He became an icon in his country when he qualified, at 44, to play for the most desirable title of chess, the World Championship.
When most of the people predicted that his effort would be disappointing, he managed to draw the series of 12 classical games and, only in a tight tie-break, lose to his opponent Anand.
His passion for chess started early, when he got a book from his dad, at 4, in Belarus, where he was born. The book was written by Averbakh, called “Journey to the Kingdom of Chess”.
He studied in the talents school of the famous former World Champion GM Tigran Petrosian, whom he knew personally. “I remember Petrosian telling me: ‘never make a move without an idea! Even in blitz games, think!’”, he recalls. Later, moved to Israel, where he lives with his wife Maya and kids.
In the world’s top for more than 20 years and one of the most experienced and combative players of the recent times, winner of the Wijk aan Zee (1992), Biel (1992), Dos Hermanas (1994), Belgrade (1993 and 1995) and Pamplona (2004), apart from World Junior Championships.
Rádio Xadrez is proud to interview Israeli GM Boris Gelfand.
I think people nowadays are obsessed with getting on TV
RX: This year we had the visit of GM Judit Polgár in Brazil, playing a tournament where in the first two rounds each player had 15 minutes, then there were two rounds of 30 minutes KO and then 5 more rounds of 1 hour KO. Would you play this kind of event if you were invited?
BG: I would be glad to play in Brazil if it would fit my tournament schedule.
RX: What do you know about Brazil and Brazilian chess players? When are you coming to Brazil?
BG: I like to talk with Giovanni Vescovi and Gilberto Milos. They are very nice and cultured people. I had played with Giovanni 5 times. Once I spoke with Henrique Mecking. I’ve never been to Brazil and I would like to visit your country. I’ve heard a lot about its beautiful nature, unique culture, fine food and great football!
RX: Many people say that the only chance for chess to be on TV is to broadcast rapid or blitz matches. Do you think this is possible in the near future?
BG: I think people nowadays are obsessed with getting on TV. I’m certain that the modern technologies, especially internet, are extremely suitable for chess and the organizers should use them in a clever and effective way to promote chess around the globe and to give chess fans the best commentaries, lessons, opportunities to play each other etc.
RX: Do you have a Twitter or Facebook account?
BG: No, I prefer to spend my time on chess preparation and with my family.
RX: Is there a special game for you?
BG: It is hard to choose. Many of my best games were included into my book, published in English language in 2004. Since then I’ve played more interesting games. So I cannot say which is my favorite game.
Chess became more popular in Israel after the Match
RX: What do you think was missing in your play so that you could beat Anand?
BG: I think it was lack of precision in some decisive moments and lack of luck on tiebreak.
RX: Anand had offered a draw for you after his move a2-a3 in one of the games. You said that this move was not a very good one to offer a draw. What is a very good move to offer a draw?
BG: [In this game,] 25.Re1 was a better move [to offer a draw], as after 25.a3 I could keep on playing, even though without any chances to win the game.
RX: Is there still time to become a World Champion?
BG: Yes, sure.
RX (submitted by reader Renato Quintiliano): I was rooting to you in the match against Anand. I would like to know if you feel too much pressure in a match or if you are already used to it? And finally, I want to ask how you felt when you beat Anand, breaking a series of draws?
BG: Of course it was a nice feeling to win the 7th game in a style of my favorite player: Akiba Rubinstein. I hope this game will be studied by many fans. I had deeply annotated it for a few magazines.
RX (submitted by reader Daniel Ikejiri): Is chess popular in Israel? Are you an idol in your country or are you not well-known like Brazilian chess players?
BG: Chess became more popular in Israel after the Match. For example, the tie-break games were watched live by 10 percent of the population, including the Prime-Minister. All the news started with reports from the match. People often recognize me on the streets and wish me good luck. In more and more schools and even in the kinder gardens chess is an obligatory subject. Hopefully we can keep this momentum.
Kramnik and Aronian are the main trend setters
RX (submitted by reader Alberto Becker): At which point you felt you should take chess seriously? How was this decision to become a professional chess player?
BG: Actually, all the time I thought that chess had to become my profession. But after winning the Soviet Junior Championship in 1985 (ahead of Ivanchuk, among others) I realized that chess would be my profession.
RX (submitted by reader Vazken Proudian): Everyone remembers Fischer’s and Kasparov’s love affair with the Sicilian Najdorf. The last decade was heavily influenced by Kramnik’s main choices: the Berlin, the Catalan etc. What is, in your opinion, the trend for the next decade? Which openings are becoming fashionable, and why? Who are the trend setters today?
BG: I think that Kramnik and Aronian are the main trend setters and I also try to do it [set opening trends]. It is hard to predict which opening will become fashionable, as computers now intervene into [opening] preparation and make it possible to prepare any opening in a limited amount of time.
RX: You said that your match against Anand was like the match Barcelona-Chelsea, right? Do you frequently watch football? What do you think about Corinthians-Chelsea in the end of the year?
BG: Yes, I am a big football fan and even a member of FC Barcelona. I haven’t watched Corinthians for a long time. Due to the time difference, they show Brazilian football here in the middle of the night. But I know that Brazil has a lot of young geniuses like Neimar, Ganso etc, and a lot of stars returned to Brazilian league in the last years.
RX: You said, for Chess Vibes, that Lady Gaga would never be invited to sing in the Tretyakov Gallery and that chess is played in a prestigious museum like there. It’s only an example or you think that Lady Gaga is not a great singer? What kind of music do you listen to?
BG: Yes, I think that chess is part of a high culture and not the pop culture. For example, the great modern pianist Denis Matsuev has agreed to play at the opening ceremony of my match with Anand and it was a great pleasure and honor for us. I myself prefer to listen to classical music and rock.
I think that many people over-estimate the meaning of Elo-points
RX: You once said that for you is more interesting and important to have a fight with a great player rather than calculate how many Elo points you would keep or lose. It’s amazing! But there are many players who do not think so. Excessive security or not playing for victory is killing chess of high-level nowadays?
BG: I think that many people over-estimate the meaning of Elo-points. I don’t think this is the most important in chess. I think that playing a quality game is much more important than to earn some more points. But I cannot agree with the assertion that modern chess is being killed. I think that modern chess is much more variable and interesting than 20-30 years ago. Just because a lot of new players raised around the globe and more tournaments are played nowadays with a lot of fantastic games.
RX: You said that it’s impossible to have many real friends. Who are your real friends in chess?
BG: I think that Levon Aronian is my good friend. And hope that he thinks the same.
RX: Thank you so much for the interview, Boris.
BG: Thank you for your and your reader’s questions. I hope my answers will be interesting for Brazilian chess fans. Looking forward to visit Brazil and see you.