Life has come full circle for Viswanathan Anand once again.
Two years back, Anand was initially reluctant to participate in the FIDE World Chess Candidates Tournament at Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
Dethroned by Magnus Carlsen in Chennai a year ago, the former World Champion was persuaded by friend and rival Vladimir Kramnik to participate in Khanty. No one picked him as the favourite.
Instead, many thought he would finish in the bottom of the eight-man field and slowly fade away just like many former World Champions have done after their long reign had ended.
However, when the dust finally settled on the battles in Khanty-Mansiysk, the chess world was awestruck by the Madras Tiger’s brilliant comeback as he topped the Candidates by remaining unbeaten throughout. What caught his fans’ fancy was the fact he was no longer the player who had failed to get winning-position in many games in Chennai in 2013.
In Khanty, Anand got positions from where he was difficult to beat. Having fought back brilliantly, Anand went on to lose to Carlsen once again in the final match in Sochi, but his performance was far better than that in Chennai.
Anand is back in the mix for the Candidates Tournament this year too.
From Friday, eight top players– Anand, Fabiano Caruana (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) and Peter Svidler (Russia) will battle it out in Moscow for the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game match in New York from November 10-30,
And just like in 2014, Anand is not the pre-tournament favourite. Having endured a disappointing year in 2015 experts are again gearing up to write an epitaph for his illustrious career of two decades in which he became World Champion five times in three different formats and has bagged every title and honour the game has to offer, some of them multiple times over.
But in recent times, the results have dried up for Anand. The 46-year-old is the oldest competitor in Moscow and has struggled to get good positions on the board in recent times and on many occasions failed to capitalize on promising positions.
He started 2016 with another forgettable outing in Gibraltar, his first open tournament in two decades, and has at the start of this month ranked 12th in the world with a rating of 2762.
However, as he has proved many times, Anand has immense capacity to fight the odds and bounce back into contention against any field. He did that in 2014 by winning the Candidates Tournament and gave a glimpse of what he can do on his day as recently as last month in the Zurich Classic where he finished second behind Nakamura.
His fans would be hoping that Anand would stage another comeback in the 2016 Candidates Tournament.
Round 1 pairings
Sergey Karjakin v Peter Svidler
Hikaru Nakamura v Fabiano Caruana
Anish Giri v Levon Aronian
Viswanathan Anand v Veselin Topalov
(players mentioned first start with white pieces)
In a nutshell
What: Fide World Chess Candidates Tournament 2016
Where it will be held: Moscow, Russia
From When: First round on March 11. Final on March 29
Format: It’s an 8-player double round-robin tournament with 14 rounds the winner of which will take on reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game match in New York from November 10-30, 2016.
Total prize fund: €420,000 (Rs 3.10 crore)
How they stack up?
Viswanathan Anand (India)
Ranking: 12 (rating 2762)
Career record: Played 1819, wins 624, draws 980, losses 215
Record in 2015: Played 109, wins 33, draws 56, losses 20
How he qualified: Runner-up in last world championship match
The five-time World Champion has been going through indifferent form in recent times and not getting positions suiting his attacking style of play. However, he is always capable of surprising his opponents and any of his seven opponents will take him lightly at own peril. Having crossed 46, age is not on his side and seems to be blunting his game in recent times. Still a sentimental favourite for many to have another go at Carlsen.
Fabiano Caruana (USA)
Ranking: 3 (rating 2794)
Career record: Played 910, wins 337, Draws 421, Losses 152
Record in 2015: Played 122, Wins 32, Draws 65, Losses 25
How he qualified: Winner of Grand Prix Series 2014-15
The highest rated player here, the 23-year-old Caruana is favourite to win the Candidates. He has improved tremendously in recent times and has the game to beat anyone in the world. ,
Hikaru Nakamura (USA)
Ranking: 6 (rating: 2790)
Career record: Played 1066, Wins 452, Draws 430, Losses 184
Record in 2015: Played 130, Wins 50, Draws 66, Losses 14
How he qualified: Second in Grand Prix Series 2014-15
The American of Japanese origin is also one of the pre-tournament favourites. He is the most improved player since 2010 and in recent times has had a training stint with Garry Kasparov. He is consistent and is capable of playing many different openings.
Anish Giri (Netherlands)
Ranking: 4 (rating: 2793)
Career record: Played 847, Wins: 305, Draws 430, Losses 112
Record in 2015: Played 150, Wins 44, Draws 93, Losses 13.
How he qualified: World ranked player in GP Series and World Cup
The youngest player in the field, he has made rapid strides in recent times and leapfrogged many in rankings list. Being a first-timer in Candidates, he does not have enough experience of such tournaments. Yet to win a top event, the Dutch player of Nepalese origin is currently one of the most exciting players in the world and capable of causing some surprises.
Levon Aronian (Armenia)
Ranking: 7 (rating: 2786)
Career record: Played 1466, Wins 516, Draws 751, Losses 199.
Record in 2015: Played 143: Wins 44, Draws 75, Losses 24.
How he qualified: Wild card nomination by Agon, Fide’s commercial agents
Burst on to the scene as a potential threat to the world champion in 2005 when he won the World Cup, Aronian has lost some of his invincibility in recent times. However, he is still a very dangerous player and capable of winning the event. Has been part of the Candidates competitions for nearly a decade now.
Veselin Topalov (BUL)
Ranking: 8 (rating: 2780)
Career record: Played 1419, Wins 496, Draws 664, Losses 259
Record in 2015: Played 62, Wins 22, Draws: 25, Losses 15
How he qualified: Wild card nomination
A former FIDE World Champion, Topalov lost to Anand in 2010 World Championship match in Sofia and before that the re-unification match to Vladimir Kramnik in 2006. His uncompromising style makes him the most dangerous player in the fray and capable of going all the way.
Sergey Karjakin (RUS)
Ranking: 13 (rating: 2760)
Career record: Played 1026, Wins 312, Draws 569, Losses 145.
Record in 2015: Played 153, Wins 63, Draws 63, Losses 28.
How he qualified: Winner of Chess World Cup 2015
He may be ranked second lowest in the field, Karjakin won the 2015 World Cup and had finished runner-up to Anand in 2014 Candidates Tournament. The youngest ever grandmaster in the world at 12 years and seven months, he can beat anyone on his day. However, the title here may still be beyond him unless he plays totally out of his skin.
Peter Svidler (RUS)
Ranking: 16 (rating: 2757)
Career record: Played 1737, Wins 546, Draws 968, Losses 223.
Record in 2015: Played 145, Wins 44, Draws: 78, Losses 23.
How he qualified: Runner-up in Chess World Cup 2015
The lowest rated player in the event, the Russian grandmaster is capable of causing a few upsets that may harm chances of quite a few players.