Rakesh Rao

CHESS / Russian media flooded with questions

BONN: Even as Viswanathan Anand prepares to give a grand Deepavali gift to Indians all over the world, crestfallen Russians are looking for reasons to justify Vladimir Kramnik’s impending debacle.

Brilliance

In sharp contrast to the expectations of a close contest, Anand’s brilliance has turned the World chess championship match into a mismatch. Leading 5.5-2.5 with four games to go, Anand needs to win once more or remain unbeaten in two games to retain the title he won ahead of Kramnik and six others last year.

Saturday’s rest day could well have been the last, since the finale is possible on any of the next two days.

With each of the three victories for Anand, the Russian newspapers, websites, television and radio following the match, were flooded with questions from die-hard Kramnik fans wondering what really was wrong with their hero.

“Are the conditions in Bonn okay for Kramnik? Did he choose the right team of ‘seconds’? Is he physically fit for the contest?” Several more differently worded questions, but all seeking an answer to Kramnik’s “shocking” non-performance.

No leeway

But the truth of the matter is, Anand has just not allowed Kramnik to perform beyond a point. If Kramnik came prepared to fight, Anand just did not let him.

For a challenger, Kramnik got the best of conditions for the match.

He got the venue of his choice, an equal share of the €1.5 million of prize-fund, and more importantly, in case of a tie, a series of short-duration tie-break games.

Until 2006, when Kramnik and Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov played the tie-breaker in a title-match, the champion was allowed to keep the title in case of a tie.

As a Russian journalist said on condition of anonymity, “The match is proving to be a complete tragedy for Russians, both on and off the board. In addition to the Russian chess lovers and Kramnik fans, even the corporate sector back home is not too pleased. Gazprom, the premier Russian company that is also the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, is the co-sponsor of the match.

Optimistic of Kramnik bringing back the world title, Eurocement, a multinational which figures among the top-eight cement producing companies of the world and patronises chess in a big way in Russia, became his personal sponsor for the match.

“So in terms of finances, Kramnik had no worries at all. He could pick the best of players as ‘seconds’.

But it is quite clear that Kramnik and his team have not done their homework well.

Going by Kramnik’s body language, too casual at times, it seems he did not take Anand as seriously as he should have. Just look at Anand, he looks so focussed and keen to win.

“We Russians have to accept that Kramnik has not played good chess here. That’s the bitter truth,” he said.

The difference

Woman Grandmaster Elmira Mirzoeva, here for Russian television and radio, says, “Anand’s choice of openings and the novelties have made the difference. Kramnik is yet to play a single new move. If he had plans to use his novelties in the second half, I feel it is way too late now.”

As things stand, unless Kramnik manages to win for a change, the most dramatic phase of the match appears over.

Will Anand choose to preserve the lead to the finish, or come up with a telling parting shot on Sunday itself, is the only point of interest.

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