Anand well set to defend his crown

Viswanathan Anand is taking on Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine in a four-game semi-final at the World Chess Championships, the first of which has ended in a draw.

updated: February 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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Barring a hiccup in the first round, it has been a smooth sailing so far for defending champion Viswanathan Anand in the World Chess Championships so far. After a shock defeat at the hands of rookie Olivier Touzane of France in the first game of the first round, the Indian maestro has gained in strength with each round and is now involved in a four-game semi-final with Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, their first of which has ended in a draw. After the second rest day today, Anand will have the advantage of white pieces in the second game tomorrow and is likely to go all out for the victory. By entering the semi-finals, Anand earned a rare distinction of reaching this far thrice in as many attempts in the knock out format of the World Championship ever since its inception in 1997. In the first edition, Anand made it to the final but lost to the eventual winner - former champion Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov of Russia - in the rapid tiebreak games. Karpov was fresh at that time of the match as he did not have to go through the rigorous knockout format, being seeded to the final straight, whereas Anand had begun his victories from the second round and defeated a few formidable opponents on his way to the final. Speaking about the format of the World Championship that time Anand had said it was like asking to do a hundred meters dash to an athlete who had just completed a marathon. Anand gave the next World Championship at Las Vegas a miss, and Grandmaster Alexander Khalifman of Russia was the winner that year. In the next edition however, Anand was remorseless against each opponent and accomplished the feat of winning a World Championship without a single loss for the first time. Since then FIDE, the World Chess Federation, has changed the format and the time controls twice already and has not found many takers among the players who support the changes in the time controls. Last year in the world Championship at New Delhi, quite a few players started their campaign in the World Championship from the second round but this year even defending champion Anand had to fight it out from the start. The time control last year was two hours for the first forty moves, one hour for the next twenty and half an hour sudden death thereafter. This time however there is a big change. FIDE first came to the consensus that it will be one hour and fifteen minutes for the first 40 moves with thirty seconds added after every move and thereafter twenty minutes each with similar additions but lately changed it to 90 minutes per player with thirty seconds added after each move. The idea of course is to make the game more spectator friendly as many people find it boring to watch the games for seven hours at a stretch. And this year Anand has had a wonderful run so far having already left behind his dreadful loss to Touzane in the first game of the first round. After that game, Anand has not lost any games in either normal time controls or tiebreak and is looking as good as ever to stamp his superiority on the rest of the field. Ivanchuk is facing Anand for the first time in a World championship match and this is the first time that he is playing in a semi-final match of this stature. That there is pressure on him is evident and the way he played the first game yesterday is just an indication of that. Anand survived through his famous endgame technique after getting into an inferior position. Twelve days of the championship are over and Anand has played 11 games so far here. Ivanchuk on the other hand has been involved in rapid and Blitz play-offs and has played more games than Anand. His tiredness was quite apparent in yesterday's game. In all, if the odds are to be believed Anand holds at least an eighty percent chance of scaling over Ivanchuk who is also known for his nervousness. Should he get past Ivanchuk, Anand will play the winner of the match between Grandmaster Peter Svidler of Russia and Grandmaster Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine who are locked in the other semi-final. Ponomariov looks the favourite here having already beaten the likes of third seed Russian Grandmaster Alexander Morozevich and Grandmaster Evgeny Barrev with ease. (PTI)