Hindustan Times (Lucknow)


- 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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