The absence of Magnus Carlsen has robbed the World Chess Championship of some of its sheen no doubt, but Viswanathan Anand believes it is still going to be an exciting affair.
The Norwegian’s abdication means chess will have a new World champion for the first time since 2013, but he will not be an undisputed one. The match between Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi and China’s Ding Liren begins at Astana on Sunday.
“It is going to be a very exciting World championship, with two very strong participants,” Anand, a five-time World champion, told Sportstar over the phone from the Kazakhstan capital. “Since the pairing is slightly unexpected, it adds a twist to it. I would say that Ding and Nepomniachtchi are not just two of the strongest but most interesting players to watch as well.”
Anand, for whom this is the first World Championship after becoming the FIDE deputy president, feels the contrast in styles of Ding and Nepomniachtchi augurs well for the title clash. “I think they are fairly equal in terms of ability,” he said. “I would favour Nepomniachtchi slightly because recently he has made dramatic progress and his victory in the Candidates tournament was very convincing. Ding played much less due to Covid restrictions.”
Anand said patience was one of Ding’s strengths. “He will give his all in every position,” he said. “He is much more stable and has this ability to come up with good ideas in his openings, which is all the more remarkable because he has a reputation of working alone.”
He feels Nepomniachtchi has a little bit of unpredictability about him. “He is very much an all-rounder,” he said. “He is also incredibly prepared, I think he trained hard for his match against Carlsen. His touch of genius can become a weakness sometimes.”
He said it was unfortunate that Carlsen was not taking part. “But it also means that instead of one, two very exciting players are getting chances,” he said. “In terms of impact, the first Chinese World champion could be historic and could have a dramatic effect on the game.”
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