I should perhaps make clear that I am not really blaming the players. They are just reacting to the circumstances they find themselves in, and are doing what they think they have to do, to have the best chance of winning the match. Likewise, nor do I give any credence to the squawkings of the obnoxious Silvio Danailov and his ilk, who claim that all would be rosy, if only the match organisers had imposed the infamous "Sofia rules", to prevent early draw agreements. Having Sofia rules in place for the first two games in Moscow would have forced the players to play another 20 or so moves, before agreeing a draw, but all that would have meant was two largely contentless 40-move games, instead of two largely contentless 20-move games.
It is true that the shortness of the match contributes to the problem, by making the players even more cautious than they would otherwise be. With so few games, a player cannot afford to risk even one loss. In this context, it amused me yesterday to read a defence of the Moscow match, on the Chess Vibes site. This started off with the claim that:
What’s the best and most unique thing about chess? Of course it’s the fact that we have long lasting world championship matches.
Actually, of course, we don't have long-lasting matches any more! Therein lies part of the problem. But even that is only a small factor. The real problem lies elsewhere.
That problem is that computers are killing the game. They have already killed correspondence chess, in all but name, and now classical chess is heading down the same twilight path to oblivion. The computer is now so powerful, that it becomes impossible to out-prepare another top player in the opening. In pre-computer days, Kasparov could analyse so much better than the other top GMs, that he could routinely uncork novelties that refuted entire opening variations. Nowadays, though, that is just impossible - everybody is analysing the same opening lines, using the same powerful computers and programs. As a result, everybody is coming to the board, with much the same opening preparation, with the result that nobody can get a serious opening advantage any more.
Imagine the following experiment. Lock Anand and myself in separate flats, for a week, on our own, to analyse a certain opening variation. Even if I work every bit as hard as Anand, or even harder, at the end of the week, he will have analysed the line much better than me - he sees tactics faster, his positional judgement is better, etc. There will be a large gap in the quality of the analysis we each produce.
But now repeat the experiment, only this time, give each of us a powerful laptop and the latest version of Rybka. By the end of the week, Anand's analysis will still be better than mine, but I can assure you that the gap will be very much smaller, especially if the line we are analysing is something fairly sharp and tactical. Despite the enormous disparity in talent and ability between myself and Anand, if I put in the work, and use the computer fully, he is not going to be able to out-analyse me to any huge extent, thanks to the levelling effect of the computer.
And this is the crux of the problem in world championship matches. There, we are talking about a very small disparity in strength between the players, which makes the problem even greater. Against me, even if Anand gets nothing from the opening, he will still be able to outplay me over the board, and win, but he cannot do that to a top-class GM, who is only marginally weaker than himself anyway. If he gets nothing from the opening, he will have huge trouble beating a player like Gelfand, and vice versa. The result is a whole series of effectively contentless games, where the players are just checking each other's computer-aided preparation. Once in a while, they will hit on a gap, and get some advantage, but most of the time, there will just be what we have already seen in Moscow - 15-20 moves of preparation, 4-5 more accurate moves, a dead position, and a draw.
So, what is the solution? Sadly, I don't think there is one, at least not without abandoning traditional chess, in favour of Fischer-Random, and I hardly know anyone in the chess world who wants to see that (I certainly don't). It grieves me to say it, but I think classical chess is in its last days.