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Viswanathan Anand closes in to title victory in Bilbao Masters

BILBAO: Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand took a decisive step towards his second big title of the year after drawing with Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine in the fifth and penultimate round of the Bilbao Final Masters on Saturday.

After crushing Francisco Vallejo Pons of Spain in the fourth round, Anand cemented his position at the top, taking his tally to an unassailable 11 points.

For a clear victory, the Indian ace is just a draw away in the final round.

Levon Aronian of Armenia remained within striking distance of Anand, following another draw with Vallejo Pons in the fifth round and took his tally to eight points.

Ponomariov, on five points, is third and Vallejo holds the last spot with two points.

The last round will be crucial for Anand when he takes on Aronian who will have the advantage of playing white. The Armenian desperately needs a victory to level scores with Anand while a draw will take Anand to a clear first.

If it comes, this will be Anand's second biggest tournament victory of the year after the Indian won the Candidates Tournament to earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in the World Championships Match.

The three victories thus far will also certainly serve as a morale booster for the match against Carlsen to be played in November.

Ponomariov obtained an optical advantage against Anand out of a Ragozine defense game where the Indian played with black pieces. Anand had scored an important victory in the tournament against Pons earlier using this opening and Ponomariov, though better prepared, found it a hard nut to crack.

Playing around the center, Ponomariov had the better position but Anand ensured trading of the pieces at regular intervals which kept him in contention. The players arrived a minor pieces endgame and the draw was agreed to through repetition of moves.

Even as he tried hard, Aronian could not make use of his white pieces against Vallejo Pons. The opening was successful for Pons as he equalised early out of a queen pawn game. The queens got traded and Aronian kept looking for an elusive advantage in the resulting endgame. The rook and pawns endgame however offered little hopes and the logical conclusion was signed after 59 moves. 

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