In 2012 Gelfand came within a whisker of becoming World Champion at the age of 43, only losing out to Viswanathan Anand on rapid tiebreaks. It would have been an extraordinary culmination to the career of a player who has often been an enigma. Despite his obvious talent – he claimed the Soviet Union Junior Championship as a 17-year-old and won a string of international tournaments in the early 90s – his overall haul of tournament victories is modest for such a long career, and he’s often found himself outside the Top 10 on the rating list. What distinguishes him, however, is his dedication to chess and total focus on what for him is the ultimate goal – the World Championship. Since winning the 1990 Interzonal qualifying tournament ahead of the likes of Ivanchuk, Anand, Short and Korchnoi he’s come close on numerous occasions, for instance in 1996 when he beat Vladimir Kramnik in a quarter-final match only to lose to Anatoly Karpov in the semi-final.
Boris struggled in the middle of his career precisely because the lack of a properly functioning World Championship system left him with limited opportunities. Nevertheless, he kept working, and his most recent success was a feat of truly heroic proportions, doing everything the hard way. He qualified for the Candidates Tournament in 2011 by winning the 2009 World Cup, where in consecutive matches he beat Polgar, Vachier-Lagrave, Jakovenko, Karjakin and Ponomariov. In the tournament that followed he went on to beat Mamedyarov, Kamsky and Grischuk. Although he fell at the final hurdle against Anand he acquired numerous fans, especially in Israel, his adopted homeland since 1998.
Gelfand’s performance in the 2013 Candidates Tournament in London was respectable, but there was a sense of a changing of the guard. Gelfand was the only player to lose both his games to Anand’s next challenger, Magnus Carlsen. A sign that Gelfand’s best days were over? Nothing of the sort! Later in 2013 he finished second on tiebreaks at the Alekhine Memorial and then scored perhaps the best tournament result of his career to win the Tal Memorial, half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen.