World title candidates to determine Magnus Carlsen’s next opponent

After occupying the chess throne for barely four months Magnus Carlsen will soon be confronted with his first challenger.

The world title candidates is under way this week in the Siberian oil town of Khanty-Mansiysk, where eight grandmasters are competing for a €600,000 prize fund and the jackpot of a multi-million dollar series against the 23-year-old Norwegian.

Four of the candidates are Russian, another two are from the former Soviet Union. This lopsided selection from the world elite is due to the weighting given to direct qualifiers over current rankings. America's Hikaru Nakamura and Italy's Fabiano Caruana are top-10 GMs but both failed to secure a candidates place.

The world No2, Levon Aronian, is the favourite, with a smooth and creative playing style and a host of tournament successes to his credit. At the age of 31 the Armenian is at his playing peak and his one downside is the vulnerability to pressure he showed when failing in the last two candidates. And Aronian hit trouble in the very first round on Thursday, losing tamely to the ex-champion, India's Vishy Anand.

The other major contender is Vlad Kramnik, who in 2000 defeated the great Garry Kasparov for the world title, then held it for seven years. Kramnik lost out to Carlsen only on tie-break in the 2013 candidates, and believes that he can qualify this time and then prove that the Norwegian is beatable. The well-prepared Russian is a deep strategist and a fine endgame player, though at 38 years old tactical errors have started to creep in.

Most commentators and fellow GMs believe that one of these two will win, so who can cause an upset? The candidates will be an opportunity for Sergey Karjakin, 24, who was the youngest ever GM at age 12 and who has long been groomed as Russia's answer to Carlsen. Karjakin has yet to contend seriously for the world title, but his age, technical skills, and ambition mark him as ready for a surge to the top.

The candidates games can be viewed free and live online but beware – due to the time difference the start is 9am GMT.

What of Carlsen? The world champion has been relaxing at a series of speed events in Brazil, where he crushed that country's finest and received four World Cup final tickets as part of his fee. His official rapid chess rating, which is separate from his normal classical rating, jumped by 37 points and he advanced from No3 to No1, displacing the speed specialist Nakamura.

The opening 1 Nf3 f5?! 2 d3! is already better for White, and Carlsen here quickly dominates the light squares, sinks his knight at the fine square e6, controls the entire board, and is ready for a decisive rook invasion when Black resigns.

Magnus Carlsen v Andrés Rodríguez

1 Nf3 f5 2 d3 Nf6 3 e4 d6 4 exf5 Bxf5 5 d4 Qd7 6 Nc3 g6 7 Bd3 Bg7 8 O-O Nc6 9 d5 Nb4 10 Bxf5 gxf5 11 a3 Na6 12 Nd4 Nc5 13 b4 Nce4 14 Nxe4 fxe4 15 Ne6 Rg8 16 Bb2 c6 17 c4 Bh8 18 Re1 Rg6 19 Bxf6 exf6 20 Qh5 Qf7 21 Qf5 Qg8 22 g3 Kf7 23 Rxe4 1-0

This Carlsen win follows a familiar pattern where his opponent has an opening edge then blows it by 17 e4? (Ra1!) Carlsen finds the tactical shots Rxc3! Bxa3! and e3! and White resigns when worse on both material and position.

Rafael Leitão v Magnus Carlsen

1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bg4 5 cxd5 Bxf3 6 Qxf3 cxd5 7 Nc3 e6 8 Bd3 Nc6 9 0-0 Bb4 10 Bd2 0-0 11 Rac1 Rc8 12 a3 Ba5 13 b4 Bc7 14 Qh3 Bd6 15 f4 a5 16 b5 Ne7 17 e4? Rxc3! 18 Rxc3 dxe4 19 Bc4 Bxa3! 20 Rxa3 Qxd4+ 21 Qe3 Qxc4 22 Rc1 Qxb5 23 Rxa5 Qd7 24 Rac5 Nf5 25 Qc3 e3! 26 Bxe3 Nd5 0-1

3349 1...Qc2! 2 Rxa5 (if 2 Ra2 Rxa4!) Qxe2+ 3 Kg1 Qe3+ 4 Kh1 Rf2 and White resigned since after 5 Qxe5+ Kh7 he gets mated. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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