Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - FRONT PAGE - Aniek Paul ■ aniek.p@livemint.com

When a ma­jor chess tour­na­ment (Fide GP) was last held in this Rus­sian Black Sea re­sort town in 2008, its par­tic­i­pants almost got drawn into a cross-bor­der armed con­flict as Rus­sia launched airstrikes and scram­bled forces to a camp nearby in prepa­ra­tion for a po­ten­tial war with Ge­or­gia.

But Sochi, which from Satur­day is go­ing to host the World Chess Cham­pi­onship fi­nal be­tween Mag­nus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand, has changed vastly since. Its legacy as con­tro­ver­sial Rus­sian leader Joseph Stalin’s sum­mer home has almost been wiped off by a newly built sports in­fra­struc­ture for the Win­ter Olympics, billed to be one of the most ex­pen­sive in the world.

Though im­pres­sive, Sochi’s post-mod­ern Olympic Park is geared more to­wards spec­ta­tor sports such as ice hockey and car­ling, and it is quite an un­usual venue for chess, es­pe­cially to be in Rus­sia. LOS­ING SWAY

Miss­ing are the Corinthian pil­lars of the Tchaikovsky Con­cert Hall and the House of Trade Unions in Moscow — the tra­di­tional venue for chess in the Soviet era, whose im­pos­ing struc­tures came to sym­bol­ise the Rus­sians’ con­trol over the sport. But then, Rus­sia have long lost their sway with only two among the cur­rent top 10.

Be­hind the gleam­ing glass-and-steel fa­cade of the Olympic Park me­dia cen­tre, Anand, 44 — five-time world cham­pion who lost his ti­tle last year — will be tak­ing on a fa­mil­iar and much younger op­po­nent, in a re­venge match of sorts. Anand has tradi- tion­ally been in top form in such du­els, yet he is the un­der­dog.

Carlsen from Norway, who will be turn­ing 24 within days after the match, dec­i­mated Anand in Chen­nai in 10 games, with Anand los­ing three of them.

Book­mak­ers such as Lad­brokes are of­fer­ing as much as 3/1 on Anand win­ning the cham­pi­onship ver­sus 2/9 on Carlsen keep­ing the ti­tle. But it might not be as easy as the odds sug­gest, say ex­perts. “Call­ing it 50-50 is prob­a­bly wrong,” says Hun­gar­ian GM Peter Leko, who was part of Anand’s train­ing team last year. “For Carlsen, it will not be so easy. He won the pre­vi­ous match, and the re­sult can­not get bet­ter this time,” says Leko.

While Anand can count on his stel­lar form since his de­feat in Chen­nai, which cul­mi­nated in his se­cur­ing the right to chal­lenge Carlsen in less than a year, the so called “Mozart of chess” has seized from the In­dian’s team Peter Heine Nielsen, a Dan­ish GM who was one of Anand’s key ad­vi­sors till two years ago.

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