Chess: A winning coupon of no-score draws

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When Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov played seven consecutive draws at the start of their world title match in 1978, they had the excuse that the match was of unlimited duration. Since the winner of the match would be the first to six wins, draws did not count. The important thing was not losing.

When Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov drew 17 games in a row in their 1984 match, they had the same excuse, magnified by the fact that each was trying to prove the other to be a total wimp, afraid to come out and fight.

Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand have no such excuses for the seven draws at the start of their current match in New York. With only one game having stretched to 30 moves, we have seen five no-score draws, one game (the third) in which Anand may have missed a chance of a brilliant win (but so complicated that still nobody is sure), and one (game six) that was building up to a thrill-packed finale when the players decided it was all too complicated and they had better agree a draw and go home before one of them got hurt.

In each game it has been the champion, Kasparov, 32, who offered the draw, which the challenger, Anand, 25, accepted - generally without thinking long about it. For the time being, both men seem to have decided that draws are fine. But why?

"I don't blame a player for not taking too much risk," said Kasparov after game seven. "There is too much at stake."

But the longer the drawing sequence goes on, the more there is at stake. With fewer games remaining to fight back after a loss, the risk of playing for a win becomes greater with every draw.

Putting aside the possibility that the players are still acclimatising themselves to the rarefied atmosphere on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre - Anand did, after all, train at altitude in the Spanish mountains - there is an inescapable conclusion: they are both quaking with nerves.

Kasparov gives every sign of being physically and mentally under-prepared for the contest. Anand is patiently learning what a world championship match is about. He does, after all, have 200 games' less experience of such contests than his esteemed opponent.

Each man must, by now, have realised the vulnerability of his opponent. Soon the match will start. Someone will take risks. Someone will win a game. Then the contest will burst into life and have a good chance of living up to its promise. Then we shall all forget the turgid beginning.

So far, however, it has been dull, dull, dull.

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