The trophy had been polished, the tablecloths at the Bonn Hilton had been starched ready for the closing banquet and journalists were jostling for Tuesday interview slots with the soon-to-be new World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand.
The television cameramen had turned up in droves, many fresh off the plane from India. The Hindu, the dominant English-language newspaper in Anand’s home town of Chennai, had its front page story and photo ready to go as soon the formality known as the tenth game was concluded.
Only one person seemed unaware that the World Chess Championship was supposed to be all over — Vladimir Kramnik.
The 33-year-old Russian had come from behind in his two previous world title matches but trailing by three points with three games to play was surely too much. Not having won a game so far in the 2008 contest, Kramnik could not hold off the Indian challenge to his world match title any longer.
Russian or Soviet born players have held the top chess title for all but three years of the past 70 — Bobby Fischer interrupting the sequence — but that era seemed to be coming to an end.
Yet on Monday Kramnik played as if he was the one three points ahead, demolishing his bemused opponent in only 29 moves. It was a perfect game by Kramnik, the masterpiece which ‘The Painter’ must long have dreamed of creating.
“I didn’t have to do anything and the position was winning,” Kramnik mused.
At the post-game press conference 38-year-old Anand seemed in a daze. He was unable to identify where he had gone wrong and in answering one question even seemed to forget that the Festival of Diwali was about to begin.
Kramnik accepted that he remained the underdog.
“I am just happy that I play one more game,” the Russian said when asked about his chances in the match.
“I will try to play well — it is better not to think about what my chances are. Still I know they are less than 50%!”
Could Anand, leading 6-4, lose the match from here?
Three days earlier Anand had admitted to nerves as the title he has long dreamed of drew closer but now those nerves must be tinged with fear. Anand has world knock-out, tournament and rapid titles on his CV but his only previous challenge for the world match title — against Garry Kasparov in 1995 — ended in collapse after losing a dramatic tenth game.
To allow Kramnik to force the match to tiebreakers Anand would have to lose three games in a row — something he has never done since becoming a Grandmaster. However Anand does have a number of meltdowns on his record, including throwing away a World Championship semi-final when two up with three to play.
In contrast to the first half of the contest, Kramnik is playing great chess while Anand has lost his mojo. With one day to recover psychologically before the next battle, the odds are still on an Indian victory, but Kramnik has shown that he won’t give up the title he has held since beating Kasparov in 2000 without a fight.
Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defence
After Kramnik had adopted Anand’s opening clothes in yesterday’s game, today Anand used a defence which had been Kramnik’s territory in this match.
15.c4 works out well for White.
A ridiculously subtle new move.
“Even top players have trouble understanding these positions,” Kramnik confessed.
“There are a lot of nuances — one piece here or there completely alters the position.”
“It looks as if I lost [time] with my Be3-f4-e3,” said Kramnik, “but I have managed to get Black’s pawn to e5 and his pieces are not coordinating well.”
“I probably should have played 22…Nc4 23.Qa6 Nxe3 24.Rxe2 Nxg2 25.Kxg2,” said Anand, “although then I am slightly worse.”
“I think that Vishy was not prepared to suffer [to earn a draw] in this game,” said commentator Artur Yusupov.
“He has outmanouevred me,” Anand admitted.
“I realised it was incredibly difficult, but I don’t really know what to do.”
“Now I [understood] that Black was not in time to blockade on c4,” said Anand.
Desperation. Anand did not say what he had missed, but it may have been something simple like 26…Rc7 27.Rxb6!
Even 26…Nc4 27.Rb7 loses a knight for Black.
An early resignation but Anand realised that after 29.Qd6 Bf7 (On 29…Nxc3 30.Re7 wins the bishop.) 30.Qb4 his knight is completely trapped and material loss cannot be avoided, e.g. 30…Qc6 31.Rd1 Rd8 32.Rxd8+ Rxd8 33.Rxa7 and Black’s cause is hopeless.
Watch the game (soundtrack is Fighback — the DJ Polique Club mix — by Raptile) here: