New Delhi: Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand will start as the underdog but has the backing of the chess world this time to put up a better show in the re-match for the World Chess Championship that starts in Sochi, Russia on Friday.
"This time it will be much closer than last time," says Arjuna awardee Grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta, who gave Carlsen the tag of 'favourite'. Anand, who qualified for the rematch by surprisingly winning candidates' tournament earlier this year, backed his performance in the qualifier by winning the Bilbao Final Masters too and seems to be in fine nick ahead of the clash.
Carlsen, on the other hand, has not had the best of times recently although his winning the Qorld Rapid and Blitz title was nothing short of a miracle that made the Norwegian the first player in history to be world champion in all three formats Classical, Rapid and Blitz simultaneously.
Carlsen was especially tentative in the Sinquefield Cup in United States a couple of months back where he finished a distant second to Fabiano Caruana of Italy. While finishing second is never too bad a result, Carlsen's last tournament before the world championship must have dented his confidence as he finished three points behind Caruana.
"If you take the games of Sinquefield Cup into account, Carlsen was not playing too well. Now we know he is not someone who likes to hide any special preparation which in fact means he was in below par form," said Gupta reflecting his thoughts on Carlsen's last big tournament.
"On the other hand, Anand has been at the top of his game with a few expected ups and downs. He won the Bilbao even though his last round loss might have been disappointing and he was clearly the best player in the Candidate's tournament where everyone made more mistakes than him."
Anand lost the last match, losing three and drawing seven games against Carlsen at Chennai last November with a final score of 3.5-6.5 in the favour of Norwegian.
In recent matches this was the first time that a player lost a match without winning a single game.
There are some other things that go in Anand's favour too. At 44, Anand is the second oldest player in the history to 'earn' a rematch after Viktor Kortchnoi made it to meet Anatoly Karpov in 1981.
Mikhail Botwinnik at 50 had dethroned Mikhail Tal in 1961, but then Botwinnik got a direct rematch. Soon after Anand's victory at the Candidate's former world champion Garry Kasparov had tweeted: "Anand will be underdog to Carlsen, clearly. But chess history has shown rematches have their own dynamics. Rarely a repeat of first".
"It's just four days and the excitement is brewing, heart says Anand, mind says (pauses)...No not Carlsen...But not easy. This one will be different I guess," said Gupta with a smile before signing off.