Amidst the prevailing gloom of the tumbling Sensex, the launch of Chandrayaan-1 was the only good news for Indians this week. By Diwali, however, they may have another, that of Viswanathan Anand retaining the World Championship crown. Leading 5.5-2.5 after eight games in the 12-game clash, Anand needs only a point to reach the unbeatable tally of 6.5 points.
The 38-year-old Grandmaster looks set to become the first player to win the World Championship in three different formats, barring a miraculous escape by Vladimir Kramnik, who has to win three of the last four games. Anand won the title in the knockout format in 2000 and in tournament style last year.
Miracles do happen, but the Russian's poor form and Anand's superior preparation reduce the chances of a fairytale comeback. The question is whether the Indian will try to close with a flourish by winning the ninth game with white pieces or play out two draws to bring a quiet, anti-climatic end to the contest that has amazed the chess world with its one-sided nature thus far.
Wins in the third, fifth and sixth games have put Anand in a position where he can sit back and let Kramnik take the risk. He can then counter-attack by choosing sharp, tactical lines in which the Russian has been found wanting.
Kramnik has to give it his all and hope to win the remaining four games to upstage his rival or at least win three and force a tiebreak. But he does not look fit to script such a miracle. Kramnik did not get good positions in the first seven games and when he did get a superior position in Friday's eighth game, he could not force a victory as Anand defended superbly.
Will he be able to summon the spirit that helped him fight back from the brink against Peter Leko in 2004's Classical World Championship final and level scores 7-7 by winning the final game? The ninth game will provide an answer.
Anand back at the top of world rankings
As he inched closer to the title, Anand got some more good news. He was back at the top of the World rankings by virtue of his unbeaten streak at the end of the eighth round of the 12-game match against Vladimir Kramnik.
Anand has gained 13.6 ELO from three wins and five draws in the match and has overtaken Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov, according to the website http://chess.liverating.org that compiles changes in the rankings after every game. Anand now has an ELO of 2796.6 and leads Topalov (2791) by five. Kramnik retains his sixth position despite losing 13.6 ELO. Topalov had topped the official quarterly rankings issued by FIDE early this month with Anand at fifth place with a rating of 2783.