The battle to find a challenger to World Champion Viswanathan Anand starts on Tuesday with Bulgarian World No 1 Veselin Topalov taking on American Gata Kamsky in the World Chess Challenge at Sofia, Bulgaria.
They will play eight games and the first one to reach 4.5 points gets the right to take on Anand in the final. In case of a 4-4 tie, they will play tie-break games on February 28.
Going by record, Topalov starts firm favourite - he is not only ahead on rating by 71 ELO (2796 to 2725) but also holds an edge in head-to-head. He has beaten Kamsky in four of their eight encounters thus far and has never lost to his opponent. Topalov has also been in great form in the last few months, winning the Grand Slam Finals at Bilbao and the Nanjing Open. He will be playing in home conditions and though the crowd support at times could be a double-edged sword, Topalov is experienced enough to not let it bother him.
However, Kamsky is a plucky customer, and makes up for lack of flamboyancy, which is a hallmark of Topalov's play, with stoic defence and positional sense. The World Cup victory in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia is his best result in his second innings.But just like Anand showed in Bonn, results have little impact on such matches and it will all come down to preparation and execution of plans.