Time to test preparations as an engrossing clash between the champion and challenger begins

Sometimes, in the absence of controversies, contradiction has a way of making a surprise value-addition to an event.

For a moment, forget the world rankings in the upcoming battle involving World chess champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Magnus Carlsen. Just consider the paradox that has added to the intrigue.

An inspired ‘sentimental favourite’ begins as a willing ‘underdog’ as his lack of form points to the possibility of the five-time champion fumbling against the first-timer. Indeed, the element of intimidation has enhanced the interest.

Anand, almost twice the age of Carlsen, has rediscovered the spirit of old. The champion’s forthright and in-the-face approach reflects his renewed motivation. He looks fitter and ready to fire. He appears hungry like he seldom has in the past few years.

Returning to his home-town, the 43-year-old is back to do what he does best — defend the world title. He has trained hard, lost six kilograms and somehow gives the impression that he is ready for any challenge.

Man-of-the-moment

Carlsen, 22, is the man-of-the-moment. His playing strength, reflected in the rating difference of 95 points between the players, makes him the firm favourite. No wonder, he won the last two decisive battles against the champion.

Riding on enterprise and high on energy, the Norwegian, however, has to learn to deal with the rising expectations of the chess world that waits the coronation of a young champion.

Preparations over, it is time to perform or perish.

The first game of any match-play is obviously crucial. More than anything, it helps sooth nerves of those crossing swords.

Once Carlsen, as white, pushes a piece of wood to the chosen square on the board on Saturday, Anand’s response will eliminate several other opening possibilities. It will also narrow down the opening options of the players who have prepared for long hours.

For months, the two players have focused mainly on opening preparations. Each is attempting to ambush the other in unknown territory. The first two games will give some idea of their preparations.

Anand is prepared for long games since Carlsen is not known to accept draw offers in a hurry.

Moreover, the young aspirant is keen to explore possibilities in positions that offer very little excitement. It is his ability to consistently make moves of optimum strength in dull positions that is difficult to match. Most of Carlsen’s decisive results in the past three years have been due to his unerring choices that have been met with sub-optimal responses from rivals.

Anand knows full well that Carlsen thrives in such positions.

All eyes on opening lines

Therefore, it will be natural for the champion to try and deny his young rival any space to feel comfortable. Over the next one week, it will be interesting to see what opening lines has Anand worked on.

If these variations lead to exciting, tactical skirmishes, then Carlsen may find himself out of the comfort zone. This is not to say that the world no. 1 excels only in drab positions. But in such positions, Anand can make things happen, and not wait for them to happen.

Tactical warfare

Given the exuberance of youth, Carlsen could well surprise Anand by coming prepared for a tactical warfare early in the contest. Should the challenger come out unscathed, Camp Carlsen will sure treat it as a victory in psychological terms.

Unlike the 2012 clash-for-the-crown between Anand and Boris Gelfand, the games over the next three weeks promise excitement.

How well Anand has worked on energy-management will be known in due course. Should Anand get the positions he loves, in the early part of the contest, Carlsen will have to draw from his uncanny ability to get out of trouble. This should make it a fascinating encounter.

Anand, once known for his defensive skills, will also be keen to prove that age and repeated successes have not diminished his determination to keep what he owns. And Carlsen is here to take what Anand has owned for the last six years — the world title!

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