Tata Steel Chess: Viswanathan Anand eyes London berth

Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will have London on mind when he starts his campaign in the second edition of the Tata Steel Chess tournament.

Good news for Anand is that he is not under any pressure to win in order to qualify for the Grand finale.   -  PTI

For sports lovers, the City of Joy and November 22 will be remembered for more than just the historic-first Pink-ball cricket Test featuring India. The day also marks another first, with India hosting an event of the $1.75 million Grand Chess Tour (GCT).

With the support of the Union or State Governments, India hosted the World championship, World Cup, Candidates matches, World junior championship and more. But it took a private initiative to end the long wait for a truly premier event.

What adds sheen to the Tata Steel rapid and blitz tournament, beginning at the iconic National Library here on Friday, is the presence of World champion and the game’s top-ranked player Magnus Carlsen.

READ: Chess Grandmasters Ding Liren, Hikaru Nakamura square off under Kolkata flyover

The Norwegian, who last visited India in 2013 as the challenger for the World championship match and dethroned five-time winner Viswanathan Anand in Chennai, returns for the first time as a participant.

For starters, this is the last stop of the seven-leg Tour before the four-player London GCT Finals scheduled during the London Chess Classic next month. The Tour participants, including 12 full Tour players, are chosen on the basis of previous year’s standings and world rankings.

The Tour, in its fifth season, includes two classical time-formats events, offering $325,000 each. Other five combine rapid and blitz formats, each offering a prize-fund of $150,000. The Finals includes all three formats. A participant can play a maximum of five events.

For the $350,000 LCC, Carlsen and World No. 3 Ding Liren have already qualified. Going purely by form and the field, Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand appear the strongest contenders for the remaining berths.

Significantly, the quartet is part of the field here.

The 2018 Tour winner and defending champion Hikaru Nakamura, World Random Fischer champion Wesley So, Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi, fifth and sixth in classical world rankings, are the other overseas players. Wild cards P. Hari Krishna and Vidit Gujrathi complete the line-up.

Last year, Nakamura won the rapid format and finished runner-up to Anand in blitz. The success of that ‘test event’ paved the way for this edition becoming part of the Tour.

Earlier this month, in Bucharest, Aronian won the title to almost seal his spot for LCC while third-placed Anand brightened his prospect of qualifying.

Even if Aronian finishes last here, he still gains the solitary point to join Carlsen and Ding Liren in London.

Anand, sixth in Tour rankings, needs to finish sixth or higher here to move past  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Sergey Karjakin, presently placed third and fifth. The duo has already figured in five events.

On Thursday, Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) President Sourav Ganguly joined Anand and Carlsen during the draw of lots. Anand plays Liren, So and Nepomniachtchi on Friday.

Players (with ranking and ratings in rapid format)

1. Magnus Carlsen (Nor, 2849, World rank 2), 2. Ding Liren (Chn, 2832, WR 3), 3. Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 2812, WR 4), 4. Wesley So (USA, 2802, WR 5), 5. Levon Aronian (Arm, 2768, WR 9), 6. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus, 2765, WR 12), 7. Viswanathan Anand (2757, WR 16), 8. Anish Giri (Ned, 2705 WR 47), 9. Vidit Gujrathi (2674, WR 70), 10. P. Hari Krishna (2667, WR 79).

Format: Nine rounds of rapid games (25-minute + 10-second increment from Move 1 for each player) will be played on round-robin basis the first three days. Thereafter, 18 rounds of blitz games (5-minute + three-second increment), to be played on double round-robin basis, will be spread over the following two days.

Day One rapid pairings (first round): Hari-Vidit; Liren-Anand; So-Carlsen; Nepomniachtchi-Giri; Aronian-Nakamura; (second round): Vidit-Nakamura; Giri-Aronian; Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi; Anand-So; Hari-Liren; (third round): Liren-Vidit; So-Hari; Nepomniachtchi-Anand; Aronian-Carlsen; Nakamura-Giri.