CHENNAI: Fresh from his third-place finish in Bucharest, Viswanathan Anand will be looking for another strong showing at the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz starting Friday. This will be the seventh leg of Grand Chess Tour. Anand currently occupies the sixth spot in the GCT (32 points) standings and a podium finish in Kolkata will guarantee him a spot in the GCT Finals, which will take place next month in London. World champion Magnus Carlsen, who has already qualified for the knockout phase, tops the table with 54.5 points.
Levon Aronian, Ding Liren and Wesley So are the other strong players in the 10-player round-robin tournament. Besides Anand, Pentala Harikrishna and Vidit Gujrathi are the other Indians in the fray.
After a below-par show in Zagreb, Croatia, Anand has had a good run on the Tour, finishing second in Paris, joint third in classical event in St Louis, and third in the recently concluded event in the Romanian capital. After winning the blitz event in Kolkata last year, Anand has pleasant memories of the city. Of course, this year’s tournament is much stronger, being part of the GCT. Going by his current results, Anand is expected to do well in Kolkata, and make the cut for London.
If Anand performs well in rapid (first part of event), the five-time world champion’s chances of finishing in the top three will improve. Another crucial factor for Anand having a successful tournament is to avoid blunders, which happens more often in faster time controls.
“For fans’ sake, I hope Anand can make it to the semifinals, though it won’t be easy,” was India GM Sundararajan Kidambi’s assessment of Anand’s chances in the tournament. Wild card entrants Harikrishna and Gujrathi can make an impact in the tournament because both are equally adept in rapid and blitz formats. Harikrishna outwitted Czech No 1 David Navara in a rapid match this year, while Gujrathi performed exceptionally well in blitz en route to winning the Biel GM Tournament in Biel, Switzerland.
“Excellent chance for Hari and Vidit to show their skills among top players. They will surely topple a few big players,” reflected Kidambi when queried about whether Harikrishna and Vidit will make a mark in the event.
Carlsen has had a great year, winning the first seven events. However, law of averages finally caught up with the Norwegian, as he failed to win his next three tournaments in St Louis rapid and blitz, Sinquefield Cup and Grand Swiss. Added to that, Carlsen suffered a humiliating defeat to Wesley So (1-5) in the finals of the inaugural Fischer Random World Chess Championship in Baerum, Norway. The World No 1 will be highly motivated to find his winning touch in Kolkata. However, it’s not going to be easy, when one considers the depth of the field. As a matter of fact, Carlsen will be crossing swords with Anand for the first time in India after his World Championship victory in Chennai (2013).
Levon Aronian, who has won two titles in GCT this season, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura, are the other contenders for the title.
Grand Chess Tour consists of seven tournaments. Two classical events and five rapid and blitz combined events. Kolkata will be the final leg of the Tour before the knockout phase. The top four will qualify for the GCT Finals in London, which will comprise semifinals and finals.