2021 Tata Steel Masters – Event Recap

The final day in Wijk aan Zee brought drama, chaos, and controversy. Three decisive results led to a tie atop the standings, created two new Super GMs, and showcased a possible preview of this year’s world championship match. And we still didn’t have a champion! After all the games… uh… almost all… were completed (we’ll double back to that later) there was a blitz playoff between the two players from the host nation, and only after the time scramble to end all time scrambles did Jorden van Foreest emerge as the shocking upset winner of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters.

Jorden started the day half a point behind the leader, Anish Giri, but won his game (bringing his rating above 2700 in the process) while Giri just drew. Two other players who started out tied with Jorden also only drew, failing to catch the leaders, leaving the playoff matchups set, but notable wins were scored by Andrey Esipenko (who also finishes rated over 2700 as a result) and by world champion Magnus Carlsen over a possible challenger for his title, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

All that set the stage for the playoffs where Jorden and Anish drew their first two games, resulting in a winner-take-all Armageddon matchup. Giri, needing a win with the white pieces, found himself ahead on the board but behind on the clock, and needed to reach move 60 to hit what passes for time control in this format – with three seconds added to the clock per move from that point on. The ensuing scramble was so chaotic, with pieces literally flying, that the official broadcast reported Giri had run out of time and lost on move 58. Only later did it become clear that in fact what gave out on the 58th move was not Giri’s time, but rather the electronic board’s ability to properly record the moves that were being made so quickly, and the actual finish came with Giri successfully reaching the key 60th move, but blundering a winning position into a losing one with that very move, and resigning two moves later.

Even a day and a half later that warrants a deep breath. So let us slow down, rewind, and review how we got here. If you followed our coverage throughout the event, you’ll know we were using a computer model to track each player’s chances of winning after each round. Our initial projections only gave four players better than a 5% chance of winning and gave the eventual champion only a 0.2% chance. He was later quoted by chess24.com as believing he had been a “1000:1 dog”; our model said 639:1 but we’ll accept rounding.

Ultimately nine different players saw their odds rise above 5% at some point in the event as fortunes ebbed and flowed, while amazingly no player ever saw their chances go higher than 65% at any point – not even after the final round! Our model didn’t use rating comparisons to predict what might happen in the chaos of blitz or Armageddon you see, so the two co-leaders in the final standings each saw their odds listed at 50% before the playoff began. Here is what the changing odds for those nine contenders looked like in graphical form:

We will take a look at all 14 players, compare their initial expectations per our model against their final results, highlight their best and worst moments, and offer a letter grade to each player’s performance. But first something else needs to be addressed.

The controversy:

Alireza Firouzja entered the final day tied with eventual champion Jorden van Foreest, and without accounting for tiebreaks our model offered him a 12.5% chance of winning the tournament – and much higher if he could win his last game. Later analysis revealed however that his Sonnenborn-Berger score, a mathematical tiebreak used to determine the playoff participants should more than two players tie for first, was lower than other contenders and his realistic odds were closer to 7% as he would not qualify for the playoff in almost any multi-way tie scenario. This became critical after Jorden won and Anish drew, because those results eliminated Firouzja’s hopes of reaching the playoff even as he held an over the board edge in his game. He and his opponent were the only players still competing, and a win could have added Firouzja to the tie for first place, but he would have ranked third in tiebreaks.

At this point the arbiters interrupted his game while it was still in progress. They were going to begin the tiebreak games while Firouzja was still playing his classical game – and they wanted to do so at the same table he was playing at. So Firouzja and his opponent were forced to move to a different table to continue their game – where Alireza quickly blundered away his advantage and settled for a draw.

This has been discussed in great detail already in many other places, and is largely outside the scope of the analytical nature of our coverage, but we want to emphasize our opinion here at Chess by the Numbers that interrupting a player’s game while it is in progress was an egregious and inappropriate violation of the players’ dignity.  We are disappointed that this occurred and that it is what will be remembered about a tournament that by all accounts was run impeccably up until that point.

The results:

Working our way from the bottom of the standings upward, we will now take a look at every player’s individual performance, to wrap up our narrative of how this tournament proceeded.

Alexander Donchenko

Predictions: 0.2% chance to win; average finish 9.8

Results: 3.5 / 13 points; 14th place finish; 19 rating points lost; TPR 2554

Highlight: Competing. To say this tournament went badly for Donchenko is an understatement, but there is one major mitigating factor. He never expected to be here and had no chance to prepare. He was added to the field as a Covid-related replacement the day before the opening ceremonies. And he had already competed in another tournament earlier in the month (performing quite well) so he wasn’t even fresh. This is one of the greatest tournaments on the chess calendar, and this was Donchenko’s first opportunity to compete in it. The performance is one he’ll probably want to forget, but plenty of other players who have never competed here would take it in a heartbeat for the experience. We wish the 22-year-old Donchenko the opportunity to compete here again in the future under better circumstances with a chance to prepare properly.

Lowlight: Losing to Grandelius in round one. The first of six eventual losses (with no wins) came against one of the lower seeded players in the field, and set the tone for the event. Perhaps if he could have opened with even a draw, he could have gotten his footing and fared better, but losing right out of the gate was the beginning of the end.

Grade: D-

We can’t bring ourselves to flunk someone put in such a difficult position so we’re arbitrarily identifying a failing grade as something we will only award to players who lost 20 or more rating points. Still this one was tough for Alexander and there’s no real way to spin that. As we said, we hope he gets another opportunity. He’s an excellent young player, and still ranked in the top 100 in the world (#84). We suspect he’ll be back.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Predictions: 8.3% chance to win; average finish 4.8

Results: 5 / 13 points; tied 11th-13th place finish; 26 rating points lost; TPR 2633

Highlight: Beating Donchenko in round 10. As hapless as Donchenko was in this event, it was Maxime’s only win and it helped keep him from truly finishing in last place. So nothing else can be identified as a significant positive.

Lowlight: Losing to Carlsen in round 13. By rating this was the most forgivable loss, and perhaps the round five loss to Grandelius – Maxime’s first in the event – was a lower point as it presaged the disaster to come. However Carlsen also was having a difficult tournament and there’s perhaps a 30% or higher chance that Maxime will face Magnus for the World Championship later this year. This game in the final round was a chance to salvage something positive from an otherwise dreadful event, and a chance to establish himself as a potential threat to the world’s best player. Instead he was blown off the board, and what was cemented was his fall from #5 in the world rankings to #15.

Grade: F

There’s no spinning this one. Adjusting for expectations, and without a mitigating factor, MVL had the worst performance in the field. Everything went wrong and he finished 7.2 places lower than projected. There is one point of possible comfort to be found though. In 2018 Fabiano Caruana scored an identical 5/13 here at Tata Steel, and then went on to win that year’s Candidate’s Tournament, so a bad performance here doesn’t have to mean bad results moving forward. MVL is currently tied for the lead in the half-completed Candidates Tournament, which will hopefully be played to completion this spring. Nothing can make his results in this event any better, but if he can follow Caruana’s path and bounce back to win that far more important event he’ll have to feel good about 2021 no matter what happened here.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek

Predictions: 0.9% chance to win; average finish 8.3

Results: 5 / 13 points; tied 11th-13th place finish; 11 rating points lost; TPR 2639

Highlight: Drawing Carlsen in round 12. When you don’t win a game, your best result must be a draw. Carlsen, despite his relative struggles here, is the best player in the world. It’s always satisfying to avoid being beaten in a game with Magnus.

Lowlight: Losing to Esipenko in round 7. After drawing his first six games, Wojtaszek still had some tentative paths to potentially coming back to win the tournament (in the 200:1 underdog range – better than Jorden’s chances when the event began) and was expected by our model to finish an average of 9th. This loss eliminated all hopes of first place and drove his expected finish down to 11th in one fell swoop, and at the time it was against a teenager who hadn’t won a game yet in the event (although he would notably win more afterward). Wojtaszek went on to lose two more games, but this first loss must have stung the most.

Grade: D

Far from the highest rated player in the tournament Wojtaszek was never a realistic contender to win the event, but he had to hope to at least win a game along the way given he had 13 tries. While this tournament added two new members to the 2700 club, it also lost one as Radoslaw’s rating fell below that mark with his struggles here, and he also dropped from #36 in the world rankings to #43.

David Anton Guijarro

Predictions: 0.2% chance to win; average finish 9.8

Results: 5 / 13 points; tied 11th-13th place finish; 6 rating points lost; TPR 2641

Highlight: Drawing Carlsen in round two. With the same logic as before, when you don’t win a game, drawing the best player in the world is as close to a highlight as it comes. Also this occurred after also drawing his first game, so this brought his projected finish to its peak of 9th, before falling off with his first loss and never recovering.

Lowlight: Losing to Van Foreest in round six. This was long before we knew how successful Jorden would ultimately be, and this – the second of Anton’s three losses – drove his projected finish down by 1.4 spots, the worst hit he took from any one result.

Grade: D+

If we’re grading on a curve, the same result as the last player when measured against lower expectations must be a relatively better (or less bad) result. He only finished 2.2 places lower than projected. So we’ll offer Anton the ‘plus’ here, but in a 13 round event where you face five players lower rated than yourself, it’s undeniably disappointing to score zero wins.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Predictions: 2.7% chance to win; average finish 6.6

Results: 5.5 / 13 points; 10th place finish; 14 rating points lost; TPR 2666

Highlight: Drawing Carlsen in round six. Until we reach players who scored wins, this is going to be a theme. At the point of this game Duda had lost once but still had decent hopes of bouncing back. Seeded 6th, his projected finish after holding this draw had only fallen to just worse than 8th and things still had a chance to remain under control.

Lowlight: Losing to Grandelius in round two. This was the worst of Duda’s two losses, as it crippled him early on in the event. Entering the tournament ranked #18 in the world Duda was a valid longshot bet to win the whole thing, but that essentially ended with this loss. He never recovered, failing to win a single game, losing a second along the way, finishing 3.4 places worst than originally projected to, and falling to #22 in the world rankings.

Grade: D

Again grading on a curve against expectations, Duda underperformed just as much as the lower rated Wojtaszek despite losing one fewer games. Falling out of the world top 20 is a disappointment. Duda is only 22 years old though, so he will have plenty of chances to do better in the future. That won’t be reassuring in the immediate aftermath of this result though.

Nils Grandelius

Predictions: 0.2% chance to win; average finish 10.3

Results: 6 / 13 points; tied 8th-9th place finish; 7 rating points gained; TPR 2700

Highlight: Beating Vachier-Lagrave in round five. Nils started the tournament with a bang winning two straight games, taking the sole lead, and briefly enjoying a position as the biggest story of the event early on. However our model looked at his rating (second lowest in the field) and the 11 rounds remaining, and did not give him quite so much credit at that point. Sure enough, he lost in round three, but that wasn’t the end of his story. When he bounced back and beat MVL in round five our model suddenly did believe, giving him better than a 4% chance of winning it all and projecting as good as a 6th place average finish. Those numbers improved slightly more with a draw against a top seed the following round, and those marks after rounds five and six were his high water points for the event.

Lowlight: Losing in round seven to Giri. This is where the dream ended for good. Unfortunately Grandelius managed to combine his three wins with four losses and finish below a 50% score. This was the second of those losses and the point from which he never bounced back. In rounds 7 through 13 he looked like the player our model initially projected, never capitalizing on his early success.

Grade: B-

With seven decisive games, early hopes of a Cinderella run, and a starring role on the wrong end of Jorden’s critical last-round win, Nils was certainly the most exciting player over the course of the event. He did manage to outperform his expected finish by 1.8 places, and gain rating points, so ultimately it counts as a success. His incredibly hot start left hopes of so much more, though, and falling off as the tournament wore on, while perhaps not surprising, is unfortunate and takes the luster off of what at one point looked like a truly sensational breakout performance.

Aryan Tari

Predictions: 0.0% chance to win; average finish 12.0

Results: 6 / 13 points; tied 8th-9th; 14 rating points gained; TPR 2703

Highlight: Beating Esipenko in round 11. If you had predicted Esipenko would score 50% against his two Norwegian opponents nobody would have batted an eye initially. Once he upset Carlsen though, it seemed a lot less likely. Amazingly though, Tari (the lowest rated player in the field) accomplished what nobody else could in the tournament – he scored a win over the 18-year-old. It was Tari’s only win, but it was the moment our model realized that Tari really truly wasn’t going to finish at the bottom of the standings. His projected finish improved from 11.0 to 9.4 with that win, and he did in fact manage to end the event 3.5 places higher than originally projected.

Lowlight: Losing to Van Foreest in round seven. Of course Tari wasn’t the only player to suffer against Jorden, but given Tari overperformed rather dramatically with just two losses (to the two players who tied for first place), one of them has to be the lowlight. This one hurt his projected results the most, although as we saw he recovered from it nicely!

Grade: B+

Expectations are key here. While we can’t give an A to a player who finished in the bottom half of the standings, we would be remiss not to recognize how well Tari played. He wasn’t just the lowest rated player in the field, he was lowest by a large margin. Expected to serve as the punching bag, he punched back. He ultimately made it impossible to finish in first place without beating him. This was an excellent performance against such a strong field.

Pentala Harikrishna

Predictions: 2.1% chance to win; average finish 6.9

Results: 6.5 / 13 points; 7th place finish; 2 rating points lost; TPR 2724

Highlight: Beating Grandelius in round three. Just when Nils was flying high with sole possession of first place, it was Harikrishna who brought him back to earth. This was definitely the best of Harikrishna’s two wins, and it put him in position to rise as high as 8% to win the event with an average finish of 5th place after he followed it with two draws against high rated opponents. Unfortunately those were his high water marks, he surrendered his +1 score, and never found himself in serious contention again.

Lowlight: Losing to Firouzja in round 8. The first of his two losses, this game brought him back to an even score and effectively ended his hopes of winning the event. He had scored a win and six draws before this, including draws against the four highest seeded opponents, and had hopes of beating up on the lower half of the bracket and making a run… until those hopes were dashed by the 17-year-old wunderkind’s third straight win.

Grade: C

Expected to finish 7th he finished… 7th. His tournament performance rating was within six points of his actual rating, which remained practically unchanged. His world ranking of #21 was in fact unchanged. He won twice and lost twice. It would hardly be possible to have a more average performance, exactly meeting expectations.

Magnus Carlsen

Predictions: 50.6% chance to win; average finish 2.1

Results: 7.5 / 13 points; 6th place finish; 15 rating points lost; TPR 2771

Highlight: Beating Firouzja in round one. The tournament opened right off the bat with perhaps the most anticipated game of the entire event, as Carlsen faced off against the youngster who bears expectations of being “the next Magnus” on his shoulders. And Carlsen got the better of him. Coming off a disappointing result in a major online tournament before this, opening with a big win looked promising for the champ. After this opening win our model pegged him at a 64% likelihood to win the event. If the world #1 shows up in form and jumps out to an early lead, how could he not simply run away with things?

Lowlight: Losing to Esipenko in round eight. Spoiler alert, Magnus did not simply run away with things. After beating Firouzja he began drawing game after game, despite growing expectations that he must win one eventually. By the end of round seven – his sixth straight draw – his odds of winning the tournament had fallen to 21.5% and he was no longer the favorite as he had been passed in the standings by four players. So he entered his game against Esipenko desperately needing a win. Instead things went horribly wrong. This loss ended realistic discussion of winning the tournament, and instead turned the whispers of “what’s wrong with Magnus” into a cacophony. Is one loss really such a disaster? Well that’s the danger of the expectations game; when you’re as good as Magnus the answer is yes. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Grade: C-

Let us remember that Carlsen won three games, finished in sixth place, and had a performance rating that would fall 8th in the world rankings if it were a player’s true rating. Wins in rounds nine and 13 really did help salvage this, and while certainly disappointing it was not entirely the disaster it was billed as. Carlsen called his performance “shameful” but we would contend he’s perhaps being overdramatic to do so. It wasn’t good, he finished 3.9 places lower than expected, he’s still ranked #1 in the world, it will be okay.

Alireza Firouzja

Predictions: 3.3% chance to win; average finish 6.3

Results: 8 / 13 points; tied 3rd-5th; 10 rating points gained; TPR 2810

Highlight: Winning three straight games from rounds six through eight. This run, over Donchenko, Duda, and Harikrishna, catapulted Firouzja to sole possession of first place and a 38% chance to win the tournament. As we’ve mentioned he bears the weight of tremendous expectations, and at this point it looked like he very well might meet them. Carlsen famously won this tournament for the first time at age 17, and Firouzja looked at this point like he might do the same. It was a remarkable achievement at the time to bounce back from a painful loss in round one and climb to these heights so quickly.

Lowlight: Losing to Carlsen in round one. Perhaps this is a surprising pick considering the massive frustration surrounding his controversial final-round draw. But the reason his tiebreaks were weaker in the first place, which allowed the controversy to occur, is that he lost to Magnus way back in the first round. The tiebreaks used give the most weight to results against players who finish highest in the standings, so losing to Magnus who finished sixth was costly. Imagine briefly an alternate universe where Firouzja drew in round one, and then everything else proceeded identically (ignoring the inevitable butterfly effects). The arbiters certainly wouldn’t have interrupted his game to begin a playoff that might have proven unnecessary as winning against Wojtaszek in that scenario would have won the tournament outright for himself.

Now we want to be clear we’re not blaming Firouzja for the egregious behavior of the arbiters. You don’t play round one with tiebreak implications in mind and a game should never be interrupted the way it was. We’re simply noting that with all said and done, the single result that ended up hurting Firouzja the most was his first. He recovered from it very well, but it still managed to come back to bite him in the end.

Grade: B+

Despite the bitter ending, this was a fantastic event for Firouzja. His performance rating was over 2800, and he climbed from #17 to #13 in the world rankings. At just 17 years old, we expect him to crack the top ten sooner than later and to stay there for a long time. Is he a future world champion? Can he live up to such extraordinary expectations? There are questions that it’s okay not to answer today. Sure to get there he’ll have to beat Magnus someday, but there’s plenty of time for that. He finished 2.3 places higher than projected here, won four games, showed grit competing right to the end. Hopefully he can swallow the bitter pill of an unfair finish, and ultimately remember the tournament in that manner, eventually looking back on it as a positive experience and a stepping stone to even greater heights.

Fabiano Caruana

Predictions: 25.2% chance to win; average finish 3.1

Results: 8 / 13 points; tied 3rd-5th; 3 rating points lost; TPR 2804

Highlight: Beating Wojtaszek in round nine. This was the third of Fabi’s three wins, and put him at his highest point in our projections. With this win he was the tournament favorite with a 43.6% chance to win it all, and an average finish of 2.2 – he just needed to find a way to win one more game to maintain those heights and ultimately join the tie for first place.

Lowlight: Drawing Tari in round 13. Unfortunately he couldn’t quite put the bow on things. Despite a wonderfully consistent tournament, with no lost games, he found himself going into the final round almost certainly needing a win to join any possible tie atop the leaderboard. And the opportunity looked promising against the lowest rated player in the field. Our model rated him the second most likely winner after round 12, just like he had been after every other round of the tournament (except seven and nine which each temporarily had him as the favorite). Unfortunately he couldn’t break through, drew his fourth straight game, and finished half a point behind the leaders.

Grade: B-

We can’t possibly give any lower grade to a fourth place finish, but there’s an argument we should as the expectations game comes into play again. He finished lower than projected and lost rating points. After winning this event in dominating fashion last year, he never really managed to pull away from the field this time around and was eventually surpassed. By the grading standards we set for others, that’s arguably C+ material, but he was only half a point off the lead, never lost a game, and was in serious contention from the beginning to the end. No matter how high expectations are for the #2 ranked player in the world, those results have to count as better than average, even if they do fall slightly short of our projections.

Andrey Esipenko

Predictions: 0.3% chance to win; average finish 9.6

Results: 8 / 13 points;tied 3rd-5th place; 24 rating points gained; TPR 2815

Highlight: Beating Magnus Carlsen in round eight. This was an extraordinary tournament all around for Andrey but of course this is the highlight. His win over the world champion was simply shocking, and the interviews afterward showed the absolute purest joy. It was truly a wonderful moment (except of course for Magnus).

Lowlight: Losing to Tari in round 11. Unfortunately for Esipenko he wasn’t able to beat his second Norwegian opponent, even though on paper this was the far easier opportunity. This loss proved costly, as before it occurred Esipenko was emerging not only as the player to beat Magnus, but as a legitimate contender to win the event. If he had won, or even drawn this game, he would have been in a great position to do something so extraordinary that beating Magnus wouldn’t have even ended up as his top highlight. Unfortunately, instead, he lost his only game of the tournament instead and those hopes all came crashing down and ultimately he finished half a point out of first place.

Grade: A

Not only was beating Carlsen a magnificent moment, but it was also one of four wins in a tournament that saw Esipenko climb from a #60 world ranking all the way to #37. The tremendous rating gain saw him cross the 2700 threshold, earning the unofficial “Super GM” title, making him the second teenager in the world rated over 2700 along with Firouzja. The third best teenager is just 2627, so it’s quite a gap. This was so much better of a result than Esipenko could ever have hoped for, exceeding his projected finish by 5.6 places. The only thing keeping it from being a perfect A+ is the unfortunate loss to Tari keeping him from reaching first place when it was realistically within reach.

Anish Giri

Predictions: 5.9% chance to win; average finish 5.3

Results: 8.5 / 13 points; tied 1st-2nd; 12 rating points gained; TPR 2832

Highlight: Beating Wojtaszek in round 10. Giri hung in the wings for the first half of the tournament, but then surged to the forefront by winning three games in four rounds from round seven through 10. This was the culmination of that surge and pushed Anish into sole possession of first place. His odds of winning the event actually rose much further with draws over the next two rounds, but that was because of other players failing to catch him; winning here to take the lead all to himself was the lynchpin that put him in such great position.

Lowlight: Drawing Firouzja in round 12. This draw left Giri half a point ahead of the field and vulnerable to being caught – which is exactly what happened. A win in this game could have nearly clinched sole first place in the tournament, and it looked nearly guaranteed. We carefully avoid analyzing games on this site, playing instead to our strengths, but suffice it to say that everyone who does analyze games agrees that Giri was winning in this one, and that Firouzja managed a rather shocking escape to salvage the draw. That escape ultimately cost Giri the championship in the event. Yes, blundering on move 60 of Armageddon may have cost him the championship even more directly, but that was a chaotic time scramble that never had to happen if Giri had converted this earlier game with the benefit of classical time controls.

Grade: A-

Giri tied for first with four wins and no losses, and had great chances to win the tournament, either by converting one more classical game somewhere along the line or by finding a better 60th move in Armageddon during the playoffs. His rating gain moved him back into the top ten of the world rankings. It all went quite well overall, but when the win is so close and then slips through your fingertips, it’s hard to focus on the positive. Giri was almost the first Dutch winner of Wijk aan Zee since 1985, but instead that ended up being someone else.

Jorden van Foreest

Predictions: 0.2% chance to win; average finish 10.2

Results: 8.5 / 13 points; tied 1st-2nd; 30 rating points gained; TPR 2839

Highlight: Winning the tournament. Jorden van Foreest is the first Dutch winner of Wijk aan Zee since the legendary Jan Timman took first place in 1985. We could pick a specific game, perhaps the round 13 win over Grandelius that earned him a spot in the playoffs, or of course the Armageddon win that clinched the title, but really trying to identify one single highlight is too narrow, the big picture is that the third lowest rated player in the field won the whole thing.

Lowlight: Truly there is none. Although our model never really thought Jorden had significant chances of actually pulling off the victory until the very end, there’s no moment we can point to where anything went wrong. To win a tournament as a 1000:1 (or 639:1) underdog, you can’t afford to have anything go wrong. And nothing did for Jorden.

Grade: A+

Of course. In addition to winning the tournament, Jorden also gained an astounding 30 rating points and cracked the 2700 club, climbing from 67th place in the world rankings all the way to 36th. And Jorden is only 21 years old. In our event preview we said he was not “a realistic contender for first place” but quite frankly he made it a joy to be proven wrong. Watching him pull this off was deeply enjoyable. We sincerely hope that this is only the beginning of a career worth of major successes at the highest level. Congratulations Jorden!

In Conclusion:

And that wraps up our tournament coverage of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters. We hope you enjoyed this event as much as we did. It’s wonderful to have classical chess being played once again, and we look forward to the next major tournament we’ll have the opportunity to cover. Right now that looks most likely to be the conclusion of the Candidates Tournament, perhaps in April. This event certainly lived up to its billing with drama that built slowly over the first few rounds and then just kept coming. Over the course of the event four different players were the favorite at some point before the end – and none of them ended up winning! We couldn’t have asked for more from an event to showcase exactly how our model can be more than just numbers, and capture the narrative ups and downs of a long tournament, highlighting and hopefully deepening the most dramatic moments. Thank you for joining us for this ride. We’ll see you for the next one!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Final Round Preview

It looked like Anish Giri was prepared to place a stranglehold on the first place spot in this tournament, with what appeared to be a won position against Alireza Firouzja. That win would have left him a full point ahead of his closest competitors, and able to clinch sole first place with as little as a final round draw. Our model had him as a 95% favorite to win the tournament in that scenario. But then Firouzja put on his best Harry Houdini impression, escaped, and salvaged the draw. The result is no change at the top of the standings, and we will enter the final round with plenty of chances for chaos. Here are the standings before the last game:

NameRatingScore
Giri, Anish2777.68
Caruana, Fabiano2822.27.5
Firouzja, Alireza2759.87.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2696.37.5
Esipenko, Andrey2696.27
Carlsen, Magnus2842.86.5
Grandelius, Nils2674.66
Harikrishna, Pentala2730.26
Tari, Aryan2636.15.5
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2729.75
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2761.65
Guijarro, David Anton2671.44.5
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2693.04.5
Donchenko, Alexander2663.63.5

Giri does of course still hold sole possession of the lead. He can still clinch the tournament with a win, or clinch at worst a tie for first place with a draw. If he does draw those tiebreak scenarios become interesting though. A two-way tie is simple enough, the tied players would face each other in a blitz playoff. Our model treats that blitz as a tossup and counts that simulation as half a win for each player. Not perfectly accurate as some players are better than others at blitz, but we’re comfortable enough basing our analysis on it. However a three way tie uses tiebreaks to determine the top two players who would then play blitz. Our model is admittedly insufficient in that scenario; we give all tied players equal chances of a win without calculating who’s S-B score actually earns them a playoff berth. And our model is estimating roughly a 22% chance of such a three-way (or more) tie. We apologize for not living up to our promise to better account for tiebreak scenarios in such a tie; but it was a choice between explaining the tiebreaks after the event was already over or admitting what we aren’t certain of and still being able to provide a preview.

So our odds do come with a grain of salt that they may be offering false hope to someone with bad tiebreak chances, but for the sake of narrative drama we will move forward with the odds our model offers.

Projected Results
Before Rd. 12After Rd. 12
NameRatingWin%Win%(Outright)Avg Place
Giri, Anish2777.652.5%62.7%44.1%1.6
Caruana, Fabiano2822.227.3%14.9%2.6%2.7
Firouzja, Alireza2759.812.2%12.5%2.0%2.9
Van Foreest, Jorden2696.37.1%9.8%1.4%3.1
Esipenko, Andrey2696.20.8%0.1%0.0%5.0
Carlsen, Magnus2842.80.0%0.0%0.0%5.8
Grandelius, Nils2674.60.0%0.0%0.0%7.6
Harikrishna, Pentala2730.20.0%0.0%0.0%7.6
Tari, Aryan2636.10.0%0.0%0.0%9.3
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2729.70.0%0.0%0.0%10.0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2761.60.0%0.0%0.0%10.9
Guijarro, David Anton2671.40.0%0.0%0.0%12.1
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2693.00.0%0.0%0.0%12.3
Donchenko, Alexander2663.60.0%0.0%0.0%13.9

We can see that despite the pain of missing an opportunity to practically clinch the tournament, Giri’s draw was nevertheless sufficient to actually improve his winning chances for the event from where he stood before the round. Despite all the potential chaos he does still have roughly a four in nine shot at simply winning the event cleanly. Caruana had white against a beatable opponent, so his draw hurt his chances significantly. Round 12 was his best opportunity to catch Giri and while he still has one more chance to do so, it’s harder now. Firouzja and Van Foreest remain in contention with slightly better odds than before thanks to their draws, but essentially must win. And note that at a full point back, Esipenko is not technically eliminated from tying for first himself, although it would take not only a final round win but also a lot of help.

So what are the games we will see in the last round? Amazingly almost all of them can still impact first place as none of the contenders face each other – Giri, Caruana, Firouzja, Van Foreest, and Esipenko all drew every game they played against each other so the top of the standings will be settled by how each of them ends up having performed against the other nine players.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (56%)Black wins (16%)Importance
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackHarikrishna, Pentala0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Harikrishna scored the one win of round 12, although it didn’t affect the top of the standings in any way. It did improve Pentala’s hopes of finishing in the top half of the field though, and remind us that decisive results and interesting games can certainly still be played even when neither player has chances to finish in first place. Tata Steel is a special tournament, and in their last game of the year both players would love a chance to end things on a positive note.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (43%)Draw (48%)Black wins (9%)Importance
WhiteCarlsen, Magnus0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Amazingly this game between the #1 and #3 seeds also has no impact on who will win the tournament. After another draw in round 12, Magnus is finally truly eliminated, as even the best player in the world can’t close a 1.5 point gap in a single round. Again though, that doesn’t mean the game is inconsequential to the players.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (21%)Draw (59%)Black wins (19%)Importance
WhiteDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.6%
BlackEsipenko, Andrey0.0%0.0%0.0%0.6%

By ratings, Donchenko is the favorite here, but he currently sits alone in last place and hasn’t won a game yet in the event. Surely he’d love to take advantage of this one last chance to find a positive result in what has been a very difficult tournament. And he could have chances to do so if Esipenko treats the game as a must-win and presses with black. Esipenko is not mathematically eliminated from contention, but in addition to winning this game his hopes would require Giri to lose, and none of the three second-place players to win. It’s a longshot even if he does his part, but it might be enough to encourage him to seek sharp lines with black.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (32%)Draw (54%)Black wins (14%)Importance
WhiteVan Foreest, Jorden9.7%27.6%1.1%0.0%27.6%
BlackGrandelius, Nils0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Jorden could tie for first with a draw, but only if Giri loses and neither Caruana nor Firouzja win. If he wants to give himself realistic chances to reach a playoff he must win this game. And he has white against an opponent with a penchant for decisive results (both positive and negative) throughout the event, so certainly he has chances to seek it! Giri is the best possibility for a Dutch player to win this tournament in his home country, but Jorden certainly also has chances to do so.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (40%)Draw (49%)Black wins (10%)Importance
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza12.5%29.6%1.3%0.0%29.6%
BlackWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Firouzja miraculously survived today against Giri and his reward is a chance to put himself into the mix if he can win with the white pieces against Wojtaszek, which is certainly doable (he’s already lost three games in the event). The analysis is the same as for Jorden, a draw technically leaves chances if other games break in very specific ways but for a realistic shot to tie for first a win is required here.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (7%)Draw (45%)Black wins (47%)Importance
WhiteTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%30.3%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano15.0%0.0%1.9%30.3%

Caruana is the third of the players tied for second place, and his scenario is exactly the same as the last two. A draw isn’t elimination strictly speaking, but can be assumed to be for practical purposes so this is a must win game. Unfortunately for Fabi he has to do it with the black pieces, but it is against the lowest rated player in the field. That said, Tari’s performance rating is almost 2700, much higher than the 2636 live rating we used to calculate these chances, so the point is he’s been sharp so far here at Wijk aan Zee; including a win over Esipenko when Andrey tried to press with black. It’s hard to imagine him doing the same to Caruana, but if Fabi goes all-in for a win anything is possible, and we’ve seen other hard-to-imagine results throughout this tournament.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (53%)Black wins (33%)Importance
WhiteGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%93.7%
BlackGiri, Anish62.7%6.3%54.6%100.0%

And that brings us to our leader, who has black against Anton. This is a winnable game even with the black pieces, and a win would clinch first place, but even a draw isn’t so bad. It still guarantees at least a tie for first, and even carries a 21% chance of still winning outright if all three second-place players draw. And tiebreaks wouldn’t be a concern unless at least two of the three players chasing him were to win their games. So a draw is acceptable, but a win is better. What about a loss? Dangerous to be sure; after failing to convert a winning position today a loss tomorrow would be a heartbreaking way to cripple his hopes of winning after seemingly having the tournament in the bag, but amidst the chaos of this final round there are scenarios even there where he could still tie for first (if none of the three second-place players win their own games).

In Conclusion:

This tournament has been high drama and it all comes to a crescendo in the final round tomorrow. If you’re watching the games live please remember that this final round starts two hours earlier than the other rounds did. If, like the author of this article, you live on the west coast of the United States that means the games start at 3 a.m. – yes we are complaining – and perhaps you’ll have to miss the opening phases and just set your alarm for the time scrambles. If you are somewhere that the games start at a more reasonable hour though, please don’t miss the openings simply because you forgot about the change in start times. Everything is on the line, five players are still in contention, and almost every game matters. You don’t want to miss that if you don’t have to, so enjoy the show!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 12 Preview

Round 11 did very little to change the standings at Tata Steel. Anish Giri drew his dangerous game against Magnus Carlsen and remained the sole leader by half a point. Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana drew a game where both players missed some winning chances, and each remained half a point behind Anish. Andrey Esipenko did lose to fall further back but he was ultimately simply replaced by Jordan van Foreest who won his game to join Fabi and Firo in the tie for second place. The standings now look like this:

NameRatingScore
Giri, Anish2777.87.5
Caruana, Fabiano2824.17
Firouzja, Alireza2759.67
Van Foreest, Jorden2696.27
Esipenko, Andrey2696.36.5
Carlsen, Magnus2844.96
Grandelius, Nils2675.15.5
Harikrishna, Pentala2726.15
Tari, Aryan2635.65
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2729.14.5
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2762.24.5
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2690.94
Guijarro, David Anton2669.54
Donchenko, Alexander2667.73.5

One thing did change dramatically though. There were three rounds left to play, but now there are only two. That makes it far more valuable to hold the lead, and far trickier to play from behind. As a result, here are our model’s estimated odds of winning the event at this point:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 11After Rd. 11
NameRatingWin%Win%(Outright)Avg Place
Giri, Anish2776.535.9%52.5%38.6%1.9
Caruana, Fabiano2825.134.1%27.3%13.9%2.3
Firouzja, Alireza2758.614.5%12.2%5.6%3.3
Van Foreest, Jorden2690.41.8%7.1%2.3%3.6
Esipenko, Andrey2702.012.2%0.8%0.1%4.8
Carlsen, Magnus2846.21.5%0.0%0.0%5.4
Grandelius, Nils2674.90.0%0.0%0.0%7.3
Harikrishna, Pentala2731.90.0%0.0%0.0%8.4
Tari, Aryan2629.90.0%0.0%0.0%9.4
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2730.10.0%0.0%0.0%10.1
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2763.30.0%0.0%0.0%10.2
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2689.80.0%0.0%0.0%12.4
Guijarro, David Anton2669.70.0%0.0%0.0%12.5
Donchenko, Alexander2666.70.0%0.0%0.0%13.2

Note that we included a column showing the odds of winning the tournament outright. There is roughly a 60% chance of the event having a clear winner, and a 40% chance of it being settled by blitz playoffs (with tiebreaks to determine who qualifies for those playoffs if three or more players tie for first). Our model does not actually follow exact tiebreaking procedures, we simply assume all tied players have equal chances of potentially coming out on top of the playoff, so we may be overrating someone with bad tiebreaks (more likely to be left out of the playoff in a multiway tie) or bad blitz skills. With so many players close to the lead there are significant chances of a tie of some form, but since our ultimate goal is to use our model’s calculated odds to identify narratives and make the event more exciting to watch, we feel comfortable that our numbers are close enough for the purpose.

Setting tiebreak concerns aside for the moment, we can see that Giri improved his odds significantly by drawing a game our model noted could have easily been lost, and is now the odds on favorite (meaning his chances are better than 50%). Carlsen saw his odds drop from slim to none with that same draw (which had been a must win on his end) and Caruana’s hopes also dwindled as a round where he could have caught Giri came and went without his doing so. Failing to catch the leader was less damaging to Firouzja’s hopes as he drew his own challenging game (with black against Fabi), but he remains more of a longshot due to a tougher schedule. That said there is an upside to the tougher schedule that we’ll take a look at when we consider his round 12 game.

So with all that said, this article claims to be a preview so let’s look at those upcoming games now! As always we will start with the least important, and work up the ladder until we close with a review of the biggest game of the day.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (34%)Draw (53%)Black wins (13%)Importance
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (39%)Draw (50%)Black wins (11%)Importance
WhiteHarikrishna, Pentala0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (35%)Draw (52%)Black wins (13%)Importance
WhiteGrandelius, Nils0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

With all due respect to the six players in these games, there is too much going on at the top of the standings to focus here. Everyone in the field is strong, and all of these have great potential to be wonderful and instructive chess games worth watching and enjoying. And if any of these six are your favorite player, certainly root for them to pick up some Elo, as always. But if your interest lies in who will win the tournament, these aren’t the games to watch to find out.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (10%)Draw (49%)Black wins (42%)Importance
WhiteWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%
BlackCarlsen, Magnus0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

This one probably isn’t either, but we took the time to split it out for two reasons. One, always watch Magnus Carlsen’s game. He’s the best player in the world (really, that is still true! Don’t overreact to one bad event!) and it doesn’t really matter if his game will affect the top of the tournament standings or not – you should always want to see it. Also technically he is not eliminated from at least tying for first place. If he wins his last two games and a lot of other things happen, he still has something like a 1000 to 1 shot to win.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (56%)Black wins (16%)Importance
WhiteEsipenko, Andrey0.8%2.9%0.0%0.0%29.9%
BlackVan Foreest, Jorden7.1%0.1%5.1%27.1%

Now we get to two of the five real contenders, albeit the two our model sees as the least likely tournament winners. Esipenko is nearly eliminated after his loss today, and sits a full point behind the leader with just two rounds left, but does still have slim chances. Of course they would absolutely require a win here. 21 year old underdog Jorden van Foreest is the main focus in this one though, as he has climbed to just half a point back and even a draw in this game is enough to maintain a reasonable 20 to 1 shot at winning the event. More important though is if he finds a way to pile misery on his opponent, hands Esipenko a second straight loss, and quite likely ends up tied for first with one round to play. A win in this game with black gives him better than a one in four chance to win it all!

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (55%)Draw (41%)Black wins (4%)Importance
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano27.3%42.0%10.7%0.4%41.5%
BlackGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

This game is only important to the tournament victory chances of one participant, but it’s a huge deal for that one. Despite being half a point back with only two chances left to catch up, Caruana is considered a very strong contender to win the event still by our model, and his excellent winning chances here with white against one of the weaker players in the field are precisely why. We can see that if he converts that win it puts him in excellent shape, verging on almost a coin flip to win the tournament entering the last round. However if he’s held to a draw his odds would drop to the lowest they’ve ever been at under 11%. So this one is something of a must win for Fabi.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (31%)Draw (54%)Black wins (15%)Importance
WhiteGiri, Anish52.5%83.3%46.9%5.7%130.6%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza12.2%0.0%8.0%53.1%

But no game can compare to this one. 131% (remember up to 200% is possible as this is an additive metric) is the highest importance score we’ve seen for any game yet. Of course we shouldn’t need a metric to realize that. The leader has white and a chance to nearly lock up the tournament with a win (guaranteeing he leads entering the final round), and knock one of his chief competitors out at the same time. Giri has been vicious with white in this event, scoring four wins and two draws. He’d love to add a fifth win here, teach the whippersnapper a lesson, and cement his front runner status. It would also be revenge for last year: Firouzja’s win over Giri in the 2020 Tata Steel Masters remains Alireza’s best win (by rating) of his career so far.

But Firouzja is no pushover and trying to beat him because you have white is a dangerous game. He’s already countered such efforts to score his own win with black on two occasions in this event, and he also has everything to play for. He enters this game as a longshot largely because this game makes it hard to score the points he needs for a comeback, but if he does manage to score a win he could become the odds on favorite to win the event going into the final round! Note that both players see their odds drop if this game is drawn, so there’s definitely incentive to play fighting chess on both sides, even though a decisive result would be devastating to whomever loses. If they do draw, it’s of course Caruana and Van Foreest who benefit as that opens a door should either of those players win.

In Conclusion:

Five players still have a shot and in two critical games two of those players face each other, with all eyes on the particularly vital showdown between Giri and Firouzja. Meanwhile the fifth contender has a great shot to score a full point, and whether or not Caruana can convert that opportunity should be watched closely as well. From a “who will win the tournament” perspective, the drama is now locked into those three games, but that drama is peaking in intensity and the contenders walk a razor’s edge. Plus there will be plenty of chance for great chess in the other games as well. This is the penultimate round and it really is all coming down to this, so as always let’s sit back and enjoy the show!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 11 Preview

Round 10 began with three players tied for the lead, and briefly that looked like it would become four when Andrey Esipenko struck paydirt with his third win in four rounds to join that group atop the leaderboard (and cross the 2700 barrier in the live ratings for the first time in his career). However Anish Giri proceeded to eventually win his game as well and when the round concluded he had emerged as the sole leader instead entering the final rest day. Here are the standings as we brace for the last three rounds of the event:

NameRatingScore
Giri, Anish2776.57
Caruana, Fabiano2825.16.5
Firouzja, Alireza2758.66.5
Esipenko, Andrey2702.06.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2690.46
Carlsen, Magnus2846.25.5
Harikrishna, Pentala2731.95
Grandelius, Nils2674.95
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2763.34
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2730.14
Tari, Aryan2629.94
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2689.83.5
Guijarro, David Anton2669.73.5
Donchenko, Alexander2666.73

We can expect the sole leader’s position to be precarious when so many players are on his heels. Two rounds ago we made the same observation when Firouzja was sole leader ahead of a group, and all it took was two draws for him to find himself half a point behind rather than half a point ahead. Giri will have to avoid the same fate as he tries to run out the clock on an event rapidly approaching its conclusion. So what does our model say about his chances, and the rest of the field? Here are the projected standings, along with each player’s average finish across our simulations:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 10After Rd. 10
NameRatingWin%Win%Avg Place
Giri, Anish2776.521.7%35.9%2.4
Caruana, Fabiano2825.143.6%34.1%2.4
Firouzja, Alireza2758.621.6%14.5%3.5
Esipenko, Andrey2702.05.9%12.2%3.4
Van Foreest, Jorden2690.42.6%1.8%5.1
Carlsen, Magnus2846.24.4%1.5%5.1
Harikrishna, Pentala2731.90.2%0.0%7.3
Grandelius, Nils2674.90.1%0.0%7.6
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2730.10.0%0.0%10.0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2763.30.0%0.0%10.0
Tari, Aryan2629.90.0%0.0%11.0
Guijarro, David Anton2669.70.0%0.0%12.1
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2689.80.0%0.0%12.2
Donchenko, Alexander2666.70.0%0.0%13.0

We can see that Giri is of course the favorite, with much improved chances compared to a round prior, thanks of course to his win. However his margin over Caruana is surprisingly thin. To see why, and also to explore some of the nuances (and limitations) of our model, we’re going to take a closer look at all six players who still have a shot at first place.

Magnus Carlsen – 1.5% Chance to Win (0.2% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: He’s Magnus Carlsen. He’s the best player in the world. You can’t ever count him out. He has an immediate opportunity in round 11 with the white pieces against Anish Giri. Winning that game could put him within half a point of the lead (if none of the three players currently in second place do better than a draw), and nobody wants Magnus half a point behind them with two rounds left to play. The path is there for him to reassert himself and put questions of “what’s wrong” to bed entirely.

Why he won’t win: He’s 1.5 points back with 3 rounds left. That’s too much of a margin for anyone to realistically imagine overcoming. Even Magnus. Most of the scenarios where our model does have him winning are actually cases of him tying for first and our model doesn’t actually have this event’s tiebreak procedures programmed in, it uses some simplified assumptions, so his odds may be even slimmer than the model says. You’ll see that we split out his (and everyone else’s) chances of winning outright – sole first place with no tiebreaks – from the overall odds the model estimates. Tiebreaks aren’t really entirely clear yet at this stage, with so many different players involved, but as we get to two and especially one round left we’ll be sure to keep you updated on whether the odds our model is spitting out realistically reflect tiebreak scenarios or whether our simplified estimations are missing the mark.

Jorden van Foreest – 1.8% Chance to Win (0.5% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: Home-nation magic? Jorden does have history of overperforming in this event, finishing fourth last year as well, and maybe there’s really something to it. He isn’t eliminated and with white in two of his final three games, he can certainly give himself a shot with a couple wins.

Why he won’t win: He’s in fifth place. A full point behind the leader, and half a point by three other players. Even if he gets hot and closes with multiple wins, one of those four players could do the same and he still wouldn’t reach first place. When you need the combination of unlikely success in your own games and also luck in games outside of your control, it’s no surprise your odds are so slim. Plus even if home-nation magic is somehow in play as a real factor… one of the leaders he’s chasing is also Dutch.

Andrey Esipenko – 12.2% Chance to Win (6.0% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: The schedule. Esipenko has already played all his toughest games, and his final three are all against players rated under 2700. He plays the lowest rated player in the field (Tari), the player alone in last place (Donchenko), and in his toughest game against Jorden he gets the black pieces. He’s already beaten Carlsen, and also proven he can win with the black pieces. There’s no reason not to think he’s capable of steamrolling these last three opponents and making a run at first place. Additionally, the model may be underrating him. We spoke in our event preview, and periodically since, about the fact that our model relies on player ratings to make its predictions. But with the chess world mostly shut down since last March, those ratings are potentially less predictive than they would usually be, particularly for a young player like Esipenko (teenage prodigies are notoriously capable of rapid improvement that is far rarer among older players). We do partially account for this by using live ratings; Esipenko has gained 25 rating points in this event and we’re simulating his final three rounds based on the assumption that 2702 is an accurate rating for him, rather than the 2677 he had when the event began. However if he isn’t just “running hot” but truly has improved significantly, that could potentially still be underrating him, and underestimating his true chances to win the event in the process.

Why he won’t win: He also might not be underrated. The 2700 rating barrier is notoriously difficult to pass, and also a notoriously common plateau. Many players hit 2700 looking like they are “actually” 2750 strength or higher – and then take a long time to prove it over the board. If his 2702 rating actually does reflect his strength, then his easier schedule is offset by the fact that he’s just not (yet) as strong a player as those he’s competing against for the title. His run has been extraordinary, especially the win over Carlsen, but it’s valid for our model to remain skeptical that he can actually outkick established top-ten players like Caruana and Giri down the stretch, especially when he has black in two of his last three games.

Alireza Firouzja – 14.5% Chance to Win (8.5% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: Fate! He’s the 17 year old wunderkind who is seen by many as the second coming of Magnus Carlsen. Magnus won this tournament when he was 17, on the way to his domination of the chess world. Now it’s Alireza’s turn to do the same! Okay no, that’s a fun way to look at things as a Firouzja fan but here we like data. And we do have data to make the case. Our projections for the last three rounds use Alireza’s live rating of 2759, which is enough to rank him 14th in the world, but amazingly it’s possible to believe he actually remains underrated. His performance rating in this event so far is 2820 and his performance rating last fall in Norway was 2880(!) as he finished in second place there.  If he were “actually” a 2800 strength player he would have a 20% chance to win. If we simulated the last three rounds with him at 2850 he’d have a 30% chance to win (that’s certainly overkill, but the 2800 scenario can’t entirely be discounted).

Another factor works in Alireza’s favor as well – he largely controls his own destiny. With games remaining against both Caruana and Giri if he does go on a run and win one or both of those he would not only improve his own positioning but simultaneously cut down his other competitors. Unlike Jorden, for instance, he has significantly less risk of finishing strong and still falling short.

Why he won’t win: The schedule, for one thing. While games against Caruana and Giri allow him more control over his own fate, they also mean he has to score points against two top ten opponents. He’d probably prefer Esipenko’s schedule with less control but more chance for good results. They say that if you want to be the best you have to beat the best, and his remaining schedule fits that bill based on the current standings. Additionally, he is only 17 years old and it’s not yet entirely clear how strong he really is. He certainly may be underrated, but we also can’t be entirely sure that’s the case. Despite posting a few 2800 tournament performance ratings, he hasn’t yet actually won a game against a 2800 opponent in his career and showed signs of nerves when he lost to Carlsen in round one. That could happen again against Caruana and torpedo his hopes.

Fabiano Caruana – 34.1% Chance to Win (22.7% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: Fabi is a machine. He’s the defending champion in this event, and knows what it takes to win in Wijk aan Zee, he has the experience handling the fatigue of 13 games over more than two weeks of grueling play. And he’s the highest rated of the realistic contenders. While he sits half a point behind the lead, our model puts his chances almost neck and neck with the leader because of his clear strength. And his schedule is favorable too. He does start with a tough round 11 game against Firouzja with black, but also that’s double edged because if he teaches the youngster a lesson and wins it puts him in great shape as his final two games are against sub-2700 foes. While others have waxed and waned Caruana has steadily been either the favorite to win, or the second most likely winner, at every point in this tournament, and we expect him to remain in contention right to the end where his chances of ultimately winning remain excellent.

Why he won’t win: Half a point is a lot with three rounds left. Whatever your comparative schedules, whatever your comparative ratings, the player you’re trying to catch has a huge edge by being ahead of you. And even if Fabi manages to catch Anish, that still doesn’t guarantee victory as so many other players remain in contention as well. When this many players are still in it, there are simply too many things that could go wrong. Including the possibility that things could go sideways right out of the gate if Firouzja finds an advantage with the white pieces and just knocks Fabi out of contention in round 11.

Anish Giri – 35.9% Chance to Win (24.6% to Win Outright)

Why he will win: He is alone in first place right now, so there’s that to start with. Sure we can talk theoretically about how a lead is relatively tenuous when so many players are trying to catch you, but the fact is they’re trying to catch you. Tenuous or not, it’s the position you’d prefer to be in. He’s also got that round 12 game with white against Firouzja as a chance to not only cement his own lead but knock of a competitor at the same time. And just like we mentioned with Jorden, perhaps there’s some home-nation magic he can count on to hold his lead through to the end.

Why he won’t win: Black against Magnus. That’s something that has spelled many a chess player’s doom. Giri comes straight out of the rest day staring just that scenario in the face, and with it a very real danger of losing his round 11 game and immediately falling out of the lead. While that wouldn’t ruin all his hopes of winning the event, it would certainly cost him his favored status. And regardless of the result, if that game wears him down it could also create problems the next day against Firouzja who is always a challenging opponent even when you’re fresh. The reason our model claims Giri is barely favored over Caruana despite the extremely valuable lead he holds is that brutal schedule.

Having looked at the pros and cons of where all six contenders sit, let’s take a moment to review the paths that brought them to this point, in graphical form (leaving the rest of the field off for clarity):

Based on our model’s reliance on rating to make its predictions, we saw Carlsen (in green) start as the clear favorite – especially after he beat Firouzja in round one – but a series of draws saw his chances drop steadily until he finally suffered a loss that knocked his odds below 5% for good. Meanwhile Firouzja (in grey) shows a meteoric rise when he won three straight games from rounds 6 through 8 and briefly held the sole lead (and favorite status) before he dropped off after two draws of his own. We see Caruana (in orange) comfortably no lower than second through all the other player’s ebbs and flows, always in striking distance. And we see Giri (in dark blue) hanging back a shade below 10% most of the way before shooting to the top with three wins in the last four rounds. The takeaway from this graph should be the narrative that there have been many ups and downs already in players’ chances to win, and we can expect more volatility in the last three rounds. With no player having better than a 36% chance, there’s plenty of room for more twists and turns.

The round 11 games:

So what should we be looking for on Friday? Here are the seven games that will be played when players return from the rest day, and how they can potentially impact the race for first place. As always these are in ascending order of “importance score”, our experimental measure of how much the game could potentially shift the odds – recall that we’re measuring it on a scale of 0% to 200% as it adds together importance for each player.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (17%)Draw (57%)Black wins (26%)Importance
WhiteWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

One of the three games that doesn’t affect the race for first place, we would like to take this moment to congratulate MVL on his first win of the tournament last round, likely dodging a finish at the very bottom of the standings and opening a chance to salvage something from what has been a painful tournament so far for the #3 seed. Of course he cares far more about the Candidates Tournament, and the potential shot to compete for the world championship, than about here. And in that vein it may be reassuring to MVL fans to recall 2018 when Fabiano Caruana lost four games at Tata Steel, finished in 11th place, and went on to win the Candidates. Or perhaps to recall 2016 when Sergey Karjakin lost twice, finished 9th, and went on to win the Candidates. In other words success here is not mandatory for a successful run later. That doesn’t mean failure here is likely to actually be beneficial, surely Maxime would have preferred to perform better than he has so far, but hopefully these recollections offer some solace. And he also has more chances to rebound, starting here against Wojtaszek.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (58%)Black wins (25%)Importance
WhiteDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Donchenko is alone in last place, still struggling to find his way after being added to the field at the absolute last minute as a replacement player. Considering those circumstances his results are honestly relatively respectable, but he surely wants to score his first win and climb out of the basement. This game does offer him that chance as he has his second-to-last opportunity with the white pieces.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (27%)Draw (57%)Black wins (17%)Importance
WhiteGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackGrandelius, Nils0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Full disclosure, Nils is not mathematically eliminated from contention. If he wins all three of his remaining games he could get to 8 points and it’s possible with the right combination of losses and draws for none of the leaders to exceed that. Our model simulated the odds around 62,000 to 1, but there is technically a chance. Of course anything other than a win with black here will bring those odds to an actual literal zero, where we certainly expect them to be by the end of the event.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (20%)Draw (60%)Black wins (20%)Importance
WhiteVan Foreest, Jorden1.8%6.1%0.9%0.0%6.1%
BlackHarikrishna, Pentala0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Harikrishna also isn’t mathematically eliminated, our model has his absurd moonshot odds at 23,000 to 1. But the importance of this game comes from Jorden’s slim hopes instead. This is nearly a must win for him if he wants to stay in any kind of longshot contention – you can’t afford to miss opportunities to win with white if you hope to come back from a full point behind. If he can win, 6% isn’t low enough to entirely ignore.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (17%)Draw (57%)Black wins (26%)Importance
WhiteTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%27.4%
BlackEsipenko, Andrey12.2%0.9%8.2%28.3%

Here’s that easy schedule we talked about for Esipenko. Yes he has black, but Tari is the lowest rated player in the field. If Andrey wants to give himself a chance to win the tournament, and leave Wijk aan Zee with an even bigger highlight than a win over Carlsen, winning with black here would be a great way to start. A draw leaves him in contention but still as something of an afterthought. A win makes him a very real threat in the final two rounds.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (41%)Draw (49%)Black wins (10%)Importance
WhiteCarlsen, Magnus1.5%3.7%0.0%0.0%59.3%
BlackGiri, Anish35.9%17.1%43.9%72.6%

Amazingly the world champion versus the sole leader is only our second most important game. For Carlsen’s slim hopes of an astounding comeback, this one is mandatory, but also would only be the beginning. Winning here keeps his hopes vaguely alive but isn’t nearly enough on its own, it would take further wins in the last two rounds to really make something.

Giri on the other hand does not have to win (although if he managed to do so it would go a long way towards nearly locking up first place entirely). He should be thankful for that because winning with black against Magnus is more than anyone can realistically hope for. What’s interesting here is that this game is so dangerous that even holding a draw actually increases Giri’s odds – at least pending other results from the round – and would be an excellent result for him. Also notable is that while it would be costly, he can withstand a loss and still have better than a one in six chance of bouncing back to win the event. That’s the value of his half point cushion showing itself there.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (57%)Black wins (25%)Importance
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza14.5%42.1%11.7%0.7%103.6%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano34.1%3.0%30.3%65.2%

The game of the day, and the biggest game so far this event. For the first time we see our importance score go higher than 100%, as the difference between a win or a loss swings both players’ odds dramatically. A decisive result will nearly eliminate the loser from contention, while quite possibly making the winner the favorite, depending on how other games go. A draw would slightly dampen both players’ hopes but only slightly. It’s an acceptable result for both, but it carries the risk of getting left behind of other contenders win their games. These shifts in the odds are so extreme they basically speak for themselves; it’s hard to imagine how a game could be more important when neither player is currently in the lead. But when you see that the two players have almost a 50% combined chance to win the event, that makes sense.

In Conclusion:

This tournament has been packed with drama already, especially after the initial rounds. The fact that six players remain within borderline contention even now with only three rounds left to play means there is surely even more drama ahead. Remember that Thursday is a rest day, and show up energized to watch the round 11 action unfold on Friday!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 10 Preview

The youngsters in this event have drawn the most attention, especially over the last couple rounds, largely at the expense of top rated veteran players who entered the event as the favorites. In round 9, the favorites flipped that script and reasserted themselves. After we reminded you that he is the best player in the world, Magnus Carlsen bounced back from his shocking upset two days earlier, scored his second win of the tournament and closed to within a point of the leaders. The number two player in the world, Fabiano Caruana, also won his game and now is one of those leaders, and the exact same can be said of Anish Giri whose win also moved him back into the top ten of the live ratings list.

Here are the full standings with four rounds left to play:

NameRatingScore
Caruana, Fabiano2824.66
Giri, Anish2772.36
Firouzja, Alireza2759.86
Esipenko, Andrey2697.05.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2689.45.5
Carlsen, Magnus2846.75
Harikrishna, Pentala2733.44.5
Grandelius, Nils2673.74.5
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2731.13.5
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2694.03.5
Guijarro, David Anton2674.73.5
Tari, Aryan2628.43.5
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2759.93
Donchenko, Alexander2670.13

Along with Caruana and Giri, the third co-leader is Alireza Firouzja who entered the day with the sole lead but only managed a draw and so was caught by the two winners who had been half a point behind him. With four rounds left a half point can be made up relatively easily, but it gets harder when you have to catch three leaders instead of one. Making up a full point is quite a bit harder, but if anyone can do it the world number one would be the one who could. So with that in mind, here are our model’s projected odds of winning and projected average finish for each of the players:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 9After Rd. 9
NameRatingWin%Win%Avg Place
Caruana, Fabiano2824.629.1%43.6%2.2
Giri, Anish2772.312.4%21.7%3.0
Firouzja, Alireza2759.837.7%21.6%3.1
Esipenko, Andrey2697.08.9%5.9%4.3
Carlsen, Magnus2846.73.5%4.4%4.8
Van Foreest, Jorden2689.46.8%2.6%5.1
Harikrishna, Pentala2733.40.8%0.2%6.8
Grandelius, Nils2673.70.8%0.1%7.7
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2731.10.0%0.0%9.9
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2759.90.0%0.0%11.2
Guijarro, David Anton2674.70.0%0.0%11.2
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2694.00.0%0.0%11.6
Tari, Aryan2628.40.0%0.0%11.7
Donchenko, Alexander2670.10.0%0.0%12.4

Here we see the value of the half point, as the three co-leaders do in fact have a combined 87% chance to win the event, but we also see that there are still realistic scenarios where at least three other contenders could come back to win instead. Furthermore there are five games left to play between those six contenders, so things will likely get even more wild as this tournament approaches its conclusion. We can see that Giri and Caruana saw their odds go up quite a lot, of course, with wins that moved them into a share of first place, and that came at the expense of the former sole leader Firouzja. The other victor in round nine, Carlsen, saw minimum gains in his tournament odds because the game was practically a must win for him, but he did at least keep what hopes he had alive.

So what games will we see in round 10? As always, here is our breakdown of every game, and its potential impact on our model’s estimates depending on the results. These are in order of our “importance score”:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (44%)Draw (47%)Black wins (9%)Importance
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

This has been a disastrous event for MVL, who has fallen from 5th to 13th in the world live rankings and is shockingly tied for last place – with Donchenko. So this game could go a long way towards determining who finishes at the bottom of the standings. That’s not what either of these players want to be competing for, especially not the #3 seed who is also co-leader of the half-completed Candidates Tournament. Maxime would probably love nothing more than to score his first win here and rebuild at least a little confidence.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (47%)Draw (46%)Black wins (8%)Importance
WhiteHarikrishna, Pentala0.2%0.3%0.1%0.0%0.3%
BlackTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Harikrishna’s hopes of winning the tournament aren’t mathematically eliminated, but they’re no longer realistic. His primary concern at this point is staying in the top half of the standings, and a win here with white over the lowest rated player in his field is a great opportunity to strengthen those hopes.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (36%)Draw (52%)Black wins (13%)Importance
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%9.7%
BlackVan Foreest, Jorden2.6%0.3%2.1%9.9%

Jorden has gotten far less attention the last couple days after losing his brief share of the lead. However he remains undefeated in the event and sits just half a point behind the leaders, so the only reason our model doesn’t believe he’s likely to win is his low rating; but he’s played far above his rating so far. Asking him to win on demand with black against an opponent ranked in the world top 20 when the event began is a lot. There’s no particular reason to expect it to happen. If it does though… the local youngster could push his chances of winning the event back up to a respectable 10% with three rounds left. And he really has nothing to lose so we may well see him go all-out hunting for that victory.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (32%)Draw (54%)Black wins (14%)Importance
WhiteEsipenko, Andrey5.9%13.0%3.4%0.3%12.7%
BlackGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Esipenko is not just the player who beat Carlsen, although that was certainly his signature moment of the event so far. Like Jorden he’s a young underdog who hasn’t lost a game yet and sits half a point behind the leaders, tied for 4th – 5th place. He also has the easiest possible matchups for the final four rounds, facing only players rated under 2700. So if he can play stronger than his rating indicates (as he’s done so far) he is certainly still in contention to win the event. It would probably have to start by winning with white here against Anton, who has already shown vulnerability with two losses. Even more than Van Foreest, Esipenko has a golden opportunity here as he’s more likely to win in the first place, and his odds of going on to win the event should he win this round are higher at 13%. Don’t count this kid out, it’s possible that beating Magnus will prove to be just the beginning of his Tata Steel story.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (42%)Draw (48%)Black wins (10%)Importance
WhiteGiri, Anish21.7%34.2%14.7%4.2%30.0%
BlackWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

And now we get to the co-leaders, starting with Giri. Our model judges him as much less likely than Caruana to ultimately win the event, due to a combination of lower rating and a slightly tougher schedule over the last four rounds, but he’s the most likely of the leaders to win in this round as he holds the white pieces and faces a struggling Wojtaszek who has lost two of his last three games. We can see how little margin there is for error as a win in this game pushes his tournament chances up to better than one in three while a draw leaves him with less than a one in six shot (and losing of course would be disastrous). Every half point is critical when you are one of five players bunched within half a point of each other at the top of the standings, as the next two games will also show.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (16%)Draw (55%)Black wins (29%)Importance
WhiteGrandelius, Nils0.1%0.4%0.0%0.0%32.1%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza21.6%6.1%18.2%37.8%

Firouzja drew today and is now a co-leader rather than a sole leader, but the fact is that at 17 years old he still does lead the event. He has more wins than anyone else in the event and has played five decisive games in nine rounds – second most only to his opponent in this matchup as Grandelius has played six decisive games. Our model doesn’t use that as a factor in its estimation of drawing chances, but the fact that these two players both have such a penchant for decisive results certainly should intrigue the audience.

Nils, despite leading early, has won three and lost three, and is no longer in contention. Firouzja though, with four wins to overcome his first round loss to Carlsen, is still in excellent position to win the whole thing. Sure he has black, but he’s won with black two times already. If he can make it four here, his winning chances go back up dramatically. A draw isn’t completely devastating as he does still have games remaining against both of his co-leaders, but while those provide opportunities they’re also very difficult games, so picking up the full point here would obviously be a huge boon.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (23%)Draw (58%)Black wins (18%)Importance
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano43.6%68.0%42.2%15.7%68.8%
BlackCarlsen, Magnus4.4%0.0%2.1%16.5%

Obviously this is the game of the day. The top two players in the world squaring off in a rematch of the last world championship match makes for a can’t miss affair no matter what the tournament situation, and in this case Fabi is co-leader of the event and our model’s favorite by a large margin. That said, it’s actually somewhat surprising how much lower our “importance score” in this game is than it could have been. Early on we saw these as by far the two most likely winners of the event and if they were still top two we’d be looking at even bigger shifts here, but Carlsen’s much discussed struggles have hurt his hopes and dropped his chances a bit (we will note that he’s the only player in the world who could have been seen as “struggling” before he even lost a game in the event, and also after bringing his score back to +1).

Struggles or not, Carlsen is always a threat to go on a winning streak and a one point gap with four games left to play is a difficult hill for him to climb, but not entirely an insurmountable one. Of course Caruana is a tremendous player, who has shown excellent form this whole tournament, so beating him with black is not easy even for the world champion. He has good reason to try anyway though, because that hypothetical win would shake things up even more in the standings and put Magnus squarely back in contention, while a draw leaves him running out of time and extremely unlikely to climb back to first place.

It’s Caruana who enters as the tournament favorite though, and who has the white pieces. The model does respect his opponent enough to show that even with white a draw would be perfectly fine here, not particularly hurting his hopes. But look at how strong of a favorite he could become if he did knock Magnus off! 68% would make him a more dominant favorite than any player has been yet at any point in this back and forth tournament. And on the flipside a loss would hurt badly so that offers another reason not to press quite so hard despite holding white. So it’s reasonable to think Fabi will be satisfied with a draw unless a clear opportunity for more offers itself and perhaps ought not to try the most aggressive approach, but if Carlsen decides to fight (which as we saw is highly incentivized on his side) that could quickly change the strategic approach in the moment. We’ll see how it plays out!

In Conclusion:

Round 10 will be followed by the final rest day, before the tournament then resumes for the final three rounds. So players can afford to use every last ounce of effort here. And with the complicated logjam at the top of the standings and so many players still in contention to win, there’s plenty of incentive for them to do so. We’ve got a great chance for yet more fireworks here, in these games that start a bit over seven hours from the time this article is going live. As we keep saying, enjoy the show!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 9 Preview

It’s a good day to be a teenager in Wijk aan Zee. The first decisive game of round 7 came when 18 year old Andrey Esipenko scored a shocking upset over Magnus Carlsen. The second decisive game came later when 17 year old Alireza Firouzja won his third straight game – this time over Pentala Harikrishna – and took sole possession of first place in the tournament standings, which now look like this:

NameRatingScore
Firouzja, Alireza2760.85.5
Caruana, Fabiano2821.25
Giri, Anish2767.05
Esipenko, Andrey2696.05
Van Foreest, Jorden2689.45
Grandelius, Nils2676.14.5
Carlsen, Magnus2844.34
Harikrishna, Pentala2734.14
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2697.43.5
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2732.73
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2765.23
Guijarro, David Anton2674.03
Tari, Aryan2626.83
Donchenko, Alexander2670.12.5

Yesterday when we had a group of four players in the lead, we talked about the impact that has on those trying to catch them. Coming from behind against one leader is relatively easy, while coming from behind against a large group is much harder. Now we have a sole leader trying to fend off a large group of players tied for second, and a similar principle applies. While the lead is certainly the best place to be, and Firouzja is now the favorite to win the tournament, that lead is far from safe when so many players are within half a point. So the remaining five rounds are pivotal, especially because three of the players in that second place group still face Firouzja in upcoming games.

The first six rounds of this tournament were disarmingly quiet, with relatively minor shifts in everyone’s odds of winning the event, but rounds 7 and 8, with a total of seven decisive results, shook things up dramatically. Here’s the full projections, looking back two rounds instead of the usual one, to highlight the major changes we saw:

Projected Results After Round…
678
NameRatingWin%Win%Win%Avg Place
Firouzja, Alireza2760.88.7%14.6%37.7%2.6
Caruana, Fabiano2821.225.2%37.6%29.1%2.8
Giri, Anish2767.08.3%11.4%12.4%4.0
Esipenko, Andrey2696.00.7%1.9%8.9%4.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2689.42.7%5.3%6.8%4.7
Carlsen, Magnus2844.339.6%21.5%3.5%5.4
Harikrishna, Pentala2734.17.1%6.4%0.8%6.7
Grandelius, Nils2676.15.5%1.2%0.8%7.1
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2697.40.6%0.0%0.0%10.8
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2732.70.7%0.0%0.0%10.0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2765.20.7%0.0%0.0%10.2
Guijarro, David Anton2674.00.0%0.0%0.0%11.5
Tari, Aryan2626.80.0%0.0%0.0%12.1
Donchenko, Alexander2670.10.0%0.0%0.0%12.7

Firouzja and Esipenko both saw major rises with wins in both rounds. Caruana saw a huge jump when he won in round six, followed by a huge fall when merely drawing in round seven allowed him to be overtaken. Carlsen went from a strong favorite to an also-ran, with a damaging draw and then an even more damaging loss. Harikrishna and Grandelius also saw their chances wiped from low to nearly nonexistent, while Jorden van Foreest put himself into better contention. It was dramatic and there is no reason to think the drama is done.

We’ve reached the second of three rest days, so after all this chaos the players get a chance to catch their breaths on Monday, before play resumes on Tuesday. When things do pick back up, here’s the games we’ll see in round 9, in order from least to most important for determining the eventual tournament victor:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (53%)Black wins (33%)Importance
WhiteTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Tari and Duda are both essentially eliminated from contention. The tournament winner isn’t playing here. However the games still have plenty of impact on ratings, prestige, prize money, and pride. Tari was badly overmatched by the rest of the field by rating, so his being in this position isn’t unexpected, and he has actually performed a shade above expectations, but Duda was the #6 seed and must be rather disappointed to be in this spot. Duda has not won a game yet in the event, and would surely love to right the ship and regain some lost rating points. He has fallen out of the top 20 in the world rankings, but a win here against the most beatable player (on paper) in the field would fix that for the moment. Of course that’s harder to do with black, so we’ll see how he manages.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (18%)Draw (58%)Black wins (24%)Importance
WhiteGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%2.8%
BlackHarikrishna, Pentala0.9%0.0%0.5%2.8%

Harikrishna was still a realistic contender before his loss yesterday to a player half his age. He still isn’t completely eliminated though, and a win here would retain some hope of a longshot comeback, so this game retains a shade of relevance to the top of the standings. Also Harikrishna sits at 21st in the world rankings and could crack the top 20 himself with a win. Anton, on the other hand, won’t win the event but he could regain all the rating points he’s lost so far with a win here.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (57%)Draw (39%)Black wins (4%)Importance
WhiteCarlsen, Magnus3.6%5.6%1.1%0.1%10.8%
BlackGrandelius, Nils0.8%0.2%1.1%5.5%

First things first there is something that needs to be said. Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. Yes, he lost a game last round, but he is the only player in the world who could not lose a game until the 8th round of a tournament, have an even 50% score, and have the entire world asking what went wrong. The loss was so shocking and so dramatic precisely because it’s so rare, and that ultimately is because Magnus is so good. Yes he has played well below his mighty expectations so far in this event, and yes his odds of winning the tournament are dismal compared to where they started, but it bears repeating. He. Is. The. Best. Player. In. The. World.

And neither of these players is eliminated. A decisive game here would give whoever won better than a 20 to 1 shot at coming back to win the tournament. Nils was once the toast of the town as the surprise leader, but has fallen off his pace in the last few rounds, and now he’s in the unenviable position of having to play black against an angry Carlsen. It will be very interesting to see how that turns out.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (31%)Draw (54%)Black wins (15%)Importance
WhiteVan Foreest, Jorden6.7%13.7%4.3%0.9%12.7%
BlackDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Local underdog Jorden van Foreest was on everyone’s mind before the last round, when two straight wins had launched him into a tie for the lead. Now he’s perhaps a bit of an afterthought after Esipenko and Firouzja earned all the accolades in round eight, but he didn’t actually go anywhere. His draw was enough to actually improve his chances of winning the event, and he’s still just half a point out of first place. Take note of the fact that winning this game would give him very reasonable chances to remain in the hunt for first place overall. And he’s playing white against the player currently alone in last place in the standings, so a win is not an unreasonable consideration.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (56%)Black wins (16%)Importance
WhiteGiri, Anish12.6%23.8%9.1%2.6%21.2%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Giri quietly sits as the third most likely tournament winner. A win here and that wouldn’t be so quiet anymore. The surprise about this matchup that lowers its “importance score” is that it only matters to Giri; we would never have predicted MVL would be essentially eliminated from tournament contention this early in the event.

Perhaps the most interesting question is what opening we will see. MVL has now lost twice with black playing his specialty, the Najdorf defense, and Giri has already won a game with white against that same opening. Will MVL stubbornly stick with it or does he try something else?

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (12%)Draw (52%)Black wins (36%)Importance
WhiteWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%35.2%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano28.9%8.8%22.6%43.9%

Continuing the trend of games that are important solely for their impact on one player’s hopes of winning the event, we have this doozy upon which Caruana’s chances hinge. Working with the black pieces, he’ll have to decide whether to gamble and play for a win, knowing it could nearly double his tournament hopes relative to a draw, or whether he plays it safe because of the damage a loss could do to his chances. This is a sneakily critical game as Fabi is the strongest player in the group half a point back, and looking at his odds under each of the three possible results we really see a great demonstration of how valuable half a point is in a chess tournament.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (40%)Draw (50%)Black wins (11%)Importance
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza37.6%52.8%30.0%9.9%73.2%
BlackEsipenko, Andrey8.9%1.5%10.0%31.8%

And then there’s the unquestioned game of the day. Just the fact that the tournament leader is playing one of the players sitting half a point behind him would be enough to make this game critical. But it’s so much more than that because these are the two heroes of the last round. It’s the battle of the prodigies. We mentioned in our event preview that Esipenko draws a lot less attention than Firouzja, and overall there are valid reasons for that. Andrey currently sits at #40 in the world live rankings, and that’s a career high, while Firouzja is now #14 (also a career high) and on the cusp of the top ten. Considering that Firouzja is also younger, it’s certainly fair to say his long term prospects seem brighter… but there is one thing Alireza hasn’t done yet and that’s beat Magnus Carlsen. Esipenko now has, and that really is a big deal.

Neither of these players are content just with what they’ve done so far in this tournament. They both have hopes of winning the event. They both enter the game with a multiple game winning streak. Firouzja is the favorite, and this is a chance with the white pieces to win again and try to put some distance between himself and the field. We mentioned earlier that his lead is a bit tenuous. It would be much less so with a win here. Esipenko also has a streak to maintain, having beaten Wojtaszek before beating Carlsen. And if he won here he would find himself at least tied for the lead, possibly even in sole first place, as that win would move him past Firouzja.

So expect both players to pull out all the stops in this game. Both have shown a willingness to play fighting chess and try everything they can to create complications in hopes of finding a win, rather than seeking safety and certainty. There’s no reason to expect differently here with so much value in a win for both of them.

In Conclusion:

Once again let us remind you that there is a rest day. There are no games on Monday. The games we listed above will be played Tuesday, January 26th, at the same time as always. It’s an interesting slate where many of the players still in contention find themselves facing off with someone out of the running. It’s not clear how those games will go. What is clear is that we have a huge showdown between the two strongest teenagers in the world – by a large margin – in what may well be a the first game of a long and healthy rivalry. You certainly wouldn’t want to miss that!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 8 Preview

In our preview of round 7 we predicted fireworks. Five decisive games, that prediction certainly delivered! Both winners from the previous round (Firouzja and Van Foreest) won a second consecutive win, and this time Caruana, Giri, and Esipenko joined the party. These results gave us a new favorite to win the event, and shook up the standings greatly. Now that we’re past the halfway point of the event, the current standings that we looked at for the first time yesterday will continue to be more important, so let’s start there again:

NameRatingScore
Caruana, Fabiano2822.04.5
Firouzja, Alireza2756.04.5
Giri, Anish2766.24.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2687.94.5
Carlsen, Magnus2851.74
Harikrishna, Pentala2738.94
Esipenko, Andrey2688.64
Grandelius, Nils2675.54
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2698.03
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2766.72.5
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2733.62.5
Guijarro, David Anton2673.12.5
Tari, Aryan2626.22.5
Donchenko, Alexander2670.72

We can see that unlike yesterday when we had a sole leader and a huge group tied for second place, there is now a four-way tie for first place instead. For fans of underdogs the bad news is that Grandelius lost and dropped out of the lead, but the good news is Jorden van Foreest won so there is still a player rated under 2700 atop the standings that we can root for if we just love upsets and surprises. Also notable is that Giri joins Jorden in the top group so both Dutch players are now tied for the lead – maybe home field advantage is somehow a thing in chess?

For the players in the second group, half a point behind the leaders, there is an important point to consider. Being half a point behind four co-leaders is very different – and much worse – than being half a point behind a single sole leader. The challenge is that any individual game is pretty likely to be drawn, so you can often catch a sole leader with a single win. However to catch a group, where any one of the players could win and maintain their lead, it’s more likely to take two wins before you catch the entire group. So when looking at the odds for players in this second group, keep that in mind if it feels lower than your intuition says it should at “just” half a game back.

While the current standings matter more as we get closer to the end, there are still six rounds left, so when predicting the winner we do still need to turn to our model. Here is where everyone’s winning chances stand now, with an added column showing their place in the current standings, as well as the old columns we’ve always shown of their prior-round odds and their average expected finish:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 7After Rd. 7
NameRatingWin%Win%PlaceAvg Finish
Caruana, Fabiano2822.025.2%37.6%T 1-42.6
Carlsen, Magnus2851.739.6%21.5%T 5-83.4
Firouzja, Alireza2756.08.7%14.6%T 1-44.1
Giri, Anish2766.28.3%11.4%T 1-44.5
Harikrishna, Pentala2738.97.1%6.4%T 5-84.9
Van Foreest, Jorden2687.92.7%5.3%T 1-45.3
Esipenko, Andrey2688.60.7%1.9%T 5-86.7
Grandelius, Nils2675.55.5%1.2%T 5-87.1
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2766.70.7%0.0%T 10-139.8
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2698.00.6%0.0%910.8
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2733.60.7%0.0%T 10-139.6
Guijarro, David Anton2673.10.0%0.0%T 10-1311.7
Tari, Aryan2626.20.0%0.0%T 10-1312.3
Donchenko, Alexander2670.70.0%0.0%1412.3

The dramatic drop in Carlsen’s chances jumps out immediately. It almost looks as if he must have lost his game. He did not, he drew, but remember what we said about the challenges of being behind not one but many players. Now Carlsen is strong enough that he still has good chances to overcome that deficit (much more so than the rest of the group in 5th through 8th place), but he is no longer the favorite after failing to participate in today’s glut of wins. Instead the highest rated player from the top group on the leaderboard, Caruana, is now the most likely tournament victor. We can also see that essentially the players tied for 1st through 4th are the favorites, and all the rest of the realistic winning chances are held by the 5th through 8th place group, with the one exception of Magnus and Jorden swapping groups as the highest and lowest rated contenders. We can also look at how everyone’s odds have shifted over the course of the entire tournament in graphical form:

We see Caruana’s win leading him to swap places with Carlsen here, but more broadly we can see Carlsen’s steady decline from round one through seven that came without ever losing a game. The longer his draw streak grew, the more danger he was in of forfeiting the role of favorite, and Caruana finally caught him. It’s not too late to still assert dominance and retake the lead (first in these odds, then eventually in the actual standings) and still win, but it’s clearer than ever that he has to go actually win a game sooner rather than later, and probably win multiple games if he’s going to live up to his world #1 ranking in this event.
Also interesting on the graph is that we see, for the first time, two other players emerge out of the chaotic intersection of lines at the bottom and establish themselves with winning chances above the 10% threshold. Firouzja and Giri are absolutely realistic contenders to win the event too, it’s not just the Caruana and Carlsen show.

So what do the games look like in round 8? As always we’ll take a look at all of them, in order from least to most important to the question of who will ultimately win the event:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (36%)Draw (52%)Black wins (12%)Importance
WhiteDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

There’s not much to say here except that as usual the least important game for the top of the standings is the most important game for the bottom of the standings. Both of these players project to finish in an average position of 12.3, tied for the worst projections in the field, so a decisive result here would leave the loser most likely to finish dead last. Noone wants that and these are professional chess players with plenty of pride. So this game might not matter in the same way other games do, but it certainly matters to them.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (39%)Draw (50%)Black wins (11%)Importance
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%0.1%
BlackGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

This game sees two players who are half a point out of the basement with essentially no winning chances in the event overall. Both have underperformed so far and would love a chance to right the ship, but it’s not going to impact the top of the standings.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (23%)Draw (58%)Black wins (18%)Importance
WhiteGrandelius, Nils1.2%3.1%0.7%0.1%3.1%
BlackWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.0%0.0%0.1%0.1%

Grandelius has amazingly drawn only two games in seven rounds. So if you love decisive results you have to be his biggest fan! Unfortunately for him, two of those five decisive results have been losses, including last round, so he’s no longer at the top of the standings. He’s not entirely eliminated from contention yet, and a fourth win could once again keep his hopes alive, and he does have white here. But for the moment this game doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the top of the standings either.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (42%)Draw (48%)Black wins (9%)Importance
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%15.0%
BlackVan Foreest, Jorden5.3%1.7%6.3%16.6%

But here it heats up. Jorden is our new underdog sensation, is tied for first, and has a 20 to 1 shot at winning it all. Not great but that’s the kind of longshot that’s intriguingly plausible. On paper he should have no shot with black against MVL; almost 100 rating points plus the white pieces is a huge edge in chess. However MVL has dramatically underperformed his rating so far in this event and Jorden has dramatically exceeded his own. We will remind you of something we mentioned in our event preview: this is one of the first over the board tournaments in a very long time and ratings are not based on as many recent results as they would usually be, so whether due to rust, genuine improvement, or general playing shape, there is more cause than normal to question the accuracy of ratings in predicting results at this time. We did not build any additional uncertainty into our model for that reason, but it is something to keep in mind when interpreting the numbers the model gives us. So based on their play so far, a third straight win for Jorden seems less crazy than the 9% listed here. And should he pull it off, look at that win percentage skyrocket to one in six! Jorden has a notably soft schedule in the final five rounds; this is his toughest remaining game. So if he can win this one, the sky may be the limit!

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (9%)Draw (48%)Black wins (43%)Importance
WhiteEsipenko, Andrey1.9%8.7%2.3%0.3%34.2%
BlackCarlsen, Magnus21.5%4.7%14.5%30.5%

We’ve said it before and we’re going to keep hammering it home. Magnus needs to win. He’s no longer the favorite, the tournament is over half over, he’s running out of time. Another draw drops his chances of winning the event under 15%. So he has to do what nobody has managed to do yet this event and beat the 18 year old Esipenko. Ratings say it should be quite doable, even with black, but of course as we’ve mentioned ratings are perhaps more suspect now than normal, and that goes double with a teenager who is more likely to have genuinely improved (while not being able to prove it over the board and increase his official rating in the process). So is this the time Magnus finally breaks through and scores the win everyone has been waiting for? Or does he draw again? Or… dare we wonder if Esipenko might score his second win in a row, strike a near death blow to Carlsen’s hopes, and instead establish himself as a contender for first place instead?

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (24%)Draw (58%)Black wins (18%)Importance
WhiteHarikrishna, Pentala6.4%15.7%4.7%0.6%40.0%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza14.6%4.6%13.6%29.6%

Firouzja is on a two game winning streak, is tied for the lead, has the third best chances in the field of winning this tournament, has climbed to a career high 16th in the world live rankings, and has shown no qualms about playing for a win even with the black pieces. This is the 17 year old wunderkind who many have tagged as “the next Magnus Carlsen” and a future world champion. Recall that Magnus tied for first place in this very tournament in 2007 at the age of 17 himself, and now that Alireza’s odds of winning are above 10% it feels worth bringing up that parallel again. A win here (making three in a row) would leave the kid in great shape with nearly a 30% chance of winning the event.

And with that paragraph the entire nation of India is screaming at me to not forget about Harikrishna – and rightfully so. Pentala has played an excellent tournament of his own. He has perhaps been slightly too solid so far, scoring just one win, compared to the two he would need to join the leaders. And he suffers from the challenges we detailed earlier of being half a point behind four players not just one. But that doesn’t mean we can rule him out just yet, he is still in striking distance of the top and it’s he who has the white pieces here. Take a look at his chances shooting up over 15% if he can win. He’s an experienced player, literally twice Alireza’s age, and he knows what we said earlier: that his opponent is willing to press for wins with black. He also knows how that can backfire. We don’t imagine he’ll be shy about teaching his young opponent a lesson if he gets the opportunity, and doing so would put him squarely in the middle of the “who will win the tournament” conversation.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this game though is that it isn’t even the most important game of the round, because…

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (38%)Draw (50%)Black wins (11%)Importance
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano37.6%54.4%30.6%11.6%74.7%
BlackGiri, Anish11.4%2.7%12.8%34.5%

Two of the four players tied for first place – and the two highest rated ones at that – play each other! This matchup gives us by far the highest “importance score” so far in the event, for obvious reasons. Giri, first of all, has simply been steady. He won in the first round, drew five straight, and then won again in round seven. We mentioned in yesterday’s article that Giri “perhaps deserves more respect than our model offers” and sure enough he won and brought his tournament odds to 11%. A draw here would be perfectly fine, black against Caruana calls for careful defense, and slide those odds a percentage point higher, but Giri’s fans must be looking at the “black wins” column and feeling a little excited about those prospects.

Fabi enters this game as the tournament favorite for the first time, and against a strong and dangerous opponent also could be perfectly satisfied with a draw, which doesn’t press his advantage in the standings but does leave him well positioned going forward. However he does have the white pieces and no matter who your opponent is, when you’re ranked #2 in the world winning with white is how you prove your class – and how you win tournaments. If he can break through for a victory he pushes his chances over 50% and establishes himself as the odds on favorite.

So this game provides both players with huge chances should there be a decisive result either way. And any result, including a draw, still leaves a scenario where these two players combined have between a 40% and 60% of winning the event, so it’s roughly a coinflip whether the eventual champion is playing in this game, or in one of the other six games.

In Conclusion:

We talked last round about how the games get consistently more critical in later rounds as time runs out for people to make a move, as well as when more players bunch near the top of the standings. Both of those things are in effect as we enter round 8 and so we continue to see many critical games. For newer chess fans who may not have found the first several rounds as exciting as they hoped, we sure hope you stuck around. This is how chess tournaments work, there’s a feeling out period as people put themselves in position to compete, and then chaos breaks loose. That doesn’t mean more decisive results are guaranteed, but the players (especially those on the top boards) have far more to fight for now than they did in the early rounds, as our odds demonstrate. So if you’ve been watching from the beginning, it’s time to enjoy the payoff, and if you’re jumping into following this tournament in the middle, you’ve joined us at the right time. Either way, we’ve got a lot of excitement coming in round 8!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 7 Preview

The top of the standings are getting crowded after two decisive games today added two new players to the second place mass, without anyone falling out. Because we craft our tournament coverage around our model that predicts the final results, and because we know the standings will likely shift and we have specific estimates of how they might do so, we tend not to pay too much attention to the actual current standings. Especially through the earlier rounds. However it makes sense to now, because it provides broader context to why our predictions look the way they do. Where there are ties, we have sorted in order of odds of winning the tournament, but not shown that column (yet).

NameRatingScore
Grandelius, Nils2679.14
Carlsen, Magnus2853.53.5
Caruana, Fabiano2817.53.5
Firouzja, Alireza2751.13.5
Giri, Anish2762.63.5
Harikrishna, Pentala2737.13.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2683.53.5
Esipenko, Andrey2683.23
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2703.43
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2771.22.5
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2738.52.5
Tari, Aryan2630.62.5
Guijarro, David Anton2673.32
Donchenko, Alexander2670.51.5

Nils Grandelius remains alone in first place. If you’ve been following these updates you’ll know we have not considered him the favorite to win, or even particularly likely to do so, because his rating is so much lower than the players just behind him. Spoiler alert: that remains true. With seven rounds left and several very difficult games remaining on his schedule, our model still expects him to falter and drop out of first before the end.

Part of the challenge is that he doesn’t just have to hold off one or two competitors. No less than six players are hot on his tail a half point back. Before the round this group had four members. They all drew, as did Nils, but two others who were a full point back (Firouzja and Van Foreest) both won as well. So as we said in the intro, things have gotten extraordinarily crowded. So how likely are these players to win the event overall?

Projected Results
Before Rd. 6After Rd. 6
NameRatingWin%Win%Avg Place
Carlsen, Magnus2862.041.6%39.6%2.7
Caruana, Fabiano2823.028.6%25.2%3.4
Firouzja, Alireza2749.03.1%8.7%5.1
Giri, Anish2764.08.8%8.3%5.3
Harikrishna, Pentala2732.08.2%7.1%5.4
Grandelius, Nils2663.04.3%5.5%5.8
Van Foreest, Jorden2671.40.8%2.7%6.7
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2784.02.3%0.7%8.7
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2743.00.8%0.7%8.3
Esipenko, Andrey2677.50.7%0.7%8.7
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2705.00.5%0.6%9.2
Tari, Aryan2625.00.0%0.0%11.4
Guijarro, David Anton2679.00.1%0.0%11.9
Donchenko, Alexander2678.10.0%0.0%12.7

The five most likely winners are currently in that second place bunch. The fact that their ratings are higher than that of Grandelius carries more weight at this point than the half point, as they can be expected to outscore him by more than half a point over the course of seven rounds. The two strongest players, Carlsen and Caruana, remain by a large margin the most likely winners – but that margin is slightly lower than it was yesterday (and similarly Nils’ chances have slightly increased) because every round that passes will make the current standings more important and ratings less important in the final projections, since ratings only allow for potential future points, which are far more tenuous than points already scored over the board.

Firouzja had the biggest gains of the round, as his win with black shot him all the way up to third most likely winner. You might wonder how his odds of winning the event are now higher than Giri, despite sharing the same score and Giri having a bit higher of a rating – that is because Giri has a tougher schedule ahead, not yet having faced any of the top three seeds. The other winner from round 6, Jorden van Foreest, is of course the least likely winner out of the 3.5 score group, but did still see a relatively significant upswing in his longshot odds and if he continues to exceed expectations and win more games he now has a baseline from which he could quickly become a legitimate contender.

The games get steadily more important as the tournament goes along, and round 7 will move us past the halfway point so things are in fact heating up now. With so many players within striking distance of first place, the potential for decisive games to shift the landscape is even greater. And with the pre-tournament favorites failing to fully live up to expectations so far, things get tighter still. So without further ado let’s look at the slate of games, from least to most important:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (56%)Black wins (16%)Importance
WhiteGuijarro, David Anton0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

These two players are the bottom two in the current standings, so of course this game won’t impact who wins the event. But nobody wants to finish a tournament in last place either, and it could have tremendous impact on who will suffer that fate. So as a point of pride, they have plenty to play for. Don’t discount the possibility of a high quality chess game played like it’s high stakes, regardless of the tournament situation.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (32%)Draw (54%)Black wins (14%)Importance
WhiteWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.6%1.4%0.3%0.0%3.9%
BlackEsipenko, Andrey0.7%0.1%0.7%2.7%

At 18 years old, our question about Esipenko entering the event wasn’t “will he win the tournament”, it was will he hold his own. We cited a top ten finish (out of the field of 14) as a potential success. Well so far he has certainly held his own, scoring draws in every game despite being the lower rated player in all but one of those games, and he’s improved his rating by six points. He currently projects for an average finish of 8.7, more than a full spot higher than his starting projection. So the question in this game isn’t really about impact at the top but rather can he continue his strong performance as once again he is the lower rated player. A draw would be satisfactory enough, but a solid tournament so far could be turned into an excellent tournament if he tacked on a win here – and he would even pick up longshot odds of winning it all on par with those Jorden van Foreest picked up with his win last round.

Wojtaszek, meanwhile, has had a slightly disappointing event so far but only slightly. A single win would flip the script to “slightly exceeding expectations” instead, and the white pieces against a lower rated youngster is exactly the type of scenario where he might do so. Woj will probably want very much to find an advantage he can press for a win in this game, while Esipenko will likely be quite satisfied to hold a draw.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (19%)Draw (59%)Black wins (23%)Importance
WhiteTari, Aryan0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%5.9%
BlackVan Foreest, Jorden2.7%0.5%2.1%6.2%

Jorden has earned repeated mention in today’s update for winning his round 6 game over Anton, but he was already having a strong tournament before that drawing higher rated opponents in each of his first five games. When the tournament began the #12 seed projected to finish an average of 10th place, and that has now risen to better than 7th. Of course this still wouldn’t be as good as last year where he placed a relatively shocking 4th so this is not an unprecedented run, apparently he enjoys playing in his home country. Now with all that momentum behind him, he gets a rare chance to actually be the ratings favorite – albeit with black – and see if he can’t rise to even higher heights. Note that with another win he would find himself with better odds to win than even the current leader has at this time.

Tari is not in any way a contender to win the event, but he has actually also overperformed his tournament-lowest rating so far. While Anton and Donchenko battle to avoid the basement, our model counts Tari as the third player with a significant risk of ultimately landing at the bottom of the standings. He too would surely like to avoid doing so, and if he could parlay the white pieces into victory here it would greatly help that cause.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (30%)Draw (55%)Black wins (15%)Importance
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza8.7%15.4%7.0%2.3%16.0%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.7%0.1%0.5%3.0%

Alireza is the youngest player in the field, has played some of the most exciting games, and now is suddenly also the third most likely tournament victor. One must assume that he will try everything he can to press the edge the white pieces offer against an opponent who has struggled a shade so far. Should Firouzja score a win he would have excellent chances to at least match his performance last fall at Norway Chess, where he finished second place behind Carlsen, which would be enough to make a major statement. A lone top two finish in a supertournament could be a fluke but two in a row almost certainly isn’t. But there’s no indication that would be enough to satisfy the ambitions of a 17 year old who carries the weight of a fanbase that expects him to be a future world champion, and often demands that the future be now. He doesn’t want second place, he wants to win the tournament, and if he wins this game that is a very realistic possibility.

There is an obstacle in Firouzja’s way though: he has an opponent. And Duda is no pushover. He hasn’t scored a win here yet, and is out of realistic contention, but he did win a game over Magnus in that Norway event I just mentioned. His overall score there was disappointing, but obviously a player that can beat Magnus can beat anyone, so pressing for a win against Duda is dangerous and could be flipped around if one isn’t careful. This game has lots of potential for fireworks.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (43%)Draw (48%)Black wins (9%)Importance
WhiteGiri, Anish8.3%13.7%5.2%1.2%27.8%
BlackGrandelius, Nils5.5%1.7%6.5%17.1%

Black against an opponent almost a hundred rating points stronger is a huge test for the tournament leader. Our model gives Giri a 43% chance of winning this game, and knocking Nils out of first place – likely for good, as impressive as his run so far has been it’s hard for an underdog to surrender the pole position and then get it back. On the other hand, holding a draw would be enough for Grandelius to not only maintain hopes of winning but even improve them slightly. With so many players half a point back, and able to catch him if they win, drawing would likely lose the “sole leader” title but a draw guarantees he remains at least co-leader. Of course winning with black is unlikely, but we would be remiss if we didn’t observe that it could shoot him up to 17% to win should he find a way. That would change the conversation from its current “how long can he keep this up” (with implications that he won’t forever) to “maybe he really is going to go all the way!”

Anish Giri also has a lot to play for in this game though. For all that Nils has, deservedly, made himself the best story of this event so for, he is the #13 seed. On paper, white against a player at the bottom of the field (by rating) is exactly the kind of game Giri wants to play as he looks to insert himself more seriously into the conversation. Giri has been ranked as high as #3 in the world in the past so perhaps deserves more respect than our model offers with its cold calculations. He currently has the same score as Carlsen and Caruana do, and has played a perfectly solid tournament so far, and could reasonably feel there’s no reason he shouldn’t win this tournament. If he knocks Nils out of the lead with a win tomorrow, his odds of doing so become quite reasonable, and it is quite a likely result on paper.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (36%)Draw (51%)Black wins (12%)Importance
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano25.2%36.4%20.1%8.2%31.2%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime0.7%0.1%0.6%3.1%

MVL has had a very disappointing event, but he is the #3 seed. While his chances of winning the event have largely disappeared, that doesn’t mean he’s in any way a pushover. When you’re one of the tournament favorites you always want to make the most of the white pieces and find winning chances, but beating Maxime is not so easy. Caruana can’t afford not to try though. He is the second best player in the world, he is the defending champion in this event, he does have white, and with a win he has better than a one in three chance to go on to win it all. A draw on the other hand leaves him at just one in five. Of course pushing too hard is risky because 20% winning odds is still a reasonable shot while a loss drops him to 8%, but still if he doesn’t press now when does he? His next two games with white are against Giri and Magnus, so at some point he’s got to go for it if he’s going to make a move up the standings and deliver on his expectations.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (49%)Draw (44%)Black wins (7%)Importance
WhiteCarlsen, Magnus39.6%51.8%30.4%11.7%64.5%
BlackHarikrishna, Pentala7.1%2.0%9.5%26.4%

And that brings us to our game of the day. This is by far the highest “importance score” our model has generated so far in this event. The difference between a win and a loss is over 40 percentage points for Carlsen and almost 25 percentage points for Harikrishna. Carlsen is of course still the tournament favorite, but after a run of five straight draws his odds of winning have dropped from as high as 64% to now under 40%. Another draw here, as we can see, would put another big dent in that. He did beat Firouzja in round one but he must win another game at some point if he’s actually going to climb to first place like our model keeps indicating he eventually ought to. Harikrishna has been rock solid so far in this event but Magnus does have white, and if not here then where is his opportunity? He has a few easier games coming up, but his last two whites are against Giri and MVL so he can’t wait too much longer to strike.

And while the feeling that Magnus must find a win somewhere is the dominant point, let us not forget that Harikrishna absolutely has his own chances to win the event. A draw here puts his odds at nearly 10% and an upset win would shoot him right up to better than a one in four chance, so Pentala has a ton to play for as well. He might want nothing more than to see Carlsen gamble chasing a win, as that could offer him his own opportunity instead.

In Conclusion:

Everything so far has been merely prelude. Longtime chess fans are well aware of how many twists and turns an event can take over 13 rounds, but one of our goals with this blog is specifically to help newer chess fans find some context that helps them better appreciate the stakes and the drama. So let us emphasize that the games in the first six rounds pale in importance to the games in the last few rounds. We’re not quite there yet, only just approaching the midpoint of the event, but thanks to the massive tie for second place – and a possibly tenuous leader – the drama is starting to show up early. The vital nature of a game like Carlsen-Harikrishna is an appetizer for what we’ll see in later rounds. For now, know that things are heating up and there’s an awful lot going on in this slate, so it should be a great show!

2021 Tata Steel Maters – Round 6 Preview

Nils is back! The surprise leader after round two had dropped back into “just” a tie for first, but just when it seemed he was going to fade back to his original expectations he went and beat the #3 seed MVL! As this was the only decisive game of round 5, Grandelius is now once again the sole number one in the current standings, and his odds of winning the tournament have risen to a plausible 4.3%

Here are the full odds for the field:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 5After Rd. 5
NameRatingWin%Win%Avg Place
Carlsen, Magnus2862.045.5%41.6%2.5
Caruana, Fabiano2823.030.4%28.6%3.1
Giri, Anish2764.08.0%8.8%5.1
Harikrishna, Pentala2732.05.2%8.2%5.0
Grandelius, Nils2663.00.8%4.3%6.2
Firouzja, Alireza2749.03.3%3.1%6.6
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2784.04.8%2.3%6.8
Van Foreest, Jorden2671.40.5%0.8%8.2
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2743.00.6%0.8%8.6
Esipenko, Andrey2677.50.3%0.7%8.8
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2705.00.4%0.5%9.4
Guijarro, David Anton2679.00.2%0.1%10.5
Donchenko, Alexander2678.10.0%0.0%11.6
Tari, Aryan2625.00.0%0.0%12.5

We can see that draws with the white pieces cost the two favorites a few percentage points of their win probability, and MVL also dropped noticeably with his loss; the top three seeds saw their combined winning chances drop from 80.7% to 72.5% and Harikrishna and Grandelius were the main benefactors – the former for holding a draw the model wasn’t counting on him picking up with black against Giri, and the latter of course for his win.

Now we move closer to the halfway point of the event. Let’s take a look at all the games we’ll see in round six, going in order from least to most critical (in terms of impact on the eventual winner) as we always do:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (28%)Draw (56%)Black wins (16%)Importance
WhiteVan Foreest, Jorden0.8%1.9%0.5%0.1%2.3%
BlackGuijarro, David Anton0.1%0.0%0.2%0.6%

Jorden has not lost a game yet, which is impressive given he’s already played seeds #1, 2, 4, and 5. It’s not new to find him punching above his rating in this tournament held in his home country – he surprised everyone with his fourth place finish last year. A win here could put him on track for a similar finish and even push his chances of a first place finish up above one percent. Still those chances are low enough – and his opponent’s chances even lower – that for now this matchup remains unlikely to change the top of the final standings.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (54%)Draw (42%)Black wins (5%)Importance
WhiteVachier-Lagrave, Maxime2.3%2.4%0.7%0.2%2.4%
BlackTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

After failing to win in the first four rounds and then suffering his upset loss MVL (the #3 seed) is suddenly on the outside looking in of serious contention. And has also dropped out of the top five of the world live rankings. A win here is basically necessary to stabilize things. The good news is that rating differential and the white pieces suggest it’s more likely than not. The bad news is that Tari has been relatively stingy, not losing since round 1, and also that even a win wouldn’t do too much to help MVL climb out of the hole he’s dug himself. As Tari has no plausible chances to win the event himself, this game carries surprisingly little importance at this point.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (17%)Draw (57%)Black wins (26%)Importance
WhiteDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%5.5%
BlackFirouzja, Alireza3.1%0.6%2.6%6.0%

Firouzja certainly would love to take advantage of this chance against the player at the bottom of the current standings and score a win, which would nearly double his slim but not negligible chances to win the tournament. However Donchenko seems to have settled in after losing his first two games, and has grown tough to crack, so with the white pieces he’s certainly no pushover. In fact he may even be out for his own first win of the tournament; even if it won’t change the top of the standings he undoubtedly wants to get out of the basement.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (34%)Draw (53%)Black wins (13%)Importance
WhiteHarikrishna, Pentala8.2%14.8%5.8%2.2%14.4%
BlackWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.5%0.1%0.6%1.9%

Harikrishna has very carefully hung around, steadily improving his projected position. He has quietly risen from 2.1% to win it all and an average finish of 7th place, at the beginning, to 8.2% and an average finish of 5th place now. A win here – very possible with the white pieces – would end the “quietly” part and shoot him into much stronger contention with nearly a 15% chance!

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (16%)Draw (56%)Black wins (28%)Importance
WhiteEsipenko, Andrey0.7%2.5%0.7%0.1%14.5%
BlackGiri, Anish8.8%3.0%7.2%15.1%

Giri very similarly to Harikrishna has relatively quietly hung around in contention, with one win and four draws so far, and also could shoot to 15% winning chances if he wins in round 6. The difference is he has to do it as black. If he pushes too hard, it’s also not inconceivable he could lose instead and Esipenko could pick up some longshot winning chances instead.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (13%)Draw (52%)Black wins (35%)Importance
WhiteDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.8%3.4%0.5%0.1%37.2%
BlackCarlsen, Magnus41.6%21.9%37.7%55.7%

Carlsen has suffered four frustrating draws against players with an average rating almost 200 points below his. His expected score was three points in those four games (for example two wins and two draws), but he managed just two points by not winning any. He remains the tournament favorite, but those chances have ticked steadily downward with each draw and his odds are the lowest now that they’ve been since the event began. Should he draw again, those odds will drop again. He’s the favorite because the model expects him to eventually start winning games, but to win the event he has to actually do so; when round 13 is over he can’t cash in hypothetical “expected” wins. That said, if he does finally score that elusive second win, he would once again be the odds-on favorite, so there’s a major swing in the odds here depending on the result of this game. Oh and Duda probably isn’t going to beat Carlsen, even with white, because Carlsen is really hard to beat (obviously). But if he does… a 3.4% chance to win the event wouldn’t be nothing, so there’s a little swing there too.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (11%)Draw (50%)Black wins (39%)Importance
WhiteGrandelius, Nils4.3%13.5%5.2%1.1%41.8%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano28.6%10.6%22.6%40.0%

You wouldn’t have expected this to be the case before the event began, but this is the most important game so far in the tournament (Carlsen-Firouzja in round 1 scored 41.5%)! Despite all the success so far Grandelius hasn’t yet put himself in a position where the model really believes in his chances. However he can see his odds rise as high as 13.5% if he wins, which would seem silly to expect against Caruana if he hadn’t just beaten MVL, but at this point why not? On the other hand a loss would pretty well crush his hopes of maintaining the run all the way to the end. Meanwhile Caruana remains the second most likely tournament victor, and if he does dash Nils’ hopes he would see his own chances rise to 40%, but if he falls victim to the Swedish underdog he could drop all the way down to 10.6% (lower then Nils at that point). So any decisive result in this game will dramatically shift the landscape for the rest of the event. And Nils has seen decisive results in four of his five games so far!

In Conclusion:

The game of the day is Grandelius-Caruana, and something tells me a lot of fans are going to be on the Nils bandwagon; who doesn’t love an underdog story? Carlsen, Giri, and Harikrishna’s games are also important, and the other three games offer good chances for fighting chess as well. A busy day in my life delayed today’s update so I’m posting this preview with just about 7 hours before the games begin, so by the time you read it, if this got you excited for round 6, you won’t have long to wait!

2021 Tata Steel Masters – Round 5 Preview

While there were some excellent and exciting games in round four, ultimately all seven games ended in draws, which means the actual standings didn’t change at all, and the projected final standings changed very little. Slight drops in a few player’s hopes came from drawing games they were predicted to be likely winners of, while those who’s draws were more expected saw slight gains, but essentially we go into the first rest day pretty close to where we were after round 3:

Projected Results
Before Rd. 4After Rd. 4
NameRatingWin%Win%Avg Place
Carlsen, Magnus2862.048.7%45.5%2.2
Caruana, Fabiano2823.028.2%30.4%2.8
Giri, Anish2764.06.5%8.0%5.0
Harikrishna, Pentala2732.04.3%5.2%5.4
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2784.06.0%4.8%5.6
Firouzja, Alireza2749.03.9%3.3%6.1
Grandelius, Nils2663.00.6%0.8%8.3
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof2743.00.6%0.6%8.5
Van Foreest, Jorden2671.40.3%0.5%8.6
Wojtaszek, Radoslaw2705.00.3%0.4%9.2
Esipenko, Andrey2677.50.4%0.3%9.4
Guijarro, David Anton2679.00.1%0.2%9.9
Donchenko, Alexander2678.10.0%0.0%12.0
Tari, Aryan2625.00.0%0.0%12.0

Before the first game was played, Carlsen was the favorite. He and Caruana combined for a 76% chance of winning it all, and five other players made up the next tier with winning chances in the 2% to 8% range. Now after four rounds Carlsen is the favorite. He and Caruana combine for a 76% chance of winning it all, and four other players make up the next tier with winning chances in the 3% to 8% range.

There have been some slight shifts. Caruana’s chances of winning have improved just slightly, at Carlsen’s expense, making it slightly less of a runaway lead and slightly more of a duel at the top. Giri swapped places with MVL as the third most likely winner. Harikrishna has more than doubled his winning chances, although he remains a 20 to 1 longshot. And Duda is the one player who dropped out of the second group of contenders, seeing his championship odds slide from 3% to under 1%.

All told though, we aren’t too far from where we began. Which is largely to be expected after just four rounds of a marathon thirteen-round event. Now the players (and the rest of us) get a day off before play resumes on Thursday, the 21st. But it’s never too early to look at the matchups and break down what those games look like. As always, here are the next round’s games in order of importance:

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (37%)Draw (51%)Black wins (12%)Importance
WhiteGuijarro, David Anton0.2%0.3%0.1%0.0%0.3%
BlackTari, Aryan0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

The lowest rated player in the field, Tari, remains a nonfactor in the battle for first place and still projects likely to finish in last place. But to his credit he isn’t at the bottom of the standings yet and only lost one of his first four games, despite an average opponent’s rating of 2764, which is a good enough start to actually net a slight gain in his rating. His remaining opponents are rated an average of just 2716. So while his games don’t have any real impact on who might win the tournament (the driving criteria of our “importance score” for these games), he has acquitted himself well so far. If he continues to do so, he may yet score some wins and have a very successful event relative to his standards.

Anton also has three draws and one loss so far, also against a stronger subset of opponents than those he has left. His rating is essentially unchanged and generally speaking he’s played very close to his expectations. This game might not matter to the top of the final standings, but both players could climb back to a very satisfying 50% score with a win.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (21%)Draw (59%)Black wins (20%)Importance
WhiteWojtaszek, Radoslaw0.4%1.1%0.3%0.1%2.5%
BlackDuda, Jan-Krzysztof0.6%0.1%0.5%1.6%

With four straight draws, Wojtaszek hasn’t done anything to put himself in contention and has lost a couple rating points, but can’t be particularly dissatisfied with his result so far. It’s largely in line with expectations. Duda, on the other hand, has three draws and one loss, has lost almost six rating points (the second largest drop in the field), and played his way from longshot contention to no longer being considered a contender of any kind unless something changes in a hurry. He must be at least a bit disappointed with his start.

Either player could bring their odds of winning the event over the 1% threshold if they score their first win in this game, although the most likely result is a draw. Duda, in particular, is probably really aching to score that win, but he may not have so much opportunity to press for it with the black pieces.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (41%)Draw (49%)Black wins (10%)Importance
WhiteFirouzja, Alireza3.3%5.4%2.0%0.7%6.4%
BlackVan Foreest, Jorden0.5%0.1%0.6%1.8%

In addition to being the youngest player in the field, Firouzja has proven to be one of the most exciting players to watch. He is one of just three players to find himself in multiple decisive games so far, falling on the wrong side of a first round brilliancy from Magnus Carlsen, and scoring his own remarkable win over Anton. And he and Tari may have produced the most exciting draw the event has seen so far in round four. All of this averages together to roughly meeting expectations. His rating has technically dropped – but by less than a point which is a rather irrelevant shift. His one win came in his one game so far with the white pieces, and his tendency towards aggressive fighting chess means he’ll likely come out firing in search of win number two against the lower rated opponent.

Jorden hasn’t lost a game yet though. And it’s not for lack of opposition, as he’s already faced Carlsen, Caruana, and Giri. The Dutch youngster has been far from the pushover his rating would indicate, perhaps at this point we shouldn’t be surprised considering he placed fourth here last year, performing well above his rating then as well. Despite not winning a game yet, he has gained over six rating points (second best in the field) by consistently drawing strong opponents. So if Firouzja does plan to press for a win, we should not expect it to come easily no matter what the rating differential suggests.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (53%)Black wins (33%)Importance
WhiteGrandelius, Nils0.8%2.4%0.8%0.2%9.6%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime4.8%1.2%3.6%8.7%

Nils Grandelius surprised everyone when he jumped into the sole lead after two rounds, though he has since dropped into a five-way tie atop the standings. He is both the only player to participate in more decisive games than Firouzja and the only one to gain more rating points than van Foreest. With two wins, one loss, and only one draw, he’s positioned unexpectedly well at this stage and could still establish himself as roughly a 40 to 1 longshot to win it all if he scores a win in this game with the white pieces.

Standing in his way is #3 seed Vachier-Lagrave. As one of the favorites, MVL is undoubtedly more disappointed to have started with four straight draws than some of the other players we’ve mentioned so far. With those draws his rating has dipped four points and he has dropped from third to fifth on the list of most likely winners. Despite the black pieces, he also might see this game as a chance to break through, based on his rating edge, and should he do so he would re-establish himself to be the contender we expected him to be.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (33%)Draw (53%)Black wins (14%)Importance
WhiteGiri, Anish8.0%13.9%6.1%2.2%22.6%
BlackHarikrishna, Pentala5.2%2.0%5.6%12.9%

This is the one game of the round that can significantly swing both players’ chances in the event, as both are among the five co-leaders in the current standings. Should it prove decisive, regardless of which direction it goes, the winner will have a respectable double digit shot at the tournament title. Giri has met expectations, seeing essentially no rating change from his one win and three draws. This has been enough to position himself as the third most likely champ. Now he has a chance to improve his position further if he can win with white – and doing so would also move him back into the top ten of the world rankings!

Harikrishna has already drawn two players seeded above Giri so has no particular reason to fear his opponent here, and also scored the win that knocked Grandelius off his perch in round three. It’s been a solid start for the Indian, who has picked up five rating points so far, and would certainly love to add some more in this game and show himself to be a real contender.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (53%)Draw (42%)Black wins (5%)Importance
WhiteCaruana, Fabiano30.4%37.3%22.9%11.7%27.5%
BlackEsipenko, Andrey0.3%0.1%0.5%2.0%

Esipenko is another player with four draws so far who must be relatively happy with his start. Those draws have been enough to gain three rating points, and his expected finish has improved slightly. That said, his rating doesn’t hold up to nine more rounds of projections unless he starts winning games as the underdog, instead of just drawing them, even if the latter is good on its own merits.

Meanwhile Caruana is another one of the five co-leaders with one win and three draws so far. This has been enough to slightly improve his chances of winning the event, however he boasts such high expectations as the world #2 that he has nevertheless lost a rating point in the process. That’s not at all his concern though. He’s here to win games, especially when he has white against a teenager rated under 2700. Expect him to use his extra decade of experience and push for a victory in this game, which if he could achieve it would move him even farther upward in our projections – perhaps even establishing him as the new favorite if the current favorite failed to keep pace with a win of his own.

Adjusted Odds if…
PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (60%)Draw (37%)Black wins (3%)Importance
WhiteCarlsen, Magnus45.5%52.2%36.4%20.4%31.9%
BlackDonchenko, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.1%

The last of the five co-leaders, and the current favorite we just alluded to, is of course world champion Magnus Carlsen. Magnus started with a strong first round win over Firouzja, but has not been able to break through again scoring three relatively frustrating draws against players rated under 2700. Normally, as the #1 player in the world, cracking lower rated players like that would be his bread and butter. For three rounds though it hasn’t been – but he gets another chance here with white. The good news is he’s a 60% favorite to win this game, and doing so would put his tournament odds back up over 50%. The downside is that another draw places him on the verge of surrendering the status of favorite to Caruana. And a loss, while extraordinarily unlikely, would be a huge hit to his chances – although he’d still have plenty of opportunity to rebound given his strength.

Donchenko is the third player in the field to have played multiple decisive games, but unfortunately for him those were both losses. He was a last minute replacement though, and lost those games in the first two rounds with barely a single day to prepare. He has settled down with two draws since, and now he has the rest day to continue recovering from his start and get some more preparation completed. So while he is alone in last place and has lost the most rating points of anyone in the field so far, he’s probably now back closer to full fighting strength than he was at the beginning. Look for him to make it tough on Carlsen to find that win he seeks.

In Conclusion:

Once again remember that there is a rest day, and the slate of games we discussed above will be played at 14:00 local time on Thursday the 21st. As we’ve seen so far, even four rounds don’t necessarily change the landscape too substantially when an event is as long as this one. One round is less likely to do so, but a few decisive results in the right spots always have the chance to dramatically shake things up. We’re particularly eyeing Carlsen and Caruana’s games, both with white, both with better than 50% win chances. If one breaks through and the other does not, that will have a major impact. Giri v Harikrishna is a major battle for superiority in the second tier of contenders. And Firouzja has a great chance to give us more fireworks with the white pieces to work with. It should be another great day of chess, so make sure to get your own rest on the day off, you’ll want all your energy to follow the twists and turns of these games!