Bulgaria’s Vesselin Topalov is among the eight chess grand-masters who will clash in a tournament in Russia starting on March 13, the winner of which will challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen later this year.
Norway’s Carlsen, who became the youngest player to be ranked number one in the world in January 2010 and has held the highest rating since July 2011, defeated India’s Viswanathan Anand to win the chess crown in November 2013.
Anand, as the losing player in the previous championship match, qualified automatically for the candidates tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk. In addition to Anand, the field has two other former world champions – Topalov himself and Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik – as well as Armenia’s Levon Aronian, Azerbaijan’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and three Russian players in Dmitry Andreikin, Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler.
Topalov won his championship in runaway fashion at the 2005 round-robin tournament organised by the world’s chess governing body FIDE.
A year later, he lost it to Kramnik in the re-unification match (Kramnik was the holder of the break-away Professional Chess Association’s championship, which he first won in 2000), amid controversy sparked by Topalov’s manager, who claimed that Kramnik was taking frequent bathroom breaks and implied that Kramnik was getting computer assistance.
In 2009, Topalov won a “challenger’s match” against American Gata Kamsky for the right to play against Anand in the 2010 World Championship. He lost the title series, played in Sofia, by one point.
Topalov was last involved in a candidates tournament in 2011, when he was the top seed, but lost to Kamsky early on. This time, he qualified by virtue of winning FIDE’s grand-prix series of six tournaments in 2012-2013 (he won outright in Zug, shared the win with two others in London and finished third in Beijing).
The tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk is round-robin, in which each player will play every other contestant twice over the course of the next two and a half weeks. Tie-breaks, if necessary, will be played on March 31, with the winner playing against Carlsen in November.
(Topalov, right, at the 2008 M-Tel Masters chess tournament in Sofia. Photo: DrOMM/flickr.com)