Indian chess champ braves volcano chaos to defend title

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Indy Lifestyle Online

World chess champion Viswanathan Anand will square off against his Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov in Sofia Saturday in a marathon final starting a day late due to Europe's volcano crisis.

Anand will take his seat for the first of 12 games after having had to travel by road from Frankfurt airport after being stranded there by the shutdown of Europe's airspace because of volcanic ash from Iceland.

The 40-year old grand master finally made it to the Bulgarian capital by bus on Tuesday, four days later than planned.

The international chess federation FIDE agreed to a one-day delay to the match, less than the three days Anand had sought but hopefully enough for him to shrug off the worst of the travel fatigue and stress.

"Three days really is impossible. I decided to postpone the first round for one day," said FIDE vice president and match supervisor Georgios Makropoulos.

"I hope that both players and the organisers will understand that this is the fair solution."

Anand agreed to the offer, promising fans the match - now set to run from Saturday until May 13 - would deliver "some good chess."

"I am happy with this compromise. The main thing is that I am here and will play," he told journalists.

After lots were drawn on Wednesday evening, local hero Topalov gained the slight advantage of playing white in the first game, which gives him the first move.

Topalov is known for his aggressive style of playing, sacrificing pieces in the search for winning attacks. Anand has a more pragmatic style and is known for the sheer speed of his playing.

The Indian grandmaster became World Champion in 2007 and successfully held onto the title in 2008. He was ranked fourth on the March 2010 ratings list by the FIDE international chess federation.

His Bulgarian challenger, the 35-year-old Topalov, is currently ranked number two by FIDE. He won the right to challenge Anand by beating Gata Kamsky of the United States in the semi-final in February 2009.

Topalov was also world champion from 2005 to 2006, at a time when the chess title was split due to a rift in the chess world.

But he failed to defend his title in a reunification match against Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in 2006.

This will be the first World chess title match in 27 years without a Russian-speaking contender for the title.

So far, Anand and Topalov have faced each other in 44 classical chess games, with Topalov holding a slight edge with 11 wins and 10 losses, the other 23 games being drawn.

In the world championship final, the players are competing for prize money of 2.0 million euros (2.7 million dollars).

Organisers say fans will be able to follow the 12 games from April 24 to May 11 live at the event's website

If no clear winner emerges, four more games of so-called "blitz" chess - where players have less time to make their moves - will decide the match on May 13, according to the federation's rules.

Anand excels at this kind of chess.