The first international step on the road to the world championship begins Saturday in Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia. The 128-player knockout event sends the winner into a match with Veselin Topalov, who "earned" this privilege by winning the world championship tournament in San Luis in 2005 and then losing the title to Kramnik in 2006. The winner of that match will face the winner of the Kramnik-Anand world championship match, which is to take place in 2008. If you think all those matches are going to go off without a hitch you are smoking some fine Kalmykian yak dung. Speaking of hitches, my attempt to reach the official English site resulted in a 404, so keep your fingers crossed and pass the yak dung. The Saturday forecast for Khanty-Mansyisk is for a high of -6C (21F) [Excruciatingly slow and oddly empty official site is up here. Other coverage links below.] The games begin at 1500 local time, 1000 GMT, 5am EST, 2am PST. Live game links here.
FIDE has the list of qualifiers and the first-round pairings up here but Mark's list is better. Who will no-show this year? You can download the complete pairing tree there as well. The rating favorites for the final four are Ivanchuk, Radjabov, Mamedyarov, and Aronian. Aronian has Jakovenko and Shirov in his bracket. His countryman Akopian can also be dangerous. Mamedyarov has Adams and Carlsen. Radjabov has Svidler, Kamsky, and Ponomariov. Ivanchuk has Alekseev and Grischuk in his group, as well as Karjakin and Bacrot. Name your final four now. Also pick someone not in the top 40 who will make it to the final eight. I'll plump for Alekseev, Aronian, Radjabov, and someone from China. PS: beware Rublevsky! For potential collapses I'll contradict myself and say Aronian. He's been wild lately and I could easily see him losing to Vallejo or Jakovenko. Mamedyarov is also a basket case at times with the black pieces and is surrounded by aggressive players like Cheparinov and Motylev.
How many Americans will get out of the first round? We have Onischuk-Andriasian, Roiz-Akobian, Shabalov-Pavasovic, Kamsky-Adly, Kudrin-Vallejo, Gurevich-Kaidanov, Shulman-Leitao, and Ivanov-Navara. We look set for four Yankees into the second round, five with luck. Onischuk could meet Shirov in the 3rd round but might be set for a deep run. He's been in great form lately and has been working hard. These KO events are all about nerves and form. Chess Life Online has various items on the World Youth event in Turkey but doesn't seem to have noticed yet that eight Americans are playing in Khanty-Mansyisk. Maybe Jen is headed there from Antalya?!
Update: To answer my own question above on no-shows, the official site now lists match 31, Cheparinov-Gonzalez Zamora and match 53, Izoria-Ghaem Maghami, as won on disqualification. Nigel Freeman below says Izoria and Gonzalez Zamora dropped out at the last minute and Svidler's opponent Iturrizaga of Venezuela appears to be a no-show after getting lost between Russian airports! acirce and others have quotes below on why some of the elite aren't playing. A month ago ChessBase ran items with comments from Leko and Morozevich saying that Topalov's absurd presence in a spurious final match put them off.