Rating favourite Boris Gelfand of Israel has earned nearly decisive lead after defeating Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine in the first game of the semifinals of the World Chess Cup.
The other semi-final game between Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine and Vladimir Malakhov of Russia ended in a draw without much action, leaving the scores tied after the first game.
Gelfand had been involved in a lot of tie-breakers in the preceding rounds but in the semis he was a man on a mission.
The most important aspect of his victory was the fact that it came with black pieces and now in the return game he will have the advantage of playing white and will need just a draw to qualify for the summit clash.
Ponomariov surprised everyone going for a Bishops opening that transposed to an Italian game in quick time. At top level chess this variation is a very infrequent visitor as black gets nice play but the Ukrainian former world champion had his reasons, Gelfand would have gone for the Petroff defense, a rock solid opening by consent these days.
However, with the advantage of hindsight, many experts agreed that it was not a good choice by Ponomariov as Gelfand got a fine position out of the opening and nurtured it well in the middle game.
An eye-catching rook lift by the Israeli left Ponomariov gaping and after the dust settled Gelfand’s rook had dominating position on the board.
A pawn sacrifice followed soon after and all black pieces were in pursuit of the white king. Ponomariov defended the assault at the cost of a handful of pawns but the result of the game was never in doubt as Gelfand completed the formalities in quick time.
Ponomariov took his chances against a solid Chabanenko Slav by Malakhov who played black.
The Ukrainian holds the distinction of being the youngest ever world champion, winning the title in 2001-02 ahead of Viswanathan Anand in a similar knockout format, but in the first game of Semis he did not show much inclination towards a bloody battle.
The game continued on known territories and Malakhov equalised without much ado in the resulting middle game. A heap of exchanges followed leading the game to a level double Bishops endgame where the draw was a just result.