Chessdom preview before the challengers match in Sofia
As the Challengers match Topalov - Kamsky is approaching, more and more news sources and chess fans put Topalov as the clear favorite. The rating difference, the strong play by Topalov in Nanjing and Bilbao, and the host city being Sofia provide a first impression that everything is going to be fine for Topalov. All around the internet he is being pointed as the heavy favorite, even Levon Aronian stated for Armenia media that he is sure in the Bulgarian GM success.
Do not get misled though, it will be an exciting match, but the outcome is far from clear. Both players have their chances and it is not possible to point out a favorite before the start of the event. Here are a few reasons why.
The format of the match
Gata Kamsky can be considered a match specialist with solid experience. He has played heavy weight matches against Anand, Short, Kramnik, Salov, Karpov. What's more, the short format of the match seems not to bother him. During the World Cup he showed he can jump on every little opportunity and downed players such as Adly, Avrukh, Kiril Georgiev, Svidler, Ponomariov, Carlsen, and Shirov in the mini matches.
Topalov also has a successful experience with short matches. In a recent 4 games event he downed the European champion GM Nisipeanu in a convincing manner. In Tripoli 2004 he had a good series of mini match victories against Abulhul, Delchev, Movsesian, and Kozul.
The format of the upcoming match in Sofia puts a theoretical question on the table. Both players have shown they are comfortable with the risky format, but one of them has to prove he is better.
The psychological state of the players will have a major role on the outcome of the match. It will be the factor allowing or hindering the players to show their full preparation and skill. Topalov has the support of the home crowd. That brings the so called home advantage, but also puts him under pressure. Every draw will be accepted as a loss by the local fans. The hopes of the media and fans will be very demanding for Topalov and he will have to cope with the difference of expectations if he has a calmer and solid match strategy.
Kamsky is not having a home crowd to cheer for him, however, he will have the privilege to start as the underdog. This will let him concentrate fully on his games, disconnect from public reactions, and focus on his performance.
Recent results not a factor
Topalov has had a fantastic run, winning the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao and the first Grand Slam tournament of 2009 in Nanjing. He has been in top form in the end of last year, but that in no way can be counted on as an advantage. The question now is has Topalov managed to keep his form? Every player has ups and downs, and if this is a down period for Topalov, then American GM shot at the title is very realistic.
On the other hand, Kamsky has clearly hidden his preparation during the Corus tournament and was playing just to fulfill his contract and not lose many rating points. Without much effort he managed to make it to the middle of the table. Adding to this his title from the European Club Cup hints his intentions for a victory.