World chess champ Magnus Carlsen faces tough title challenge in Sochi

World chess champ Magnus Carlsen faces tough title challenge in Sochi
Legendary chess master Viswanathan Anand of India will try to take his revenge on Norwegian wunderkind, Magnus Carlsen, as the battle for the 2014 World Chess Championship begins in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Saturday.

It was Carlsen, 23, who removed Anand, 44, from the chess throne after a five-year reign by winning the title match in November 2013.

The score of 6.5 - 3.5 on its own indicated the young Norwegian’s huge advantage, but the loss turned out even more painful for Anand as it came on his home ground in Chennai, India.

Defending champion Carlsen enters the Sochi match as hot favorite, with the bookies estimating his chances of success at 1.21.

The Norwegian, who has been making waves in the sport since becoming a grandmaster at the age of 13, currently sits atop the World Chess Federation (FIDE) rating list.

He also holds the record for the highest-ever rating, which measures the player's relative chess skill level.

‘Magician Magnus’ scored 2882 points this November to beat the previous top mark of 2851 points set by Russia’s Garry Kasparov.

World chess champion Magnus Carlsen (RIA Novosti / Hrant Khachatryan)

Despite his success behind the chess board, the Norwegian, who has sometimes been compared with Hollywood star Matt Damon or even Justin Bieber, is far from being a typical nerd.

The world champ enjoys football, jet skiing and swimming in the open sea as his pastimes, even appearing on the podium as a model.

Carlsen is an active user of Facebook and Instagram, sharing pictures and chess advice with his fans in Norway and around the world.

He recently released a new app called ‘Do you dare play Magnus?’ which challenges chess lovers to take on a computer simulated version of Carlsen at various ages.

He was among the spectators in the stands during the Winter Games in Sochi earlier this year, but his appearance in Russia for the chess title defense was at one point in doubt.

Carlsen was in no hurry to sign the contract for the match due to concerns over the unrest in Ukraine, which has been blamed by the West on Moscow.

Eventually, chess officials managed to persuade the young star to play in Sochi, with Carlsen saying: “I consider myself favorite [in the 2014 World Chess Championship] if I’ll play at the maximum.”

As for Anand, his odds of turning the tables on his Norwegian archrival are estimated by betting firms at 4.2.

Anand, more than 20 years Carlsen’s senior, beat seven of the world’s top grandmasters in the Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia in March, to snatch the chance of taking his crown back from his rival.

The Indian arrived for the title match with “positive feelings,” knowing that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be one of his most passionate supporters.

Anand has told NIIT that he considers Sochi “a great venue” for the world championship match because “Russian chess audiences are always chess appreciative and even warm weather should be good.”

Israeli grandmaster, Igor Bitensky, said that the Indian’s hopes of revenge are boosted by the fact that he has nothing to lose.

"Psychologically Anand is indeed better placed, for obvious reasons. In Chennai [at the 2013 World Championship], he had a lot to lose. Now he can only win. It's hard to see how this can finish worse for him than in Chennai," Bitensky told the Times of India.

Former chess world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia also believes that Anand “isn’t chanceless after all” in the title match.

“Last year, he was taught a good lesson by Carlsen, and I think he has drawn right conclusions from it. And the game will certainly be much more difficult for Carlsen than last year,"
Kramnik told R-Sport news agency.

The opening ceremony of the 2014 World Chess Championship took place on Friday at the Olympic Media Center near Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium.

Five-time Indian World Chess Champion and National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) MindChampion Viswanathan Anand. (AFP Photo/Raveendran)

The championship match will consist of 12 games, which will be held between November 8 and 28. The first player to 6 1/2 points will take the title. If the match is tied at 6-6, a series of quickplay games will decide the world championship.

The Chess World Championship is the third major sporting event taking place in Sochi this year as the city successfully hosted the Winter Olympics in February and Russia’s maiden Formula 1 Games Prix in October.

The president of the Moscow Chess Federation, Vladimir Palikhata, said that the 2014 Chess World Championship is “a matter of national importance for Russia, especially in the current situation in the world.”

“I know that the organizing committee is trying to do everything possible for the match to be held at an exceptionally high level,” he told RIA-Novosti news agency.