. As far as I am concerned, the match between Anand and Gelfand was tense, rich in content, excellent in terms of organization. At the same time, somewhat not flashy enough, not sexy. However, it was not as unpretentious as many journalists and forum kibitzers are trying to make it look. What can I say? Haters gonna hate.


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