Chennai: Reigning world chess champion Viswanathan Anand finds himself relegated to the role of underdog as he prepares to defend his crown against Norwegian sensation Magnus Carlsen at home in Chennai from Saturday.
Anand has been the game's undisputed champion since 2007 -- having won his fifth title last year in Moscow -- but experts predict the end of the road for the Indian against current world number one Carlsen.
It could take up to 13 games over a three-week period before the contest is eventually settled but the young pretender Carlsen appears to have a clear edge over the incumbent after his recent fall down the rankings.
Speaking to reporters on a recent inspection of the Chennai hotel where they will face off, the 22-year-old Carlsen spoke of his respect for his opponent but also displayed the confidence of youth.
"I respect him a lot," Carlsen told reporters.
"When playing a World Championship match, you should have supreme confidence in your abilities," Carlsen added when asked about his chances of getting the better of the 43-year-old Anand.
Both players, who have shunned public appearances in recent days as they put finishing touches to their strategy, have enjoyed a remarkably similar rise in their careers since they were teenagers.
Anand became an international master at 15, was crowned Indian champion at 16, won the world junior title at 17 and became the country's first grandmaster at 18.
Carlsen turned grandmaster at 13 and in 2010, aged 19, he became the youngest player in history to be ranked world number one. He won the Candidates Tournament this year to earn the right to challenge Anand.
The Indian, who is based these days in Spain with his wife and young son, trails the challenger by a whopping 95 rating points and his world ranking has tumbled from number one to eight.
After losing to Carlsen in a matter of hours at the Tal Memorial event in Moscow in June, Anand admitted the experience had been "embarrassing" and acknowledged the Norwegian was "a resourceful and dangerous opponent".
Observers say that Anand is starting to show his age, especially when pitted against a man 21 years his junior, and that his opponent has the clear psychological edge over him.
"Chess is not like football or other sports, but still it works against you if you are much older than your opponent," said Russian Vladimir Kramnik, who lost the title match to Anand in 2008.
"Carlsen has much more energy, more motivation as he has not been a world champion yet," Kramnik was quoted as saying.
"Anand is somewhat intimidated by Carlsen. He has not been confident playing against him -- he's scared of him, I would say."
However Anand, who remains one of the most popular sports figures in cricket-mad India, insists that he is not overawed by the young pretender.
"Yes, he does represent a new generation but in the end you have to still play chess," said Anand in an email exchange.
The 12-game format where one point is awarded for a win and half a point for a draw means the first man to reach 6.5 points will be declared the winner.
If points are equal after the 12th game on November 26, the match will be decided by a tie-break or sudden-death on November 28.