MOSCOW - Just one week has passed since the first game for the title of chess world champion between Viswanathan Anand of India and Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand, and we are already almost halfway through. On Thursday, the two men drew for the fifth consecutive time, leaving the direction of the tournament undetermined as the score tied at 2.5-2.5.
Anand was close to winning only one game, but he missed his opportunity in uncharacteristic fashion for someone who has spent over two decades at the top of the chess world.
One thing is for sure - Gelfand's team of assistants did an amazing job of preparing him for the match. In none of the three games in which Anand has played white has the champion managed to emerge from the opening with an advantage. He even trailed shortly in the first game.
Gelfand almost suffered a meltdown in Game 3, but that stemmed from a mistaken assessment of his position and not from a lack of preparation at home, and he still managed to pull out a draw.
It was much more difficult for him and his assistants to prepare for Anand than it was for the world champion's team to prepare for his challenger. Anand has had a much more varied set of openings throughout his career than Gelfand, and trying to guess his thought process and his variations takes a lot more time.
On Thursday, in Game 5, for example, Anand opened with his king's pawn, something that barely exists in the repertoire of the Israeli grand master. Despite the challenge, Gelfand looked optimally prepared and Anand did not have a chance of gaining the advantage.
From here on out, each of the remaining seven games will be considered decisive, particularly Friday's and Sunday's matches. Gelfand will play white both times, and it will be his chance to put the pressure on Anand, who in the meantime seems far from being at the top of his game and actually appears rather burned out. While Gelfand failed to present his opponent with any serious challenges while playing white, his heart was fully in the game.
It's entirely possible that instead of a Slavic defense, we will see something more daring from the challenger, even at the risk of his losing. At the end of the day, if Gelfand doesn't take any chances, he won't drink the Champagne.
Russians glued to game
Why should Russian chess fans be interested in a match between an Indian and an Israeli? Clearly, they have their reasons. On Thursday, the weather was great - 26 degrees Celsius and not at all humid. It was a perfect time to go to the parks and lakes, to breath in the fresh air and enjoy ice cream. Yet half an hour before the game, the Tretyakov Gallery was packed to the limit.
Several chess websites crashed on Thursday because they had so many visitors. Organizers say the official site enjoys 200,000 unique visitors per day.
Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev says the interest in Russia is enormous. He says the press conference he participated in was overflowing, with cameras everywhere. The plethora of politicians at the opening ceremony signals the extreme importance of the match, he says, adding that he has been to all four world championship matches held in Russia and has never seen as much interest as in the current one.
Bareev says there is no telling when the first victory will come, but that at this level the chances of a stalemate are about 75 percent. He notes that Gelfand and Anand have played each other some 50 times over the last 20 years. While the world champion is ranked higher, Bareev says the general feeling is that Gelfand's game is more stable and he manages to break out from time to time. While Anand played the last game more to his liking, Bareev says he is not necessarily the favorite because his game seems to have slipped more than Gelfand's has.
People here who know both competitors well say Gelfand's steadier nerves could defeat the champion, who has become less impulsive over the years but is still far from perfect on this point. One organizer said that while she should be completely objective, she's dying to see Gelfand crowned world champion, adding that a lot of people here, not only in Israel, feel the same way.
The next match, with Gelfand playing white, begins on Friday at 2:00 P.M., Israel time.
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