World champion Viswanathan Anand played out an easy draw with Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine to maintain a half point lead after the penultimate round in the Morelia-Linares chess tournament.
The draw came easy for Anand as Ivanchuk could not do much with his white pieces, and when Magnus Carlsen of Norway was also forced to split the point with Levon Aronian of Armenia it meant that the Indian ace went into the last round with a half point cushion and white pieces to back him.
Barring a disaster in the last round game against former World champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Anand is assured of at least a shared first place in the category-21 tournament and is likely to retain the title he won last year.
The impact that white pieces have in high level chess was quite evident when Anand was asked about prospects in the event with just one round to come.
"Tomorrow I have white, and at least I got all these games out of the way and I still keep my lead," Anand said after the draw.
While not much happened on the leading boards, Veselin Topalov kept his date with destiny after scoring a hard-fought victory over tail-ender Peter Leko of Hungary.
The Bulgarian, on 7 points, is a full point behind Anand, but still has a chance to emerge joint champion if he can have his way against the Indian ace.
The other game of the day was quite catastrophic for Latvian-turned-Spaniard Alexei Shirov, who simply missed an end game finesse in a level position and went down to Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan.
As Radjabov has a showdown with Carlsen in the final round, the victory helped him bolster the confidence no matter how it came.
With Anand on 8 points and Carlsen a half point behind, speculation amongst pundits is about who all are going to tie for the second spot if Anand draws and Carlsen is unable to force matters against Radjabov.
A likely scenario could be a clear second spot for Carlsen while Aronian and Topalov will share the third place.
Anand was in his usual equalising mood with black and achieved it easily against Ivanchuk in the Sozin variation employed by the latter.
A couple of pieces changed hands early in the game and a central breakthrough was enough to give Anand an easy game thereafter. The peace was signed in just 23 moves.
Carlsen played the Queen's Indian defense and it was a forced variation till move 19th that ensured on board. Even though the Norwegian teenager was an exchange down, he ensured of adequate compensation thanks to his finely placed knight in the heart of white's position. Aronian tried till move 28th before finally proposing the draw.
Radjabov was lucky when Shirov lost track of a well-analysed variation in the Sicilian Nazdorf. Taking advantage of the blunder, Radjabov trapped Shirov's rook in quick time and the rest was child's play.
Topalov was quite effective with his uncompromising style against Leko who hit another low in the tournament after a brief revival. Topalov was in command in the endgame arising out of a Ruy Lopez and nurtured his position well to win in 48 moves.
Results round 13: Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukr, 6) drew with V Anand (Ind, 8); Levon Aronian (Arm, 7) drew with Magnus Carlsen (Nor, 7.5); Veselin Topalov (Bul, 7) beat Peter Leko (Hun, 5); Teimour Radjabov (Aze, 6.5) beat Alexei Shirov (Esp, 5).
The moves: V Ivanchuk v/s V Anand
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. Bb3 Nc6 9. f4 Qc7 10. Kh1 O-O 11. f5 Nxd4 12. Qxd4 b5 13. fxe6 Bxe6 14. Bf4 Qc5 15. Qd3 b4 16. Ne2 d5 17. e5 Ne4 18. Be3 Qc7 19. Nf4 Qxe5 20. Bxd5 Bxd5 21. Nxd5 Rad8 22. Rad1 Bd6 23. Bf4 game drawn.