Moscow: World Champion Viswanathan Anand starts as huge favourite in his title defense at the Tretyakov Gallery here against Boris Gelfand of Israel in a 12-game World Championship match.
Vying for his fifth World championship crown, the Indian ace has history and match-experience by his side to cruise past Gelfand who is fighting a 19-year itch to beat Anand in a Classical Chess game.
Also at stake is the prize fund of USD 2.55 million (about Rs. 13.5 crore) out of which 60 per cent will go to the winner in case of a victory without a tiebreaker.
In the event of a deadlock after 12-games, games of shorter duration will be played to determine the winner and if this happens, the winner will take home 55 per cent of the prize fund.
For Anand this will be the third world championship match in a row and overall fifth while Gelfand will be hoping to emerge as the world champion from his first such match itself.
It was trial by fire for the Israeli in the candidates tournament that he won last year to stake his claim for the ultimate title.
Anand has been here many times. He lost a match with Kasparov in the World trade center in New York back in 1993.
In 1998, Anand again fought for the title ? losing to Anatoly Karpov.
The Indian won his first world championship in the knockout format in 2001 and won the world championship match tournament in 2007 at Mexico city.
The format for the world championship changed thereafter and the age-old matches again replaced the knockouts or the match tournaments.
In what was known as the reunification match of the chess world, Anand defeated Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and became the first player in history to win the championship in all three formats ? knockout, match tournament and match with an individual.
In 2010 Veselin Topalov could not match the wily and, by now far more versatile Anand, and lost by blundering in the last game of the match, making sure Anand will be defending his title in 2012.
Gelfand has been in the top ten players for many years but a recent dip in ratings now sees the Bylorussian-Israeli at number 20 in world rankings. Anand is currently ranked fourth behind Magnus Carlsen of Norway, Levon Aronian of Armenia and Kramnik.
The Israeli has participated in many world championships and even won the 2009 world cup of chess but he has never been in the finals of any knockout world championships. His main shy at the title before this was in 2007 at Mexico city where Anand won comprehensively.
From 2009 to 2011, Gelfand was in his element and all those years of hard work paid off like never before.
Qualifying for the candidates matches thanks to his victory in the world cup, the Israeli tormented his rivals ? Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, Gata Kamsky of United States and finally Alexander Grischuk of Russia to qualify to play the match against Anand.
The rivalry and friendship began in 1989 when these two first played in a tournament. The first encounter was a draw and then Gelfand showed his class winning the next four games.
When Gelfand won his fifth game against Anand in 1993, little did he know that it`s going to be a very long wait.
It has been 19-years since Gelfand beat Anand in a Classical game. His lone victory in all these years against the Indian was in a rapid game and that came in 2008. Not counting draws, the overall rapid record between them is eight victories for Anand with one loss, in Classical its 6-5 and in blitz its 3-0 in favour of Anand.
At 42, Anand has practically won everything under the sun and motivation could be one factor in favour of Gelfand who is a year older. In the times when the age of the Grandmasters is getting younger and younger it is astonishing to see two 40-years old fighting for the crown.
The Indian bid to host the championship in Chennai was dumped after a last-minute bid from the Russian Federation.
The bid that some say came just before deadline had the support of Andrey Filatov, Russian billionaire and a long-time friend of Gelfand. The Indian bid was almost in the open after a formal announcement by All India Chess Federation and it was easy to outbid it.
In an interview, Filatov, an avid chess player himself, said that the idea had floated right after Gelfand`s victory in the candidates tournament. Of the USD 5 million Filatov donated for the match, USD 2.55 million is allocated for the prize money.
"FIDE (the World Chess Federation) made the logical decision to grant the right to host the match to the country that would provide the highest prize money, and that`s what happened," said Filatov.
"There were no political pressures here, even though Moscow had the infrastructure and tradition going in its favor. The amount of prize money we offered was simply higher," he added.
The sponsor is also keen to see chess associated with arts and that`s why the venue is the finest art gallery in Moscow which hosts the best Russian art collection in the world.
After the opening ceremony slated for later today, the first game will be played tomorrow. This one is going to be a unique event as the organisers have roped in some of the best in the world to comment on the games.
Kramnik, Grischuk and Peter Svidler along with Nigel Short will be commenting on the games and it will be a feast for the chess lovers across the world. In another first, the organisers have also invited prominent artists to visit the Tretyakov Gallery during the championship.
For Gelfand it`s the chance of a lifetime, for Anand its about proving himself once again.