Khanty Mansiysk, Russia: With odds staked against him, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will look forward to make a grand comeback in the Candidates Chess Tournament 2014 that starts here.
With the weather slated to hit minus 14 degrees during the week, the heated battles are likely to compensate for them as eight of the world elite compete to find the next challenger for world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
Carlsen defeated Anand in the last world championship match at Chennai by 6.5-3.5 margin to become the undisputed king of the 64-squares late last year.
The eight-player super tournament will be played under double round robin basis and there will be 14-grueling rounds in all before the winner is determined. After a recent decline in form and rating, Anand starts only as the fourth seed in the tournament.
Levon Aronian of Armenia starts as the rating favourite with his ELO touching 2830 points. Russian Vladimir Kramnik who missed winning the candidates by a whisker last year, is ranked second ahead of former world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria.
Sergey Karjakin of Russia is behind Anand and is seeded fifth ahead of seven times Russian Champion Peter Svidler. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Dmitry Andreikin of Russia complete the line-up.
With his remarkable current form Levon Aronian is a live threat to all participants and Kramnik will hope to give the Armenian a run for his money. The stakes are high as apart from a match against Carlsen, the tournament has a total prize pool of 600,000 Euros (About Rs. 5 crore) out of which 135,000 Euros is reserved for the winner.
The tournament will be played under Classical Chess rules with 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 for the next 20 and then 15 minutes each with a 30 seconds increment from move 61.
How they got here:
Viswanathan Anand: The five-time world champion is here as the losing finalist of World Championship. If Anand does not win it, he will either have to go through a long cycle or take is rating up significantly to be back in hunt next time.
Levon Aronian: By virtue of his high rating. Aronian did not come good in the last world chess cup but otherwise has been in exemplary form. His victory at the Tata Steel tournament earlier this year was a just indication of his great form. Many Chess buffs are rooting for a match between Aronian and Carlsen.
Sergey Karjakin: High rating. Karjakin qualifies as the second player on rating. He holds the record for the youngest ever Grandmaster in history at 12 years and seven months and has won some of the strongest events. His most recent success was in Norway when he came first ahead of Carlsen himself.
Vladimir Kramnik: Winner of the last World Chess Cup. Having never played in the knock-out world cup before, not many believed Kramnik would last the distance in the seven rounds format. However he made it all look too easy. He might have been around even without the world cup victory but this was certainly the way he wanted to come in. The Russian has been out of competitive chess for some time, as he opted out of Tata Steel as well as the Zurich Classic this year.
Dmitry Andreikin: Runner's up in World Chess Cup Andreikin's second place finish in the world cup was no less intriguing. Slowly but steadily, this 2010 world junior champion is making his presence felt in elite chess. The hallmark is solid play, complemented with deep opening preparation. On his day, a real threat to the best in business.
Veselin Topalov: Winner of FIDE Grand Prix. One has not been hearing much about Topalov since he lost the 2010 world championship match against Anand. Yet, if his performance in the Grand prix is anything to go by, Topalov can belittle everyone else with his uncompromising variety of chess that very few possess. It was not long ago when he was the world champion and this tournament gives him another chance.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov: Runner's up in Grand Prix. Mamedyarov is the most unpredictable player in this field and can serve as the spoiler of the tournament as well win it by sheer power-play. Grit, determination and fearlessness are words that best describe this Azerbaijani.
Peter Svidler: Organiser's wild card It is not without reasons that the wild card is given to Svidler - the seven times Russian champion. Svidler has won it all in the past including the World chess cup and remains a feared opponent. It was he who jolted Calrsen in the last round of Candidates last year and the Norwegian is world champion because Kramnik also lost his game on the same day against Ukrainian Vassily Ivanchuk. A draw by Kramnik would have resulted in a match between him and Anand and recent history would not be the same.