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Indian chess master retains crown in world title match

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Indian Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand became the undisputed world chess champion Tuesday, defeating former titleholder Vladimir Kramnik by a score of 6 1/2 - 4 1/2 in their scheduled 12-game match in Bonn, Germany -- a result many saw as confirming a shift in the game's balance of power.

Mr. Anand, a 38-year-old native of Madras, India, easily achieved a draw with the white pieces in Tuesday's game to clinch the match. Mr. Kramnik tried a risky line in the Sicilian Najdorf defense but fell into an inferior position and offered the draw to his opponent after making his 24th move.

Known popularly as “Vishy,” Mr. Anand is considered a sporting hero in his native India. A wave of strong, young Indian players now competes on the elite international chess circuit.

The champion “is an icon of the country and nothing less then the excellence and talent of the young generation personified,” L.K. Advani, leader of the country's opposition BJP party, told the Times of India.

Mr. Anand, who was the world junior champion in 1987, is the first Indian to earn the international grandmaster title and the first Asian man to hold the world chess crown.

Russians and players hailing from the former Soviet Union monopolized the title from the end of World War II, with only American star Bobby Fischer briefly interrupting their reign in the early 1970s.

Asian women have also made a substantial mark on the game, with three of the last five women's world champions hailing from China.

Mr. Anand was the defending champion in the match against Mr. Kramnik, having won a 2007 elite tournament designed to end more than a decade of division in the game between rival claimants to the title.

But the Indian had never played a one-on-one match against the 33-year-old Mr. Kramnik, who took the title by upsetting fellow Russian Garry Kasparov in a match in London in 2000.

It was the only match loss ever for the now-retired Mr. Kasparov, whom many consider the greatest player ever. Mr. Anand lost a match for the world title against Mr. Kasparov in 1995, played on the top floor of the World Trade Center in New York.

Chess aficionados consider Mr. Kramnik and Mr. Anand the two best players of the post-Kasparov era. Mr. Anand is famous for his tactical skills and for his lightning analytical abilities, often winning games when he was younger while using just a fraction of two-hour-plus allotted to each player to calculate moves.

After two draws to open the Bonn match, Mr. Anand surged ahead with three wins in the next four games, including two wins with a tricky new opening variation he prepared for the black pieces.

Trailing by three points with three games to go, the Russian scored his first win in Monday's Game 10 in just 29 moves but was unable to break through Tuesday against Mr. Anand's solid play.

Because the match was considered in part a contest to make clear once and for all the rightful world champion, the two players will split the $1.93 million purse, according to FIDE, the international chess federation that organized the match.