Person of day   -  24 JUNE 2020

BORIS GELFAND

BORIS GELFAND

Boris was born in Minsk in a family of typical Soviet intellectuals. He learned to play chess when he was four and he began attending chess class when he was six. His first teacher was his father, who analysed diagrams from a chess textbook with him. Boris quickly emerged as one of the outstanding students among his peers with a notable combinative style and an interest in the endgame.

Gelfand’s classical chess education began with a famous Belorussian trainer and theoretic Albert Kapengut. From 1980 to 1983, Boris studied at a school that was governed by Tigran Petrosian, the ninth world champion. 

Gelfand’s first major success was his victory at the Sokolskiy Memorial in 1983, when he was 15. Five years earlier, Garry Kasparov began his rise with victory at the same tournament. In that same year, he played in the Belorussian adult championship for the first time, and he won it in 1984 and 1985! Furthermore, he also won the Soviet juniors’ championship in 1985 and the European U20 championship in 1987. In 1988, he added the legendary Tournament of Young Masters of the USSR and a year later, Gelfand won a bronze medal in his first adult Soviet championship. In that same year of 1989, Boris was included in the Soviet national team, and he won the European team championship.  

The key tournament in Gelfand’s career was the qualifying event of the grandmasters’ association in Palma de Mallorca: Boris won, with 7,5 points out of 9, and earned the world’s acknowledgement. He obtained the title of grandmaster by jumping over a step: he never even had the time to formalise his title of master! In 1990, Boris was already a candidate, after he won the inter-zonal tournament in Manila and came second in his first super-tournament in Linares, where he trailed Kasparov by half a point. In that candidates’ match, Gelfand defeated Nikolic, but his path to the crown was interrupted by Nigel Short, who defeated the grandmaster 5:3 in 1991. 

In 1993, Gelfand became a candidate once again, after he won the inter-zonal tournament in Biel. After this, he defeated Adams 5:3 and Kramnik 4,5:3,5, but lost 3:6 to Karpov in the final. 

In the 1990s, Gelfand remained in the top ten players of the world. In 1998, Boris left Belarus for Israel, where he became a citizen. He continued to participate in super-tournaments and FIDE knockout world championships, but he remained in the shadows, unable to reach the very top. But it’s not Boris’ manner to give up; he continued to work hard and in 2007, he reached new heights. He defeated Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Gata Kamsky in qualifying matches, becoming de-facto the sole contender to Anand at the world championship in Mexico. In the end, however, Gelfand trailed the world champion by a point and split 2nd-3rdplaces with Kramnik. 

In 2009 in Khanty Mansiysk, the Israeli grandmaster won the FIDE World Cup, despite (or because of) the fact that he was the oldest participant in that tournament. Victory at the World Cup gave Gelfand the right to play in another Candidates Tournament, this time in Kazan. In the quarter-finals, Boris defeated Mamedyarov 2,5:2,5, in the tie-break of the semis he eliminated Kamsky 6:4 and in the final he vanquished Grischuk 3,5:2,5, thus winning the right to fight for the title of the world champion against Vishy Anand. The match, which took place in 2012 in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, was a bitter struggle: the main time finished with a draw, and in the tie-break, luck favoured the world champion. 

2013 brought Boris Gelfand new victories: he split 1stplace at the Alekhine Memorial and won the well-attended Tal Memorial a day before he turned 45, overtaking both incumbent world champion Vishy Anand and the future world champion Magnus Calrsen.  

Boris is known for his devotion to chess- a devotion that has not deteriorated with years. He is an exceptionally erudite man who can hold a conversation on any topic. According to M. Rodshtein, one of his younger assistants, Boris taught him a lot, both in chess and in life. Boris loves to read and prefers Russian prose. However, he does not watch films, as it considers it a useless activity. Nor does he have social media. Boris is a fanatic football fan, a supporter of Barcelona. Straight after his victory in Kazan, he went to London to watch Barca play Manchester United.

He is married and has two children.