Khanty Mansiysk, Russia: Placed comfortably on top of the table with a half-point lead, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will enter the crucial phase of the Candidates chess tournament, taking on Peter Svidler after the second rest day here.
From a great beginning to some cautious play, Anand, with four points in his bag from six games, enjoys a half-point lead over nearest contender Levon Aronian of Armenia.
It's a closely matched field as almost everyone except the lowest seed Dmitry Andreikin of Russia seems to be in the race for the challenger of the next world championship match against Magnus Carlsen to be played later this year.
The eight-player double round-robin tournament has seen a lot of excitement and there are no clear favourites as yet but surely Anand has an edge thanks to his half-point cushion.
The stakes are high as apart from a match against Carlsen, the winner will take home 135000 Euros (a little over Rs one crore) as cash prize.
The Russian duo of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler, Bulgarian Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan follow Aronian a half point behind on three points apiece and they all have reasons to fancy their chances as the tournament nears the completion of the first half.
Not far behind is Sergey Karjakin on 2.5 points who can not only play the spoiler but also has it in him to pull a few victories to match leaders.
Anand has been in lead from day one. It was the day when Anand showed to the world that he is not finished yet. No one could have asked for a better start than a victory over Aronian.
Next followed a draw with Topalov with the Indian ace in absolute control and in the third round was an inspiring performance when Mamedyarov was crushed in all departments of the game.
However, since then it has been a cautious approach by Anand. In the fourth round Kramnik played the Vienna variation wherein the Indian would fancy his chances on another day. The Russian showed better preparation and got an easy draw.
Andreikin struggled a little in the fifth round but did not face many difficulties before drawing with the Indian and then in the previous round, Sergey Karjakin again suffered just momentarily before steering himself to safety.
If the first three games showed Anand in great spirits, the last three have dampened them a little.
And the next two games will be most crucial as Anand first meets Svidler with black and then has another black game lined up against Aronian in the eighth round. Should he come out unscathed in the next two, Anand will become a huge favourite for title here.
After an insipid start that involved four draws and a loss, Topalov came back with a bang scoring over Kramnik in the previous round. The result changed many equations and Kramnik who had looked almost invincible thus far suddenly turns vulnerable.
It was a similar story for Svidler who had come up with some sterling chess till the fifth round. Had Svidler been on track in each round, he would have had at least one point more till the fifth round itself.
And the way he lost the sixth round game against Mamedyarov goes to prove that nerves play a major role in big games.
Kramnik crushed Karjakin in round two, missed a winning continuation against Aronian and got the easiest of draws as black against Anand. Things were shaping out well till he met Topalov. The Russian will have to do the hard work over again.
Mamedyarov was written off in the first three rounds that resulted in two losses and just one draw. Thereafter the Azeri has seen a reversal in fortunes complementing his uncompromising style. He will surely want to carry on with the momentum.