Nakamura starts favourite; long-awaited home coming for Anand, Hari

Anand's last tournament-appearance was way back in January 1992 in the Goodricke International.

(From left) Sergey Karjakin (Russia), P. Hari Krishna, Vidit Gujarati, Viswanathan Anand, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Wesley So (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) pose for a photo on the eve of the Tata Steel rapid and blitz chess tournament in Kolkata on Thursday.   -  Special Arrangement

“Suddenly, there is too much chess happening,” noted Viswanathan Anand soon after he checked out his phone for the live games, involving D. Harika in the on-going women’s World chess championship in Russia and a strong six-player Shenzhen Masters in China.

Obviously, Anand had considered the much-awaited World championship title-match involving champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Fabiano Caruana starting on Friday.

But more importantly, at the back of his mind was his opening game on Friday against Wesley So in the 10-player Tata Steel rapid event that coincided with the Carlsen-Caruana clash in London.

“Events like the one here is what we need to bridge the gap between holding several strong Swiss League events and the hosting of a strong round-robin tournaments,” pointed out Anand when asked about what he thought of this event.

Ironical as it may sound, between 2000 and 2012, when Anand won the World title five times, apart from the world rapid and blitz titles, besides dominating the shorter format till 2010, India did not hold a single private event to make the world champion play before the home fans.

In the past two decades, Anand has only played two official events - the 2002 World Cup in Hyderabad and the 2013 World title match in Chennai.

Indeed, only strong events are needed to lure Anand and P. Harikrishna to play at home.

Anand's last tournament-appearance was way back in January 1992 in the Goodricke International. Hari has not played in the country since winning the World junior title in Kochi in 2004.

Though the Indians are not among the favourites to win the title in the $40,000 event (not counting the undisclosed appearance money), the week surely provides the home contenders a chance to cause a flutter.

Among the favourites, Hikaru Nakamura is the man to beat. Ranked second in the rapid format and third in blitz, the 30-year-old will be looking to add another title in the shorter format after successes in Paris and St. Louis, both part of the elite Grand Chess Tour.

When the lots were drawn on Thursday evening, Anand’s rivals on Friday turned out to be - So followed by Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian. These three are among the contenders but presently struggling a bit for form.

The format consists of nine rounds of rapid games - three on each of the first three days.

Following a day of rest on Monday, nine rounds of blitz games will be played on Tuesday and with reverse colours, nine more on Wednesday.

Friday’s pairings

(First round) P. Hari Krishna-Surya Shekhar Ganguly; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov-Vidit Gujarati; Hikaru Nakamura-Levon Aronian; Nihal Sarin-Sergey Karjakin; Viswanathan Anand-Wesley So;

(Second round): Ganguly-So; Karjakin-Anand; Aronian-Sarin; Vidit-Nakamura; Hari-Mamedyarov;

(Third round): Mamedyarov-Ganguly; Nakamura-Hari; Sarin-Vidit; Anand-Aronian; So-Karjakin.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :