On Friday, Vishwanathan Anand played his round 5 match against Ukraine’s Ruslan Ponomariov and even as the game ended in a draw; Anand led the competition with 11 points. On the nearby table Levon Aronian desparately needed a win against Spain’s Vallejo Pons to remain in contention at the Bilbao Masters. But Vallejo was a hard nut to crack and Aronian had to disappointingly settle for a draw. That took Aronian’s score to 7 points from one victory and 4 draws. The day 5 results made the sixth and the last round matches inconsequential for Vishy Anand, since even the defeat by Aronian could not dislodge him from his no.1 standing. Thus on day 5 itself; it was confirmed that Anand would become the new champion at the Bilbao Chess Masters Finals. Though the tournament organizers will officially announce it tomorrow after Round 6, Anand has already emerged the winner to record his first triumph at Bilbao in the past four appearances.
The match between Anand and Ponomariov was a close affair. The Ukrainian put his heart into the game and made things tough for the celebrated Indian. The two players spent considerable time checking each other’s moves in a fierce battle. Anand was relaxed but Ponomariov’s reputation was at stake. He wanted a win here to finish with some credit. The two heavyweights exchanged a number of pieces from the board and attacked each other incessantly. From a Ragozin Defense, the players reached an identical pawn structure as in Anand-Vallejo game in the previous round, except that the middle-game position was roughly equal. Instead of going for a kill, Anand decided to secure a draw. The game finally ended after 41 moves in a Queen’s Gambit Declined. At the end, Anand could enhance his tournament tally only by a solitary point. Regardless, 11 was a formidable score since Aronian couldn’t win his match either.
Before the Friday’s game, Ponomariov stood at the third place in the four-player Bilbao tournament. For him victory against Anand and in the next match against Vallejo was required to finish at the joint top, if Aronian also defeated Anand on the last day. That would have been an intriguing situation for the tournament with three guys finishing on 10 points each. But since Ponomariov drew with Anand, he went out of the reckoning straightaway. For the Ukrainian, the only way to finish second will depend on his beating Vallejo in the sixth round coupled with Anand’s victory over Aronian. Such speculative theories have now ceased to exist.
Anand’s cause got a boost as the tournament’s top seed, Levon Aronian who had 6 points before Friday, ended up drawing his game against Spain’s Vallejo Pons. The Spaniard now occupies the lowest spot in the points table. If Aronian had beaten Vallejo, all he needed to do was to beat Anand on Saturday and successfully defend his title. But that didn’t happen as Vallejo played a spirited game against the reigning champion and extracted a draw.
Suddenly the tournament was already decided! Due to the football scoring system adopted in Bilbao, Anand’s three wins and two draws are good for a four-point lead over Levon Aronian, who has scored four draws and one win. After the two draws today Anand has secured the victory, while in the classical system Aronian could still have finished in shared first place by beating Anand in the final round. On Saturday, Anand lost for the first time in the tournament. It didn’t hurt for two reasons; one the Indian was already so comfortably ahead that Aronian’s win would not matter and the second reason was that losing to Aronian was not painful as the Armenian is one amongst the best chess players in the world today. But victory in this tournament was crucial for Anand as this happened to be his last competitive fixture before the rematch of last year’s World Chess Championship against Magnus Carlsen at Sochi.