Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand is all set to compete in an open tournament for the first time in 23 years when he takes his seat opposite Hungarian International Master Vajda Szidonia Lazarne in the first round of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival’s Masters section here.
Having last played an open tournament in 1993 at the Biel Interzonal, Anand’s comeback to this highly unpredictable format was announced last year during the closing ceremony of the festival.
Anand will only start as the third seed though as defending champion Hikaru Nakamura of United States stands a little high on ratings as the top seed while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France is the second ranked player on ratings.
Apart from the ‘big-three’, it is a star studded field as usual. The fourth seed is former world junior champion P Harikrishna who has now broken into the top-15 of world rankings and is slowly but surely moving up the ladder.
The Chinese challenge will be spearheaded by Li Chao B, who is just a shade above Yangyi Yu in rankings but the latter has been showing some outstanding results of late.
There are 10 rounds in all in the traditional tournament that carries a total prize pool of 185000 Pounds (Over Rs. 1.8 Crore) out of which 20000 Pounds are reserved for the winner. The prize for the highest ranked woman is also a sumptuous 15000 Pounds.
Besides Anand and Harikrishna, there are 18 other Indians in fray and this contingent is only the third behind Germany (25) and England (22) in terms of participation.
While all eyes will be on the big stars, one can always count on Indian Grandmasters Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Vidit Gujrathi, S P Sethuraman and Abhijeet Gupta to cause the big upsets.
Grandmaster and FIDE Arena Women’s Blitz world champion D Harika will be vying for one of the top women’s prize. Harika reached here directly after a training camp and one can expect her to be in top shape to tackle tough opposition.
Overall there are a 74 Grandmasters in the fray with another 50 International Masters. While Nakamura starts as the rating favourite, Anand will obviously shape some things his way while Vachier-Lagrave is a renowned expert in Swiss formats.
However, given the unpredictability of the format there will be at least fifteen other Grandmasters fancying their chances.