2021 World Cup – Quarterfinal Preview

Magnus Carlsen was pressed to the brink by Andrey Esipenko, but managed to advance to the quarterfinals in blitz tiebreaks. With eight players remaining the World Champion is now a clear favorite to win the World Cup, and is surprisingly the only player seeded in the top nine to remain in the field as Grischuk and Vachier-Lagrave were knocked out by Duda and Karjakin, respectively.

While Carlsen is here with just one mission – winning the tournament – the other seven players have begun to solidify their roles within the next World Championship cycle by coming this far. Two of the seven will ultimately advance deeper – either reaching the finals or finishing in third place if Magnus is a finalist – and earn spots in the next Candidates Tournament. And the other five have locked up invitations to the Grand Prix series where they’ll have another opportunity to play their way into the Candidates.

Round 5 Recap

In earlier rounds with too many matches to look at individually, we have organized our recaps around identifying which players saw the most dramatic change in odds of reaching various future stages. “Biggest winners and losers” if you will. It is no longer necessary to take such a limited approach, as the field is small enough now to easily digest how the odds shifted for everyone; the stakes have gotten high enough that all players advancing are big winners and all players eliminated have suffered a big loss. For 15 of the players in round five, the primary goal was to earn a berth in the Candidates Tournament. Eight of those players were eliminated and of course saw their chances of doing so drop to zero, but here are all 15 with their new odds, and how those odds changed based on the round five results:

In addition to those 15, there is one more player in the field with a different primary goal. Magnus Carlsen is here with an intent to win the tournament and will be satisfied with nothing less. He advanced as well, and his odds of winning are now up to 58.1%, making him the odds-on favorite to win the event for the first time (he entered this round at 49.2%, for comparison).

So what brought us here? Let’s take a narrative look at all eight remaining players, from most to least likely to win first place.

Magnus Carlsen 58.1% – Carlsen is of course the World Champion and has been the highest rated player in the world for over a decade. He didn’t have to participate in this event as he doesn’t need to earn a Candidates Tournament berth, but the World Cup is bigger than just that prize even if it gets the most attention. This is one of the only major tournaments Carlsen has never won, and you don’t become the best chess player in the world without being deeply competitive, to where a hole on the trophy case can quite reasonably be a problem one feels the need to solve. So here he is, looking to take home first place.

When the tournament began our model estimated he had a 31.6% chance of achieving his goal and winning first place. Although he would be a large favorite in any individual match, winning the crown requires winning seven consecutive matches with no margin for error; it was always going to be a tough task. But initially it didn’t look that tough! After a first-round bye Carlsen rolled over his round two and three opponents with 2-0 wins in the classical portion. In round four he finally was held to draws in Classical by Wojtaszek but comfortably advanced in the first pair of rapid tiebreaks.

The comfort and ease disappeared in round five. Andrey Esipenko, the teenager who came into this match with a perfect lifetime score against Carlsen (one win in one game, let’s be honest about the sample size), showed his mettle. He held draws in both classical games, then in both of the first pair of longer rapid games. In the next pair of shorter rapid games Carlsen finally won, but Esipenko wasn’t going to go down so easily and won on demand to force the tiebreaks into blitz where of course anything can happen! Only in the blitz portion did Carlsen finally score a pair of wins, securing his berth in the quarterfinals and finally breathing easily. He is now over 50% to win the tournament but the matches aren’t getting any easier. He still needs three more wins to achieve his goal.

Sergey Karjakin 15.6% – Karjakin, seeded 10th, is now the second highest seed remaining in this tournament, and the only player other than Carlsen with better than a 10% chance of winning the event. He had to earn his way to that spot in the fifth round with a challenging match against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who fought him to five straight draws before Karjakin finally scored a win in the second pair of tiebreak games to advance. Karjakin entered the event with just an 8.4% chance of reaching the finals, but now those odds are up to 45.6% as he is the favorite among the four remaining players in his half of the bracket.

Karjakin of course won the 2016 Candidates Tournament and certainly hasn’t given up his world championship aspirations. If he ends up in the Grand Prix he’ll be among the favorites, but at this point that would presumably be a disappointing finish now that one of the Candidates berths is so squarely in his sights. And notably he was the “biggest winner” of round five in terms of percentage points gained in his Candidates chances, as he won a very challenging matchup.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda 7.4% – Duda has not quite cracked the top echelon of the chess world. Currently ranked 18th with a career peak of 12th, he is seldom mentioned as a world championship contender – yet. However at 23 years old he seems very likely to climb into the top ten and earn such mention at some point in the future. And now that he sits as the third most likely champion of this year’s World Cup, the future might be now. He eliminated #5 seed Alexander Grischuk relatively comfortably, drawing both classical games, then winning the first tiebreak game with white and holding as black to advance. After Karjakin, Duda was the other big winner among the candidates for the Candidates, adding over 20 percentage points to his hopes with the upset victory in round five.

One cannot safely look ahead in this tournament, but we can’t help but notice that Duda sits on the same side of the bracket as Carlsen, making them potential semifinal opponents, which is interesting because Duda is one of the only players to win a classical game against Carlsen in the past year, having been the one to end Carlsen’s 125 game unbeaten streak last fall. That would be a great storyline to watch if we see such a matchup…

Vladimir Fedoseev 7.1% – Fedoseev is one of several surprising dark horses still competing here, as our initial model only gave him an 8.4% chance of reaching the quarterfinals, but here we are. His path was partly smoothed over by other upsets putting him in position to face lower rated opponents than expected – he is yet to face anyone rated higher than 2633 – but that doesn’t take away from his dramatic success. In four rounds he has been taken to tiebreaks just once, this past round by Velimir Ivic, and he won the first pair of rapid games 2-0 to move on. He has gained 19 rating points so far and climbed to 29th on the world ranking list. He is potentially slated for a fascinating semifinal matchup with his countryman Karjakin (Russia is the only nation left with multiple participants among the final eight). However we will again echo our warning about how dangerous it is to look ahead in this event.

Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 5.6% – The #13 seed is not a shocking quarterfinalist, starting with a 19% chance of getting this far, and we only have him lower than Fedoseev in terms of victory chances at this point because of how the bracket has shaken out. Arguably more important, though, is his spot as the fourth most likely player to earn one of the two candidate spots, along with the fact that he is only the second Indian player to ever reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup (along with Anand, of course). His deep run is already impressive, with his fourth round win over Jeffery Xiong as the highlight by ratings (he won both classical games there, against his highest rated opponent so far). In the fifth round he again advanced without the need for tiebreaks, dispatching Vasif Durarbayli who had also made an excellent run. If he makes it no further, we can at least enjoy the consolation prize of seeing him in the Grand Prix, but certainly at this point Vidit has larger goals on his mind and excellent chances to go even deeper in this event!

Sam Shankland 5.0% – Shankland entered this event with better odds than his #31 seed would indicate, as he had significant rating gains after the seeds were determined, but nevertheless our model only offered him an 8.1% probability of getting to the quarterfinals. Well, here he is! Shankland defeated former World Cup champion Peter Svidler in round five to get here affirming that he is a force to be reckoned with. At almost 25%, Shankland is a legit contender for one of the Candidates spots at this point, although it certainly won’t be easy – nothing is at the World Cup.

Etienne Bacrot 0.8% – And now we come to a real longshot contender. Where the last six players are all super-GMs (rated over 2700) Bacrot is rated just 2663 in the 2700chess.com live ratings. If you had known at the beginning of the event that exactly one French player would reach the quarterfinals, you probably would have been debating whether it would be Firouzja or MVL, but here we are and the answer is Bacrot. It hasn’t been an easy path, as every match he has played so far has gone to tiebreaks, but Etienne has navigated his rapid games excellently and earned his way here. Round five was the first time he lost a rapid game, when Kacper Piourun won the first tiebreak game putting Bacrot on the cusp of elimination, but Bacrot didn’t just win the next one – he won the next three to move on! The path certainly doesn’t get easier, with Carlsen up next, but if he can bring it to tiebreaks again who knows what might happen?

Amin Tabatabaei 0.5% – And here is the true Cinderella of the tournament so far! At 20 years old, the Iranian youngster was seeded 86th and rated 2613 when the event began; Tabatabaei initially had just a 0.4% chance of reaching the quarterfinals in our model’s estimation. Well he hasn’t let those odds stop him, beating two 2700+ opponents along the way, and after winning on demand with black in his second game of round five to force tiebreaks, he proceeded to dispatch Haik Martirosyan in the first pair of rapid tiebreak games. The odds say he wasn’t supposed to make it this far, but here he is. Now the odds say he isn’t supposed to go further (with just eight players left, he’s a 200 to 1 underdog to win), but we would advise not counting him out of anything at this point.

Quarterfinal Preview

With eight players left, the next round features just four matches. It’s time to take a look. With only a few rounds remaining, the numbers largely speak for themselves as we compare the odds of reaching each future round across each match, but we’ll add a few notes as well.

SeedNameRatingSF OddsFinals OddsChampion OddsCandidates Odds
1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR)284790.0%72.1%58.1%0.0%
41 Etienne Bacrot (FRA)266610.0%2.7%0.8%2.7%

Carlsen is of course a huge favorite by rating here. Our model estimates a 90% chance of victory for this strong of a ratings favorite. Perhaps all will go as expected, Bacrot will be knocked out, Carlsen will move one step closer to winning the tournament, and we can look forward to seeing Etienne again in the Grand Prix. But we’ve seen the unexpected so many times already in this event that we cannot discount that alternative 10% chance. The odds are pretty clear cut here and there’s not too much else to say, but let’s certainly watch what actually happens because there is a reason the games are played!

SeedNameRatingSF OddsFinals OddsChampion OddsCandidates Odds
12 Jan-Krzysztof Duda (POL)274353.6%14.0%7.4%37.2%
13 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (IND)273346.4%11.2%5.6%30.7%

With a likely semifinal match against Carlsen looming, the winner of this contest is relatively unlikely to reach the finals. However their Candidates hopes are very much alive thanks to the fact that a semifinal loss to Carlsen wouldn’t eliminate them – Carlsen can’t claim one of the spots so if he reaches the final then the third-place match determines the second Candidate. Meaning the winner of this near coinflip is in a better position than it might appear!

These are two excellent players, both among the top 20 in the world, both looking to take the next step forward in their career and move on to the semifinals and perhaps the Candidates Tournament. Sadly only one can do so, but don’t expect it to be easy for either of them!

SeedNameRatingSF OddsFinals OddsChampion OddsCandidates Odds
10 Sergey Karjakin (RUS)276164.8%45.6%15.6%53.7%
31 Sam Shankland (USA)271935.2%20.2%5.0%24.9%

Karjakin is a solid two to one favorite by rating, and would be a ratings favorite against either potential semifinal opponent, so he sits with strong chances to reach the finals and earn his Candidates berth. Shankland’s odds are lower, but primarily because of the difficulty of this match right here. If he manages to upset Karjakin he would suddenly be in excellent shape! And yes, it would absolutely be an upset, but far from the most dramatic one we’ve seen so far. This one should be well fought.

SeedNameRatingSF OddsFinals OddsChampion OddsCandidates Odds
30 Vladimir Fedoseev (RUS)271576.2%29.8%7.1%43.7%
86 Amin Tabatabaei (IRI)262723.8%4.3%0.5%7.1%

Four of the final eight players were seeded 30th or higher, which is rather remarkable already. Two of those four (Bacrot and Shankland) are underdogs to advance further, but the other two face each other in this match, meaning we’re guaranteed to see at least one 30+ seed in the semifinals. Fedoseev may be feeling confident about his relatively fortunate pairing; it certainly is what drives his surprisingly high chances of reaching the Candidates, but let’s not get too excited. Our model gives Tabatabaei a solid 24% chance to win, and if he does Fedoseev wouldn’t be the first super GM he’s felled… or the second for that matter. He’s already knocked off Yu Yangyi and Pentala Harikrishna, so Fedoseev certainly can’t take anything for granted here.

If Fedoseev wins, his presence in the semifinals will be a major surprise; he had just a 1% chance to get there in our initial pre-tournament odds. But the surprise could be an order of magnitude larger if Tabatabaei once again overcomes a 100 point rating gap – he only had a 0.1% chance to reach the semis in our initial estimation! So this matchup gives fans of upsets a “good or better” scenario!

There is no rest day yet, the quarterfinals start tomorrow, July 28th. We look forward to seeing how everything shakes out!

2021 World Cup – Round 5 Preview

In round four of the World Cup we finally saw favorites begin to largely hold their own, with 12 of 16 rating favorites winning their matches and advancing. Two of the upsets were relatively minor as well, so there were only two particularly surprising exits. Pentala Harikrishna saw his dreams dashed by Amin Tabatabaei while Velimir Ivic sent Dmitry Andreikin packing. These two underdogs, and the other 14 players who advanced, are all now just one more match win away from reaching the quarterfinals.

This next round can’t be overlooked, as reaching the quarterfinals earns at minimum as spot in the Grand Prix series (through which a spot in the next Candidates Tournament could be earned). That said, players who have come this far could be forgiven for looking ahead because in addition to the five or six Grand Prix spots that will be earned two players from this event who reach the finals (or finish third if Magnus reaches the finals) will earn direct entry to the Candidates – a huge prize!

We have updated the model to specifically calculate odds of earning those Candidates berths (through either path) and won’t keep you waiting. Here are each of the remaining players chances of reaching the Candidates:

We will break down the details of this later, but if you just want the numbers now you have them. Also if you really just want numbers, full odds for each remaining player to reach each remaining round of the tournament are on our main page here.

Round 4 Recap

Let’s first take a look at who our biggest winners and losers of the round were, in terms of the implications for how deep of a run the players might make in this event. The losers are pretty easy, as we’re talking about who was eliminated from the event. Of the 16 players eliminated, here are the five who entered the fourth round with the best hopes of reaching the quarterfinals:

Of course our two major upset victims top the list. The others lost close matchups where the favorite only had between 53% and 56% chances of winning; Xiong and Ponkratov lost as small underdogs and Vitiugov lost as a small favorite. So while we saw pretty major blows to two players with high hopes – including Harirkrisha who was the biggest winner in the previous round, the full list of upsets here was less dramatic than in prior rounds.

But who came out ahead? It depends on what measure we look at, although not for the round’s biggest winner. Here are the five players who increased their quarterfinal hopes the most:

And here are the five whose hopes of reaching the final rose most dramatically:

So that means it’s time to jinx Fedoseev by explaining in more detail what went so right for him. He won, of course. Beating Kovalev, which our model gave him a 71% chance of doing, was a boost. However he also benefitted greatly from both of this round’s biggest upsets. He entered round four in a section of the bracket with three “favorites” (rated over 2700, seeded between 11 and 30) and five underdogs (all rated under 2650, seeded between 59 and 110). He was one of those favorites, and the other two both lost! Suddenly, because of the relatively low-rated opposition in front of him, he has not only an 81% chance of reaching the quarterfinals, but also a 76% chance of winning that match if he does. The semifinals will still be tough, but before the round he was expecting (with a win) to have to play Harikrishna and then Andreikin in the next two rounds. His new path gives far more pleasant odds, and suddenly he’s a real threat to go all the way to the finals. Unless of course he becomes the latest favorite to learn firsthand the dangers lower rated players can pose…

Another notable result of the fourth round, not shown on the tables above, is that all three of the youngest players still alive after three rounds were sent packing. Impressive runs by Nodirbek Abdusattorov, R Praggnanandhaa, and Javokhir Sindarov finally ended. There are no 15 or 16 year old players left in the field. But that said, we still do have two teenagers! 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko won his coinflip showdown with Dubov (the rating differential was just two points) and 18-year-old Velimir Ivic knocked off his second super-GM of the tournament (Andreikin) to stay alive as the lowest seed to reach round five.

Ivic hasn’t gotten as much attention as he deserves, so we’re going to take a closer look at the biggest remaining Cinderella now. He has flown under the radar by being “just” a really good young player, rather than a historically great prodigy. His current live rating, if it were published today, would be one of the 80 highest ratings ever achieved at his age (he’ll turn 19 in just over a month). That means he’s not setting any records for his age; he just exceeded 2600 live rating for the first time in his career, at an age when 13 players in history have already exceeded 2700. However Super GMs like Navara and Wojtaszek, and Tomashevsky sit very close to him on the prodigy list, with similar 2600ish peak ratings as they approached their 19th birthdays. A top-80 rating of all time (for his age) is a pretty strong positive indictor as of course far fewer than 80 player from that group will be active when he is, say, 30 years old. So his world rank should at some point be far better than 80th if he continues progressing. The three comparable players listed above have all been ranked among the top 20 in the world, which could easily be in Ivic’s future as well. And higher than that can’t be ruled out either, if this World Cup run proves to be a springboard to greater heights! So if, like us, you hadn’t followed him in the past, he is an up-and-comer worth keeping a closer eye on going forward regardless of how much further he manages to press his luck here.

One final result pair from round four we want to highlight is the World Champion. Magnus Carlsen won again, improving his chances of winning the overall event to just a sliver below 50%. However he looked less invincible against Wojtaszek than he had before, drawing both classical games and having to win 1.5/2 in the first set of rapid tiebreaks instead. Now he moves on to face Andrey Esipenko who, as we will continue reminding everyone, beat him in a classical game earlier this year at Tata Steel.

But if we’re going to start talking about round five matchups, that means we’ve transitioned to our…

Round 5 Preview

With just 16 players left, we are now prepared to take a detailed look at all eight matchups.

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR)285084.3%77.1%60.2%49.2%
16 Andrey Esipenko (RUS)271615.7%11.0%4.3%1.9%

By rating, Carlsen is an 84% favorite to win this matchup, and as we can see will of course remain a dramatic favorite against anyone he faces going forward, but that still leaves almost a one in six chance that his run could end here. The two have only faced each other once, so Esipenko’s win in January means technically speaking he has a perfect record against the champ! Of course we’re a stats blog here, so we know that a sample size of one tells us very little. One could speculate about psychological factors but that’s outside our purview. Does the previous loss mean Esipenko is “in Carlsen’s head” and has better winning chances here? Or will Carlsen be “out for revenge” and more likely to win even than ratings would predict? We can’t say, and even after results are in we won’t really know as it still won’t be a big enough sample size to draw any conclusions about why the result happened. But as fans, a little speculation can add to the fun!

Another notable point about this matchup is that Esipenko’s odds of reaching the semis are only slightly lower than his odds of reaching the quarters, indicating that if he does pull off this upset, he’ll be a big favorite in the next round against the winner of:

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
41 Etienne Bacrot (FRA)266764.2%8.6%2.2%0.7%
89 Kacper Piorun (POL)262735.8%3.2%0.6%0.1%

Here we see two underdogs facing off. One of these two players will definitely earn a spot in the Grand Prix, with Bacrot being the favorite by approximately a two to one ratio. Before the tournament began Bacrot had only an 11% chance of getting even this far, and less than a 4% chance to reach the quarterfinals. Piorun was even more dramatically written off at just over 1% to reach round five as he has now done.

This match is huge for both players as the Grand Prix berth is the biggest prize either can reasonably hope for. The finals chances aren’t completely impossible but it’s not yet a realistic goal. Note of course the “Magnus effect” as both players see their semifinal odds become just a tiny fraction of their quarterfinal odds, because either would be a huge underdog next round against their likely #1 rated opponent. But whoever gets that far is already a huge winner against their initial expectations, and will get many more opportunities to face super-GM opposition in the Grand Prix.

And look, we know upsets happen. While of course either of these players would be major underdogs to Magnus, let us respect them enough to recognize that in a two-game mini-match anything can happen. They’re here for a reason and do note those odds are not 0%!

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
13 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (IND)273077.8%29.9%8.5%4.3%
93 Vasif Durarbayli (AZE)263422.2%3.7%0.5%0.1%

Suddenly the lone standard bearer for India, after Harikrishna and Praggnanandhaa took their leave in the past round, Vidit is in an excellent spot to reach the quarterfinals against one of the lowest rated players still in the event. Looking ahead he would face either the 5 or 12 seed the following round, and then have a 77% chance of having to face Magnus in the semifinals, so his odds of a deep run remain low, but certainly nonzero. Because Vidit is in the position of potentially facing Carlsen in the semifinals, specifically, a possible loss there isn’t a complete disaster since Carlsen can’t claim one of the two Candidates spots. So if he loses to Magnus in the semis he could still earn that spot by winning the third place “consolation” match. Our model estimates an 11% chance of that scenario (Vidit finishes 3rd exactly, and Magnus is in the finals) which added to his hopes of reaching the finals directly means Vidit has almost a 20% chance of qualifying for the Candidates – fifth most likely among the players fighting for those two berths.

As for Durarbayli, of course this isn’t his first go-around as a ratings underdog. He wouldn’t still be playing if he hadn’t already upset higher rated players (like Predke and Navara), so while we can’t deny his underdog status, let’s not punch Vidit’s ticket to any later round quite yet. There is better than a one in five chance that Durarbayli will earn a spot in the Grand Prix and leave India with no representation in the quarterfinals. If that happens he’ll be an even more dramatic underdog in future rounds, but as long as he’s playing those future rounds he probably won’t mind the underdog moniker!

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
5 Alexander Grischuk (RUS)277662.2%43.7%16.7%10.8%
12 Jan-Krzysztof Duda (POL)274237.8%22.7%7.0%3.8%

The last matchup in the top half (the Magnus half) of the bracket sees two well known players square off. These are two of the seven players seeded 1 through 16 who have “held serve” to dodge all upset attempts so far. Grischuk is the ratings favorite, and one of the three single-digit seeds still in contention. Currently ranked #7 in the world, he is the single most likely player in the field to earn one of the Candidates berths with nearly a 17% chance of reaching the finals (despite likely having to get past Magnus in the semis to do so) plus an additional 18% chance of finishing exactly third with Magnus being in the top two. And winning the event might matter less to him, but he has better than a 10% chance of doing so, second only to Carlsen.

But Grischuk’s high odds are all about his strength as a player, and in no way indicative of an easy path. Duda is also excellent, currently ranked #18 in the world, and is a strong threat to win this match. If he does so he would be favored in the quarterfinals as well, before likely running into the Carlsen buzzsaw. Unlike the other matchups we’ve looked at so far these two players have faced each other numerous times before, although mostly in faster time controls. And they’ve generally been evenly matched. From one of our favorite websites in the world, 2700chess.com, we see this head-to-head history:

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
31 Sam Shankland (USA)271450.4%17.7%10.5%2.6%
18 Peter Svidler (RUS)271349.6%17.3%10.2%2.5%

Shankland shot up in the July rating list, after seeds had been determined based on the June list, and despite the lower seed is actually the slimmest of possible favorites in this match. Given the nearly identical ratings, and of course the same prospective set of future opponents, whichever of these players win in round five will have almost the exact same chances in each future round.

One thing ratings don’t show is how extensive Svidler’s experience with this specific event is. He has won the World Cup once, in 2011, and also reached the finals in 2015. This is coupled with numerous other deep runs to the fourth, fifth, or quarterfinal rounds. At 45 years old the veteran is no longer rated as high as he was in his peak, while Shankland at 29 is perhaps in his prime, but it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this battle of experience versus form. Both players have reasonable (over 10%) hopes of earning one of the two Candidates berths, and with this match being essentially a coinflip those odds will roughly double for the winner, so there’s a lot at stake here beyond just the Grand Prix berth that the winner immediately clinches!

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
10 Sergey Karjakin (RUS)276254.4%36.3%26.4%9.6%
7 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)275045.6%28.8%20.0%6.7%

Here we have another matchup of two top seeds that have held serve. The winner of this matchup will be favored over whichever of Shankland or Svidler wins, and these two players have the third and fourth best chances at reaching the Candidates among all remaining players. Although both players are currently ranked outside the world top ten, Karjakin is a former world #4 who won the 2016 Candidates and has competed in a world championship match before while MVL has been ranked as high as #2. In other words both of these players have reason to expect to contend for a Candidates berth. One will unfortunately have to go home empty handed after this round. The other though will have clinched at least a Grand Prix spot (and these two are definitely threats to finish top-two in the Grand Prix) and have significantly improved Candidates hopes having passed the very tough test that this round represents.

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
30 Vladimir Fedoseev (RUS)271881.0%61.3%25.6%6.7%
110 Velimir Ivic (SRB)260419.0%7.5%1.2%0.1%

Here we have the biggest winner of round four going up against the lowest rated player left in the field. Those are of course related points; the reason Fedoseev saw his odds of reaching the quarterfinals and semifinals increase so dramatically have a lot to do with Ivic’s upset win over Andreikin who the model thought was far more likely to be on this line of the bracket – and who would have been, by rating, a far tougher opponent for Fedoseev. Looking ahead we see of course that Fedoseev is better than 75% to win the quarters if he gets there, based on the last matchup (which we’ll look at momentarily). His potential semifinal matches remain challenging (Grischuk, Duda, Shankland, or Svidler are all tough possibilities) but due to his opposition in this and the next round he is by a mile the second most likely semifinalist (behind Carlsen of course) which carries through to pretty excellent odds of a Candidates berth (34%, second to Grischuk). One key point is that if he reaches the semifinals and loses, there is still a 60% chance that the finalist on the other side of the bracket might be Carlsen and that his third place match might therefore still give him a path to earning the Candidates berth. He’s in great position.

We highlighted Ivic earlier of course. He is now just one match win away from a spot in the Grand Prix which would be a spectacular opportunity for the 18-year-old. He’s already defeated Vallejo and Andreikin. By rating, Fedoseev is no different than them. So let’s not pencil Fedoseev into anything quite yet. It’s certainly worth exploring Fedoseev’s odds, and he’s certainly in a great position as we said, but Ivic is fully capable of turning him from the biggest winner of the last round to the biggest loser of this round (like Tabatabaei did to Harikrishna). Remember that the upsets are one of the main reasons the World Cup is such an exciting tournament to watch. We emphasize how big of a favorite people are not to imply they’re invulnerable, but to quantify how unexpected it is if they get knocked out – which is always a threat!

SeedNameRatingQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
59 Haik M. Martirosyan (ARM)263854.4%17.6%3.7%0.5%
86 Amin Tabatabaei (IRI)262645.6%13.5%2.6%0.3%

And last but not least we have two more underdogs. When the tournament began these players had 0.9% and 0.4% chances, respectively, of reaching the quarterfinals. But one of them will do just that! By rating it’s anyone’s guess which of these Cinderellas will find themselves locking up a Grand Prix berth, and recalibrating for new goals. Both are of course likely to continue to be underdogs in future matchups but do note that it’s possible the winner of this could face Ivic, not Fedoseev, and guarantee a 59+ seed reaching the semis!

Having looked at the matchups, let’s review the topline Candidates odds we opened with. The odds are, once again:

Three Russian players lead the way, with Grischuk being the highest rated potential Candidate on Magnus’ side of the bracket and banking largely on winning as a favorite, with half his Candidates equity coming from the possibility of a third place finish.

Fedoseev is second thanks to the biggest upsets grouping into his round five and quarterfinal opponents, making him the most likely semifinalist at which point he could likely just win either of his next two matches for a spot.

Karjakin and MVL square off sitting in the #3 and #4 spots on this table, so the winner of that match will see their odds jump dramatically and might have a chance to sit atop the odds by the end of the round once only eight player remain in the field.

And in fifth place is Vidit, who still carries roughly a one in five chance of locking up one Candidates spot for India.

An interesting note about the Candidates odds is the Magnus effect. It is possible for zero or one player from his half of the bracket to reach the Candidates, while the other half of the bracket will have either one or two players advance, due to the implications of the potential 3rd place game (if Carlsen reaches the finals). Collectively the players on Carlsen’s half have just a 79% chance of earning Candidates berths while the eight players on the other side have 121% collective odds (with two berths at stake, the probabilities of course add to 200%).

These 16 players will begin battle tomorrow, July 25th, with so very much at stake. Over three days half will be eliminated, while eight will reach the quarterfinals, with five or six of those to eventually return in the Grand Prix and two of them eventually earning spots in the Candidates Tournament. What will the next major upset be? Who will move on and who will fall? We’ll know soon!

2021 World Cup – Round 4 Preview

The unrelenting wave of early-round upsets continued in round three of the FIDE World Cup, with three more top-six seeds sent home early. Chaos on the top boards has proven good for those top players who have managed to survive – including favorite Magnus Carlsen whose odds of winning the tournament rose quite a bit with this round’s results – and also opens doors for numerous underdogs to contend for deeper runs than they could realistically have hoped for when the tournament began. This includes players seeded in the low double digits who now have real hopes of reaching the finals, as well as lower rated players who didn’t expect to even still be here but now need just two more match wins to reach the quarterfinals. After nine straight days of chess the players now get a rest day, and then they’ll be back at it. Let’s take a look at what happened in round three, and then look ahead to where we’ll pick up after the day off.

Round 3 Recap

The top story, obviously, is the upsets. We can look at them from two angles: most surprising exist or most surprising players to still be alive. Starting with the exits, we saw the number two player in the world, Fabiano Caruana, sent home in classical by Rinat Jumabayev. Then in tiebreaks we saw the eliminations of seeds #4 and #6 (Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov) by Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Haik Martirosyan respectively. And it could have been even more dramatic, had not Maxime Vachier-Lagrave survived his tiebreak match that went all the way to Armageddon!

These results, combine with the three top-nine seeds eliminated last round, leave a shockingly low number of top players left in the field. Here are how our model’s pre-tournament expectations measure up against reality for the top eight seeds (the presumptive quarterfinalists, in a hypothetical world where upsets happen never instead of constantly):

It is worth noting that the upsets have been extra dramatic because top ten players are falling, but at the next tier of the bracket all but one of the 10 through 20 seeds have advanced, so if we look at the top 16 instead (following powers of two as befits the tournament format, to avoid cherry picking for extra shock value), our results are closer to expectations. It’s just that out of this group the ones still playing aren’t the ones we thought we’d see:

So we can see that in terms of reaching the finals, and its prize of automatic entry to the next Candidates Tournament, there is a lot of room for one (if not both) finalists to be lower seeded than we would have thought originally, but it’s too early to think any of the huge underdogs are in contention for those spots yet. It’s those 10 to 20 seeds whose chances of reaching the finals have improved the most. We’ll take a closer look at exactly what players’ odds of reaching the finals look like, and how they’ve changed since the beginning of the event, in a moment. But first there’s the other perspective we mentioned of how to look at all the upsets. Who are the surprises that are still alive? With 32 players left, anyone seeded 33+ is somewhat of a surprise to be here, but that 33 to 64 range all had decent chances of going this far. The big surprises are the players seeded even lower who are still around.

12 such players are still in contention! And it looks relatively likely at this point that one or even two of them may make it as far as the quarterfinals, which we certainly wouldn’t have called likely before the first round. It is still a pretty huge longshot that anyone in this range will contend for the finals, but a berth in the quarterfinals would be a huge opportunity for any of these players as it carries with it ticket to the FIDE Grand Prix series, where they could further demonstrate their ability to hang tough with Super GMs (and perhaps catch the attention of organizers of future invitational tournaments in search of new up-and-coming wild card options). Especially for a few of these twelve players who are young and still rapidly improving (or perhaps still wildly underrated) a deep run to the quarterfinals or beyond would be a huge achievement.

So knowing that collectively the underdogs had a great round and the favorites did not, let’s take a look at the biggest winners of the round. As before, the answer to that question does depend on what goals you’re tracking, because it matters who you might play when (recall our earlier discussion of the “Magnus Effect”.) Here are the 10 players who saw their chances of reaching the quarterfinals increase the most during this round (which with the quarterfinals only requiring wins in two more rounds, favors those who scored unexpected wins and/or those who don’t have elite opponents lined up, with less regard to how strong a player is overall):

And for comparison, here are the players whose chances of reaching the final improved the most (this requires several more rounds to achieve, so places a higher premium on a player’s rating):

While there are some key differences, we see that by far the biggest winner of the round by both measures was Pentala Harikrishna! He went from being the 13th most likely quarterfinalist and the 10th most likely finalist, to being the second most quarterfinalist and third most likely finalist. There is now better than an 18% chance of him reaching the Candidates Tournament. So… uh… what happened that was so good for him?

Of course first of all he won, which was no guarantee. But also he finds himself facing the #86 seed next, rather than #22, with a 100 Elo rating difference between the two, thanks to Tabatabaei upsetting Yu Yangyi. But wait there’s more! His most likely 5th round opponent would have been Mamedyarov making him an underdog in that match, but now he’ll instead be a significant round five favorite over the #59 or #102 seed. His potential matches in the final three rounds carry roughly the same difficulty before, but the huge impact upsets had on his round four and five matchups make him 65% to reach the quarterfinals rather than his previous 20%, and this carries through all the way to the end in his chances:

And finally, having looked at the upset implications from the perspective of who gained the most, let’s now turn our attention to the most surprising eliminations. Here are the 10 players who lost the most quarterfinal equity when their run unexpectedly ended (and exactly how good their hopes looked three days earlier, before being zeroed out):

Round 4 Preview:

With only 32 players left, it’s time to not only look one round ahead. There are few enough possible games at this stage that we can look at groups. So for now we’re dividing the field into four groups of eight players each. On this table you can see each of the four games within each group, with each player’s odds of winning and advancing to round five shown along with their odds of moving on to the quarter and semi finals. Note that each group will produce two quarterfinalists (one from the top two games listed and one from the bottom two games listed) and then will produce a single semifinalist.

We can see that different groups have very different dynamics. Starting with the first group, Magnus Carlsen is a huge favorite to win his next three matchups and advance to the semifinals, which leaves everyone else’s semifinal odds quite low. If you have a goal other than winning the whole tournament it definitely helps your chances to not have any possibility of facing Carlsen until after that goal (reaching the quarterfinals or whatever) is already achieved!

We can see in this group, for instance, that Bacrot has drastically better chances than Dubov to reach the quarterfinals because he “only” needs to beat two players seeded 73 or worse (still a tough task, his odds are well under 50%), but for Dubov to get to the quarters he has to get past a tougher round four opponent and then most likely also has to beat Magnus. As a result Bacrot is nearly four times as likely to reach the quarters despite being lower rated. However looking just one round deeper, Dubov is actually more likely to reach the semis than Bacrot is! This is because Bacrot’s QF opponent would most likely be Magnus, while Dubov would be facing someone seeded either 41, 73, 89, or 121. Once you reach a point where both would likely have had to get past Carlsen, the higher rated player is left with better chances of reaching the semifinals. So there’s a major “Carlsen effect” to consider in all these probabilities.

The only upside for the seven non-Magnus players in this group is that at least they don’t also have to worry about Firouzja and Dominguez, who would have landed in this quadrant had they not been eliminated in the second round.

In group two we have three of our 12 high seeds, and two play each other. Because of this, those two have much better odds of reaching the quarterfinals as one must win that match between Abdusattorov and Durarbayli, and whoever does will only have to achieve one major upset to reach the quarters. Still, none of these lower rated players have great chances to continue their run. We can see that Grischuk is of course the most likely of the eight players in this group to grab the semifinal spot – but also the three players seeded in the 11 to 20 range have decent semifinal hopes as well highlighting the gains such seeds have made. This is the group Giri would have been in had he not been eliminated by Abdusattorov, and his presence would have left the semifinal odds dramatically lower for Duda, Vidit, and Xiong.

Group three is wide open due to Caruana’s absence with five players having at least a 25% chance of at least reaching the quarterfinals. The highest rated player in the group (Vachier-Lagrave) plays the lowest rated player in the group (Praggnanandhaa) in round four, making him the second biggest favorite in the round after Carlsen, but having already seen other prodigies best other top seeds (Sindarov over Firouzja and Abdusattorov over Giri) it would hardly even feel out of place at this point if Pragg followed suit, laughing at our model calling him a five to one underdog along the way. One odd note is that although MVL is the highest seed with the (allegedly) easiest fourth round game, he’s not quite the most likely semifinalist from the group, as Karjakin’s higher rating carries his probability higher that many rounds ahead.

The fourth group is the weakest by far. It is the only quadrant without one of the three remaining top-ten seeds, and it has five(!) of the 12 remaining 65+ seeds among its eight contenders. This works out great for Pentala Harikrishna and Dmitry Andreikin who actually end up as two of the four most likely players among the entire remaining field to reach the quarterfinals or the semifinals. Ahead of several higher rated higher seeds from other groups, whose paths are tougher. We talked earlier about Harikrishna in particular, and here we see his gains illustrated once again.

So what are some key matchups to watch? We’d start with the favorite. Magnus Carlsen isn’t worried about quarterfinals and getting into the Grand Prix, or even about a Candidate’s berth for being a finalist (side note: if Magnus gets to the finals then the consolation match for third place takes on huge importance as the winner of that match would be the second player from this event to go to the Candidates since Magnus doesn’t need the slot). Carlsen is here for one reason only: to win the whole thing. And he’s off to a literally perfect start with four consecutive classical wins. His rating is back over 2850 and with Caruana’s exit he is the only player over 2800 in the live ratings. So who might stop him? Wojtaszek only has a 12% chance to do so per our model, but is the toughest opponent Magnus will have faced yet. Crazier things have already happened right here in Sochi. Also notable is that if Carlsen does win he could be staring at a round five match against 19 year old Andrey Esipenko who beat him at Tata Steel earlier this year. So if there’s anyone we know is capable of taking out the champ, that might be where to look.

Speaking of how Esipenko is still a teenager, he’s still somehow not even close to being the youngest player in the field. Velimir Ivic is 18 and still in the field after knocking off Vallejo and Blubaum in the last two rounds. And then we have our super-prodigies. 16 year old Abdusattorov and 15 year olds Sindarov and Praggnanandhaa are both still around and our model gives a 74% chance that at least one of them will advance again. Abdusattorov is actually a ratings favorite and Sindarov has a reasonable matchup as well, while Pragg is in a tough spot but that just gives him the chance to join the list of youngsters who have knocked off top competition. And since this group of originally six 16-and-under players that we have been tracking from the beginning continues to collectively overperform, we’ll again emphasize that there is good reason to think they may be badly underrated right now, and thus have better chances than our model gives them.

And it’s also time to start thinking more earnestly about who the potential finalists are. Setting aside Carlsen who doesn’t need a Candidates berth, the two finalists (or one finalist and third place finisher if Magnus reaches the finals) will earn a huge prize. Five players are currently the favorites for those two spots with chances between 14% and 20% each (and nobody else in the field above 8%, ignoring again Magnus and his 56% chance to make the consolation game matter). Some of these now-favorites aren’t necessarily players who we would have thought, before the event began, to be likely Candidates. How will Karjakin, Harikrishna, Grischuk, MVL, and Andreikin hold up to the pressure of suddenly being front runners for the most impactful prize? Front runners have fared rather poorly so far this event, so can they turn the tides or will some of that group fall here in round four throwing the hunt for Candidates berths into even more chaos?

And for nationalistic fans there are several countries who still have dual-interests. For all we spoke of Harikrishna, Indian fans also have a second standard-bearer (Vidit) in the running, to go along with rooting for Pragg’s upset chances. And all three are in separate groups so even if they all keep winning we won’t see two Indian players face each other again until the semifinals, with the two 2700+ players not possibly meeting until the final itself.

American fans similarly have two super-GMs carrying their national hopes on each side of the bracket in Shankland and Xiong. And Iranian fans unexpectedly have two players to root for, Idani and Tabatabaei, also on opposite sides of the bracket as the #85 and #86 seeds look to continue their surprising runs. Uzbekistani fans can continue cheering for their pair of prodigies (Abdusattorov and Sindarov) to keep the upsets coming and perhaps meet in the semifinals. French fans have two contenders left, once again on opposite sides of the bracket, with Bacrot and MVL. Poland has two players you’d expect to likely still be here (Wojtaszek and Duda) and a third you wouldn’t (#89 seed Piorun) all on the same side of the bracket. Eight other nations are down to one single standard bearer left in the field… and then of course there are the 10 Russians still remaining. We can expect to see an average of about three Russian players get through to the quarterfinals, despite three matchups between countrymen in this round that will force the count down to a maximum of seven.

We’re publishing this article during the rest day, but the action starts back up tomorrow (July 22nd) and there’s plenty to watch for! We still have upsets and Cinderella runs to enjoy, but the picture of who might make runs to the end is also crystalizing, and over it all looms the question of whether anyone can slow down the World Champion’s quest to finally win this tournament that is one of the only major trophies left that he’s never won.

We look forward to watching and learning what the next twists and turns will prove to be!

2021 World Cup – Round 3 Preview

Round two of the FIDE World Cup saw three of the top nine seeds eliminated early; two over the board and one by illness. Meanwhile the young guns are on fire, but we also saw that age isn’t everything. All in all it was a chaotic three days that shook up the standings quite a bit, so let’s take a look at the key happenings and their implications for the tournament’s ultimate results, and then look ahead at specifically what’s in store for round three.

Round 2 Recap

Two of the top three boards were marred with illness. While top seed Magnus Carlsen played his way into round three over the board, #2 seed Fabiano Caruana saw his first game stopped after 15 moves when his opponent was determined to have tested positive for Covid. Caruana ultimately advanced to the third round on the eventual forfeit, and all our predictions assume he will continue to play, but there are questions about what his quarantine status might look like. Meanwhile #3 seed Levon Aronian was unable to play due to illness and had to forfeit, making him the highest seed eliminated from the event so far.

As for over the board results, we saw numerous upsets occur. Most notably the nation of Uzbekistan managed to eliminate two top-ten seeded Super-GMs, as Javokhir Sindarov eliminated Alireza Firouzja and Jahongir Vakhidov eliminated Leinier Dominguez on day three of the round in tiebreaks. Four other triple-digit-seeds found their way through to the next round as well, with 19-seed Vallejo Pons falling to Velimir Ivic, and seeds 26 through 28 (Alekseenko, Kryvoruchko, Maghsoodloo) falling to Krasenkow, Brkic, and Georgiev.

We’re going to talk extensively about youth in a moment, but before doing so we want to highlight Michal Krasenkow of Poland, who is making his run to the third round, and perhaps beyond, at the age of 57. He knocked off Russian Super-GM Alekseenko in the classical portion.

As for that youth movement, Sindarov had the highest profile win but R Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin, and Noirbek Abdusattorov all defeated higher rated opponents as well – and none of those three even needed tiebreaks to achieve their victories. And additionally two other youngsters, D Gukesh and Volodar Murzin, each forced tiebreaks against Super-GM opposition as well before eventually succumbing.

So with all these upsets in place, what impact did the round have on the potential tournament standings? To begin with, let’s look at the most surprising losses. Here are the ten eliminated players who we predicted before the round had the highest hopes of reaching the quarterfinals:

This is essentially just another way of stating that these are the 10 highest rated players eliminated, but by offering it in this exact way we have a chance to see exactly how high their hopes were of a quarterfinal run (and the associated berth in the 2022 Grand Prix series) before those hopes were dashed here in the early stages of the event.

It also gives us a basis of comparison for when we look at the biggest winners of the round:

If you dig carefully through the tournament brackets, what you’ll find that there are two factors that can help a player end up on this list. A win over a challenging opponent helps but less than you might expect, given that if your round two opponent was challenging then your strength in the model is unlikely to be high enough for you to currently be considered a likely quarterfinal contender even now. More helpful is an upset on the opposite side of the bracket. Most of these players, you’ll find, would have had to beat someone on the first list in order to reach the quarterfinals, had that potential opponent kept winning. They may have a (relatively) easy matchup next round, or the benefits may be deeper in the bracket, but somewhere their schedule got easier thanks to the results of round two. Regardless of how exactly the math shakes out for any individual on this list, all of them can be much happier with their position now than before. The top four, in particular, saw dramatic increases and now have very realistic hopes of making a run at the valuable Grand Prix berths that might have previously looked out of reach.

But reaching the quarterfinals isn’t the only goal. When we look at the biggest winners of the round we can also ask whose chances of reaching the finals (and earning a berth directly into the next Candidates Tournament) improved the most. Interestingly it’s a very different list:

Carlsen’s gains come primarily from the fact that his strongest possible quarterfinal opponents would have been Firouzja or Dominguez. So his odds of reaching the quarters aren’t atop the improvement list, but his odds of reaching the finals are. Mamedyarov similarly makes this list but not the other because he was slated to face Aronian in the quarterfinals if they both kept winning. So getting to the quarterfinals is just as hard as before, but advancing further if he does is now easier. Of course some players are on both lists, with their gained odds coming in earlier rounds. But it’s interesting to see how different things look when we talk about a deeper run. And of course another key consideration seems obvious once you say it out loud is that to make this second “winners” list you have to be strong enough to make the finals. A slightly easier possible path isn’t enough, there’s still a lot of grueling rounds ahead no matter who you end up facing. So on this second list we see six of the seven highest remaining seeds as the ones gaining ground at the expense (primarily) of the three top players who were eliminated.

We would like to point out that as the highest rated player in the field by a huge margin, Carlsen is more likely than any other player to reach the finals – and was the biggest gainer this round in those odds – yet he is still under the 50% mark. Slightly more often than not, we can expect him to fall short. Let this emphasize how up in the air the top places are in this tournament with 64 players still battling it out.

If these winner and loser tables aren’t enough to satisfy your need for detail, our main World Cup page also has the full odds for all remaining 64 players to reach round four, and each subsequent round.

Round 3 Preview

So with 64 players left we have 32 matchups. Here they all are, with each player’s odds of winning any given match, with the higher seed (who is also the ratings favorite in all but one case) always listed on the left.

SeedNameRatingOddsSeedNameRatingOdds
1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR)285092.1%vs.64 Aryan Tari (NOR)26467.9%
2 Fabiano Caruana (USA)280687.9%vs.66 Rinat Jumabayev (KAZ)264512.1%
4 Anish Giri (NED)278085.3%vs.68 Nodirbek Abdusattorov (UZB)263914.7%
5 Alexander Grischuk (RUS)277784.9%vs.69 Alan Pichot (ARG)263915.1%
6 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE)277686.1%vs.59 Haik M. Martirosyan (ARM)262913.9%
7 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)275180.7%vs.71 David Paravyan (RUS)263919.3%
10 Sergey Karjakin (RUS)276179.4%vs.55 Grigoriy Oparin (RUS)265620.6%
11 Pentala Harikrishna (IND)273171.8%vs.54 Constantin Lupulescu (ROM)266328.2%
12 Jan-Krzysztof Duda (POL)273876.6%vs.53 Samuel Sevian (USA)264823.4%
13 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (IND)272267.7%vs.52 Baskaran Adhiban (IND)267032.3%
14 Dmitry Andreikin (RUS)272571.3%vs.78 Nihal Sarin (IND)265928.7%
15 Nikita Vitiugov (RUS)272470.5%vs.50 Alexei Shirov (ESP)266129.5%
16 Andrey Esipenko (RUS)271369.3%vs.49 Nijat Abasov (AZE)265530.7%
17 Daniil Dubov (RUS)271064.2%vs.48 Vladimir Malakhov (RUS)267035.8%
18 Peter Svidler (RUS)271468.7%vs.47 Ivan Cheparinov (BUL)265831.3%
20 Jeffery Xiong (USA)271166.0%vs.45 Nils Grandelius (SWE)266534.0%
21 Evgeny Tomashevsky (RUS)271175.8%vs.85 Pouya Idani (IRI)262524.2%
22 Yu Yangyi (CHN)271178.7%vs.86 Amin Tabatabaei (IRI)261021.3%
23 Vladislav Artemiev (RUS)269957.6%vs.42 Boris Gelfand (ISR)267842.4%
24 Bassem Amin (EGY)270563.9%vs.41 Etienne Bacrot (FRA)266636.1%
25 Jorden van Foreest (NED)269874.9%vs.89 Kacper Piorun (POL)261625.1%
29 David Navara (CZE)267867.1%vs.93 Vasif Durarbayli (AZE)262832.9%
30 Vladimir Fedoseev (RUS)270880.9%vs.94 Timur Gareyev (USA)259519.1%
31 Sam Shankland (USA)271157.6%vs.34 Alexander Areshchenko (UKR)269042.4%
32 Maxim Matlakov (RUS)268346.0%vs.33 Radoslaw Wojtaszek (POL)269454.0%
37 Anton Korobov (UKR)268676.0%vs.101 Kiril Georgiev (MKD)259924.0%
38 Saleh Salem (UAE)268072.9%vs.102 Ante Brkic (CRO)260727.1%
46 Matthias Blübaum (GER)267374.3%vs.110 Velimir Ivic (SRB)259425.7%
57 Jorge Cori (PER)264874.7%vs.121 Javokhir Sindarov (UZB)256725.3%
67 Vladislav Kovalev (BLR)264076.2%vs.126 Bobby Cheng (AUS)255223.8%
73 Pavel Ponkratov (RUS)265480.1%vs.137 Jahongir Vakhidov (UZB)254519.9%
90 Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (IND)262157.2%vs.103 Michal Krasenkow (POL)260142.8%

Perhaps the most interesting matchup is at the very bottom of the table. With an age difference of 42 years, this matchup guarantees that the fourth round will include at least one player seeded 90th or higher – and that player will either be 15 or 57 years old. A remarkable age in either case for one of the last 32 players remaining at the World Cup.

We see several other spots at the bottom of the list where underdogs get a better chance to advance than one might expect given their seed alone, by virtue of the pairings putting them against someone else also seeded relatively low. Among our four remaining 15 and 16 year old prodigies while Pragg is an actual ratings favorite, and Sindarov gets reasonable chances against the #57 seed, Nihal and Abdusattorov meanwhile have to face 2700+ opposition.

How deep of a run might these kids make? Based on their current ratings (with the caveat we discussed in our event preview that they’re all probably underrated right now), our model gives them the following odds to advance to various rounds:

SeedNameRatingRd 4 OddsRd 5 OddsQF OddsSF OddsFinals OddsChampion Odds
90 Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (IND)262157.2%12.3%2.6%0.4%0.1%0.0%
78 Nihal Sarin (IND)265928.7%14.8%6.6%1.8%0.4%0.1%
121 Javokhir Sindarov (UZB)256725.3%5.2%1.1%0.1%0.0%0.0%
68 Nodirbek Abdusattorov (UZB)263914.7%6.2%1.8%0.4%0.1%0.0%

From those numbers we see better than an 80% chance that at least one will win in this round (advancing to round four) and better than a one-in-three chance of at least one reaching the fifth round! That said, even if their true odds are higher than listed here due to lagging ratings, it will nevertheless be a pretty huge surprise if any of them reach the quarterfinals or beyond.

At the very top of the standings Magnus Carlsen headlines one of four matches between countrymen as a heavy favorite over Aryan Tari. Indian fans may be disappointed that Vidit and Adhiban must face each other this round, guaranteeing one must see their tournament hopes end, although the upside is that one is therefore guaranteed to advance as well. Similar pairings happen twice with Russian players in Karjakin-Oparin and Dubov-Malakhov.

Also notable is that only the top six boards have better than an 80% chance to advance, so we’re certainly going to see more upsets in this round, and another shakeup to everyone’s chances of achieving their various goals. The only question is where. Will an Uzbek prodigy once again stun a top-ten seed, this time with Abdusattorov triumphing over Giri? Probably not, but our model says that one time in six the answer will be yes. Or will we once again see a player over 50 years old beat a Russian Super-GM (this time Gelfand with a 42% chance against Artemiev)? Or will the interesting upset this time around be a brand new storyline?

We can’t say for sure what specific upsets will occur but we know some players with high hopes will find themselves eliminated. And some players will find their chances of reaching the quarterfinals or beyond shooting upward, as well. Most of all we know it will once again be a lot of fun to watch.

So tune in on July 18th for the first of three days of round three, and we’ll see you again on the 20th with our preview of round four!

2021 World Cup – Round 2 Preview

The first round of the FIDE World Cup is in the books, and the field has been narrowed to 128 players. Tomorrow, July 15th, round two will begin and we will see the top 50 seeds in action for the first time, as things really heat up. Let’s take a brief moment to recap the results of round one, and then we’ll look ahead to all the round two matches pending, as well as an updated look at where the tournament might go from here in later rounds.

Round 1 Recap

There were 78 scheduled matches, between the players seeded 51st through 206th, and over the past three days results were determined for all of those. 19 matches went to tiebreaks and weren’t decided on day three, 7 matches went unplayed due to forfeits as a few players failed to navigate travel arrangements, and 52 matches were decided in the initial two-day classical phase. When all that dust had settled most of the higher seeds were through to the round of 128, but 10 lower-seeded players also managed to advance and we got proof that even a rating edge of over 200 Elo is not enough to guarantee victory in this format!

The upsets were:

The most surprising is of course Ahmed Adly, who won his first classical game as expected, but then lost on day two forcing tiebreaks, and fell in the second rapid game to be eliminated by his much lower rated countryman. Our model estimated a 94% chance of Adly advancing, but this is why the games must be played!

For those watching live, the most exciting upset may have been Volodar Murzin, whose 15th birthday is still four days in the future, winning a time scramble in the fourth playoff game for the first (and final) decisive result of his match with Iordachescu.

One thing to keep in mind is that round one was in many ways a prelude. None of the upsets had a dramatic impact on our expectations of who might win the event – the strongest upset victim, Adly, had just a 0.6% chance of reaching the semifinals in our initial calculations. From a storyline perspective, for reasons we’ll get to later in this article, the most impactful upset on this list might have been Druska over Parligras. Put a pin in that thought though!

Round 2 Preview

With the results in, we have updated every player’s live rating based on the classical games, and used those ratings and the results so far to recalculate the odds of each remaining player in the field reaching each potential future round. The full odds for everyone can be seen here, if you want a huge 128-row data table. But here let’s first just look at a table half that size with the 64 matchups slated for round two.

SeedNameRatingWin OddsSeedNameRatingWin Odds
1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR)284797.5%vs.128 Saša Martinovic (CRO)25432.5%
2 Fabiano Caruana (USA)280695.6%vs.127 Susanto Megaranto (INA)25504.4%
3 Levon Aronian (ARM)278294.1%vs.126 Bobby Cheng (AUS)25525.9%
4 Anish Giri (NED)277693.6%vs.125 Boris Savchenko (RUS)25536.4%
5 Alexander Grischuk (RUS)277893.7%vs.124 Federico Perez Ponsa (ARG)25546.3%
6 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE)278294.0%vs.123 Krikor Mekhitarian (BRA)25546.0%
7 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)275191.6%vs.122 Elshan Moradiabadi (USA)25538.4%
8 Alireza Firouzja (FIDE)275991.5%vs.121 Javokhir Sindarov (UZB)25628.5%
9 Leinier Domínguez (USA)275893.3%vs.137 Jahongir Vakhidov (UZB)25406.7%
10 Sergey Karjakin (RUS)275793.1%vs.138 Shamsiddin Vokhidov (UZB)25416.9%
11 Pentala Harikrishna (IND)273087.9%vs.118 Yasser Quesada Pérez (CUB)256912.1%
12 Jan-Krzysztof Duda (POL)273892.2%vs.140 Guillermo Vázquez (PAR)25337.8%
13 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (IND)272687.5%vs.116 Alexandr Fier (BRA)256812.5%
14 Dmitry Andreikin (RUS)272486.0%vs.115 Emre Can (TUR)257814.0%
15 Nikita Vitiugov (RUS)272491.1%vs.143 Vojtech Plát (CZE)25318.9%
16 Andrey Esipenko (RUS)271682.9%vs.113 Thai Dai Van Nguyen (CZE)259117.1%
17 Daniil Dubov (RUS)271484.9%vs.112 Gukesh D (IND)257615.1%
18 Peter Svidler (RUS)271491.1%vs.146 Pablo Salinas Herrera (CHI)25218.9%
19 Francisco Vallejo Pons (ESP)271082.9%vs.110 Velimir Ivic (SRB)258517.1%
20 Jeffery Xiong (USA)271083.8%vs.109 Victor Mikhalevski (ISR)257916.2%
21 Evgeny Tomashevsky (RUS)270691.1%vs.149 P. Iniyan (IND)25138.9%
22 Yu Yangyi (CHN)270584.9%vs.107 Denis Kadric (BIH)256715.1%
23 Vladislav Artemiev (RUS)270491.8%vs.151 Volodar Murzin (RUS)25048.2%
24 Bassem Amin (EGY)270381.7%vs.105 Hovhannes Gabuzyan (ARM)258518.3%
25 Jorden van Foreest (NED)269891.5%vs.153 Juraj Druska (SVK)25018.5%
26 Kirill Alekseenko (RUS)270380.3%vs.103 Michal Krasenkow (POL)259319.7%
27 Yuriy Kryvoruchko (UKR)269978.5%vs.102 Ante Brkic (CRO)259921.5%
28 Parham Maghsoodloo (IRI)269878.9%vs.101 Kiril Georgiev (MKD)259621.1%
29 David Navara (CZE)267573.4%vs.100 Nodirbek Yakubboev (UZB)260026.6%
30 Vladimir Fedoseev (RUS)270078.4%vs.99 Axel Bachmann (PAR)260121.6%
31 Sam Shankland (USA)270979.1%vs.98 Baadur Jobava (GEO)260620.9%
32 Maxim Matlakov (RUS)268074.5%vs.97 Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson (ISL)260025.5%
33 Radoslaw Wojtaszek (POL)269176.4%vs.96 Evgeny Alekseev (RUS)260223.6%
34 Alexander Areshchenko (UKR)268774.7%vs.95 Ivan Ivanisevic (SRB)260625.3%
35 Dmitry Jakovenko (RUS)268476.8%vs.94 Timur Gareyev (USA)259323.2%
36 Alexandr Predke (RUS)267366.3%vs.93 Vasif Durarbayli (AZE)262633.7%
37 Anton Korobov (UKR)268372.2%vs.92 Cristobal Henriquez Villagra (CHI)261327.8%
38 Saleh Salem (UAE)268272.0%vs.91 Aleksandar Indjic (SRB)261328.0%
39 Gabriel Sargissian (ARM)268272.9%vs.90 Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (IND)260927.1%
40 Markus Ragger (AUT)268573.6%vs.89 Kacper Piorun (POL)260926.4%
41 Etienne Bacrot (FRA)267294.0%vs.169 Ravi Haria (ENG)24446.0%
42 Boris Gelfand (ISR)267571.3%vs.87 Arik Braun (GER)260928.7%
43 Ferenc Berkes (HUN)267371.0%vs.86 Amin Tabatabaei (IRI)260829.0%
44 David Antón Guijarro (ESP)265964.2%vs.85 Pouya Idani (IRI)261935.8%
45 Nils Grandelius (SWE)266669.0%vs.84 Varuzhan Akobian (USA)260931.0%
46 Matthias Blübaum (GER)267469.8%vs.83 Viktor Erdos (HUN)261430.2%
47 Ivan Cheparinov (BUL)265963.9%vs.82 Rasmus Svane (GER)262036.1%
48 Vladimir Malakhov (RUS)266662.9%vs.81 Daniele Vocaturo (ITA)263037.1%
49 Nijat Abasov (AZE)265659.0%vs.80 Shant Sargsyan (ARM)263141.0%
50 Alexei Shirov (ESP)266264.8%vs.79 Yaroslav Zherebukh (USA)262035.2%
51 Sanan Sjugirov (RUS)266353.3%vs.78 Nihal Sarin (IND)265446.7%
52 Baskaran Adhiban (IND)266266.0%vs.77 Neuris Delgado Ramírez (PAR)261634.0%
53 Samuel Sevian (USA)264961.1%vs.76 Benjamin Bok (NED)261838.9%
54 Constantin Lupulescu (ROM)265995.6%vs.182 Abdelrahman Hesham (EGY)24034.4%
55 Grigoriy Oparin (RUS)265656.2%vs.74 Bogdan-Daniel Deac (ROM)263943.8%
56 Yuri Kuzubov (UKR)265552.5%vs.73 Pavel Ponkratov (RUS)264847.5%
57 Jorge Cori (PER)264955.8%vs.72 Sandro Mareco (ARG)263344.2%
58 Alexander Onischuk (USA)265158.0%vs.71 David Paravyan (RUS)262942.0%
59 Haik M. Martirosyan (ARM)262448.2%vs.70 Mustafa Yilmaz (TUR)262951.8%
60 Ivan Šaric (CRO)265557.6%vs.69 Alan Pichot (ARG)263442.4%
61 Aravindh Chithambaram (IND)264353.3%vs.68 Nodirbek Abdusattorov (UZB)263446.7%
62 Alexey Sarana (RUS)264250.7%vs.67 Vladislav Kovalev (BLR)264049.3%
63 Alexander Motylev (RUS)264150.4%vs.66 Rinat Jumabayev (KAZ)264049.6%
64 Aryan Tari (NOR)264252.2%vs.65 Evgeny Bareev (CAN)263647.8%

On the one hand, we can see that the top seeds are all heavy favorites, but on the other hand if we start multiplying probabilities there is only a 53% chance that all top ten seeds win their games. So we’ve hit the point where we will likely see at least a couple upsets that really shake up our projections of who might win the event (or at least who is likely to reach the quarterfinals and clinch berths in the 2022 Grand Prix) during this round. With the knockout structure, each round is more meaningful – and places more pressure on the players – than the last.

We can also see here the impact that round one upsets had. While seeds 40 and 42 have odds of winning their matches in the low 70% range, seed 41 is at 94% by virtue of facing an upset victor who is therefore lower rated. Bacrot and especially Lupulescu are the biggest beneficiaries here, but notice also Jorden van Foreest now having a noticeably safer round 2 match than those seeded near him.

This brings us to the last segment of today’s update.

Impact on Later Rounds

Even though the top 50 seeds didn’t play in round one, it was not meaningless for them. A few lucky players saw their chances of a deep run increase slightly by virtue of a safer matchup in round two. At this stage our preferred measure of future prospects in the tournament is to look at players’ odds of reaching the quarterfinals. This is a late enough round that we can see real impact, and also is a key round because it carries a meaningful prize for any aspiring future world champion – a spot in the 2022 Grand Prix where a berth in the 2022 Candidates Tournament could then be earned. Here are the 10 players whose odds of reaching the quarterfinals increased the most based on round one results, compared to their initial pre-tournament odds:

Lupulescu, Bacrot, and van Foreest are the players we highlighted previously as benefitting from first-round upsets. Artemiev also plays a surprise first-round winner, and that’s how those four gained a full percentage point (or more) increase in their hopes of reaching the quarterfinals. There is of course a flipside to this. Some players saw their odds decrease instead. Of course that includes those who were eliminated, but as we mentioned earlier it also includes some top seeds whose paths are now slightly harder as a result. How’s that?

Let’s look closer at Jorden van Foreest. His round two opponent is now Juraj Druska, and as we hinted earlier, Druska’s win might have been the most important upset of the first round. Jorden is now more likely to win his game in round two, and advance further. Let’s look at what happens if he does so. In round three he’ll be a favorite against whoever wins the matchup between seeds 40 and 89. So being more likely to reach that game means he’s more likely to reach round four as well. In round four there are several possible opponents but the most likely one is #8 seed Alireza Firouzja. Firouzja is roughly a 75% favorite to win his next two matches and reach round four. So from Jorden’s perspective that’s where his status as favorite is likely to run out. But let’s flip the perspective.

Firouzja would certainly prefer not to play van Foreest in round four. Who wants to face the defending Tata Steel champion? It’s his hardest potential matchup in that round. And because of the impact we’ve explained above from Druska’s upset win, it is now more likely! Jorden’s odds of reaching round four, and potentially serving as an early-exit threat to Firouzja, are now 55.3% when they were previously just 49.5%. This isn’t a huge change, but it’s enough that Firouzja’s overall odds of reaching the quarterfinals have dropped from an initial 33.9% to a current 33.1%, and that is the biggest drop of any player from round one! We will also note that updating live ratings is another factor in Firouzja’s reduced odds. His round two opponent, and both his possible round three opponents, won their first-round matches without tiebreaks and gained rating, so Firouzja’s odds of advancing through those two rounds dropped slightly, in addition to the tougher round four match, but the higher risk of facing van Foreest in round four was the biggest single factor.

Here we see the 10 biggest absolute drops in quarterfinal odds, with Firouzja leading the way. Yes, any player who was eliminated in the first round now has a zero percent chance, but only one of them (Adly) had a high enough initial chance to show up on this list. Firouzja suffered the most, but we can see several players whose paths to the quarterfinals got slightly tougher for similar reasons, while they were enjoying their first round bye.

If you were wondering, yes, the same logic does apply to the odds of actually winning the tournament, but at lower impact because there are more rounds between now and then. Nobody saw their hopes increase or decrease by more than two-tenths of a percentage point. But Magnus was a very slight gainer (in the long run if Firouzja did fall to van Foreest in round 4, which we know is slightly more likely now, it gives Magnus a slightly better chance of reaching the semifinals as his toughest potential quarterfinal opponent is Alireza!) The shifts in championship odds were too small to justify more tables, but do know we’re keeping a close eye on all the butterfly effects like that in these odds, as we bring them to you!

For now, round two is coming up, and players with realistic hopes of reaching the quarterfinals will fall. Even players with hopes of winning the whole thing will be pushed to the limit, and it’s possible we could even see one of them knocked out over the next three days. With the top 50 players now in action, the possibility of meaningful upsets is only increased, and this is where things get extra exciting, so go enjoy the action! We’ll be back after round two is complete with another update.

2021 World Cup – Event Preview

What do you get the World Champion that has nearly everything? Well, if you can find one top tournament he hasn’t won yet, that might be a good start. In his illustrious career, despite 10 consecutive years as the world’s #1 ranked player, Magnus Carlsen has not yet won a World Cup. Now this year’s edition is upon us, beginning July 12th, 2021, and Carlsen is competing. There’s little question he is looking to fill that one hole in his trophy case; that he is here to win it all. Based on Elo ratings, our analysis of the tournament shows that he has a 31.6% chance to do so, but 205 other players stand in his way.

So what’s in it for the rest of the field? Well first of all anyone with World Championship aspirations has huge incentive in this event. Two players will qualify directly from this event to the 2022 Candidates Tournament, and up to six others will be granted a spot in the 2022 Grand Prix (which in turn sends two more players to the Candidates). This is a huge opportunity for any of the higher seeds who can realistically aspire to such heights, and makes this tournament serious business.

To earn even the Grand Prix berth requires reaching at least the quarterfinals though, requires one to be among the top players in the field, or to be tremendously lucky. According to our projections a median result would be for 7 of those 8 spots to go to the top 34 players in the field. That could vary slightly in reality, depending on what upsets we see, but the general point stands that it’s the top 20% of the field at most that is realistically here for those goals.

What does that mean for the rest of the players? Well even if a lower seed is unlikely to contend for the eventual spots in the next World Championship cycle, they still have everything to play for. The beauty of this event is the opportunities it offers lesser known players to make a name for themselves! Just thanks to the sheer volume of contestants, the early rounds with their relative mismatches will inevitably be replete with upsets. This is why, in our opinion, the World Cup is the best spectator tournament that exists! It is to chess what March Madness is to basketball! We didn’t re-analyze exact odds of how many upsets there might be, but it’s safe to say it looks relatively similar to previous years, with an extra boost from the expanded field. So for some context, here is a link to our article on upset predictions for the 2015 World Cup. Much of that content applies, at least generally speaking, to this year’s event as well.

As the tournament progresses we’ll provide updates after each round and eventually talk a lot more about who is in contention for those Candidates and Grand Prix slots. We’ll take a little look at those odds now as well, but first let’s talk about the first round. Historically this event has had 128 players but this year that has been expanded to 206. This means the top 50 seeds received byes, but the rest face off in what we’re calling “round 1” but could also be thought of as a “play-in” round to narrow the field to the typical 128. We will place our obtrusively extensive data table at the end of this article, but scroll down and you can find our model’s calculated odds of reaching round 2 (the round of 128) for each player in the play-in round.

Out of the 78 winners from this group, we expect about 23 to reach the third round (out of 64 remaining players total), and five or six to reach the fourth round (with 32 total players left). But with so many contenders in this group, there’s plenty of opportunity for a few to impress. Perhaps the most likely candidates to do so are the youngest players, as many of them have had extremely minimal opportunities to play rated games over the past 16 months but have nevertheless continued to do what prodigies do: get rapidly better at the game. This means the younger contenders are the most likely to be vastly underrated (and as a result underestimated by our ratings-driven model).

We saw a dramatic example of this recently from Nihal Sarin who returned to the board for the first time since March 2020 just three weeks ago… and won two tournaments back to gaining 35 rating points. Is he now rated accurately or is the Elo formula still underestimating him? Our model pegs him as a 95% favorite in round one and also predicts he has a 15% chance to reach the third round (despite likely having to get past 14-seed Dmitry Andreikin to do so) and even gives him a 1.6% chance to reach the quarterfinals and earn entry to the Grand Prix (a path that has over a 60% chance of including 3-seed Levon Aronian as an obstacle). If his playing strength is still higher than his current live rating though, those odds could still be underselling him.

And what about another Indian prodigy, Dommaraju Gukesh? The third youngest GM of all time, his projections are based on a rating that includes only 9 games played since March 2020. Would anyone bet against him being stronger today than his rating indicates? Our model says he’s a 71% favorite to win his play-in game, which would make 17-seed Daniil Dubov his round two opponent, giving him just an 11% chance of reaching round three. But if he’s underrated, he might have as high as a 25% chance of that big second round upset, which is a high enough chance to make his match worth paying close attention to.

Speaking of young GMs, record setting Abhimanyu Mishra recently became the youngest of them all, and now follows it up with a fascinating first round match-up with Baadur Jobava. Jobava is a former Super-GM known for his extremely entertaining fighting style, but his rating has fallen dramatically lately, from a peak of 2734 to a current value of 2603. That still leaves him as roughly a 75% favorite over Mishra, currently rated 2519, but it’s certainly a competitive match by ratings and will be an intriguing look at how the newly minted GM handles a much tougher opponent than he’s used to facing. Whoever wins this match, 31-seed Sam Shankland awaits.

Javokhir Sindarov is a 15 year old who was once the highest rated 10 year old ever, and prior to the pandemic was the eleventh highest rated player ever for his age, but has played just 19 games in the past year. He now finds finds himself a small (62%) favorite in the first round against hyperbullet specialist Andrew Tang (better known online as penguingm1). The winner of that match will earn the dubious honor of facing uber-prodigy Alireza Firouzja, who has only just turned 18 and is already ranked 12th in the world, seeded 8th in this event. Our model says Firouzja is roughly 93% to win his first game (in the second round, because of his bye), but even with that uphill battle ahead of them the Sindarov/Tang matchup is one we’ll be watching in round one.

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa is another 15 year old prodigy to watch closely. Rated 2608 at 14.6 years old, he had literally the highest rating ever achieved at his age before the pandemic hit, but hasn’t played a single rated game since. However he did score a very impressive 47% result against some of the world’s best players in the online rapid New in Chess Classic event, part of the Meltwater Champions Tour. Our model says he’s 86% to win his first round match, but we find ourselves looking ahead to a potential round two clash with 39-seed Gabriel Sargissian, an excellent player rated 2682 but possibly not an insurmountable opponent if the youngster has indeed improved significantly. How will Pragg do as he finally returns to classical chess? If he’s really upset minded, his most likely third round opponent is 26-seed Kirill Alekseenko (2703), and if he has improved enough that he has a shot against Sargissian, ratings suggest he would also have a shot against Alekseenko. Is he the one who will make a deep run?

And one last prodigy to watch in round one is Nodirbek Abdusattorov. In a similar refrain, he was rated fifth highest ever for his age before the pandemic and has played just 21 games since. Seeded 68th with a 2634 rating he is a huge favorite in round one and assuming he wins our model has him as a relative coinflip against Aravindh Chithambaram (2641) in round two. Of course if his actual playing strength is higher than his rating suggests, he could in fact be a favorite in that round. Favorite or not, should he win it and advance to round three what prize awaits? A 94% chance of facing 4-seed Anish Giri, just one of the best players in the world.

There are of course a number of other notable players in action as the tournament kicks off, but generally the well known players in round one are found in the 51-75 seed range and are all big favorites. Once the field is narrowed to 128 we’ll have a ton of fascinating matches to highlight in the second round; if you aren’t as obsessed as we are with following prodigies, we promise that won’t be our only focus in later rounds, but we believe those youngsters listed above are collectively the most interesting storyline of the first round.

But what about later rounds? This is a preview of the entire event. Ultimately the biggest prize is a potential berth in the Candidates Tournament for the two finalists (with a noteworthy exception that if Magnus is a finalist, given that he doesn’t need a berth to the Candidates, the third place finisher would earn a spot in his place). None of the realistic contenders for that will be in action on day one, but who are those contenders?

Well only the top ten seeds have chances higher than 5% of reaching the finals. Extending that list slightly, here is a table of the 16 players who have at least a 2% shot:

They’ll see their first action beginning on July 15th and the finalists will ultimately be determined either on August 2nd, or if semifinal tiebreaks are necessary, August 3rd. Again, we’ll talk plenty more about who’s in contention for those spots as further rounds complete. These odds will shift as the upsets inevitably roll in.

The other major prize is reaching the quarterfinals, to earn at least a Grand Prix berth (if you don’t go on to reach the finals and get the direct Candidates entry instead). Our model assigns 21 players at least a 10% chance of making it that far, shown here, and for reference of how quickly the odds drop off into longshot territory there are 14 more players in the 5% to 10% range.

All told this is a long event, we won’t know the winner for over three weeks. In the early rounds we’re closely watching for upsets, particularly from some of the young prodigies who may be far more dangerous than their current rating suggests, and to see if any of the heaviest favorites falter. As things progress we’ll be watching very closely to see who jockeys their way into the quarterfinals and guarantees at a minimum a chance to join the Grand Prix field. As the end approaches we’ll focus on who is fighting for the two Candidates berths. And all the way through we’ll be tracking Carlsen’s chances of finally bagging one of the only achievements he is yet to accomplish in the chess world: a World Cup championship.

This is one of the most entertaining chess tournament that exists, and we’re excited to bring you the odds our model offers as well as our thoughts on some of the areas worthy of attention. We hope you enjoy the spectacle of the next three weeks as much as we surely will!

And with that, here is the huge data table we promised showing the odds on every first round matchup. For clarity, these are odds of winning the whole three-day round, not just the first game. Also, if you really want an even more cumbersome data table, on this page we have our complete odds for all 206 players of reaching each and every round, for you to peruse as you wish, along with some methodology notes for those who care about the nitty gritty.

SeedNameRatingOdds SeedNameRatingOdds
51 Sanan Sjugirov (RUS)2661100.0%vs.206 Elmer Prudente (GUM)19980.0%
52 Baskaran Adhiban (IND)266099.9%vs.205 Chiletso Chipanga (MWI)21030.1%
53 Samuel Sevian (USA)264799.9%vs.204 Sumant Subramaniam (MAS)21550.1%
54 Constantin Lupulescu (ROM)265999.9%vs.203 Allen Chi Zhou Fan (NZL)21470.1%
55 Grigoriy Oparin (RUS)265599.7%vs.202 Ranindu Dilshan Liyanage (SRI)22030.3%
56 Yuri Kuzubov (UKR)265399.7%vs.201 Antoine Kassis (LBN)22050.3%
57 Jorge Cori (PER)265299.4%vs.200 Alisher Karimov (TJK)22440.6%
58 Alexander Onischuk (USA)264999.0%vs.199 Akar Ali Salih Salih (IRQ)22741.0%
59 Haik M. Martirosyan (ARM)263298.6%vs.198 Chitumbo Mwali (ZAM)22811.4%
60 Ivan Šaric (CRO)265398.9%vs.197 Sergio Miguel (ANG)22861.1%
61 Aravindh Chithambaram (IND)264198.5%vs.196 Michael Concio (PHI)22971.5%
62 Alexey Sarana (RUS)264098.4%vs.195 Olanrewaju Ajibola (NGR)23021.6%
63 Alexander Motylev (RUS)263998.3%vs.194 Abobker Mohamed Elarabi (LBA)23071.7%
64 Aryan Tari (NOR)263998.1%vs.193 Daniel Barrish (RSA)23131.9%
65 Evgeny Bareev (CAN)263898.0%vs.192 Daniel Quizon (PHI)23192.0%
66 Rinat Jumabayev (KAZ)263797.3%vs.191 Bashir Eiti (SYR)23402.7%
67 Vladislav Kovalev (BLR)263796.9%vs.190 Rodwell Makoto (ZIM)23523.1%
68 Nodirbek Abdusattorov (UZB)263496.6%vs.189 Mohamad Ervan (INA)23563.4%
69 Alan Pichot (ARG)263096.0%vs.188 Sergio Minero Pineda (CRC)23654.0%
70 Mustafa Yilmaz (TUR)263095.9%vs.187 Noaman Omar (UAE)23674.1%
71 David Paravyan (RUS)262595.1%vs.186 Mohamed Tissir (MAR)23794.9%
72 Sandro Mareco (ARG)262995.1%vs.185 Sami Khader (JOR)23824.9%
73 Pavel Ponkratov (RUS)265095.8%vs.184 Andre Ventura Sousa (POR)23904.2%
74 Bogdan-Daniel Deac (ROM)263994.8%vs.183 Amir Zaibi (TUN)23985.2%
75 Ahmed Adly (EGY)262594.0%vs.182 Abdelrahman Hesham (EGY)23976.0%
76 Benjamin Bok (NED)262493.5%vs.181 Asyl Abdyjapar (KGZ)24036.5%
77 Neuris Delgado Ramírez (PAR)262293.3%vs.180 Niaz Murshed (BAN)24046.7%
78 Nihal Sarin (IND)265595.1%vs.179 Arthur Ssegwanyi (UGA)24094.9%
79 Yaroslav Zherebukh (USA)262091.6%vs.178 Evgenios Ioannidis (GRE)24228.4%
80 Shant Sargsyan (ARM)262692.6%vs.177 Pedro Ramon Martinez Reyes (VEN)24177.4%
81 Daniele Vocaturo (ITA)263092.7%vs.176 Sugar Gan-Erdene (MGL)24197.3%
82 Rasmus Svane (GER)261591.3%vs.175 Essam El Gindy (EGY)24208.7%
83 Viktor Erdos (HUN)261490.8%vs.174 Saparmyrat Atabayev (TKM)24259.2%
84 Varuzhan Akobian (USA)261490.3%vs.173 Esteban Valderrama Quiceno (COL)24309.7%
85 Pouya Idani (IRI)261490.4%vs.172 Ziaur Rahman (BAN)24299.6%
86 Amin Tabatabaei (IRI)261389.7%vs.171 Basheer Al Qudaimi (YEM)243510.3%
87 Arik Braun (GER)260989.0%vs.170 Karolis Juksta (LTU)243811.0%
88 Vadim Zvjaginsev (RUS)260888.7%vs.169 Ravi Haria (ENG)244011.3%
89 Kacper Piorun (POL)260885.6%vs.168 Rudik Makarian (RUS)246514.4%
90 Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (IND)260886.0%vs.167 Paulo Bersamina (PHI)246214.0%
91 Aleksandar Indjic (SRB)260784.5%vs.166 Luka Draškovic (MNE)247215.5%
92 Cristobal Henriquez Villagra (CHI)260683.4%vs.165 Goh Wei Ming (SGP)247816.6%
93 Vasif Durarbayli (AZE)262585.9%vs.164 Dmitry V. Sklyarov (FIN)248014.1%
94 Timur Gareyev (USA)259681.0%vs.163 Tin Jingyao (SGP)248219.0%
95 Ivan Ivanisevic (SRB)260682.4%vs.162 Andrés Rodríguez Vila (URU)248417.6%
96 Evgeny Alekseev (RUS)260582.1%vs.161 Adham Fawzy (EGY)248517.9%
97 Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson (ISL)260381.7%vs.160 Kirill Stupak (BLR)248518.3%
98 Baadur Jobava (GEO)260375.4%vs.159 Abhimanyu Mishra (USA)251924.6%
99 Axel Bachmann (PAR)259980.9%vs.158 Kirill Shubin (RUS)248619.1%
100 Nodirbek Yakubboev (UZB)259880.5%vs.157 Razvan Preotu (CAN)248719.5%
101 Kiril Georgiev (MKD)259479.6%vs.156 Alexandre Dgebuadze (BEL)248820.4%
102 Ante Brkic (CRO)259278.9%vs.155 Sergio Barrientos (COL)249021.1%
103 Michal Krasenkow (POL)259178.4%vs.154 Matej Šebenik (SLO)249221.6%
104 Mircea-Emilian Parligras (ROM)259178.2%vs.153 Juraj Druska (SVK)249321.8%
105 Hovhannes Gabuzyan (ARM)258776.6%vs.152 Bilel Bellahcene (ALG)249723.4%
106 Viorel Iordachescu (MDA)258976.0%vs.151 Volodar Murzin (RUS)250224.0%
107 Denis Kadric (BIH)256469.8%vs.150 Dambasuren Batsuren (MGL)250430.2%
108 Sebastian Bogner (SUI)258173.4%vs.149 P. Iniyan (IND)250626.6%
109 Victor Mikhalevski (ISR)257972.5%vs.148 Wynn Zaw Htun (MYA)250827.5%
110 Velimir Ivic (SRB)258271.8%vs.147 Robert Hungaski (USA)251428.2%
111 Mads Andersen (DEN)257971.0%vs.146 Pablo Salinas Herrera (CHI)251429.0%
112 Gukesh D (IND)257870.8%vs.145 Pawel Teclaf (POL)251429.2%
113 Thai Dai Van Nguyen (CZE)258875.4%vs.144 Ádám Kozák (HUN)250424.6%
114 Carlos Daniel Albornoz Cabrera (CUB)257366.6%vs.143 Vojtech Plát (CZE)252533.4%
115 Emre Can (TUR)256965.1%vs.142 Darcy Lima (BRA)252634.9%
116 Alexandr Fier (BRA)256966.0%vs.141 Jerguš Pechác (SVK)252334.0%
117 Nikita Meshkovs (LAT)256864.5%vs.140 Guillermo Vázquez (PAR)252735.5%
118 Yasser Quesada Pérez (CUB)256563.6%vs.139 Leandro Krysa (ARG)252736.4%
119 Luka Paichadze (GEO)256462.2%vs.138 Shamsiddin Vokhidov (UZB)253037.8%
120 Levan Pantsulaia (GEO)256460.8%vs.137 Jahongir Vakhidov (UZB)253439.2%
121 Javokhir Sindarov (UZB)255861.8%vs.136 Andrew Tang (USA)252538.2%
122 Elshan Moradiabadi (USA)255355.1%vs.135 Helgi Dam Ziska (FRO)253944.9%
123 Krikor Mekhitarian (BRA)255453.3%vs.134 Juan Carlos Gonzalez Zamora (MEX)254546.7%
124 Federico Perez Ponsa (ARG)255452.5%vs.133 Momchil Nikolov (BUL)254747.5%
125 Boris Savchenko (RUS)255354.7%vs.132 Nikita Afanasiev (RUS)254045.3%
126 Bobby Cheng (AUS)255248.5%vs.131 Vahap Sanal (TUR)255651.5%
127 Susanto Megaranto (INA)255051.1%vs.130 Ehsan Ghaem Maghami (IRI)254748.9%
128 Saša Martinovic (CRO)254850.0%vs.129 Kaido Kulaots (EST)254850.0%

2021 Candidates Tournament – Round 13 Preview

Round 12 Recap

In a shocker of a 12th round, all four games saw decisive results! Ding Liren scored a win over Grischuk to climb out of last place in the standings. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave kept his slim tournament hopes alive by beating Alekseenko on demand. And in the game of the day Anish Giri managed to outmaneuver Caruana, eliminating the latter from contention to win the event but setting himself in contention. At the point those three games concluded the final game looked drawn, which would have left Giri tied for first place with almost a 40% chance to win the event, while our leader would have had just under a 60% chance to win it. We wouldn’t have been too far from a coin flip.

But Ian Nepomniachtchi wasn’t done with Wang Hao. He played on and managed to squeeze a win out of that equal endgame, locking up sole possession of first place as we head into the final rest day, followed by the final two rounds of the tournament. After today’s games, here are the current standings and, at the top, the odds of tournament victory for those players still in contention:

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Prior Win%Avg Finish
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2797.3884.9%74.6%1.2
Giri, Anish2791.57.513.5%11.7%1.9
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2754.16.51.7%2.0%3.5
Caruana, Fabiano2816.060.0%11.3%3.9
Grischuk, Alexander2770.85.50.0%0.5%5.5
Wang, Hao2753.350.0%0.1%6.3
Ding, Liren2790.150.0%0.0%6.1
Alekseenko, Kirill2696.94.50.0%0.0%7.6

We can see that thanks to this win, Nepo is in great shape. Giri’s win did slightly increase his own odds, but it wasn’t the dramatic jump he might have seen had Nepo drawn, as it failed to close the gap in the standings. Not only is Giri half a point behind, but he loses all potential tiebreak scenarios so he has to find a way to outscore Nepo by a full point in the last two rounds. MVL can win any tiebreak he might end up in, but at 1.5 points behind the leader with two rounds left his margin for error is almost nonexistent. He has to win both his games and see Nepo score no more than half a point and also see Giri score no more than one point out of two. Such perfection is not likely, as the odds show, but at least he still has a sliver of a chance.

Round 13 Preview

So when play resumes on Monday the 26th, what games are we looking at and what impact can they have on the results?

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (13%)Draw (59%)Black wins (28%)
WhiteAlekseenko, Kirill0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDing, Liren0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

This one won’t affect who wins the tournament. Both players are eliminated from contention. However they sit half a game apart at the bottom of the standings so it does have implications there. Ding was having a very disappointing Candidates Tournament playing well below his expectations and falling from third to fifth in the world live rankings, but he salvaged some pride with his recent win and perhaps will want to build on that momentum. Alekseenko exactly flips that script, as he was overperforming his low expectations and had brought his rating above the 2700 threshold, before his loss this past round brought him back down to earth. He may be able to rebound and win this game, or that last loss could be the beginning of a freefall if he drops yet another game here. Last place is on the line and both players may fight to avoid it.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (65%)Black wins (21%)
WhiteWang, Hao0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Fabi could have been in serious contention if he won with white last round, which is presumably why he pressed and the result was disaster. He is now mathematically eliminated from the tournament – as while there are some extremely unlikely ways he could still tie for first, even then he loses those tiebreaks. The question then is how he will react. If neither player in this game has any interest in playing, as both are eliminated from the only prize that really matters in this event, we could see a quick bloodless draw. But also perhaps one or both may instead decide they have nothing else to lose and choose complications. If the latter occurs we may get a treat of a chess game, even if it isn’t impactful at the top of the standings.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (20%)Draw (66%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteGrischuk, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackGiri, Anish13.5%0.8%11.4%41.3%

Giri’s chances are slim because he trails the leader and has losing tiebreaks, so of course a draw wouldn’t do anything to improve his situation. He could still win the event with a draw, but those scenarios are out of his hands and rely on Nepo losing games. The far more promising path would be to win this game, which opens up a world of possibilities for Giri to chase sole first place, as we can see. Of course winning with black is easier said than done, but then again he did it last round against the second best player in the world, and now he may need to do it again to really get on track.

If you recall our event preview, we noted that prior to round 8 Giri had just a 4% chance of winning this event, but if he were able to guarantee seven decisive results and zero draws those hopes would increase to almost 12%. He didn’t quite go that far but he’s produced three decisive results in five games so far, and critically those have all been wins! This has gotten him into his current position and now he needs at least one more win, maybe two, to reach the top. Our model says it’s unlikely, but the chance is definitely there. Winning this game would help tremendously, but again remember that it isn’t quite a must-win either.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (35%)Draw (53%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian84.9%98.4%85.3%39.4%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime1.7%0.0%0.0%14.5%
Giri, Anish13.5%1.6%14.7%46.1%

And finally we have the game of the day. This is either Nepo’s chance to lock the tournament up for good, or MVL’s chance to create carnage. Note in the table above we were able to include Giri’s chances to win the event in any of the three scenarios as well, but keep in mind those numbers are with the Grischuk/Giri game still being randomized. Winning on demand with black is certainly not easy, and MVL has been much maligned for his struggles with black in both this tournament and Tata Steel earlier this year, but that could be predictive of another struggle – or it could be the setup for a redemption arc! If MVL can find a way to win this game, it throws the standings into chaos, as depending on Giri’s results we may go into the final round with three contenders and no clear favorite!

It’s notable that Nepo has some added value from a win over a draw. A draw would open the door for Giri to tie him for first place prior to the final round, while a win nearly clinches things. That said, a draw probably still is enough to get him to the World Championship match so it would be reasonable for him to play it safe. A loss and he might no longer even be the favorite, although he would still have a chance to recover in the final round.

With only two games that affect the results, we’re able to put together a crude chart of all *nine* possibilities across those three games as well. Here are all the possible ways the odds could look prior to the final round (at low sample sizes, please forgive us of one of these results occurs and our round 14 preview gives different numbers):

If you prefer words to numbers, essentially the scenarios are thus:

If Nepo wins and Giri doesn’t, it’s over. Nepo clinches first place. Also if Nepo draws and Giri loses, ditto.

If Nepo and Giri both win – or if they both draw – it’s over for MVL, Nepo remains a huge favorite, but Giri has a chance in the final round (he would have to win and Nepo would have to lose in the final game).

If Giri wins and Nepo draws, MVL is eliminated and it’s basically a coinflip.

If MVL wins, everything depends on Giri’s results but no matter what all three players go into the final round with a chance.

In Conclusion

For fans of Nepo, the hope is that this round brings a win or a draw, and an uneventful drama-free tournament win with no final-round surprises the following day. For fans of Giri, MVL, or just those who love a dramatic finish, the hope is that MVL upsets Nepo creating all sorts of new possibilities. Either way round 13 will be dramatic with all eyes on the critical game, that will either clarify the tournament with a round to spare or set up an absolute must-see finale. We’ll find out how it all shakes out on Monday!

2021 Candidates Tournament – Round 12 Preview

Round 11 Recap

The most important game of the tournament so far did not also prove to be the most exciting. Nepomniachtchi did not choose violence with the white pieces; instead the leader steered his most dangerous rival into a dead even position for a straightforward draw, maintaining his full point lead over Caruana now with just three rounds left to play. Elsewhere however Anish Giri did strike through with a win, moving into sole second place just a half point behind Nepo. We also saw a second decisive result when Grischuk defeated MVL, leaving the two of them tied for fourth and almost entirely ending MVL’s hopes to win the event.

Following today’s games, here are the updated standings sorted as always by each player’s chances to win the tournament according to our model:

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Prior Win%Avg Finish
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2792.7774.6%67.4%1.4
Giri, Anish2785.96.511.7%4.0%2.6
Caruana, Fabiano2821.6611.3%18.0%2.8
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2750.05.52.0%10.0%4.5
Grischuk, Alexander2775.65.50.5%0.2%4.7
Wang, Hao2757.950.1%0.3%5.7
Ding, Liren2785.340.0%0.1%7.2
Alekseenko, Kirill2701.04.50.0%0.0%7.2

We can see that drawing his game against Fabi was a positive result for Nepo, helping solidify his lead as he improved from roughly a 2 to 1 favorite over the field before the game to roughly a 3 to 1 favorite now. MVL’s loss was crippling, as he now sits 1.5 points back with just three rounds to play, but he isn’t strictly eliminated as he gets an opportunity to play Nepo later and a win there, while unlikely with the black pieces, could still reinvigorate his dwindling hopes. However realistically there are only two players we should consider as threats to the leader. Fabi still has chances if wins a must-win game or two and Nepo falters. And Giri’s win puts him similarly in contention. It is notable that because Caruana has some chances to win on tiebreaks while Giri’s dreadful tiebreak math leaves him only able to win outright, Fabi at a full point back and Giri at half a point back are in roughly identical spots as far as their chances at first place are concerned.

Round 12 Preview

So what’s next? As more players are eliminated from realistic contention, we will begin to see more games with no potential impact on the top of the standings, and we do have two such games this time around, but we also have two important games as we continue to get closer to sorting out Magnus Carlsen’s opponent for the upcoming World Championship match in Dubai this November.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (27%)Draw (60%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteDing, Liren0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackGrischuk, Alexander0.5%0.0%0.3%2.0%

Grischuk’s win put him in the same spot in the standings as MVL, but while MVL still has a 2% chance to win the event, Grischuk would have to beat Ding Liren with black just to get to that same 2% mark. Why are his chances so much worse than the lower rated MVL? Schedule. Of course it’s extremely difficult to close a 1.5 point gap on the leader in just three rounds no matter what, but Grischuk has to play three of the top four players in the event in those final three rounds, he has two of those three games with black, and the only top player he *doesn’t* face is Nepo who would be the most useful (as beating the leader, difficult though it may be, is the most effective path to a comeback). Essentially it’s the worst schedule he could have. The only way this game does anything even potentially interesting regarding the race for first place is if Grischuk wins it and gets some fortunate results in the other games. Should that happen we’ll happily tell you all about it in our Round 13 Preview but we can’t recommend that you hold your breath in anticipation.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (36%)Draw (52%)Black wins (11%)
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime2.0%5.2%0.8%0.0%
BlackAlekseenko, Kirill0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

MVL’s slim hopes rely on a sequence of key events. It absolutely must start with a win here, in the best possible opportunity (white vs. Alekseenko, who has played above expectations so far in the 2021 portion of this event but remains the lowest rated player in the field by a large margin). If MVL accomplishes that his odds will still be slim, but he gets his shot at Nepo in the following round and if he goes into that game closer in the standings than he currently is, it would become an interesting opportunity (albeit with the black pieces) to reshape the tournament narrative if he could knock off the leader and put himself (and some others) back into serious contention. Although his odds of winning two games in a row are just 4%, due to the difficulty of beating Nepo with black in the penultimate round, our model says that if MVL does win two in a row he would suddenly go into the final round as the favorite at 34%, with Giri, Fabi, and Nepo all in the 20-25% range (depending of course on how other games went) for a potential blockbuster final round with four players having borderline equal chances. If you are a bigger fan of drama than you are of any individual player, this seems like the outcome you must root for. It can’t all happen in this game, beating Alekseenko is the (relatively) easy part of this scenario, but it would start with an MVL win here.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (16%)Draw (69%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteWang, Hao0.1%0.3%0.0%0.0%
BlackNepomniachtchi, Ian74.6%50.3%74.2%93.9%

Nepo should probably not take risks with black in pursuit of a win, as he would drop from a clear 3 to 1 favorite to approximately a coin flip against the field. A draw is a perfectly fine result for the leader here. However it’s hard not to eye that 94% chance of winning the tournament over in the right column if Nepo does score a victory in this game. While we’re talking about scenarios that could lead to an incredibly dramatic final round, there is also a chance for Nepo to take almost all of the drama out of the event right here even with two full rounds left to play. So the question in this game becomes what will Wang Hao do? He has the white pieces and the chance to play spoiler. He will certainly have every other contender rooting for him, but also should he falter he could practically punch Nepo’s ticket to Dubai.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (33%)Draw (55%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano11.3%27.0%4.0%0.1%
BlackGiri, Anish11.7%1.3%13.6%38.6%

And for our game of the day we have something resembling an elimination match for second place. If this game is decisive one of these players walks away with serious chances of making a move to win the tournament over the final two rounds, although they would still be a clear underdog to Nepo, while the other can give up the dream entirely. Of course it’s not quite so simple, because this is chess and draws are also a possibility. Caruana really can’t afford such a result; as the higher rated player, and with the white pieces, a large chunk of his 11% chance of winning the event relies on winning this game as the first step of the comeback. It’s not quite so simple for Giri whose odds actually increase with a draw (as his expectations here are lower, and he is closer to the leader in the standings), but the biggest winner if this game is drawn will be Nepo. We don’t list players not involved in the game on these what-if tables, but Nepo’s odds if this game is drawn increase to over 80%, from his baseline of under 75% at the present. He would rather have two players chasing him and not making progress as one-third of the remaining opportunities slip away than to have just one player chasing him but that player pick up a win.

In Conclusion

Over the past two rounds it has felt like a relatively clear and simple narrative has begun to form: Ian Nepomniachtchi beats Alekseenko to pull a full point ahead of the field, then draws his biggest threat to solidify that lead, and then coasts to a comfortable tournament victory. And this narrative is entirely possible. Nepo has about a 75% chance of ultimately winning the event, and probably half of those scenarios, at least, would feel like the lead was never seriously threatened over the final three rounds.

But there are at least two other highly plausible narratives that could still emerge instead. We could see one or more players make a serious attempt at a comeback, Nepo’s odds drop precipitously, but then he holds on in dramatic fashion and wins the tournament anyway. Or we could see a miraculous comeback victory from someone who looked to be on the verge of elimination. Round 12 could play a significant role in clarifying which of these three narrative paths this tournament is actually going to follow.

Whatever happens tomorrow, after round 12 is complete we will then have one more rest day to gather our bearings and re-evaluate one last time what we might expect to see in the final two rounds of the tournament, before the final eight games are played on on the 26th and 27th of April and we finally learn for sure who Carlsen’s next rival will be. We’re excited for a great Saturday of chess, and to see what the next twist or turn this event might have in store for us. We hope you are as well!

2021 Candidates Tournament – Round 11 Preview

Round 10 Recap

Ian Nepomniachtchi broke through for his first win since this tournament resumed, striking with the white pieces against Kirill Alekseenko. This moved him to #3 in the live rankings, but more importantly the result grew his previously slim lead to a healthy full point ahead of his nearest competitors, now with just four rounds left to play. The other three games were all drawn so we do still have three players tied for second place just as we did before the round, but all three of them have more ground to make up and less time to do it if they want to catch Nepo now. All of this means that while things could still turn around quickly and the event is far from settled, we now have a clear odds-on favorite for the first time.

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Prior Win%Avg Finish
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2792.36.567.4%47.9%1.5
Caruana, Fabiano2822.05.518.0%29.9%2.7
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2754.75.510.0%12.1%3.4
Giri, Anish2780.75.54.0%8.4%3.4
Wang, Hao2758.84.50.3%0.7%5.6
Grischuk, Alexander2770.94.50.2%0.6%5.9
Ding, Liren2790.540.1%0.3%6.4
Alekseenko, Kirill2700.140.0%0.2%7.1

We can see that there is pretty close to a 2 in 3 chance of Nepo maintaining his lead and earning the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world championship, while Fabi, MVL, and Giri have roughly a combined 1 in 3 chance. The other four players are even closer than before to truly being eliminated, although technically there are still some extremely slim hopes one of them could climb back into contention with a run. As we discussed in our last article, Giri’s chances are dramatically lower than MVL’s (despite a higher rating) because it’s nearly impossible for him to win any potential tiebreak scenario, so he essentially needs an extra half point to win the event. Although another factor is that MVL still has a game against the leader so has more control of his own destiny, while Giri needs help from others which also reduces his potential paths to the top.

Here is the full breakdown of how the four contenders’ winning chances split between winning outright or on tiebreaks, as well as their chances of coming ever so close, tying for first, but falling on the wrong side of the formulas:

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Win Outright?T-1 Win on TBT-1 Lose on TB
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2792.36.567.4%58.2%9.1%11.3%
Caruana, Fabiano2822.05.518.0%9.4%8.5%4.9%
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2754.75.510.0%4.7%5.3%3.8%
Giri, Anish2780.75.54.0%3.8%0.2%9.1%

Round 11 Preview

Don’t forget that the players now get to enjoy a rest day, so the games we are about to look at won’t be played until April 23rd, but when play does resume we have an absolute doozy that could nearly settle the event for a relatively drama free final three rounds – or could blow the door wide open for any number of potential comeback runs. As always we will look at the upcoming games in order from least critical to most.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (66%)Black wins (20%)
WhiteAlekseenko, Kirill0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackWang, Hao0.3%0.0%0.2%0.7%

For the record Alekseenko is not mathematically eliminated. Scenarios exist where he could win the tournament if he wins his final four games, but the odds of all that happening are almost 200,000 to 1 at this point, and it happened zero times in the 25,000 rounds we simulated when we ran our model. Wang Hao isn’t quite so bad off as that, but let’s be honest, this game isn’t likely to impact who ultimately wins the tournament.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (22%)Draw (64%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteGiri, Anish4.0%10.8%2.3%0.6%
BlackDing, Liren0.1%0.0%0.0%0.4%

Giri’s chances were never great, and dwindled significantly when Nepo expanded his lead last round. Given his dire tiebreak situation, this is a borderline must-win game with the white pieces if he wants to stay in contention. A win would put him back at better than 10 to 1, so he is still someone we need to watch, but only if he starts scoring full points.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (29%)Draw (59%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteGrischuk, Alexander0.2%0.5%0.0%0.0%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime10.0%3.0%11.0%26.1%

MVL gets a game against Nepo in round 13, so he can get away with a draw here and still have some hopes, but that game is also with black so if he really wants to be in serious contention he probably needs a win before that game. Is this the best spot to push for it, despite the black pieces? Maybe not, it’s never easy to win with black, but on the other hand there are only four rounds left so if not now then when? As we can see, a win would be difficult but would be extremely valuable and put him right back in the thick of things.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (68%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian67.4%91.2%71.2%21.6%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano18.0%0.1%12.9%62.6%

After three appetizers, we come to the main course. Nepo has white and could nearly clinch the tournament victory with a win here. However a draw is enough to keep him as a solid favorite over the field, while a loss would be a disaster, so he has reason to be cautious with his one point lead over the second best player in the world. A draw keeps his biggest threat a full point behind him with just three rounds left.

On the other hand this is Fabi’s shot. He’s shown the strength of his preparation in this event, and the big question is what does he have in store to fight for a win with black? Because if he can win here he becomes the odds-on favorite to win first place, so if there was ever a time for a player to go all-out with black this is it. This is the game everything hinges on.

In Conclusion

We go into the rest day with a clear favorite but also still three other players with realistic paths to victory should he falter. And that leader still has to play both of the players with the best chances of catching him, so there’s definitely room for the presumptive favorite to stumble. We come back on the 23rd with the biggest game of the event coming up when the leader, Nepomniachtchi, squares off against his top remaining rival, Caruana, in a game that will do more to determine the eventual winner than any other game we’ve seen so far. We can’t necessarily speak for you, the reader, but our suspicion is that’s a game you won’t be keen to miss. We’ll certainly be watching!

2021 Candidates Tournament – Round 10 Preview

Round 9 Recap

On day two of the 2021 half of the Candidates Tournament Anish Giri added himself to the list of potential contenders with a win over Wang Hao, while the other three games were drawn. The win moves Giri into a now three-way tie for second place, but overall the standings saw relatively little change. Let’s take a look at the updated odds of winning the event for each player (compared to their odds before this round began):

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Prior Win%Avg Finish
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2788.65.547.9%44.5%2.0
Caruana, Fabiano2822.4529.9%35.1%2.5
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2754.4512.1%11.0%3.4
Giri, Anish2781.058.4%3.7%3.4
Wang, Hao2758.640.7%3.1%5.6
Grischuk, Alexander2771.140.6%1.6%6.0
Ding, Liren2790.13.50.3%0.7%6.5
Alekseenko, Kirill2703.840.2%0.3%6.6

We can see that there were relatively small changes. Caruana drew a game he was favored to win so his odds dropped a little, and Giri’s win made him a more realistic fourth place contender, but it wasn’t the most dramatic round overall. Despite now having a third player hot on his tail, Nepo is actually slightly more likely to ultimately win just by virtue of having to maintain his lead for one less round than before.

As far as other contenders go the three players tied for second place each have their own chances to contend, while there is only a 1.7% possibility of someone from the bottom half rising to first place over the final five rounds. Caruana, with his gaudy rating, is as one would expect the most likely winner among the second group. Oddly though MVL has better chances than Giri despite ratings playing such a dominant role in the calculations. Half of the reason is a much tougher schedule; Giri has three games remaining with the black pieces and his remaining opponents include both of the two highest rated players in the field, while MVL has already played both of the top two and has three games remaining with white. The other half of the reason MVL is favored over Giri though is tie-breaks. Here is a breakdown of each player’s chances of finishing in *at least a tie for first* and the corresponding range of possibilities within that subset of outcomes:

NameOdds of 1st Place (including ties)Win%Win OutrightTB WinTB Loss
Nepomniachtchi, Ian59.3%47.9%37.2%10.5%11.6%
Caruana, Fabiano36.0%29.9%18.3%11.3%6.4%
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime18.9%12.1%7.1%5.0%6.8%
Giri, Anish19.0%8.4%7.3%1.0%10.7%
Wang, Hao1.6%0.7%0.4%0.3%0.9%
Grischuk, Alexander1.1%0.6%0.2%0.4%0.6%
Ding, Liren0.5%0.3%0.1%0.2%0.2%
Alekseenko, Kirill0.5%0.2%0.1%0.1%0.3%

Here we see where things go wrong for Giri. The harder schedule means his odds of finishing alone in first are roughly the same as MVL’s, despite the higher rating, and his odds of tying for first are similarly about the same. But when he does tie for first, he loses that tiebreak in almost all the scenarios we see. So it is almost impossible for him to win the tournament without winning outright, while MVL has a fair number of paths to a victory by tiebreak winning almost half such scenarios. This is why we have MVL third and Giri fourth in the odds. Also interesting is how favorable Fabi’s tiebreaks are, as he wins the tournament in almost two-thirds of the scenarios where he fails to win outright but still ties for the lead.

We aren’t going to detail the exact reasons tiebreaks are so kind to Caruana and so harsh for Giri as there are way too many possible scenarios. It’s not so simple as to look at current scores in any of the criteria because what matters is how those scores look after the final round, and also who is tied with whom. And within that uncertainty everyone has scenarios where they win tiebreaks and scenarios where they lose them. Suffice it to say though that Giri has far more of the latter than the former, to an extent that it makes him an underdog to a lower rated player. This is a detail we will keep an eye on going forward.

Round 10 Preview

So what games are coming up next, with a rest day to follow? The two favorites play bottom-half opponents, but the third and fourth most likely contenders face each other in the game of the day, which could potentially whittle the realistic field from four to three.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (22%)Draw (65%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteWang, Hao0.7%2.4%0.2%0.1%
BlackGrischuk, Alexander0.6%0.1%0.4%2.1%

In the least important game of the day we have two players nearly eliminated from contention. Our model sees a draw as the most likely result, which would only drive both player’s longshot hopes even lower. A decisive game would give some very minor cause for celebration to the winner, but they would still be nearly a 50-1 underdog to actually win the event even with that boost. We will be prepared to forgive anyone who doesn’t pay close attention to this game.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (32%)Draw (56%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano29.9%44.5%25.6%10.6%
BlackDing, Liren0.3%0.0%0.2%1.6%

By the standings this feels like a game Caruana should really press to win, against the player in last place, and it’s true that a win is almost 20 percentage points better than a draw for his odds of earning a rematch with Magnus. However results so far aside, we cannot ignore that Ding is the #3 player in the world, and not actually a pushover of any kind, and do also notice how much a loss would hurt Fabi here. So we will have to wait and see what kind of approach he has prepared.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (45%)Draw (45%)Black wins (10%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian47.9%62.4%39.7%20.2%
BlackAlekseenko, Kirill0.2%0.0%0.0%1.6%

This is a relatively critical game for our leader. Because he has white against the weakest player, our model sees almost a 50% chance of winning – and that is currently priced into Nepo’s listed odds of winning. Should he merely draw it would be a relatively significant disappointment relative to expectations, and actually hurt his chances of winning the event quite a bit. He might still be the favorite, depending on other results, but it would be a significant missed opportunity at a full point when he probably still needs another win eventually if he’s going to lock up first place. If he does score that win he guarantees that he will remain alone in first place for at least another round, and possibly even expands that lead to a full point. All told a win here probably makes Nepo the odds on favorite with the highest odds of victory he’ll have enjoyed yet.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (67%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime12.1%29.4%12.5%1.6%
BlackGiri, Anish8.4%0.8%6.3%22.3%

And that brings us to the game of the day. Neither of these players is quite on par with the top two; MVL is notably lower rated while Giri has the awful tiebreaks we discussed earlier, but they definitely both still have reason to believe they could win this event. If they draw, we’ll still have four plausible winners when the round is over, but it won’t likely put either of them in any better of a spot than they’re in now, and right now they’re both relative underdogs. However if this game sees a decisive winner – well that would essentially turn it into an elimination game. We would go into the rest day and the final four rounds with only three players with good enough winning chances to warrant mention – but all three of them would be fully in the mix (including the winner of this game, who can’t quite say that yet). So this one is a huge game for both the players and the fans (because when both players have such incentive to fight for a win, we are more likely to have an exciting game to watch!)

In Conclusion

There’s a lot of potential for meaningful shuffling of the odds depending on the results of these games coming up in round 10. We could see four become three in terms of players with realistic winning chances. We could see the current leader pull away and start to really put the squeeze on the rest of the field – or falter and open the door wide open for late round dramatics. Nobody can clinch anything yet, and after this round ends we will have a rest day, then pick back up on April 23rd with four rounds left to play. Those four rounds are guaranteed to have important action (not to look ahead but Nepo and Fabi face off in round 11) and the stakes will only increase as we get closer to the finale and everyone jockeying for position starts to run out of time. For now, we’ve got a lot of jockeying to follow tomorrow!