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Anand maintains slender lead

Monte Carlo: World Cup champion Viswanathan Anand maintained his slender lead with a clinical 1.5-0.5 victory over Hungarian Grandmaster Zoltan Almasi in the ninth round of the 12th Amber blindfold and rapid chess tournament here.

With two more rounds remaining in the 12-player double roundrobin tournament comprising one blindfold and one rapid game in each round, Anand (12) was half-a-point ahead of Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria and Linares champion Peter Leko of Hungary in the combined standings.

Defending champion Alexander Morozevich slipped to fourth spot after settling for a 1-1 draw with fellow-Russian Evgeny Bareev. Israeli Boris Gelfand was relegated to fifth position after losing to Russian Vladimir Kramnik 0.5-1.5.

Anand lost his top position in the rapid standings to Bareev. The Indian ace is slated to play the Russian in the next round and that could be his chance to regain the lead in this section.

Kramnik was back on top in the blindfold with a fine win over Gelfand who now shares the joint second place with Topalov in this section. Leko, Morozevich and Anand are in fourth.

Anand played a fine technical endgame to beat Almasi in the blindfold. The opening was a Berlin defence where Almasi was close to equalising on a few occasions but never quite there.

The routine exchanges led the game to a rook and bishop ending where black’s perennial problems in the pawn structure was exploited by Anand to perfection.

Almasi failed to restrict Anand from making a decisive headway on the kingside after allowing a pawn bind that left his bishop crippled. Anand penetrated the seventh rank with his rook and got two passed pawns to romp home in 93 moves.

Surprisingly, Almasi did not even try to stage a comeback with white in the rapid game. Anand opened with the Sicilian Anzdorf and had little trouble in securing the dynamic balance out of the English attack opted for by his opponent. Almasi settled for truce in just 20 moves.

Leko and Topalov scored maximum against Dutch Loek van Wely and Ukrainian Vasily Ivanchuk to come within striking distance of Anand.

Topalov was more impressive in his double-triumph over Ivanchuk. In the blindfold, the Bulgarian made merry after Ivanchuk allowed invasion of queen in his territory and ended up a pawn less after the dust settled.

In the rapid, Topalov won a piece after wild complexities and scored after a struggle.

Leko capitalised on an erroneous plan by Van Wely in the blindfold and turned the tables after struggling for some time in the middle game. In the return rapid game the Dutchman was gradually outplayed.

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