Rakesh Rao

BONN: After half a year preparations, filled with anxious moments, champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Vladimir Kramnik began their much-awaited 12-game battle for the World chess title with a 32-move draw at the Art and Exhibition Hall’s auditorium here on Tuesday.

After the National anthems of India and Russia were played, in that order, Kramnik, playing with white pieces, faced Anand’s Slav Defence, a variation of the better-known Queen’s Gambit Declined.

No surprises

The opening did not offer any great surprise since the two have played on similar lines, if not precisely the same variation, on a few occasions in their past 127 meetings in all time-formats of the game.

True to his reputation, Kramnik chose a safe, solid line that did not invite Anand to use his tactical prowess. The positional battle saw the queens go off the board by the 16th move. Soon, Anand chose to sacrifice a pawn on the queen’s side. As a result, though Anand had a lone pawn against the two connected pawns of Kramnik on the queen’s side, the position looked quite balanced.

But the sequence of exchanges continued even after Anand had recovered the queenside pawn and reached a position where both sides had equal material on the board. Eventually, the peace was signed when the players were left with a bishop and three pawns each.

Interestingly, the two first played this variation at Groningen in 1993 and the game ended in a draw in just 11 moves. Four years later, in Belgrade, Anand foxed Kramnik in 42 moves after deviating from the previously played line.

In fact, the encounter was the 17th between the two players and the victory helped Anand level their head-to-head record at 2-2 in classical form of chess.

Earlier on Tuesday, Anandwas given the honour of being the first to be called to the table.

Tense

Anand looked a little tense and appeared so all the way till the game got underway. Kramnik, who smiled more to hide his nervousness, tested his degree of recline offered by this chair. Within minutes of the start, with the game just five moves old, Kramnik’s coat was off and he settled down for the long battle ahead. As it turned out, the opener ended in three hours.

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