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GARY KASPAROV maintained his hold on the supergrandmaster tournament in Linares on Wednesday, with a victory against Vassily Ivanchuk that kept a point and a half lead over Vladimir Kramnik, while Visw-anathan Anand dropped to third.

Normally a tornado with White and merely a strong gale with the Black pieces, Kasparov has in Linares almost completely reversed these roles, blowing away all four opponents in his Black games thus far - albeit after quite a lot of huffing and puffing in some - while exerting only a gentle breeze with White which has resulted in four draws after relatively mild unpleasantness, before he finally downed Ivanchuk.

After nine rounds and a rest day yesterday the scores are: Kasparov 7/9, Kramnik 5.5, Anand 5, Adams 4.5, Leko and Topalov 4 and Svidler and Ivanchuk 3. Today's round will test Kasparov's "Black strategy" as he faces Anand. The other pairings

are Ivanchuk vs Kramnik, Svidler vs Adams and Topalov vs Leko.

For those with an Internet connection, the games can be followed live (starting 2.30pm - 4.30pm Spanish time if I'm not mistaken) - go to twic.html and follow the links. There are six rounds left, with battle continuing till Wednesday 10 March.

The most interesting game on Wednesday was Topalov's heroic decision to meet Kramnik's Petroff with the ancient Cochrane Gambit 4 Nxf7!?, named after the Scot John Cochrane (1798-1878).

In return for the horse, White gets two central pawns and exposes the enemy king somewhat. The normal follow-up is 5 d4 when 5 ...c5 is supposed to be a good response, immediately challenging White's central hegemony. And although Topalov, rather unusually, played 5 Nc3, Kramnik decided to follow this recipe anyway.

The advantage of Topalov's move order became apparent when he replied 6 Bc4+ inducing 6 ...Be6 and the black king into the centre - a serious gain of time for White; a move earlier theory dismisses 5 Bc4+ owing to 5 ...d5! 6 exd5 Bd6! with quick development.

Both players were reluctant to lose time exchanging the c5 and d6 pawns and after Kramnik finally recaptured 11 ...dxc5 the material balance stabilised for the moment as two pawns for the piece.

Although Topalov got in f4 and e5, his position still looked rather ropey and 15 ...Nxe3 16 Qxe3 Be7 17 Ne4 g6 or 17 ...c4 was one possible improvement for Kramnik while 17 ...Qe6 also looks good. I think 21 ...Kh7 might have been better than 21 ...Rc8 since the strong 22 Qb6+ seemed to redress the balance. At the end 32 Rxc5 Ng3+ 33 Kh2 (not 33 Kf2 Ne4+) 33 ....Nf1+ is a forced repetition.

White: Veselin Topalov

Black: Vladimir Kramnik

Petroff Defence