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When Viswanathan Anand meets 22-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway in the 2013 World Chess Championship, to be held in Chennai from 6-26 November, it will probably be the first time he will be up against an opponent so much younger than him.

The 43-year-old Anand’s title, as the winner of the 2012 World Chess Championship, will be challenged by the current world No.1, Carlsen, who was hailed as the “Mozart of chess" by The Washington Post in 2004 when, at age 13, he beat former world champion Anatoly Karpov, pushed another former world champion Garry Kasparov to a draw, and became a chess grandmaster.

Though the World Chess Federation (Fide) has not declared the venue for the title match in November, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa announced in the assembly on Monday that Chennai would host the event.

So what is Anand up against?

When Fide published its monthly list in January, Carlsen, whose current Elo rating (a system to calculate the relative skills of players) is 2,872, had officially achieved the highest-ever rating since the system was introduced. His then rating of 2,861 was 10 points higher than Kasparov’s legendary record from 1999. Anand, ranked at No.6, has an Elo of 2,783 and his peak rating was 2,817 in September 2011.

When Carlsen became the world’s top-ranked player in 2010, AFP wrote in its profile: “Initiated into chess early on by his father, as a boy, Carlsen nevertheless preferred other pastimes that he explored on his own. Aged 2, he could recite all car brands; as a five-year-old, he built monumental creations out of Lego; then he moved on to memorizing the world’s countries, their flags, capitals, and areas. But he was soon brought back to chess by the desire to beat his older sister at the game."

As a teenager, Carlsen was typically aggressive and hurried, but he grew up into an all-round performer. His game is not restricted to any specific opening favourites; rather, he plays a variety of them, which makes it difficult to prepare against him.

In a 2012 interview in New in Chess magazine, current world No.3 Vladimir Kramnik said Carlsen is successful because of his physical condition and his ability to avoid psychological lapses, which enable him to maintain a high standard of play over long games when the energy levels of others drop.

Carlsen’s endgame prowess has been described as among the greatest in history. English grandmaster Jonathan Speelman, who analysed Carlsen’s endgames from the 2012 London Classic, described his wins as the “Carlsen effect". “Through the combined force of his skill and no less important his reputation, he drives his opponents into errors. He plays on for ever, calmly, methodically and, perhaps most importantly of all, without fear. This makes him a monster and makes many opponents wilt," wrote Speelman in New in Chess.

“It will be an interesting clash between these two ideas as to what constitutes the best player in the world," Carlsen told reporters in London after winning the Fide World Chess Candidates Tournament on 2 April that gave him the right to challenge Anand for the world title in seven months.

“Before he is done, Carlsen will have changed our ancient game considerably," Kasparov told Time magazine in January 2010 when the Norwegian became the youngest top player in the world.

Some experts have already compared the November contest to the intriguing battle between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972.

Though Anand has struggled a bit in the last two years, it will be difficult for Carlsen to overcome him. Anand is still a master tactician and one who loves to keep himself physically fit.

Anand is one of only six players in history to break the 2,800 Elo mark. In April 2007, at the age of 37, he became world No.1 for the first time. He was at the top of the world rankings five out of six times, from April 2007 to July 2008, holding the ranking for a total of 15 months. In October 2008, he dropped out of the world top 3 rankings for the first time since July 1996. Anand regained the top ranking in November 2010 but had to concede the top spot to Carlsen in July 2011.

The Indian is aware of Carlsen’s strong and weak points and there will be huge expectations from the Chennai-born grandmaster. “There always is pressure.... It was there in the previous World Championships as well. This time, I’ll be experiencing it at home. That’s the only difference," Anand said in an email interview.

Anand is not perturbed at losing the No.1 spot to his challenger. Instead, he says he uses the ranking as a motivational target and is sure to regain the top spot. “I would want to be the world No.1 but I think the main thing is to see the ranking as a motivational target. I’m gaining rating points and that is positive. I don’t think one should worry about rankings," says Anand, who became the first sportsman to be awarded the second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2007.

Anand held the World Chess Championship title from 2000-02, at a time when the world title was split—for a few years from 1993, a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association, held its own world championship. In 2007, Anand became the undisputed world champion and successfully defended the title against Kramnik (2008), Veselin Topalov (2010) and Boris Gelfand (2012). Will the Norwegian be able to do what Kramnik, Topalov and Gelfand couldn’t?

Aminul Islam is a sports writer based in Doha, Qatar.

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