It always seems a little weird to me to root for chess players for some reason. I'm an off and on baseball fan and have a team that I root for. For some reason that seems natural whereas there seems to me something absurd about rooting for chess players. I'm not sure that I can put my finger on what it is. Maybe because chess is an intellectual competition, the idea of cheering doesn't really seem to fit. I think part of it is that for me at least, my sympathies have little to do with any actual technical appreciation of the players work and more to do with outside factors.
Still, it doesn't stop me.
One example is that I am a Hou Yifan fan. Not sure why. I don't know anything about her personality, but of course I am impressed by her abilities given how young she is. I have been following the current match and seeing her winning so easily is again impressive. It also struck me as unfair that she was champion in match play and then was forced to give up the title to a knock-out tournament. These always give unpredictable results.
In the world championship coming up I am rooting for Magnus Carlsen. I have to say that I am a fan of Anand as well but that I want to see Magnus win. I think these have a bit more rational basis to them. Anand has a reputation as being a nice guy and somehow that means something to me. I have a strong dislike for intellectual arrogance and the idea that someone can be at the top and be pleasant is appealing to me. I also rooted for him against Kramnik and Topalov. Another part of the reason there was that Kramnik and Topalov's place in the cycles still had to do with negotiations from the unification of the federations. (At least that was my understanding.) The way I saw it, when Anand won it was putting to rest some of those final threads from the past. I thought it would be good for chess to have that happen. Certainly, Topalov seems to be a bad guy to me for accusing Kramnik of cheating. On the other hand, Kramnik has grown on me due the opportunities I have had to see him in the postgame analysis sessions and such.
On the other hand, it seems to me that Carlsen is a decent guy so his personality doesn't really count against him in my mind. The real trump card though is that he is clearly the strongest player in the world and I have a strong feeling that it would be good for the title and the rank to go together. That being said I don't mean that the matches should be done away with. I really like them. I would just much prefer a solid system where the challengers earn there place and the championship match is much closer to the elo peak than the last match between Anand and Gelfland was. I would like to see Carlsen as champion and then see the other players striving to beat him, so that even if they fail, great chess will be played. Not that it won't all be over my head :)
As far as some others go, I have to say I'm a Luke McShane fan. I like that he is an amateur and yet still plays so well. I also got to see some of the coverage from the London Chess Classic 2011 and had a favorable impression of him then, particularly with his win against Kramnik.
I also have a certain sympathy for Ivanchuk, perhaps because I feel I can relate to someone who is temperamental and uneven in performance.
There's also the question of historical players.
For instance, I would say I have a dislike of Bobby Fischer. I really don't like the way his career ended nor the opinions he expressed later on in his life.
In some ways, Kasparov and Karpov are my archetypes of high level chess as I remember there matches from when I was a boy. I don't mean that I followed their matches much, but I was sufficiently interested in chess at the time to be aware of their match in '87 and took a clipping of one of their games to class for a project about reading the newspaper.
Of course there are plenty of others that I may have some opinion of for some reason or another but these are my thoughts on the subject for today.