It has all the makings of a classic duel for supremacy. If Viswanathan Anand starts as favourite going by his stature as defending champion and his personal
record against Boris Gelfand, one cannot rule out the chances of the Israeli challenger given his vast experience and his desire to be crowned world champion.
Oh yes, viewed from any angle the World Chess Championship match between the two commencing at Moscow on May 11 has already attracted considerable attention around the sporting world and promises to be a close, hard-fought contest.
In an era when the top ten chess players in the world is dominated by those in the age group of 20 to 30 it is quite astonishing that the title is being contested by Anand (42) and Gelfand (43). It underlines the skill, experience and durability of both the contestants who have reached the summit clash purely on merit.
With the 12-match clash being held in the chess capital of the world unprecedented attention is guaranteed. The opening ceremony will take place on
May 10 followed by the first game the following day. The first player to get to 6.5 points will emerge champion. If the match is deadlocked tie break games will decide the winner. The prize fund for the match is 2.55 million dollars of which 60 percent will go to the winner. In case the contest is decided by tie break games the winner will receive 55 percent and the loser 45 percent.
Going into the high profile clash, Anand holds an edge over his rival in more ways than one. For starters in head to head clashes Anand is ahead 6-5 with 24
draws. Interestingly enough Gelfand’s last victory over Anand was way back in 1993 at Biel. Anand is ranked No 4 in the world to Gelfand’s 20. Anand’s ELO
rating is 2791 while Gelfand’s is 2727. Anand has already been world champion four times while Gelfand’s best record is joint second in 2007.
In Super events the two have clashed in the World Championship in 2007 and the World Cup in 2000 with Anand emerging victorious on both occasions after a tough fight.
Anand was world champion from 2000 to 2002 and after regaining the title in 2007 has successfully defended it against Vladimir Kramnik (2008) and Veselin Topalov (2010). Incidentally this will be the first time Anand is playing against someone older than himself when he defends his world title.
In the build up to the world title match the record of both players has been rather patchy. Anand finished joint third in Sao Paulo – Bilbao, sixth in Moscow and joint fifth in London. He has not played in any tournament this year while being in full preparation for the Moscow event. Gelfand finished ninth in Moscow and tenth at Wijk aan Zee.
But then both players have the experience, the stature and the ability to shrug off ordinary performances and rise to the occasion for a world championship match. Gelfand showed that he was a deserving contender for the title with a victory in the six game candidates match finals over fancied Alexander Grischuk of Russia.
A recent poll on a website had 85 percent of the voters picking Anand to win the match. Given his stupendous record over the last two decades and the fact that the Indian has won all major titles (some more than once) the verdict may not come as a surprise. But then Gelfand is not without his impressive credentials. He too has won numerous major titles besides being one of the leading players in the world for the past 20 years.
Experts predict that the title clash should produce a lot of interesting moves in the big battle across 64 squares. From being one of the best attacking
players Anand has also become one of the best defenders. It will be intriguing to see what strategies he uses against Gelfand who also revels in sharp
positions and is known to be an effective tactical player.
All things considered Anand is still the favourite given the exalted status he enjoys in the game. After all only last year in an interview Kramnik said that
he always considered Anand to be ``a colossal talent, one of the greatest in the whole history of chess and in terms of play no way weaker than Kasparov. In the last five or six years he has made a qualitative leap that’s made it possible to consider him one of the great chess players of all time.’’
With that kind of lofty reputation that Anand enjoys a Gelfand victory would come as a surprise. However Gelfand who defeated higher ranked players Levon
Aronian, Kramnik and Topolov besides Grischuk on his way to winning the Candidates finals has plans of his own to upset the oft crowned champion.
Convinced that proper preparation is a must he has been preparing for almost an year. In a recent interview Gelfand said that he had made a thorough study of Anand’s games and remained confident of his chances. So even if Anand starts as favourite he has an opponent who has trained hard and long for what he describes as ``the absolute highlight of my chess career.’’