Placed comfortably on top of the table with a half-point lead, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will enter the crucial phase of the Candidates chess tournament, taking on Peter Svidler on Friday after the second rest day.
From a great beginning to some cautious play, Anand, with four points from six games, leads his nearest contender Levon Aronian of Armenia by half a point.
It’s a closely-matched field as almost everyone except the lowest seed, Dmitry Andreikin of Russia, seems to be in the race to be the challenger for the next world championship match against Magnus Carlsen to be played later this year. The eight player double-round-robin tournament has seen a lot of excitement. There are no clear favourites as yet but surely, Anand has an edge thanks to his cushion.
The stakes are high as apart from a match against Carlsen, the winner will take home 1,35,000 Euros (a little over Rs 1 crore) as cash prize.
The Russian duo of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler, Bulgarian Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan follow Aronian, a half point behind on three points apiece, and all of them have reasons to fancy their chances as the tournament nears the completion of the first half.
Not far behind is Sergey Karjakin on 2.5 points, who can not only play the spoiler but also has it in him to pull a few victories to match the leaders.
Anand has been leading from day one. It was the day when Anand showed to the world that he is not finished yet. No one could have asked for a better start than a victory over Aronian. A draw with Topalov followed, with the Indian ace in absolute control and the third round saw an inspiring performance when Mamedyarov was crushed in all departments of the game.
Since then, however, Anand has adopted a cautious approach. In the fourth round, Kramnik played the Vienna variation and the Indian would have fancied his chances but the Russian showed better preparation and got an easy draw. Andreikin struggled a little in the fifth round but did not face many difficulties before drawing with the Indian and in the previous round, Sergey Karjakin suffered just momentarily before steering to safety.
If the first three games showed Anand in great spirits, the last three have dampened them a little. And the next two games will be most crucial as Anand meets both, Svidler and Aronian with black in the seventh and eighth rounds respectively. Should he come out unscathed in the next two, Anand will be a huge favourite.
After an insipid start that involved four draws and a loss, Topalov came back with a bang scoring over Kramnik in the previous round. The result changed many equations and Kramnik, who had looked almost invincible thus far, suddenly finds his position vulnerable.
It was a similar story for Svidler who had come up with some sterling chess till the fifth round. Had Svidler been on track, he would have had at least one point more till the fifth round itself. He lost the sixth round against Mamedyarov.
Kramnik crushed Karjakin in round two, missed a winning continuation against Aronian and got the easiest of draws with black against Anand. Things were shaping well till he met Topalov but he will have to do the hard work again.