St. Petersburg (Russia): World champion Viswanathan Anand was held to a draw by Russian Peter Svidler but rose up to the joint second spot after the eighth and penultimate round of Alekhine Memorial Chess tournament here. On what turned out to be an off-day in office after a couple of remarkable victories with white pieces, Anand could do little against Svidler who had things under control for the most part of the game despite playing black.
The Russian did not let his position slip in any way to earn an easy draw. Maxime Vachier-Lagraev was in for a surprise as he was taken to task by Nikita Vituigov of Russia and the Frenchman suffered his first loss in the tournament after being very close to annexing the title.
Vachier-Lagraev's loss was a big gain for Boris Gelfand of Israel who became the sole leader after drawing with Vladimir Kramnik of Israel. In other games of the day, Laurent Fressinet recovered after a shattering loss at the hands of Anand in the previous round and drew with world number three Levon Aronian of Armenia while Ding Liren of China signed peace with Michael Adams of England.
With just one round to come, the tournament is set for an exciting finale. Gelfand leads the field but is set to play with Anand in the final round. It may be recalled that Israel had lost to Anand in the last World Championship match held in Moscow in May last year.
With Gelfand on five points out of a possible eight, Vachier-Lagraev, Anand, Michael Adams and Levon Aronian are in close pursuit of the leader just a half point behind and they are followed by Vituigov and Fressinet now who have four points apiece. Finding himself in an unusual eighth spot is world number two Kramnik on 3.5 points, half a point ahead of Ding Liren who in turn is a half a point ahead of the last-placed Svidler.
Anand enjoys a great record against Svidler as white but on this day the Russian had worked his opening well. The closed Ruy Lopez by the Indian ace only resulted in a level position after Svidler successfully exchanged minor pieces at regular intervals. Anand had an extra pawn which was always under the hammer and once that went off the board the result was anyone's guess. The peace was signed in just 35 moves.
Vachier-Lagraev lost with white going for an overambitious approach against Vituigov. The French Grandmaster had been the pick of the tournament thus far but closely fought events like these can turn the tables upside down in almost no time. As it happened, Vituigov got a fighting position out of the Advanced variation in the Caro Kann defense and pounced on his chances even as the pieces changed hands in the middle game. In the end, the queen and knight combination left Vituigov with a won endgame as he successfully carved a checkmate web.
Kramnik enjoyed material advantage against Gelfand for a long time but failed to convert it to a full point as the Israeli came up with a stern defense. The game was drawn after 73 moves. After a pounding at the hands of Anand, Fressinet played it safe against Aronian while Ding Liren liquidated in a drawn endgame against Adams.
Results round 8: V Anand (Ind, 4.5) drew with Peter Svidler (Rus, 2.5); Vladimir Kramnik (Rus, 3.5) drew with Boris Gelfand (Isr, 5); Maxime Vachier-Lagraev (Fra, 4.5) lost to Nikita Vituigov (Rus, 4); Ding Liren (Chn, 3) drew with Michael Adams (Eng, 4.5); Laurent Fressinet (Fra, 4) drew with Levon Aronian (Arm, 4.5).