Against All Odds

Israeli Boris Gelfand still holding his own against favored champ.

"Four to one odds? I'd put my money on Gelfand in a split second," said British chess grandmaster and coach Nigel Short of Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand.

And Short, himself a former competitor for the world title against the legendary Garry Kasparov, is not alone. While the bookies favor incumbent world champion Viswanathan Anand of India, Short's opinion seems to be the prevailing one in the press room of the World Chess Championship in Moscow.

With a third of the match over - four games so far - Gelfand has won the admiration of his fellow players and of his opponent. It is clear that Gelfand has not only done his homework, but that he is determined as well. He does not play like an underdog, as might be expected. Including Tuesday, he has drawn four times - twice playing black.

"Four draws. The match is just developing. We are just probing each other," Anand said at a press conference after the game.

Anand is one of the most brilliant people ever to master the game of chess, and every player at the world-class level, including all the past world champions - Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov among them - has felt the power of his game.

But Gelfand is holding his own. He surprised his opponent in the first game, winning himself a preferred spot. The game ended in a draw only because time ran out. In the second game, Anand had to be extremely precise in order to avoid giving Gelfand an opening. That game also ended in a draw. In Game 3, Gelfand's opponent was pressed for time - itself a rare occurrence - and couldn't find a way to win, thanks to an innovation by Gelfand that made the Tiger of Madras sink deeply into thought.

Tuesday's game started as a repeat of Game 2 with a Slav defense, until Gelfand deviated, leading to a flurry of exchanges. Gelfand had a slight advantage but did not risk stretching himself too far. He tried advancing his bishop but Anand correctly countered.

After four draws, the two seem to be evenly matched, regardless of who is labeled underdog or defending champion.