2022 Candidates – Round 14 Preview

We have a winner! Nepomniachtchi was not gifted a short or automatic draw, but nevertheless managed to earn the half point he needed to clinch sole first place with half a round to play, so we officially have a world championship challenger. A Nepo vs. Carlsen rematch is now slated, provided both players are able to participate and choose to do so. The only thing still up in the air is who will finish second and earn the “alternate” spot for that match (by finishing second here), which would become critical if Carlsen chose not to defend his title as he has repeatedly suggested might be the case. And that race for second place was also simplified in round 13 when Nakamura won his game and took sole possession of second place, eliminating from contention several players who entered the 13th round with slim hopes of reaching #2.

We no longer need our model to explain the scenarios, nor do we need a table of the odds for every participant. We no longer need to consider what-if scenarios for every game. We can sum everything up in one sentence going into the final round: Ding Liren has white against Nakamura and must win to take second place; if that game is drawn or if Naka wins, then second place goes to Naka. That’s it. That’s the drama of round 14. Of course there are three other games, that can affect final placements from 3 to 8, gain or lose a little rating, gain or lose a little prize money, and matter for the players’ pride. But those games will have zero impact on first or second place in the final standings.

We hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our previews throughout the tournament, and that they provided some added value to your experience. This one is far shorter than normal because there’s no longer anything unintuitive that we need to clarify, and with it we are signing off on our coverage of the 2022 Candidates. But while our model’s value and the need for detailed analysis of the possible results comes to an end, the tournament hasn’t quite ended yet. We do still have the one critical game that might impact (or even determine) who Nepo’s opponent in the next world championship match is. It’s basically an Armageddon game at classical time controls, and it’s certainly worth tuning in to watch, so enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 13 Preview

In round 12 Ian Nepomniachtchi chose, with his opponent’s cooperation, to take a 14 move draw in just 7 minutes of play. And when Ding Liren surprisingly lost with white in the only decisive game of the round, Nepo’s approach paid off as he clinched at minimum a tie for first place as he now leads the field by two full points with just two rounds left. Let’s take a look at how our model measures each player’s chances to win, or to finish top two, and how their odds of first place changed in round 12.

For all intents and purposes, Nepo is going to win this tournament outright. Technically if he loses both of his final games he could still be forced into a playoff against either Ding or Naka if one of them wins their final two (they play each other in round 14 so only one can possibly win out). However there is no plausible reason to think he won’t be able to force at least one more draw, particularly in his remaining game with white, which would be enough to truly clinch victory.

With first place basically set in stone, normally these final two rounds would carry very little interest, as the Candidates is usually an all-or-nothing tournament as the winner goes on to play in a world championship match while the difference between second and eighth places is basically nil. However this year is potentially different, as we don’t know for sure that Magnus Carlsen will choose to defend his title against the winner of this event, and if he doesn’t then the winner will likely instead face this tournament’s second place finisher. So it might not matter, if Magnus plays after all, but for now the players have to take very seriously the idea that second place might have major value, and as such we have reason to pay attention to the second place odds. And that battle for second is intense.

The favorites for second place are of course Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura who are tied for second place. Ding is more likely to win the spot outright, by virtue of his higher rating and the fact that he has white in their potentially critical head to head matchup in the final round. However if the two are involved in any kind of tie for second place, Naka is much more likely to win the mathematical tiebreaks that would determine the spot, so as a result our model gives him better overall odds of second.

Also in contention for second place are Radjabov and Caruana, who sit just half a point behind Ding and Naka, which with two rounds left means plenty of scenarios exist where they could get sole second themselves. Radjabov also has an extra edge because his potential tiebreaks are also excellent in most scenarios where he manages to play his way into a tie.

ROUND 13 PREVIEW

Adjusted Odds of FIRST if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (32%)Draw (56%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian99.9%100.0%100.0%99.4%
BlackRapport, Richard0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

We start by looking at the most important game if first place is your concern, because it’s really quite straightforward. Ian can clinch sole victory in the tournament with a win or a draw here, and although our model treats it like any other game and puts the draw odds at 56% based on rating differentials, we expect Nepo to once again play for a forced draw, and Rapport to have very little incentive to resist, so we think it’s extremely likely this game will end all uncertainty around the #1 spot in the tournament. In the very unlikely case that Nepo does lose, he can still clinch unless at least one of Ding or Naka win their games to stay alive.

Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (70%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDing, Liren38.7%18.6%35.8%68.6%

And now we move on to the three games that are all critical to the battle for second, assuming Nepo ultimately wins sole first place. Ding is currently in the pole position, tied for second place with Naka and having white against Naka later on, but that position is hardly safe as his tiebreaks are quite poor. A draw in this game probably leaves him as about a 2 to 1 underdog to take that #2 spot, so his quest for second can really only be bolstered by a win here with the black pieces. That might be an achievable result if Firouzja continues to struggle as he has all tournament, but on the other hand Firouzja has white and is coming off a rest day, and if he gets his head in the right place he could have good chances to win this game, and largely ruin Ding’s hopes of second place.

How bad are Ding’s tiebreaks? All in all there is a 31% chance Ding ends up tied for second place, but tiebreak math would only actually award him the spot in 9.1% of those scenarios. He either needs to take second outright, or else get very lucky with all eight of the final games giving precisely the right results to optimize his Sonneborn-Berger score.

Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (29%)Draw (59%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru48.2%67.2%46.2%10.2%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.1%0.0%0.0%0.7%

Nakamura has very similar chances as Ding, which isn’t surprising as they currently share second place. He can become a 2 to 1 favorite for the #2 spot with a win, remains a slight underdog to pull it off with a draw, and would be in bad shape with a loss. The difference is that Hikaru with white is in much better position to play for a win than Ding is, and he has incentive to do so if he wants second place because if he doesn’t win here he has a much tougher game in the final round defending with black against Ding.

One thing working in Naka’s favor is tiebreaks. 30% of all scenarios leave him involved in a tie for second place, and he wins 73.4% of those. Nothing is yet guaranteed for anyone in terms of where their tiebreak scores will land, a few rare scenarios even exist where there is a two-way tie between Naka and Ding and it’s Ding who gets second place, but overall the tiebreaks work out well for Naka more often than not. This is why he has better odds of second with a draw than Ding does, even though a win would of course be better for either of them.

Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (69%)Black wins (16%)
WhiteRadjabov, Teimour8.4%35.9%4.6%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano4.6%0.0%1.4%22.8%

And finally we have the two players who are currently half a point back in the race for second place squaring off against each other. A draw here would be great news for both Naka and Ding, as the race for second would most likely turn into even more of a two-player affair than it already is (as far as realistic hopes go). But while these two players are both currently longshots for second place, and become bigger longshots with a draw, they can actually both put themselves into solid contention for that #2 spot with a win. So if this game is decisive it will add a third serious contender to the battle for second place.

Radjabov in particular becomes a serious threat if he manages to win here with white, because if he finds a way to play himself into any sort of tie for #2, his tiebreaks are excellent. There is only an 8.4% chance Radja ends up tied for second place but he wins the tiebreaks 89% of the time that it happens, and a win makes it far more likely. Caruana on the other hand has much lower chances at second place despite the same score largely because he has much less ability to rely on tiebreaks, winning just 21.2% of the ties he’s part of.

CONCLUSION

Round 13 is all about the battle for second place. Not that we know with certainty that it actually matters who comes in second, but there is a chance of it being critical so we can follow the race eagerly for now and then wait for Carlsen to confirm whether it was important or not later. Of course along the way Nepo will probably go ahead and clinch sole first place with a round to spare (just like he did at the last Candidates) and if that doesn’t occur it will bring us a tiny touch of drama for the final round. As far as final round drama goes, though, it will more likely have to do with the race for second. We know that Ding and Naka play each other in round 14, and it looks like a critical game for the #2 spot, but we won’t actually know for sure how critical it is until we see what happens in all four games this round as they will clarify both the standings and much of the tiebreak math. So every game has the ability to affect either the race for first or the race for second, meaning we have another exciting round ahead of us. Enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 12 Preview

Ian Nepomniachtchi won yet another game in round 11, dispatching of Firouzja this time, and the wire-to-wire leader is now closer than ever to clinching the tournament win. Ding Liren also won though, staying within a point and a half of Nepo, so first place isn’t quite mathematically settled. It’s close though. Here are the latest odds from our model on each player’s chances to win, how those winning chances changed in round 11, as well as the odds of a top two finish.

We can see that Nepo is very close to guaranteed first place at this point, but there are still three rounds left so he’s not quite to 100% yet. Ding, meanwhile, now has a very strong shot at second place (to accompany his slim chance at a miracle comeback win) after winning his third consecutive game – this time against Caruana – and moving into sole possession of second place.

ROUND 12 PREVIEW

So what can we expect from this round of games? What might create a chance of things getting a little more interesting at the top, and leave things unresolved for at least a little longer? Or alternatively what might make the results definitive as we enter the final rest day? Here are the four games, and how their results might affect the odds.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (16%)Draw (69%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

If our interest is how the game affects the top of the standings, there’s nothing to see here. Both of these players are mathematically eliminated from contention for first place. That doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting chess, on the contrary they have nothing to lose so they have no reason for caution. This may well be a great game! It won’t affect who wins the tournament though.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (17%)Draw (69%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteRapport, Richard0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

This game is not much more impactful than the last one, but at 2.5 points off the lead Fabi is not technically eliminated. With a win he would stay technically alive unless Nepo also won. Fabi is also still technically – but not practically – alive in the race for second place at 2.5%, and depending on other results a win here could bring that back up to a reasonable number. So Fabi has tiny miracles to chase if he can win this game, but it’s really not likely to affect the top of the standings.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (41%)Draw (49%)Black wins (11%)
WhiteDing, Liren3.0%6.4%1.2%0.2%
BlackRadjabov, Teimour0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Here’s where it gets a little bit interesting. Not that Nepo is at all likely to be caught, but if someone does make things closer the biggest threat to do so is Ding if he can extend his three game winning streak. And white against Radjabov is certainly a winnable game. Pending Nepo’s result, a win here puts Ding in the 6% range, but that could go higher if Nakamura manages to aid his cause. This is also a key game to Ding’s hopes of finishing in second place. Currently those chances are at 75%, but the fact that he’s a strong favorite in this game is priced in to that number, so failure to win opens the door for someone else to catch him in the battle for second.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (29%)Draw (58%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian96.5%99.7%97.3%85.9%
BlackNakamura, Hikaru0.5%0.0%0.1%3.3%

Nepo has white, and an opportunity to actually clinch the tournament with two full rounds to spare should he win and Ding loses. Even without calling specific other results, a win drives his odds closer to 100% than to 99%, but also notable is that “run out the clock” mode is in full effect, and a draw also improves Nepo’s chances to win the tournament even though it’s a game where the model would usually consider a draw a slightly disappointing result with white and a rating edge. However we also see that if Nakamura can somehow find a way to win with black, even against an opponent who would be perfectly happy to just force a draw at any opportunity, things suddenly get a little more interesting. Combine a Naka win with a Ding win and the lead could shrink to as little as half a point with still two rounds left to play.

CONCLUSION

The race for first place could end in round 12, but it could also get a little more interesting entering the final rest day, depending on what happens between Nepo and Naka. And should Nepo fail to win (or especially if he should lose), it will also be a big question whether Ding manages to win. Even though there are three rounds left we might be almost on the verge of finding out for sure what we essentially feel like we already know: Nepo is winning the Candidates. But it’s not actually certain yet, and this round could also open the door for at least a small amount of drama in the final rounds. Which way will it go? We’ll have to wait and see, so enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 11 Preview

Round 10 had exactly the same odd result as round nine did: there were three decisive results, and then the biggest winner of the day (in terms of improving their chance to win the tournament) was Ian Nepomniachtchi who drew. This time it wasn’t really the draw that helped Nepo’s case directly (although it didn’t hurt anything either), but rather the fact that his closest competitor lost. Jan-Krzysztof Duda scored his first win of the event, beating Fabiano Caruana and crippling Fabi’s already slim chances, to Nepo’s great benefit. The other two winners were Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura, who both move into a two-way tie with Fabi for second place, but the most important thing is that Nepo now leads by 1.5 points with just four rounds left. Here are our model’s evaluation of each player’s chances to win the tournament, chances to finish in the top two, and how their winning chances changed this round.

There are some oddities worth explaining in this chart. Among the players tied for second Fabi has the lowest chances to win the tournament but the highest chances to finish second. The second place hopes are because he has relatively strong mathematical tiebreaks in most scenarios, which is how a tie for second would be broken, unlike a tie for first which would lead to rapid playoffs. Why are his hopes of winning the lowest though? Well Ding is just higher rated, that much is straightforward. Nakamura on the other hand has the advantage of still having a game to play against Nepo. This is good news in the model’s results because it gives him a little more control over his own destiny. The opportunity to win that game and close the gap that much faster improves Naka’s chances to win by a little bit. Enough to put him ahead of Fabi in the simulation.

It’s worth taking another look at the graph of how everyone’s chances have shifted over time, just to show how steady Nepo’s climb to atop the leaderboard has been so far. Nothing has gone wrong for him yet, and we can see that since the second round his hopes have simply risen steadily as everyone else’s chances collapsed.

ROUND 11 PREVIEW

So what action do we have to look forward to this round, and can anything halt Nepo’s seemingly inexorable climb to the top of the final standings?

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (21%)Draw (65%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteRadjabov, Teimour0.0%0.2%0.0%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Radjabov may have the tiniest sliver of hope at a top two finish, but realistically the model simply tells us that this game is not going to affect the top of the final standings. It’s as irrelevant as a game can get in this event – although that doesn’t make it meaningless as pride and prize money are still on the line. It’s up to the players to determine whether that is incentive enough for a fighting game.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (26%)Draw (61%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru3.8%8.2%2.3%0.6%
BlackRapport, Richard0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

Nakamura is at least within theoretical striking distance, but like all the players tied for second he needs a minor miracle to come all the way back and win. A victory in this game would help that cause, but would only be the beginning of what is ultimately needed. However as we know the battle for second place has the potential to mean a ton should Carlsen choose not to defend his world title, so this game with white is a great opportunity for Hikaru to push for a win which could put a lot of pressure on the other players he’s battling for that #2 spot. Of course that win would also bolster his chances to actually win first place too, although they’d still be pretty low, but not so low that Nepo can pretend he’s already clinched anything. It would certainly add to the stakes of the upcoming round 12 clash between Nepo and Naka.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (67%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano2.6%8.2%1.6%0.2%
BlackDing, Liren4.4%0.6%3.4%12.4%

The other two players contesting that battle for second place face each other in this round, and it’s notable that if the game is decisive one of these players will be in the vicinity of 10% to win the tournament pending other results, which is high enough that we can acknowledge the remaining rounds still matter. If Nepo is looking to put a bow on this event, he would prefer to see a draw here, rather than have either of these players potentially closing the gap between them and him.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (21%)Draw (65%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackNepomniachtchi, Ian89.1%75.5%91.5%98.3%

Firouzja is functionally eliminated from winning the event, but he has a chance to dramatically alter its course if he finds a way to win this game. While even if he did pick up his first loss here Nepo would still be a major favorite to win the tournament, it wouldn’t look quite so definitive as it does now. He would be a little more vulnerable, especially if any of the players currently in second won their games and closed the gap in the standings to just half a point.

It’s worth noting that while a loss would be bad for Nepo, a draw is probably enough to gain ground once again, as with a 1.5 point lead and just four rounds left to play, a draw has more upside for running out the clock than it has downside for possibly allowing the lead to shrink half a point. And beyond that, if Nepo were to actually win this game he would all but clinch the tournament at over 98% to win.

So how close could things potentially get this round? What if Nepo lost, and Nakamura won, and the Fabi/Ding game was decisive as well? Suddenly Nepo would be just half a point ahead of two opponents, going into a game against one of them. It’s certainly a scenario that would add to the intrigue of the final rounds, but how much of an impact would it really have on the odds?

Nepo would still be an odds-on favorite, but at just 2-1 as opposed to the 3-1 edge he’d have if he lost but we kept the other games in the round random, or the better than 10-1 edge he’d have with a draw.  Whichever of Ding or Fabi actually won their game would be the second most likely tournament winner, but we ran the simulation without picking a winner in that game, we simply set the draw rate to 0% for that one game in this one scenario.

We see from this that Nepo’s lead is too strong to be erased in a single round, but it can be chipped away at and this scenario maximizes the chipping. If you’re hoping for drama at the end this is about the most progress you can hope for here, the rest would have to come in the final three rounds.

CONCLUSION

Everyone in the tournament has lost a game except for Nepo. In fact everyone but Ding and Nepo has lost at least twice. And while remaining the only undefeated player, Nepo has also managed to win four games – more than anyone else has won. Time is really starting to tick down with just four rounds left, so the question is: can Nepo keep it up and wrap up this victory? Or will he falter down the final stretch and let others back into contention? We have to think all three results are possible in his game, considering he has black against Firouzja, regardless of how comfortable he might be with a draw. Everything else will hinge on that one result, so what will happen in that game? The only way to find out is to tune in and enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 10 Preview

The ninth round brought us three decisive games, but the biggest winner was Ian Nepomniachtchi who maintained his full point lead by drawing his closest competitor, Fabiano Caruana. Our model considered that game, where Fabi had white, to be Fabi’s best chance to catch up and turn this tournament back into a two man race rather than a one man show. It didn’t happen, Nepo remains in the lead, the time to catch him shrinks, and so our model says his odds of winning continue to rise. The three players who did score wins were Ding Liren, Alireza Firouzja, and Teimour Radjabov, all of whom still have minimal hopes to contend for first even now that they have booked their first win of the event. Here’s our model’s current projections, and how those winning chances changed based on results from the ninth round.

You might notice a new column here, we are now tracking each player’s odds of finishing in the top two (accounting for the mathematical tiebreaks used to determine second place as well as the OTB tiebreaks that kick in if there is a tie for first.) Normally second place doesn’t matter in this event, where the winner goes on to challenge the world champion for that title. However there is lingering uncertainty around Magnus Carlsen’s plans to defend his title, and if he chooses not to do so, second place in this event might become crucial, as the world championship match would most likely be between the top two finishers in this event. So we used the rest day to add top-two tracking to the model and will include it from here to the end.

Right now it looks quite likely that the current top two players will finish in those spots, but there are a few other contenders with no real winning chances, but with decent hopes to rise as high as second place. That will be worth keeping a continuing eye on over subsequent rounds.

ROUND 10 PREVIEW

The players have had a much needed day off – I know as a fan that I needed it – and are now ready to get back to action. Let’s take a look at the upcoming games.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (17%)Draw (68%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru0.9%2.5%0.5%0.1%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza0.2%0.0%0.2%0.8%

Nakamura is coming off a round nine loss that dashed his slim hopes of winning the event, but does cling to almost a 9% chance of climbing back into second place which as we said could matter a great deal. We aren’t recording second-place odds in our game-by-game what-if scenarios, but clearly a win here would improve those chances and could prove a critical bounce-back opportunity. Firouzja on the other hand is coming off a win – his first – and having climbed successfully out of last place in the standings is undoubtedly eager for more. Our model places the draw rate relatively high here just based on player ratings, but from a tournament perspective neither player really has anything to lose and neither is mathematically eliminated from contention (even if their hopes are very slim) so it wouldn’t be too surprising if they both come into this game looking for chances to win.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (68%)Black wins (17%)
WhiteRapport, Richard0.2%0.6%0.1%0.0%
BlackDing, Liren1.1%0.0%0.7%3.4%

Ding is another player with somewhat non-negligible odds at second place, and a win here with black would take him a lot closer to that possibility, while Rapport is known for his creative playstyle and has no reason not to take a shot at trying to win this game. So once again, while the model simply sees a rating underdog with white, which translates to a relatively high predicted draw chance, the tournament situation and playing styles don’t necessarily agree.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (66%)Black wins (20%)
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano11.8%2.9%10.6%22.3%

Fabi lost his golden opportunity to catch Nepo in one fell swoop when he only drew with white last round (in a game where he certainly had good winning chances). Now he has to try to catch the leader half a point at a time, as he only controls his own games going forward, not Nepo’s. That might mean he needs multiple wins to close the gap, if Nepo doesn’t start losing all of a sudden, but if so that just means that with only five games left every one is a critical chance to get one of those wins, regardless of piece color or opponent. Here he has black, but he also has the player in last place who is now the only player left without a win. Fabi is relatively forced to push here and try to create chances despite having black. If it works, and he manages to win this one, it will put some extra pressure on Nepo and make holding that lead a bit less safe or routine.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (35%)Draw (53%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian85.8%93.8%84.1%66.8%
BlackRadjabov, Teimour0.1%0.0%0.0%0.9%

And finally we have our leader in action. A draw is plenty to keep his odds of winning the tournament up in the over 80% range, and with white against the player most reputed for drawishness that option is probably available if he wants it. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Nepo hasn’t actually won the tournament yet, and a draw won’t really improve his chances further. This is a game with white against the lowest rated player in the field, and if he plays for a win there’s a pretty good chance he could get it (better than in most games, anyway). Since the model does not account for tournament situation, it marks that as pretty likely. Whether it proves to actually be so is pretty much up to Ian, but there is added value in a win (almost 10 percentage points of improvement to his odds of holding this lead to the end) and the risks of a loss aren’t that dramatic (he’d still be a two to one favorite over the field even with a loss). So is the model right to expect violence in this game, or will Nepo choose the path of least resistance, see what the other players do, and live to fight another day if more effort proves necessary to ultimately clinch first? He has great chances to win this tournament, but the conventional wisdom is that he has a history of failing to close out tournaments. Many people predicted – from the very beginning – that he couldn’t win because even if he built a lead early on he would collapse late. So will this game be a shocking loss that begins that collapse some expect? Or is he ready to defy expectations and cruise to a comfortable tournament win? We’ll have to wait and see.

CONCLUSION

There isn’t exactly much intrigue in this round in the sense of singularly obvious key games to watch. No one result will dramatically change the tournament situation in and of itself. Even a Nepo loss, the most event-altering thing that could happen, still leaves him as a strong odds-on favorite pending the other results. The intrigue instead comes from two things: the possibility of certain results in combination setting up new drama in future rounds, and the fact that this round represents 20% of all remaining games. On the former point, an example is that while we said Nepo would still be in good shape even with a loss, that’s less true if Fabi also wins. That combination would leave them tied, and suddenly turn it back into a borderline coinflip between the two for first place. As to the latter point, time is simply running out. Numerous players are not – mathematically speaking – eliminated from contention yet. But they are far enough back that a miracle comeback would require several wins. If you want to win several games in just five rounds you really have to start now. We’re entering the phase of the tournament where anyone who doesn’t launch a winning streak now will find themselves drifting from “functionally eliminated” to “mathematically eliminated” over the coming rounds.

Ultimately this is a round that may or may not shake up the standings, but either way it will be telling. Because the same standings with just four rounds left to play would mean something quite different than they mean with five rounds to play. Every remaining chance – both for our leader and for those chasing him – is critical to whether Nepo can maintain his lead or whether things get close at the end. This round is one of those chances, so enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 9 Preview

Ian Nepomniachtchi greatly strengthened his status as tournament leader in the eighth round… thanks to a little help. Starting the round with a half point lead, Nepo took a quick draw in his own game which theoretically opened the door for him to be caught. However Fabiano Caruana, the second place player, not only failed to take advantage but in fact lost his game to Hikaru Nakamura, who is now a clear third place and suddenly back into the fringes of the “who will win” conversation that used to be a pure two-man discussion. Here are the updated odds to win first place for each player and how they changed based on the eighth round results.

The field is really starting to string out, as Rapport also won in round eight and we now have players clearly ranked from first through fifth with the only tie being the three players in joint last place. Of course with his loss we see Fabi lost nearly half of his previous win chances, as expected. Perhaps interesting is to note that the main beneficiary from that loss was not the player who beat him, but rather the player who saw his lead extended; logical once you think about it but slightly odd. That said, while Nepo is now a commanding favorite at better than a three in four chance of winning, Nakamura with the win also is back to slightly more plausible winning chances himself at over 4%.

One thing we haven’t discussed yet in any of our previous analysis of this tournament is second place. Normally it doesn’t matter in the Candidates. There’s prize money, sure, but as far as the fans – and the participants – are concerned it might as well be winner take all. So our model is not even built to report on who finishes second (it records average finish, but not with an entirely proper accounting for tiebreak rules for spots other than first). However there is a major wrinkle in this event based on the fact that Magnus Carlsen has repeatedly said that he’s not sure he wants to defend his title against the winner of the match. If he chooses not to, and if FIDE keeps this part of the regulations the same as what the rules for the last match said, second place in this tournament might earn a world championship match against this event’s winner if Carlsen in fact abdicates.

We plan to revise the model’s reporting functions to accurately calculate second place during the rest day after round nine, but for now our main point is just about Hikaru. The main narrative around his win was that he’s now clearly in much better position for a possible second place finish – which might matter – and certainly that’s true even if our model can’t yet quantify it. But we also want to be clear that second place isn’t the only goal Naka can shoot for, he may be a longshot at 25-1 to win the whole thing, but his odds are no longer so implausibly low as to not even consider them. He does still have another game with Nepo after all, so his 1.5 point deficit could become just half a point if he wins that round 12 matchup, plus or minus whatever happens in the other five rounds we have left to play.

ROUND 9 PREVIEW

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (36%)Draw (53%)Black wins (11%)
WhiteDing, Liren0.5%0.8%0.1%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Duda is functionally eliminated as he sits in fifth place (although technically his odds are 0.02%, not truly zero) and is so far off the pace that even a win wouldn’t change that fact. Ding, on the other hand, is a 200-1 underdog, who might have good chances to win this game with white, but even if he does so he would see only a minimal increase to his first place hopes. But still, a win is a win, and he’s not completely eliminated yet if he can put a streak together. This may be his last chance to start such a run though, as if he doesn’t win his odds drop very close to 0.0%

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (27%)Draw (60%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza0.1%0.1%0.1%0.0%
BlackRapport, Richard1.0%0.2%0.9%3.1%

Rapport is in fourth place, two points behind the leader, and a 100-1 underdog to win the tournament. He too would need a shocking run even to get back into contention, much less to actually win. He could kick it off, tripling his (admittedly slim) chances if he wins here with black. That said, the more likely winner of this game is Firouzja, and while it wouldn’t really do anything about the fact that he has no plausible chances to actually win the tournament, it would still be psychologically valuable to pick up that first victory and at least set up a potential run back towards the middle of the standings that he could build on as he moves forward in his career and pursues the next Candidates cycle.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (69%)Black wins (16%)
WhiteRadjabov, Teimour0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%
BlackNakamura, Hikaru4.1%1.0%3.7%8.9%

As we keep saying, to get back into serious contention for any of these players in the bottom six requires not just one win, but series of them. Nakamura got his one last round, which only bumped him to 4%, but it did also set up his opportunity to make some moves if he keeps winning. We see here that should he extend his streak to two wins in a row (against the lowest rated player in the field) he would again more than double his odds – before adjusting for other games in the round. The chances may be slim, but that means it’s easier to chart the path needed. He needs at least two more wins, preferably more, plus some help from other facing the leaders. He can’t control the second part, but this game is a chance to pick up on of those needed wins.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (24%)Draw (63%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano17.4%41.5%11.1%1.1%
BlackNepomniachtchi, Ian77.0%50.9%83.1%96.3%
Nakamura, Hikaru4.1%5.3%4.1%2.1%

But let’s not kid ourselves about any of the other games mattering the way this one does. This is the crown jewel not just of the round, but of the entire tournament. No game has yet been nearly so important, nor are we likely to see a more important game later on. For Fabi it’s a borderline must-win, and for Nepo it’s a chance to practically clinch the event. If Nepo wins he goes two full games ahead of Caruana, and possibly two games ahead of the entire field if Naka doesn’t win. This would be a huge lead with just five rounds left to play, and our model shows that by putting his odds after a win at over 96% to take first place in the tournament. And as the leader, trying to hold off his closest challenger, even a draw is a good result – especially with black – improving his odds noticeably. A loss on the other hand costs him a huge chunk of his winning chances even if he would come out of it still slightly favored (because his remaining games are three whites against opponents with an average rating of 2757, an easier schedule than Fabi’s three blacks against average opponents at 2763).

Even if Fabi might remain a slight underdog with a win here, that win is basically needed. His odds to win the tournament if he only draws are just a quarter of his chances should he win. It’s the difference between being a very slight underdog but tied for first, and being a huge underdog in a desperate position.

We can also see that a Fabi win matters to anyone in the field still harboring any hopes of a comeback, not just to Fabi himself. Should he manage to cut the leader down to size we can see that would also have some upside for Hikaru, even before considering the result of Naka’s game. Long story short: this game is critical to everyone, and it’s result will greatly clarify what our scenarios look like for the final five rounds.

CONCLUSION

There are four games, and all of them should produce interesting chess, but if you are in any way on the fence about watching the reason you absolutely must is that this is the day Fabi and Nepo clash. A decisive game could turn the race for first back into a borderline coinflip, or all but clinch the tournament for the current leader. It’s as critical as games can get before the final round, and in this case quite likely more critical than anything we’ll see even when that last round does occur. So most definitely set aside the time to watch, and enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 8 Preview

The first half of the Candidates tournament finished exactly how it started, with wins by Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana. Nepo, the tournament leader, won first, and the Fabi eventually managed to keep pace with a win of his own, remaining half a point back in second. These two players have absolutely run away with things so far. Now that everyone has played every other player once, there have been a total of eight decisive games, and Nepo and Fabi have won seven of those. Our model now has the odds almost bordering on certainty that one of the two will eventually take first place.

It was Nepo who actually gained ground in the model with his win, as his chances to win were considered much lower than Fabi’s before the round began. Still, while Fabi’s chances to win the tournament dropped even after winning his game, it was still a crucial result, as those odds would have dropped much more steeply had he drawn and fallen a full point behind. As for the rest of the field? Well, there is still technically a 2% chance that one of the other six players comes all the way back and wins. It’s extremely unlikely, and would take several rounds of good results, so if anyone does make that miracle run we’ll be able to see it gradually becoming more and more possible as the rounds progress, it won’t catch the model by surprise. Of course we’ll be watching to see if anyone makes such a run, but for now it really is a two player duel for all intents and purposes.

Based on the current standings, we can update the chart of what final score the eventual winner is most likely to have:

The lower scores, in the +2 to +3 range, offer by far the best chances (albeit still awfully slim) for any of the players hoping to come from behind, as they have an upper limit on how high they can get their own scores. This helps really drive home why a comeback is so unlikely. Even someone currently on an even score (Nakamura) would not only need to score +2 or +3 in the second half, but they also need both Fabi and Nepo to lose enough games to drop into that same range, and that’s just to work their way into a playoff scenario.

ROUND 8 PREVIEW

This round begins the second half of this double-round-robin event, so for the first time we will see players facing opponents they have already played once. This introduces new thematic and narrative concepts like the opportunity for revenge from a player who lost the first time around. More importantly though, what started as a 14 round tournament now has just 7 rounds left. Far less time for things to change in the standings, so for those in contention (admittedly just two players right now) each individual game gets more and more critical. Let’s take a look at those round eight games now.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (35%)Draw (53%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza0.1%0.2%0.1%0.0%
BlackRadjabov, Teimour0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

These two are tied for last place with -2 scores and drew the first time they faced each other. Radjabov, as the lowest rated player in the field, isn’t a shock to see at the bottom of the standings, but one more loss does threaten to knock him out of the top 20 in the world rankings. For Firouzja on the other hand, sitting in last place is far more surprising. At 19 years old, even if he doesn’t have any real shot of climbing all the way back to first, at least winning a couple games and working his way back into the top half of the standings would go a long way towards allowing him to come out of this tournament with more positivity to build on going forward. Firouzja gets the white pieces, so we’ll see if that gives him the window he needs to finally score his first win and start righting the ship at least a little bit.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (26%)Draw (61%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteRapport, Richard0.2%0.5%0.2%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.1%0.0%0.1%0.4%

Tied for 4th-6th place at -1, each having lost to Nepo while drawing the rest of their games (including the matchup against each other), this game gives us two more relatively young players who would each love their first win. While there would be psychological value in a win for either competitor, it won’t be enough to put them in contention to win.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (20%)Draw (66%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian64.3%78.5%64.5%45.2%
BlackDing, Liren0.6%0.0%0.4%3.0%

Here we find our leader – the odds-on favorite – with an opportunity to expand his lead even further if he can beat Ding for the second time. Last time he did it he had black, this time he has white, so it’s certainly a possibility. That said his tournament position is extremely strong even with a draw so there’s no strategic reason for him to press too hard, other than the fact that even a loss still leaves him with not much less than a coinflip’s chance of winning.

For Ding, a win would be more valuable. While we continue to dismiss the possibility of anyone coming from behind, a win here (with the bonus that it hangs a loss on the current leader) would bring Ding back to 3%, and would also bring his rating back over 2800 emphasizing why the leaders might have cause to at least take one nervous glance in the rear view mirror should he win here. A player this strong is the last person you want gaining any momentum at all, no matter how slim their chances may be at this time.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (70%)Black wins (16%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru1.0%3.9%0.6%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano33.7%16.8%31.6%52.0%

Nakamura lost to Caruana in round one and gets the white pieces for his chance at revenge. With a win he too moves up into that realm of “several percentage points” of chance to win, where he would be a little bit harder to discount than he is now. But this game is primarily important for Fabi. While he is one of the two players in serious contention, he is the underdog of the two right now. Every half point will be critical as he and Nepo jockey for the top spot. We can see that a draw is enough to essentially maintain the status quo, where Fabi is about a 2 to 1 underdog to Nepo, going into their huge showdown in the following round. A loss would be a disaster, cutting those chances in half, but if he manages to win this game and tie Nepo in the standings (pending the result of Nepo’s game) it would turn him into a true coinflip to win it all. So the range of how this result will affect Fabi’s chances makes it the most critical game of the day.

WHAT IF?

In order to demonstrate even more clearly how secure Nepo and Fabi are atop the standings, we’re going to take a look at the most plausible scenario we could find where the top of the leaderboard becomes unclear. One first point of emphasis, this is the “most plausible” scenario which does not mean it’s likely, the odds of it occurring are over 1000 to 1. And secondly let us emphasize that this 1000 to 1 scenario only makes the leaderboard unclear; Nepo and Fabi remain the most likely winners, the difference is simply that two others have some level of a shot as well.

So what would it take? Right now the two players with the third and fourth best chances at winning are Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren. And both of them play one of the leaders tomorrow. So our scenario is this: Nakamura and Ding both win two straight games, and Fabi and Nepo draw in round nine so as not to extend Nepo’s lead further. 5 specific results over two rounds. If all of that happens, the odds to win become…

After all of that Nepo is still an odds-on favorite, and there remains better than a 75% chance of Nepo or Fabi ultimately winning. But it at least opens the door. Note that to calculate these odds we assumed a draw between Fabi and Nepo in round nine, but if Fabi wins it would basically be the same, just flip him and Nepo’s scores and win odds. But that would have roughly the same effect on the spread of odds across the field overall.

CONCLUSION

Really the game we’re looking forward to most in the rest of the tournament is in round nine, so it’s easy to look past round eight with that epic Fabi/Nepo clash on the horizon, but as the two of them jockey for position it’s key to keep in mind that every point and even half point will make a huge difference and most of the time they won’t be playing each other. So their games against players like Ding and Nakamura are critical to the final results as well. With the gloves off as players are now facing each other for the second time and the tournament past the midway point it will be interesting to see if anything substantially or noticeably changes in how the games play out. There are excruciatingly slim chances anyone else could contend for first, but that does mean if someone manages to do so it would be that much more exciting. Will someone kick off a run of wins to climb back to the top of the standings? Will the leaders stay neck and neck, or will one pull ahead of the other, or might they both stumble? These are the questions we will be asking as the games begin, so enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 7 Preview

And then there were two. Coming into the sixth round Nepomniachtchi and Caruana were already in first and second place in the standings. Those leads increased when they both won their games while the other two games of the day were drawn, and now there is suddenly an extremely high chance that one of them will ultimately win the tournament. They now get a rest day to sit on their leads, and action resumes with the seventh round on June 25th. Here’s the new odds of winning the event for each player, and how those odds changed based on the round six results.

Prior to this year’s Candidates tournament, the last two players to win were Nepomniachtchi in 2020/21 and before that Caruana in 2018. Our model now puts the chances at almost 90% that one of them will repeat their success, with Nepo having the better chances as he sits alone in first place for now, and is officially the “odds-on” favorite as his chances have finally crept above 50%. So far the story of this tournament is quite simple, if we take a look at how the odds have shifted from round to round:

Nepo and Fabi each won in round one, becoming co-favorites, and have just expanded their leads. Since Nepo’s second win in round four no other player has seen their chances to win the event rise back above 10%, and now nobody has even a 5% shot except the two leaders. For the moment it looks like we will see the two duel each other for the top spot over the next eight rounds, with the rest of the field just serving as the backdrop for their battle. However with all of that said, it’s not quite definitive. Eight rounds is actually plenty of time for someone to stage a comeback theoretically, not a single player is close to being mathematically eliminated. It’s just that at this point such a comeback would require a tremendous (and unlikely) effort, and require winning multiple games. It could happen, and if it does we’ll track the comeback round by round, but for the moment the story is the two players at the top. If you’re wondering, they play each other again in round 9 and Fabi has white.

ROUND 7 PREVIEW

But for now, after the rest day there is one final game left to complete the first half of the event. It’s a double round robin, so round 7 is the final time that players will be facing an opponent who they haven’t yet seen in this tournament. Here are the four games, and how their results might affect our model’s odds.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (27%)Draw (60%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteDing, Liren2.5%4.5%1.8%0.4%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza0.4%0.2%0.2%1.2%

When the tournament began, these two players were our model’s two most likely winners, as they came in rated #2 and #3 in the world (and of course #1 is Carlsen who awaits the winner of this tournament but isn’t playing in it). Ding is still ranked #2 but lost his first game and drew every game since, and is tied for 5th-7th place in the standings, largely eliminated from contention unless he can put together a spectacular run. Firouzja has fared even worse, losing twice an dropping to #5 in the world rankings. The teenage superprodigy sits alone in last place and now has the lowest chances in the field to win.

The simple fact is that neither of these players has much hopes to win the tournament even if they win this game, but if the game is drawn both will see their odds shift further downward just as they run out of time. An unlikely comeback for either will probably start with a win in this matchup – but of course if that happens then the loser will see themselves pushed even closer to true elimination.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (20%)Draw (66%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.5%1.4%0.5%0.0%
BlackNakamura, Hikaru2.9%0.6%2.4%7.6%

Here we have another game between two of the “other” players who all are currently being left in the dust by the two leaders. So once again neither player has much chance to win the tournament even if they win this game, but Nakamura has a slightly larger spark of hope. He is the only player other than the leaders to win a game so far in this event (even if that win is offset in the standings by a loss) and he has the cryptic “advantage” of being an underdog in this game due to the black pieces. This isn’t an advantage in the game itself, but it does mean that if he wins it will exceed the model’s expectations by a larger amount and so lead to a larger increase to his odds.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (37%)Draw (52%)Black wins (11%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano35.2%47.6%29.6%17.0%
BlackRadjabov, Teimour0.4%0.1%0.3%1.8%

For Fabi, currently in second place, this is a game with white against the lowest rated player in the field. There is no better opportunity for him to win again and move into a tie for first (pending Nepo’s result). As we often see, when the model gives someone particularly good chances it also comes with a downside, as Fabi could lose an unusually large chunk of win equity if he “just” draws his game he’s “supposed” to win over a third of the time.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (19%)Draw (67%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteRapport, Richard4.0%10.2%2.5%0.5%
BlackNepomniachtchi, Ian54.1%36.4%55.3%69.2%

Nepo doesn’t particularly need another win as he already has the lead, and as holding serve with black is typically sufficient in this situation. But if he did find a way to win this game he would have an even nicer position, potentially expanding his lead or – at the very least – maintaining it even if Fabi wins too. Right now he’s the odds-on favorite but not too much better than a coinflip against the field. Another win to finish the first half of the event at +4 would really push him into even stronger territory.

There is a second consideration in this game though. Rapport has the best winning chances of the “other six” and he has the white pieces here. This is a decent opportunity for him to make things more interesting for everyone. Should he beat Nepo his own winning chances go back up to around 10%, as he closes to within half a point of Nepo in the standings, but perhaps more importantly a Nepo loss cuts his chances significantly and re-opens the door for anyone who may be hoping to catch the leader, whether that’s Rapport himself or someone else. Nepo is positioned well but has a long way to go before he could clinch anything, and this scenario shows how precarious his lead still is. If Rapport wins this game, Fabi would actually be the new tournament favorite at around 44% (pending his own round 7 result).

So if Nepo’s lead is still a little precarious, it begs the question: what if both Nepo and Fabi lost? There’s a little better than a 2% chance this might happen, and so how competitive might it make things if it did?

Without making any assumptions about the other two 7th round games, Nepo and Fabi would still be the two favorites even if they both lost, but Rapport (fresh of beating Nepo) would be right in the mix too, and the other five players would have a combined 15% chance of winning themselves (more than double their current combined chances). It speaks to how strong their current positioning is that they could lose and remain the favorites, but nevertheless their leads would be much smaller and it would make the second half of the tournament much more competitive across the board (particularly if someone like Nakamura or Ding also won, improving their chances from what’s shown in the table above.)

CONCLUSION

So far the story of this tournament has been a very simple one of dominance by two players, who now sit in first and second place. It is entirely possible that they will continue their dominance, extend their leads, and all the drama of the second half of the event will be about their race with each other for the top spot. That said there are eight rounds left, and if they start losing games – or if someone lower in the table starts a streak of wins – they aren’t totally set in stone as the top two yet. There is plenty of time for them to be caught. So take advantage of the rest day – I’ll be going to the coast – and then we’ll see what happens on Saturday. Enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates – Round 6 Preview

Round five gave us exciting games but not exciting results. Nakamura was on the cusp of beating Nepomniachtchi which could have reset the top of the standings, while Ding Liren looked like he had good chances to get back to an even score with a win of his own, and Rapport seemed to find a possible advantage out of the opening with black against Caruana activating thoughts of possible upsets. But when the dust had settled, the scoreboard showed four draws.

This meant we have now seen 11 draws in the last 12 games, and while the action has been exciting during the games, the analysis of the standings is less exciting as very little changes without decisive results. Here are everyone’s new chances of winning the tournament after today’s games.

Nepo is still the sole leader, and thus the favorite. His draw with black was a positive enough result to allow him to tick just slightly upwards, but he remains below 50% and a slight underdog to “the field”. Duda drew with black against Firouzja, crossing a threshold where the model now values Duda’s extra half point in the standings more than Firouzja’s higher rating, in the only movement on how the model orders the players. But mostly, this is basically what we saw before. A clear favorite, and a clear second best contender, and then a 30% chance of one of the other six passing both to ultimately claim first.

It should be noted that the draw rate is atypically high. 16 draws in the first 5 rounds (an 80% draw rate) is tied with 2016 for the most at this point in a Candidates tournament since the current format was implemented in 2013. That 2016 event saw fewer draws in the final nine rounds, ending with a draw rate of 71%. The 2013 and 2020/21 events had draw rates as low as 57%. So historically we would expect draws to be less common than we’ve seen so far – and our model still predicts that they will be going forward. There is logic behind the idea that draws might get less common in the second half of the event compared to the first, as the pressure to win mounts for contenders who still need to make a move. This may or may not be an appropriate expectation, but it has happened twice, according to data provided by Twitter user @dethwing:

None of this guarantees an immediate slew of decisive results, but it is clearly reasonable to suspect we should begin to see fewer draws as this tournament progresses.

ROUND 6 PREVIEW

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (16%)Draw (69%)Black wins (15%)
WhiteRadjabov, Teimour1.0%2.7%0.6%0.1%
BlackRapport, Richard8.1%3.7%7.4%17.3%

The model continues to see Radjabov’s games as the least impactful on who might eventually win, just because only his opponent has much chance to see their odds swing, but here that opponent is within striking distance of the lead. If Rapport can win he puts his chances at winning the tournament up to a solid 17%, and that could be better still if Nepo stumbles as well. So if Radjabov is in fact the most vulnerable target, as the model continues to assume, then this might be a golden opportunity for Rapport to put himself more seriously into the conversation.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (15%)Draw (69%)Black wins (16%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru6.1%13.7%6.1%1.8%
BlackDing, Liren5.6%1.3%5.1%11.5%

The model sees the winning chances for Ding – originally the favorite –  getting less and less likely as his -1 score is a rapidly increasing problem as the number of remaining rounds shrinks. He now comes into this game less likely to win the tournament than his opponent. That said, it still isn’t too late to get his chances back above double digits with a win and contend once again. He might be running out of time soon, but he hasn’t lost hope yet.

But the player with (slightly) more to gain here is Hikaru, who can also get his own odds above double digits with a win and has the benefit of the white pieces to try to do so. Ding may be the highest rated player in the field, but as long as he’s tied for last place in the standings he has to be treated as a potential target by other players looking for a win, because the field is too deep to easily find targets elsewhere. So can we expect Naka to take a shot here at trying to play for winning chances – possibly also giving Ding better chances to win as well – and if so who will end up benefitting the most from it?

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (23%)Draw (64%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza4.5%9.7%3.5%0.8%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano24.5%12.2%24.3%42.5%

Firouzja has a similar story as Ding. Originally one of the top rated players in the field – and thus a favorite in the model – he now has a loss on his record, finds himself tied for last place, and is in danger of seeing his chances at victory slip away if he can’t right the ship soon. If he wants this to be the game where he gets that win he desperately needs there is an upside: he has white. There’s a downside too though: he’s playing Fabi. Do you really want to press for a win against the most experienced player in the field with a well deserved reputation for being the most prepared? Well, perhaps there is no alternative when your odds of winning are below 5% and you have to go all-in.

If Firouzja does choose to open the door to decisive results, Fabi may welcome the opportunity. While a loss would hurt him, it wouldn’t totally cripple his chances, but a win would be huge. It would give him an excellent chance to catch Nepo and position himself back at the front of the field as a co-favorite (or even better a sole favorite if Nepo stumbles in this round).

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (29%)Draw (58%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian45.6%60.6%43.5%23.5%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof4.6%0.8%4.4%12.8%

Twice in looking at the other games we added notes that “if Nepo stumbles” it could be important. This is because ultimately the most critical game of the round is this one. What happens in the standings depends most heavily on what the leader does. He has white, against one of the lower rated players, and if he wins he could establish a firmer lock on first place and become the odds-on favorite to win. On the other hand if he loses, it opens the door to just about everyone to close the gap and put themselves into contention. How much anyone else’s result ends up meaning is contingent on Nepo’s result first.

Of course we’re still pretty early, and his lead isn’t huge. Many players are within one point of him including his opponent in this game. If Duda wins this (as unlikely as that might be with the black pieces) he and Nepo would suddenly be tied!

THE CHAOS SCENARIO

As long as we don’t see chaos in the actual standings, we’re going to continue exploring ways it could happen. The sixth round actually lines up with an amazing – if unlikely – chaos opportunity. There could be as many as five players tied for first at the end of the round! It would take Duda beating Nepo, Rapport and Naka winning their games, and Caruana drawing. However for the scenario we chose to simulate we instead had Fabi losing to Alireza, which “only” leaves a four-way tie for first but it puts two additional players half a point back and only two are left in the dust, whereas the five-way tie leaves three behind. So if that happened what would the odds look like?

Okay sure, so this is a 1600-1 longshot, but if Duda, Naka, Rapport, and Firouzja all win, we get six players between 10 and 24% to win it all and no clear favorite. Chaos would reign! And this could happen tomorrow.

CONCLUSION

So far we’ve seen lots of interesting chess but not such interesting overall results, at least in the sense of decisive games that shift the players’ winning chances dramatically. It takes wins and losses to really shake up the standings and those have been few and far between so far. But history suggests it’s only a matter of time before we start to see more of them. Round six has the potential to catapult the current leader to a much larger advantage, or to reign him in and potentially leave as many as five players tied for first place. We’ll have to wait and see which direction it takes us, but the chance that it could go either way means you won’t want to miss the action. Tune in to your favorite broadcast and enjoy the show!

2022 Candidates Tournament – Round 5 Preview

Ian Nepomniachtchi took a huge stride forward in the fourth round, winning his second game of the tournament and snatching sole possession of first place in the standings when all the other games in the round were drawn. With this win, Nepo is now clearly the most likely player to win the tournament having now beaten the two highest rated players in the field and drawn the third, in just the first four rounds. That said, 10 rounds of play remain which is plenty of time for fortunes to shift dramatically, so let’s take a look at the current odds of winning for each player and how they changed from before the fourth round to after.

Nepo comes in, according to our model, at 42% to take first place. This is the highest anyone’s chances have been so far in the event, but notably he is not yet an odds-on favorite (which would mean having odds above 50%). In fact even with Fabi just as clearly alone in second place as Ian is alone in first, it’s still hardly just a two-man race. With so much chess left to play, there remains almost a one in three chance that one of the players currently under 7.5% ultimately wins. The bottom six are collectively more likely to win than Fabi is (although we can’t say which one of them would emerge with any confidence, any are possible) and the favorite remains an underdog to the rest of the field.

To say it more plainly: it’s still early and anything could happen. So let’s zoom out for a second from the question of each player’s winning chances, and just ask what it takes to win in the first place? In each simulation we recorded what score the first place player(s) had. Here is how often each possible score held that honor.

In the future we will parse this in more detail, and talk about how often tiebreaks came into play at various scores, but for now the short point is that it’s pretty close to 50/50 whether the eventual winner will have 8.5 or less (with tiebreaks relatively likely) or get to 9 or more points (and be more likely to win outright). However it’s interesting that there’s still a lot of variance in this table. Anywhere from 8 to 9.5 points has a pretty decent chance of ending up as the target mark, with even more extreme targets possible. Not only is it too early to be sure who will win the tournament, it’s too early even to know with confidence what it will take to do so, other than just playing the best chess possible. Basically, nine rounds is an eternity, and this just further emphasizes how much the landscape could shift.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at round 5, consider the potential impact of each game, and explore what specific result might maximize the uncertainty going forward.

ROUND 5 PREVIEW

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (64%)Black wins (23%)
WhiteRadjabov, Teimour1.0%3.0%0.7%0.2%
BlackDing, Liren6.2%2.0%4.9%11.2%

It’s not shocking that Radjabov enters this game tied for last place, but the fact that Ding is right there in that tie is quite unexpected. Ding is in no way eliminated from contention, as of course there is a ton of chess left to play as we keep emphasizing, but he has to start winning soon or else he’ll start to run out of time eventually. We can see that even with black, the model sees the game against Radjabov as a likely enough win that should he only draw, his odds will slowly tick further downward. If Ding can make this a bounce back game though, his chances climb back into the double digits and the leaders will definitely have to keep an eye on him in their rear-view mirrors as he could springboard off of a fifth round win and start gaining ground fast.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (31%)Draw (56%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza5.7%10.4%4.2%1.5%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof3.9%1.1%4.5%10.1%

After dropping his first decisive game of the event Firouzja now finds himself in a deep hole, a point and a half behind the leader, and the model has suddenly grown very pessimistic of the teenager’s chances. That said he does have one thing working in his favor over the next phase of the tournament: after starting with black in three games out of four, he now gets the white pieces for four of his next five games. If he’s going to turn things around those five games may be his best opportunity to do so. And starting that stretch with a game against a relative underdog like Duda might be just the spark he needs. Of course even a win here is just the beginning of a potential comeback, only bringing him to around 10% to win the event, but getting back to an even score is what he needs right now, and the rest can be saved for later.

All of that said, let’s not forget to consider Duda either. Our model sees him as a lot less likely to win this game, both due to his lower rating and having black, but if he does win he’s the one who would jump to 10%, rather than his opponent. Let’s keep in mind that Duda is still on an even score, and our model’s pessimism regarding his chances overall has a lot to do with this game in particular. Note that if it’s drawn, Duda will actually come out with better chances than Alireza. The current two percentage point advantage that Alireza has is based on the assumption that he’s likely to win this game, but if it goes differently that will shake up expectations quickly.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (59%)Black wins (13%)
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano26.7%40.1%24.0%10.5%
BlackRapport, Richard7.4%2.2%7.9%20.6%

Now that Fabi is no longer tied for the lead, he might reasonably be feeling some pressure to get a second win of his own to catch up. Any game with white can be a decent opportunity to do so, and we see here that if he can knock of Rapport his odds jump up to around 40% right there with where Nepo stands already. The counterpoint is that Rapport is actually third in the current projections, so Fabi is hardly the only player for whom this game matters. If Rapport wins he suddenly jumps to the one in five range and becomes a serious contender himself. Also a Rapport win would knock Fabi back down to an even score and back to just a 10% chance to win. So while the model doesn’t see the first two games we discussed as particularly impactful, this matchup does rate quite highly. There is a huge gap between the implications of each of the three possible results here.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (19%)Draw (67%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteNakamura, Hikaru7.0%17.5%6.3%1.4%
BlackNepomniachtchi, Ian42.0%24.2%42.5%62.0%

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. The most important game of the day is clearly this matchup, as our newly minted sole leader now must defend that position with black. Should he lose, he and Hikaru would actually suddenly be tied (possibly for first, possibly not, depending on Fabi’s result). That result would drag Nepo back down to 24%, put Nakamura right in the thick of contention, and might return us to a wide open field where everyone is in it with no clear or definitive favorite.

So Nepo’s edge is definitely at risk, as a loss would immediately erase his gains from the win over Firouzja, but there is also opportunity here. With a win he would really start to pull aggressively away from the field, moving up to a 62% chance of winning before considering the impact of the other three games. Should Fabi fail to keep pace that number could ultimately land even higher. So this is a huge risk/reward game for Nepo, but also it’s a huge opportunity for Naka to transition from underdog to being one of the favorites himself.

In our last update we looked at some specific scenarios, and the one we enjoyed most was envisioning maximum chaos. So let’s do that again. What set of results in round 5 might leave things as unpredictable as they can be moving forward? Of course it would start with Hikaru beating Ian, which would equalize them in the standings and eliminate Nepo’s sole leader status (which is great for him, but awful if chaos is the goal.) Since sole leaders run counter to our goal let’s also assume Fabi doesn’t win; we’ll have him and Rapport draw. And then finally since we want more contenders, let’s assume that both Ding and Firouzja get their bounce back wins to return to an even score, tied with Rapport and half a point behind the three leaders this scenario produces.

We estimate about a 125 to 1 chance of all of this happening exactly as we describe, but it’s a fun fantasy, it would leave the tournament odds at:

That’s a pretty spicy scenario to maximize our drama, eh?

IN CONCLUSION

Round five offers us two high impact games between the four players currently rated most likely to win the tournament by our model, along with two other games featuring top seeds who have struggled so far and hope to right the ship. If we see some decisive results in any of those matchups it could have a huge impact on the eventual tournament outcome, particularly Nepo is involved in one of those results, but that impact could go either of two ways. It could clarify things greatly, perhaps locking Nepo in as an odds-on favorite, and perhaps setting us on the path toward an eventual winner with a very strong score. Or those decisive results could instead largely equalize the players, eliminate leads, and just generally sow chaos, increasing the chances for a winner who scores relatively low and perhaps has to eventually earn first in tiebreaks.

Whether you’re rooting for chaos or clarity, round five has chances to provide it, so as always sit back and enjoy the show!