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WHILE THE projected Kasparov vs Anand "Ultimate World Championship" match later this year (of which we still await exact details) should be a fine contest, there's still great sympathy, which I share, for Alexei Shirov.

Fifth he may be on the July 1999 rating list on "just" 2,734, but Shirov's match record in the last year or so has been second to none, commencing with the superb 5.5-3.5 victory against Kramnik last June which earned him a title match with Kasparov, lost by the disintegration of the World Chess Council (WCC).

Since then he has slaughtered the strong Czech grandmaster Zbynek Hracek 5-1 last November and now looks well set against the formidable Judit Polgar - who led him 11.5-6.5 (apart from rapidplay, which Shirov led 3.5-0.5) prior to the match - having won both the first two games before the rest day on Tuesday.

Originally it was Kasparov himself, winner of the first Eurotel match in Prague last year against Jan Timman, who was due to play Polgar. But, in some recompense for the imbroglio, last year he passed the opportunity on. And, while this battle with Judit for a prize fund of $100,000 hardly measures up to the title match with Kasparov for a total of $1.9m originally promised, it has furnished Shirov with a further opportunity to demonstrate his particular prowess.

It's interesting to speculate why a player who, after all, isn't a drawish "low scorer", should be so particularly good at match play, and one reason may be his especially demanding style. In tournaments the strain is distributed among all his rivals but in match play one opponent takes it head-on and so far they've been buckling.

On Tuesday, I analysed Shirov's splendid win as White in game one. Game two was less inspired, but still mighty impressive.

One of the great secrets of match play is choosing the right opening at the right moment. Shirov seldom plays the French, generally preferring various Sicilians and complex lines of the Ruy Lopez, and Judit seemed surprised. Indeed, the game followed very similar lines to Morozevich's victory as Black against Topalov at Sarajevo in May - though Topalov played 13 h5 and Judit never moved the h pawn past h4. Shirov seized the initiative with 25 ...Rc4! and after 30 ...Ra8! it was already all over.

White: Judit Polgar

Black: Alexei Shirov

French Defence

1 e4 e6

2 d4 d5

3 Nc3 Nf6

4 e5 Nfd7

5 f4 c5

6 Nf3 Nc6

7 Be3 cxd4

8 Nxd4 Bc5

9 Qd2 0-0

10 0-0-0 a6

11 h4 Nxd4

12 Bxd4 b5

13 Rh3 b4

14 Ne2 a5

15 Qe3 Qc7

16 Bxc5 Nxc5

17 Nd4 a4

18 Kb1 a3

19 b3 Ba6

20 Bxa6 Rxa6

21 Qe1 Rb6

22 c3 Qb7

23 Rc1 Ne4

24 cxb4 Rxb4

25 Rd3 Rc4!

26 Rxc4 dxc4

27 Rd1 Nc5

28 Qc3 Qxg2

29 b4 Nd3

30 Qxa3 Ra8!

31 Rxd3 cxd3

32 Qxd3 Qxa2+

33 Kc1 Qa1+

34 Kd2 Rd8

35 Ke3 Qe1+