Kolkata, Nov. 21: Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will have London on his mind when he starts his campaign in the second edition of the Tata Steel Chess tournament, part of this year's Grand Chess Tour, here on Friday.
While the organisers missed the presence of reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen last year as the Norwegian was busy preparing for his world championship match, this time things have turned out to be better thanks to the association with the Grand Chess tour.
The tour, a brainchild of the legendary Garry Kasparov, has grown from strength to strength and the Tata Steel tournament is already the sixth edition before the grand finale to be held in London in under a week after the conclusion of this event.
Good news for Anand is that he is not under any pressure to win in order to qualify for the Grand finale. If the Indian ace is in top six of the overall standings of this 10-player rapid and blitz event, there is almost a certainty that Anand will make it to London.
Carlsen starts as the hot favourite to win the crown but stiff challenge might come from Ding Liren of China, the newly crowned 'Fischer Random' world champion, Wesley So of United States and Levon Aronian of Armenia. Hikaru Nakamura of United States, Anish Giri of Holland and the Indian duo of P Harikrishna and Vidit Gujrathi complete a star-studded lineup, making this the strongest ever tournament held on Indian soil.
The format is nine rounds of Rapid and nine rounds of blitz with rapid games yielding two points for a win and the blitz games worth a point for every win. The cumulative scores at the end of the event will be taken in to account to declare the winner. The total prize pool is USD 1,50,000 for this four-day event.
Carlsen had been winning every event and only recently received a jolt when he was crushed by a resurgent Wesley So in the finals of the Fischer-Random world championship. Carlsen's fans have a right to argue in favour of Norway's favourite son as this wasn't quite chess -- Fischer Random is a version where the initial position of the pieces is randomly changed with slightly tweaked rules. But his juggernaut was successfully halted by the Filipino-turned-American, if only temporarily.
Anand played quite well in the previous edition of the Tata Steel to win the blitz section. An encore might just be what he needs to be in London where only the top four finishers of the tour can participate. Carlsen is a surety in London with his whopping 54.5 points accumulated with some sensational victories this year.
Ding Liren is a distant second on 37.6 points and also looks close along with Aronian who has a sizeable lead over Anand, currently placed sixth on 32 points. Wesley So could be the challenge for Anand only if the Filipino wins outright.