VISWANATHAN ANAND is back at the place from which he took the first step en route to becoming the world's highest rated chess player last year by winning the Morelia-Linares tournament.
Anand crossed the Elo rating of 2800 and became the world's highest rated player after winning the tournament played in two legs - one in Mexico and another in Linares (Spain). This year the first leg in Mexico starts Friday and ends Feb 23, while the Linares leg will be Feb 28-March 7.
The Indian, who went on to win the World Championships in Mexico, counts the country as one of his favourite places.
"I've won all three tournaments I've played in this country and I feel very comfortable here. I like everything, the people, the climate, the food, and, above all, the chess buffs who treat me very well," Anand told a Spanish news agency on the eve of the tournament which will see eight top stars in action.
Seven of the world's top-10 players will feature in the tournament. The missing players include Vladimir Kramnik, who Anand will play in Bonn in a World Championships 12-match tie.
When asked who he picked as a favourite, NIIT Brand Ambassador Anand said: "There are eight players of the highest level, but if I have to pick someone I'd say Levon Aronian who just won in Wijk aan Zee. I prefer to take it round by round. There's no dominant player like Garry Kasparov around now, you have to fight tournament by tournament."
Reminded that he was still the highest rated player in terms of Elo rating, he said: "When you sit down to play, the differences between one player and another don't appear on the Elo list. Just look at Aronian and (Magnus) Carlsen, who aren't in the top eight on the rating list but nevertheless just won Wijk aan Zee."
He was also very appreciative of 17-year-old Magnis Carlsen. "Magnus has developed very quickly. He will be a great champion, without a doubt. He plays with great maturity, not like a lad of 17."
Viswanathan Anand (2801); Vassily Ivanchuk (2787); Veselin Topalov (2769); Peter Leko (2755); Teimour Radjabov (2742); Levon Aronian (2741); Alexei Shirov (2739); Magnus Carlsen (2714).