Anand opens season against elite field in Tata Steel Masters chess tournament

Viswanathan Anand, a five-time winner here, had last won this event in 2006 and remains one of the favourite visitors to this Dutch hamlet near Amsterdam.

It was in 1989 that Viswanathan Anand debuted here and this will be his 18th appearance in the last 31 years.   -  RAJEEV BHATT

Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will be up against a strong field comprising the likes of Magnus Carlsen when he makes his 18th appearance at the Tata Steel Masters super-tournament which gets underway in Wijk Aan Zee on Saturday.

The 50-year-old Anand, a five-time winner here, had last won this event in 2006 and remains one of the favourite visitors to this Dutch hamlet near Amsterdam.

It was in 1989 that Anand debuted here and this will be his 18th appearance in the last 31 years.

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The star attraction will be the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway who had a remarkable last year, ending it as the world champion in all three formats -- Rapid, Blitz and Classical. At 2872, Carlsen is eying the 2900 rating barrier, a feat that was unthinkable for the previous generation.

While Carlsen starts as the top seed, Fabiano Caruana of United States will be back as the second seed ahead of local star Anish Giri and compatriot Wesley So. Anand starts the event as the fifth seed.

Notable big names missing from the line up are Levon Aronian of Armenia, Ding Liren of China, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States. However, this year’s field has a fine mix of youth and leading their challenge will be 16-year old Iranian Firouzja Alireza.

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Marred by a recent controversy which ended with Firouzja playing under the FIDE flag in the recent World Rapid and Blitz, it looks like he will be playing under a different federation soon.

The Iranian federation had decided to withdraw the team from the world rapid and this led to Firouzja playing under the FIDE flag. The youngster had won the silver in the rapid section.

Expectations will also be high from Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland, Vladislav Mikhailovich of Russia and Jeffery Xiong of United States in the 14-players round-robin tournament.

There will also be a challengers section, wherein Indian challenge will come from young Grandmaster Nihal Sarin and seasoned GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly.

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For Anand, much will depend upon his results with the young-brigade. At 50, Anand is by far the oldest participant in the field.

If there is one record missing from Carlsen’s collection, it is remaining undefeated for maximum number of games. Among the elite, Magnus recently crossed the ‘100-game-unbeaten’ record by Ding Liren but the overall record rests with GM Sergei Tiviakov of Holland who, at some point, remained unbeaten for 110 games.

Carlsen needs to be unbeaten for the first eight game to set up a new record.

The draw of lots will take place on Friday evening in a glittering ceremony and the first round will be played on Saturday afternoon. January 15, 20 and 23 have been marked as rest days in this marathon event.

Players: Viswanathan Anand (India), Magnus Carlsen (Nor), Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So Jeffery Xiong (All USA), Jan Krizstof Duda (Pol); Nikita Vituigov, Vladislav Artemiev, Daniil Dubov (All Rus); Anish Giri, Jorden Van Foreest (both Ned); Yu Yangyi (Chn); Firouza Alireza (Fid); Vldislav Kovalev (Blr).