Englishman Nigel Short, who challenged Garry Kasparov for the world title in 1993, tells Vijay Tagore there is no spark in the world champion’s play. Excerpts from an interview:
What do you make of the world chess championship?
It was disappointing. There was very cautious and very conservative chess. As a spectacle, it was hugely disappointing.
So you mean to say the quality of chess was poor?
Look, you know if you don’t make many moves, you don’t make many mistakes. A lot of games ended prematurely. I understand their primary concern was to win but they were not creating entertainment. You would think, normally, if two people were going at each other hammer and tongs, you would get a bit more action. It was not the case. In one website, the fans were asked what they thought of the match and two-thirds of them said it was boring or very boring. People who love the game were disappointed.
How did Anand play?
From Anand’s perspective, there was a huge amount of conservatism. He has become mentally old and this showed in his approach. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t think he was an overwhelming favourite. I expected it to be a lot closer. I still had Anand as the favourite. I thought he had two-thirds chance and Gelfand one-third. It turned out reasonably accurate. Gelfand came pretty close to winning it, although he was written off by a large number of people. It is not that Anand should have crushed Gelfand but there was complete lack of spark in his play. Everything was safety-first. He played middle-age chess.
Then what clinched the title for Anand?
The fact that he was able to bounce back from defeat immediately was very important. And it is known that he is strong at rapid chess. When you are down to rapid chess, you rely on instincts. Anand should play a little more on instincts. His instincts are very good.
Is he still the player to beat in world chess?
The world champion is always somebody to beat, but his recent form has not been good and who knows, whether this is permanent. If you think back to the match he won against (Vladimir) Kramnik in 2008, he was absolutely brilliant. In the last year or two, there has been a decline. I must, however, admit that I’m happy that he has said he is not retiring.
His former second Elizbar Ubilava, too, said Anand hasn’t improved since the 2010 world championship match against Veselin Topalov…
I don’t want to be rude, but it is just my observation. His chess has gone down from a very, very high peak. It is hard to make improvements, but he did not even maintain his level. Gelfand is a perfectly respectable opponent. To have staggered across the finishing line like he did in this match indicates that things are not well. There is a difference in class between Gelfand and Anand. Anand is a chess genius and Gelfand is a good player, not a genius. Anand struggled, not because Gelfand’s brilliant play but because of an accountancy mentality. Had Anand faced someone else, he would have been in trouble.
At 42, is he getting better, worse or stagnating?
He is definitely getting worse. I am 47 and I’m the oldest player among the top 100. And I know the effects of ageing. His play is declining. He has to worry. In the current form, he would have enormous problems against (Magnus) Carlsen and Levon Aronian.
Do you mean to say Anand could be in trouble during the next world championship? After all, Carlsen and Aronian are expected to play...
He has to step up. His position in chess history is absolutely assured. He is a great player. Can he find extra energy for the next time? We’ll see. The monkey is off the back now. Maybe, it will free him up. When I saw him in Moscow, I thought he was very tense. He looked to be thinking, ‘If I win, big deal. And if I lose, I got everything to lose’. This is not the right attitude. I understand how these things come. I understand the ageing process. You need a different attitude if you are going to stay at the top.
Garry Kasparov had said that for the first time, the world championship wouldn’t determine the strongest player of the world. Do you agree?
Garry is fond of making extravagant pronouncements. I’m not sure whether it was the first match like this. Both these guys deserved to be playing the championship — Anand as the defending champion and Gelfand as the guy who got there. If you watch Wimbledon, it is not always the top two seeds that play the final.
He also said Anand is going downhill? Do you agree?
That’s what I’ve been saying. That is self-evident.
How do you think history will treat Anand?
In a very positive light! Not in the same league as Kasparov or Bobby Fischer, but he is right up there as a very, very important figure. He has clearly secured his place in chess history. He is one of the greats. There is no doubt about that.