“Are you returning from the World Chess Championship match?” asked a man in his early seventies as we got into the city bus on Tuesday night, discussing Game Six of the championship in which Viswanathan Anand beat Vladimir Kramnik again to take a 4.5-1.5 lead.
The question was asked in German and we could make out the meaning only by the word ‘schach’, which means chess in German.
“Who is leading? Kramnik?” he asked in broken English, realising that we didn’t understand German.
The old man was struck with disbelief when informed that Anand was leading by three points. He shook his head in dismay again as we got down from the bus at Popelsdorfers Platz, the stop near our hotel.
He was not the only one amazed by the way the match had progressed thus far. Even Viswanathan Anand would be surprised by his three-point lead at the halfway stage of this 12-game encounter.
Had anyone predicted such a lop-sided result at the start of the contest, Anand would have rubbished it, though he was always confident of his chances. Everyone, including the chess legend Garry Kasparov — who is closely following the matches — had predicted a close match with Kramnik as the favourite.
But the result thus far has proved that Anand has prepared incredibly well, while Kramnik has been in his comfort zone, avoiding sharp play, just like the way he himself had caught Kasparov off-guard in their Braingames World Championship match at London in 2000.
Though his position is not completely lost yet, as Kramnik has enough games to make a comeback and win the match, it would only be a miracle if he manages to do so going by his current form and standard of play. His compatriot and former World champion Anatoly Karpov said as much on Tuesday night, giving Kramnik only 20 per cent chance of winning this match.
Kramnik seems totally out of sorts, is bungling in tactical positions, looks short of ideas and has been outplayed by a player who is getting hungrier by the day. No one has seen Anand in such awesome form and uncompromising mood for years. In the last few years, he has been playing attacking but risk-free chess, slowly squeezing, bruising and cruising to victory.
The World Championship history is replete with stirring comebacks, none more amazing than Kasparov’s brilliant fight-back against Karpov in the 48-game marathon in 1985.
It is also not impossible to win three games out of six (or even less) in a World Championship. Karpov did this in 1986 against Kasparov, while Viktor Korchnoi won three games against Karpov in 1978.
Those efforts came in lengthy matches (more than 24 games) and eventually went in vain as both Karpov and Korchnoi lost the final.
Anand himself has lost from a two-game advantage.
That happened at Sanghi Nagar, near Hyderabad, in 1994 when the Indian Grandmaster led American Gata Kamsky by two points with four games to go in the World Championship quarterfinals and then incredibly lost the next two and the match in tie-breaker.
However, much water has flowed down the Rhine since 1994. Anand has matured and is far better prepared now and will, most probably, play safe in the next four games and go for draws. The match should last till then unless, of course, Kramnik goes for broke.