July 2016 Prodigy Update!

After ignoring this blog for six months (with my deepest apologies), I have finally done a new update of my Prodigy Watch and Current Prodigy Watchlist pages. This update is as of the July ratings list (released almost a month ago), not the August list which will come out in the next couple days, so all ages mentioned are as of July 1st 2016, not as of the day of this post. To keep things simple, I did not seek out new names to add to my database, so I may well be omitting some important youngsters who have burst onto the scene so far in 2016. That said, waiting so long to update also carries the upside that for the kids I was already tracking, we have some opportunities to see massive changes!

This is in no way a promise that I will get back in the habit of updating monthly, and I can only offer preemptive apologies for future updates that I will miss. Hopefully though, this update at least makes up for the long wait. Let’s take a look at the big changes!

Starting at the oldest end of the spectrum, not really a “prodigy” anymore but worthy of mention nonetheless, is GM Richard Rapport. The Hungarian gained 13 rating points in May, and 21 more in July, and skyrocketed to 17th place in the world live-rankings at the time of this post. His rating of 2752 is now the 7th highest ever achieved by a player under the age of 21, and it’s now clear that his name belongs in the same discussions as other stars in their early 20s (like Giri, So, or Ding). Rapport is certainly now a threat to break into the top-ten with another strong result, and shouldn’t be ignored as a contender in upcoming Candidates cycles.

Blog favorite GM Wei Yi, of China, of course dropped off at the end of 2015, and languished below a rating of 2700 for most of the span in question, but even though he’s now over 17 years old, and now “only” 2696 ELO (down from his 2737 peak), his prodigy rank is still #3, that is to say only two other players have ever been rated higher at or before the same age. For this to qualify as a low point is as good a measure as any of how impressive he’s been, and strong July results have pushed his live rating back up to 2715 prior to the August rating list. His peak rating of 2737 remains the fifth highest U20 rating of all time, and he only just turned 17, so there’s plenty of time for him to bounce back and chase some more records while he’s still a teenager.

American GM Jeffery Xiong made an impressive surge, gaining rating points six months in a row and climbing to a rating of 2641, still four months prior to his 16th birthday. In our last update six months ago he showed promise, with a prodigy rank of #12. Now that promise appears realized as his prodigy rank has risen to a truly elite #4, with only Wei Yi, Magnus Carlsen, and Sergey Karjakin ever having been rated higher at a younger age. Xiong is now on the cusp of breaking into the world top-100, and is rated so highly relative to his age that when he won the strong US Junior Championships earlier this month he actually lost rating points.

No surge has been more impressive, though, than that of 12 year old FM Jonas Bjerre of Denmark. Six months ago he was rated 2075 at the age of 11.5; certainly nothing to sneeze at (and far better than I will ever be), but not historic. His prodigy rank was #146. Then February happened, and now he has a prodigy rank of #6! Now to be sure, he is a beneficiary of the controversial increase in k-factors. It probably shouldn’t be possible to gain 349 rating points in a month, in three separate tournaments. That said, unlike some other flashes in the pan, there are reasons to think Bjerre might be for real. First of all half of his February gains came in an event where he scored 5/8 against opponents with an average rating over 2400 (ignoring his first round romp). That performance suggests he is in fact capable of playing at the 2400+ level his rating suggests. Additionally he hasn’t sat on the high rating, he’s kept playing. And from March through July he has played 46 rated games, and only “given back” 28 of the rating points he earned in February. Even if he might be just slightly overrated right now, it seems safe to say that the FM title is well deserved and that he’s a strong contender to stick around the top of these rankings as he ages.

Atop the current watchlist are two ten year olds who had prodigy ranks in the teens six months ago, and have now each jumped to #2 for their respective ages! IM R Praggnanandhaa became the youngest IM in chess history by a margin of over a year! At 2429, Praggu is the highest rated U-12 player in the world, and again let us remember that he hasn’t even turned 11 yet. K-factors can’t be blamed for his high rating, as he’s proven his worth in earning those IM norms. Will his next achievement be to break Karjakin’s record and become the youngest GM of all time? He has just over a year and a half to work with if that’s his goal. And whether or not that happens, I can’t wait to see what heights he reaches over the next decade.

Right on Praggu’s heels, about four months younger, is CM Javokhir Sindarov of Uzbekistan. Sindarov holds the record for highest U-10 rating of all time (2299 in October 2015), and for highest U-10.5 rating (2384 in March). His current rating of 2374 is higher (at a younger age) than Praggu was until this month. In other words: despite their young ages the two have been neck and neck with each other for years already, both flirting with (and occasionally setting) records for highest rating at various ages. Will this battle with both each other, and with the record books, continue for years to come?

U11

The only reason Praggnanandhaa and Sindarov have prodigy ranks of #2 (rather than #1) is that green line at the top right of the graph above: FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Also from Uzbekistan, Abdusattorov posted a spectacular gain in April 2015, putting up an absurdly high published rating of 2465 at the age of just 10.54 years. The youngest age at which anyone has exceeded this rating is 12.22 years (Sergey Karjakin, 2489, on his way to becoming the youngest GM of all time – so far). At our last update six months ago Abdusattorov’s rating had dropped to 2430 but he still had a prodigy rank of #1, however he has struggled a little bit since. He has lost rating points in his last four tournaments, and is down to 2375 and a prodigy rank of #7. Still, this remains an elite rating for his age (he is not yet 12), and he’s only underperforming his rating slightly while still consistently scoring points against master (and occasionally even GM) opposition. Don’t count him out for faltering slightly, “formerly the best player in history relative to his age, but now only one of the ten best” is more of a compliment than a criticism.

Another Indian youngster who has improved his position substantially is FM Nihal Sarin. From a prodigy rank of #37 last January, he is now up to #13 as he approaches his 12th birthday. His big gains game in March, spiking his rating over 2350, and he has continued to validate the rating since, adding seven additional rating points in the 36 games he’s played since.

A player who has held steady in the top ten is IM Alireza Firouzja, #6 six months ago and #6 now. Rated 2481, and having just turned 13 in June, Firouzja remains the brightest star (factoring in age) among many promising youngsters in Iran. Feathers in Firouzja’s cap since we last checked in include a national championship and an undefeated 5.5/7 at the Asian Nations Cup (including a draw against Wei Yi) where he clinched the IM title with his first GM norm. It hasn’t been a completely bump free ride though. Firouzja has had two other shots at extra strong competition, playing in the A section at Aeroflot, and then in the Stars Cup, and has fallen a little short in each. Again we emphasize that ups and downs are to be expected for all these kids!

The highest rated teenager in Iran, however, is GM Parham Maghsoodloo. Parham finished a close second to Firouzja in the national championships, and got his revenge in match that will show up in the next rating list with a perfect 3/3 score. All told, through July his rating has climbed to 2501 and his prodigy rank risen from #104 six months ago to #66 now. He also earned the IM title (and his second GM norm) at the Khazar Cup. His strongest result won’t show up until the August ratings list, however. The aforementioned Stars Cup was a tournament that brought 10 strong foreign GMs (average rating 2622) to Iran, to compete against 10 of Iran’s top players; giving the Iranian team a rare opportunity to face top opposition without having to travel. Maghsoodloo stole the show with an undefeated 8/10 score, good for an out of this world 2862 performance rating(!) and clinching the GM title. Once August results are published, Maghsoodloo’s prodigy rank should rise to around the 25-30 range.

It could perhaps go without saying (but we’ll mention it anyway) that the Iranian team at the recent FIDE U-16 Olympiad was seeded first, and won comfortably, led by Firouzja and Maghsoodloo both scoring six wins and three draws.

In honor of chess history, we will close with a Russian prodigy. In May, Ilya Makoveev became the third highest rated player under the age of 10 that we are aware of, at 2249. For a player that young, it’s far too early to say what the future might hold. Is his prodigy rank of #4 a momentary blip for a player we’ll never hear from again? Or is this just the beginning of a long and illustrious career? Only time will tell, and for me that’s precisely the fun of the Prodigy Watch. I hope you enjoyed this update, and will do my best not to wait six months until the next. Thank you for reading!

Tata Steel Round 1 Odds Update

No writeup right now, but here’s the updated odds table after accounting for round one results in the Tata Steel Masters tournament:

Player Rating Win% Avg Finish Odds to Win Outright
Carlsen, Magnus 2842.4 31.9% 3.2 25.9%
Caruana, Fabiano 2791.6 20.2% 4.0 15.6%
So, Wesley 2778.3 16.7% 4.4 12.6%
Ding, Liren 2770.7 12.1% 5.0 8.8%
Giri, Anish 2792.7 5.1% 6.5 3.4%
Karjakin, Sergey 2767.7 4.6% 6.8 3.1%
Navara, David 2735.1 2.3% 7.8 1.4%
Mamedyarov, Shakhryar 2745.5 2.2% 8.0 1.4%
Eljanov, Pavel 2755.4 1.6% 8.4 1.0%
Tomashevsky, Evgeny 2727.7 1.4% 8.7 0.8%
Adams, Michael 2739.3 0.9% 9.3 0.5%
Wei, Yi 2706.3 0.7% 9.7 0.4%
Hou, Yifan 2674.3 0.2% 10.9 0.1%
Van Wely, Loek 2641.5 0.04% 12.2 0.02%
Combined odds of an outright winner: 75.1%

Tata Steel Preview

The first major chess tournament of 2016 begins later today, in the Dutch town of Wijk Aan Zee. Defending champion, and world champion, and holder of far too many other accolades to list here, Magnus Carlsen, headlines the 14 player field in the Masters section. Rounding out the top half of the field are six other players from among the top 13 in the world rankings, and the bottom half of the field is star studded as well, with 16-year-old super-prodigy Wei Yi and the highest rated female player in the world, Hou Yifan, both sure to attract a lot of interest as well.

Perhaps the biggest draw of this event for many fans is the chance to finally see Wei Yi and Magnus Carlsen square off. We have written about the two of them before. Wei Yi has been tracing a career arc that so far looks remarkably similar to that of Carlsen before him, and it makes it very tempting to speculate as to whether Wei Yi has similar hopes of setting rating records and winning world championships like Carlsen went on to do (and continues to do unabated, for now). The two will meet in the third round, and just to make things even more fun, Wei Yi gets the white pieces in his first shot at the champ.

We’ll talk more about this game later, but as it’s only one of 91 games that will be played in the tournament, let’s first take a look at the larger picture. We ran our usual model of the event, using each player’s live ratings to set odds of a win, a draw, or a loss in each game, then simulating the event a very large number of times to predict each player’s odds of winning. Carlsen is of course the favorite:

Player Rating Win% Avg Finish
Carlsen, Magnus 2844.0 38.1% 3.0
Giri, Anish 2798.0 13.7% 5.0
Caruana, Fabiano 2787.0 11.7% 5.3
So, Wesley 2773.0 8.4% 6.0
Ding, Liren 2766.0 6.7% 6.4
Karjakin, Sergey 2769.0 4.9% 6.8
Eljanov, Pavel 2760.0 4.7% 7.1
Mamedyarov, Shakhryar 2747.0 3.7% 7.4
Adams, Michael 2744.0 2.9% 7.9
Navara, David 2733.5 2.4% 8.2
Tomashevsky, Evgeny 2728.0 1.6% 8.8
Wei, Yi 2706.0 0.9% 9.7
Hou, Yifan 2673.0 0.2% 11.0
Van Wely, Loek 2640.0 0.0% 12.5

In the case of ties, we gave each player tied for first place equal chances of winning a hypothetical tie-break. The average finish number is also adjusted for ties, so if three players finish tied for 3rd-5th places, all three are considered to have finished 4th in that case. And in case you’re wondering about the local hero, 14th seed Loek Van Wely, it’s unlikely but not impossible for him to win, his odds with an additional significant figure are 0.04%

A few points strike us as particularly interesting in the above table. First is that Carlsen is of course far more likely to win than any other individual participant, but is still an underdog against the field. More likely than not, we will see a new champion this year. Second, Ding Liren’s projections are better than the higher rated Sergey Karjakin because of the pairings. With an odd number of rounds, half the field must benefit from an extra game with the white pieces (Ding is one of them), while half the field must instead play an extra game as black (Karjakin is one of these). It is interesting to see that the extra game as white is more valuable than three rating points – but not as valuable as 11 points, since Giri with seven games as black is still favored over Caruana with seven games as white.

This brings up an interesting aside. When first setting up the model, we made a typo and accidentally gave Caruana and Hou Yifan 14 games, at the expense of Wesley So and Wei Yi. It quickly became clear that something was wrong, because Caruana was showing a 23% chance to win, and Giri only 12%, which couldn’t possibly be right. The reason this error warrants a mention is that in that scenario, Carlsen still won 34% of the time. In other words Carlsen is a big enough favorite, that he could allow one of his top competitors, the #3 seed, play an entire extra game and count the results towards the final standings, and Magnus would STILL be the favorite. He’s pretty good, is what we’re saying.

Also interesting is that even the big underdogs still have a chance to contend for top spots. Each of them is pretty unlikely individually to get there, but when even the #12 seed is expected to win once every 110 times, we can count on some good underdog stories as the event progresses. We might not see any of the lower rated players win in the end, but one or more of them will probably at least contend until relatively late. This tournament really is wide open.

So what about that big showdown in round three that I promised I’d talk more about? A month ago it might have looked even more exciting, as Carlsen was at a ratings nadir of “only” 2834, and “suffering” through a 2015 that qualified as disappointing (if only because the standards for Magnus are so insanely high). Meanwhile Wei Yi was rated 2730, and looked more likely to rise than to fall. However fortunes shifted in December, as Carlsen rebounded nicely with tournament wins in London (winning the Grand Chess Tour in the progress) and in Qatar, regaining some of his lost rating points, while Wei Yi struggled badly and saw his rating drop all the way to 2706. If those December results are predictive of the form they will show in this event, then perhaps this long awaited showdown will be a one-sided affair in the world champion’s favor. Fortunately, we are skeptics of “form” here, and aren’t particularly pessimistic about Wei Yi’s long term chances. A bad month is something that every chess player will have now and then, but the greater trends of Wei’s career still make us think that he was more likely to be underrated than overrated at 2730 – and now at 2706 he’s almost certainly underrated.

Using their current ratings, our model’s prediction for their game is as follows: 50% chance of a draw, with Wei winning 11% of the time, and Carlsen winning 39%. Of course Carlsen remains the favorite, even with black, as the white pieces are worth far less than the 138 rating points that currently separate the two players. That prediction will shift with the results of the first two rounds, as we always use live ratings in our models, but it’s where we stand for now. Certainly it’s the most intriguing single game on the schedule, but now that we’ve devoted three paragraphs to it, let’s pause and restrain ourselves just a little. It’s important to remember that in the end it’s just one chess game, and it will not actually prove anything.

If Wei Yi wins, there will certainly be articles everywhere about how amazing of a feat it was. We might even write one ourselves. It will not, however, create any guarantee that Wei Yi is a future world champion. That will take years of further progress, not a single win here. And on the flip side, if Carlsen blows the youngster off the board, no matter how crushing or dominant the win may seem, it won’t in any way prove that Wei Yi is fraudulent, or any other term you may see bandied about. Wei Yi could absolutely lose this game (and lose it badly) and still break 2800 within a couple years, and still someday win a world championship. When it comes to statistical analysis, sample size is always critical, and one game is just an atrocious sample size from which to try to draw a meaningful prediction.

So how did Wei Yi qualify to play in this tournament? He won the Challengers section here last year. That’s right, there’s more! In addition to the main event, there’s a whole entire second tournament, with 14 more players!

Because of limited time, we haven’t gotten our model up and running for the second section yet (look for odds sometime this weekend), but nevertheless we would be remiss not to remind you to keep an eye on the “other” games in the lower section. With an invitation to next year’s Masters section up for grabs, there’s reason to expect some strong fighting chess in this field. German veteran Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu is the ratings favorite. American 15-year-old Samuel Sevian carries the “prodigy” torch as the #7 seed (Sevian has a “prodigy rank” of #10, meaning he is the 10th highest rated player of all time, at or before his current age). Other promising youngsters in the field include Dutch 16-year-old Jordan Van Foreest (prodigy rank #55) and Russian 18-year-old Mikhail Antipov (prodigy rank #93).

The games begin in just 5 1/2 hours. Hopefully we’ve given you a few ideas about some of the possible ways things could play out. Soon we’ll begin to see how it goes in actuality. Let the games begin!

London Chess Classic: Rest Day Recap

The London Chess Classic, the third and final event of the Grand Chess Tour, is now over halfway completed as we enter tomorrow’s day of rest. Just four more rounds of play remain before a champion is crowned, and we still have very little indication who that will ultimately be. Before we look at the current state of affairs, let’s look back at how we got here.

The inaugural Grand Chess Tour is a series of three major chess tournaments, bringing nine of the best players in the world (plus one additional wild card participant in each event) together three separate times through the year. In each tournament, players accumulate points based on their placement in the final standings, and in the end the Grand Chess Tour champion is the player who accumulates the most combined points.

We began in Norway where world champion Magnus Carlsen, the highest rated player in the world, had an opportunity to harness home-nation advantage in the first leg of the tour. Our statistical model saw Carlsen as the prohibitive favorite to ultimately win the tour; while he had less than a 50% chance of winning any given tournament, his huge rating advantage suggested that it was extremely unlikely for him to ever finish too far behind first place, and figured that he should consistently earn high point totals in all three events, and that this would likely carry him to first place in the ultimate tour standings. Before the first games were played, our model gave him an estimated 68% chance of winning the tour, with just a 32% chance that one of the other eight contenders could outpace him.

That changed faster than we could have imagined. Carlsen lost his first game against Veselin Topalov. Then lost again in round two to Fabiano Caruana. After finally holding at least a draw in the third round, Carlsen was defeated yet again in his fourth game by Viswanathan Anand! The disastrous start plunged Carlsen’s odds of ultimate tour victory to under 17%, while Topalov (with three wins and a draw to that point) emerged as the new favorite at 30%.

Topalov did indeed maintain his momentum and emerge as the clear victor at Norway Chess. Anand finished in second place. With the first of three legs completed, here were how the standings looked (excluding wild card Jon Ludvig Hammer, who finished in last place and earned the minimum 1 point), and how our model projected each player’s updated odds at that point, based on their results so far and using their updated ratings to project the remaining events:

AfterNorway

Carlsen’s shocking seventh place finish didn’t eliminate him from ultimate contention, as his (not quite as) high rating still suggested he had the potential to come back. However the world champion had a lot of work to do if he wanted to make that happen, and he was definitely no longer the front runner going into leg two of the tour: the Sinquefield Cup.

He didn’t have to wait for his opportunity, as Carlsen had the white pieces in the first round against new favorite Topalov, and a chance to avenge his first round loss from the prior event. However fate took a different twist, and Topalov defeated the world’s top player once again! With that, our model calculated that Topalov’s odds of eventually winning the entire tour had skyrocketed to over 80% while Carlsen’s chances were whittled down to just over 5%.

By round four, Topalov’s odds had risen to almost 82%, as he led the event with 3 points out of 4. However his stranglehold on first place faded when he lost his next two games. Three draws to close things out, along with poor tiebreaks, left him in 7th place this time around (the same fate that Carlsen had suffered in Norway) while Levon Aronian (who had finished ninth in Norway) emerged as the victor. Carlsen rebounded to finish second, while Hikaru Nakamura finished in third place for the second consecutive event. When all the points were counted, Topalov was still in first place overall, but by the slimmest of margins over second place Nakamura, and the standings were drastically bunched – meaning the final leg could easily prove to be winner take all.

Carlsen’s elite rating and strong recovery over the second half of the Sinquefield Cup was enough to overcome his gap in the standings, and he was once again the slight favorite to win the tour in the end, but Topalov and Nakamura were right there in contention, and several others were far from eliminated. This is where we stood the last time we published an article on the Grand Chess Tour three months ago:

PostSinquefield

In order to illustrate how volatile the standings and projections were over the course of these first two events, let us look at each player’s lowest point. The favorite here was Magnus Carlsen, but after his round one loss at the Sinquefield Cup, his odds had been just 3.4% according to our model. The second most likely victor at this point was Topalov, but when the tour first began our model gave him just a 4.4% chance to win it all. Third most likely to win the tour was Nakamura, to whom our model gave a mere 4.7% chance after the fourth round was completed in St. Louis. And these three’s nadirs weren’t even as bad as the rest of the field! Each of the other six players had seen their odds dip under 2.5% at some point during one of the first two events.

Essentially every player had, at one point, looked to have less than a one in twenty chance of winning the tour. Of course there still had to be a winner, so someone was guaranteed to overcome incredibly steep odds – we just didn’t yet know who!

In the intervening months several major tournaments took place, and everyone in the field had numerous opportunities to play chess. Ratings fluctuated, and the odds shifted with them. By the time lots were drawn and our model was updated to include the actual pairings of the London Chess Classic, Topalov’s rating had climbed and Carlsen’s had fallen, so the favorite changed without a Grand Chess Tour game even being played. Here were each player’s odds entering the third and final leg of the tour:

PreLondon

And so finally we reached the tournament that is now in progress, the London Chess Classic!

London Rounds 1-3:

While four of the games in this round ended in draws, the one decisive result carried major importance. Topalov quickly shed his role as favorite by losing his first game (and with the white pieces no less) to Anish Giri. This made Carlsen the new favorite at 26%, with Nakamura, Giri, Aronian, and Topalov all still in the mix with chances in the double digit range.

In the second round little changed as all five games were drawn, and in the third round there was once again just a single decisive game. It was again big, though, as Topalov continued to make it clear that his former 80% chances were to be in vain, losing once again to someone near the bottom of the tour standings – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave this time!

At this point Carlsen was still the favorite, but at only 24%. More to the point, the field was absolutely wide open with just six games left. Here is how the odds shook out at that point:

LondonRd3

London Round 4:

With so many players in the mix at the top, and 13 of the first 15 games being drawn, clearly someone in the upper group was going to need a win to establish themselves as a front runner. In the fourth round there was just one decisive game, but it did indeed serve that purpose: Hikaru Nakamura defeated Viswanathan Anand.

The victory catapulted Nakamura to a 41% chance of winning the tour, but while we once again had a leader with significantly better chances than any individual rival (Carlsen had just a 16% chance as the second most likely champion), nevertheless he remained an underdog to “the field”. Nakamura was the latest leader, but that position had thus far proven to be  a revolving door. Did we finally have someone who would hold onto the spot? It was clear that he would probably need at least one more win to actually achieve victory – the model at this point gave him only a 34% chance of winning the tour if he drew his five remaining games. Sure, that was enough to be the favorite, but not convincingly. Not knowing who would pass him doesn’t change that all draws left him a 2-1 underdog.

Ignoring that speculation, here is where our model said the odds stood at that point:

LondonRd4

London Round 5:

And so finally we come to today’s action. Again, four games out of five were drawn. And again, the one player to lose his game was the former prohibitive favorite Topalov. This time he lost to Anand (who bounced back from his round 4 loss). With that, Topalov’s odds of winning the tour are about one in 450. Extremely low, but with all the twists and turns we’ve seen so far perhaps not so low as to give up entirely.

Nakamura remains the player with the best odds, but still an underdog to the combined field. He still probably needs at least one more win to feel comfortable remaining favored. Should he falter there is no shortage of players who might potentially replace him at the top. With just four rounds of chess left to play, here is where we stand:

LondonRd5

To help visualize how much the odds have fluctuated from game to game, through the first two and a half tournaments, here is a graph of each player’s round by round win probabilities:

GraphToDate

What plot twists remain in store? Will Nakamura win again and cruise to victory? Or will someone else surpass him in the end? We can spend tomorrow’s rest day speculating on just that before the action resumes on Thursday. And by the end of this coming weekend, we will have our answers. It sure does look to be an exciting four days of chess, with no shortage of intrigue!

 

Prodigies in Action Alert: World Youth Championships

The 2015 World Youth and Cadets Chess Championships began today in Greece. Many of our highly ranked prodigies that we follow closely are participating, particularly in the younger sections.

In the U18 section the top two seeds have Prodigy Ranks of #105 and #127, meaning their ratings are just outside the top 100 of all time, for their ages.

Atop the U16 section is IM Francesco Rambaldi, with a prodigy rank of #49. Also competing are #83 Luca Moroni and #85 Adham Fawzy.

The U14 section features top seed M. Amin Tabatabaei, with his prodigy rank of #32, along with #31 Viktor Gazik (lower rated but also younger, and thus slightly higher rated as a prodigy), #49 Andrey Esipenko, #52 Thai Dai Van Nguyen, #79 Nicolas Checa, and #86 Aryan Gholami.

The U12 section has super prodigies #1 Nodirbek Abdusattorov (the highest rated player of all time for his age), #2 Vincent Keymer, #13 Alireza Firouzja, and #18 Awonder Liang all competing for the same prize.

The U10 section has Javokhir Sindarov, who also holds a #1 prodigy rank relative to his age. Also competing in this section are #29 R Praggnanandhaa, and #40 Isik Can. 11 players in this section (again, a section of players under the age of ten) are rated 2000 or above!

I compiled the above list quickly, so it’s not necessarily comprehensive. There may be other elite youngsters also in the field, with top-100 or even top-50 prodigy ranks that I didn’t notice and mention. If you enjoy tracking prodigies in real time, this is a can’t miss event. Games are being streamed live at all the normal locations (chess24, chessbomb, chessdom, etcetera). The tournament is 11 rounds with Swiss pairings, so as results come in over the next two weeks we’ll definitely keep an eye on who the leaders of each section are, which top prodigies are gaining or losing the most rating points, and what lower rated players are adding their names to the mix.

Prodigy Watch: October Update

The October FIDE rating list has been published and we have updated our Current Prodigy Watchlist to reflect the changes. We also want to take a brief bit of time to highlight a couple of youngsters whose performance this month we found to be particularly interesting or noteworthy.

Jovokhir Sindarov: This youngster from Uzbekistan is no stranger to our list, having already been ranked #3 for his age last month, but he made quite the splash in Abu Dhabi and has now jumped into the clear number one spot! His new rating of 2299 is the highest rating ever achieved by a player who has not yet turned 10 years old. In fact even if he fails to make any additional progress over the next year, he’ll still deserve mention as his current rating is the fifth highest ever achieved by a player younger than 11! We like when we can track prodigies running a year ahead of the curve, they have the potential to set spectacular records.

It’s worth mentioning that 2299 is a rather fortuitous rating for him to have ended up with, as it falls just one point under the threshold for a reduction in k-factor. And for those who are skeptical of prodigies these days because of that k-factor issue, it’s also worth mentioning that Sindarov’s rating seems quite reasonable based on his results. His performance rating in that most recent event was 2377, and included two wins over players rated 2300+ (which were not the first of his career), so it’s not a stretch to believe that he might still be underrated even at 2299. If nothing else, the rating is probably legitimate, and if anything Sindarov could be the poster child for the arguments in favor of the high k-factor. It would be a shame for his future opponents if, because of a lower k-factor, they only got credit for losing to a 2200 instead of a 2300 when he beats them.

It might be dangerous to get too excited about a 9 year old Candidate Master, as there is a tremendous amount left to do before Sindarov warrants credit beyond the scope of prodigy status. We’re not promising that we have a future world champion here, or even guaranteeing that he’s a future Grandmaster, but the future seems awfully bright in Uzbekistan (particularly with Nodirbek Abdusattorov also maintaining his own #1 prodigy rank.)

Wei Yi: There was no actual rating change here from last month, but we have to take a moment to admire Wei Yi’s performance at the World Cup this month. He made it all the way to the quarterfinals (top eight) before finally falling in tie breaks to Peter Svidler. Simply a remarkable achievement for a 16 year old.

Alireza Firouzja: Since we first profiled this youngster, he has seemed to be in a slight plateau, but finally this month he broke out with a new personal high rating of 2364, and his prodigy rank climbed back up to #13. He saw two events rated in this period, gaining 19 rating points in the same Abu Dhabi event, and 22 more in the Iranian Super League. His results for the month included two wins over 2400+ rated opponents, so again the rating gains seem perfectly legitimate here.

Alex Krstulovic: While not (yet?) soaring at the heights of some of the others on this list, this Hungarian youngster did move 99 spots up our list to crack our top 50 for the first time. The rating gain of 131 is the highest this month by anyone we were already tracking, which we feel warrants mention.

World Cup Recap: Semifinals, Game 1

Peter Svidler made a huge move today, turning the black pieces into a win against Anish Giri, and took over as a substantial favorite to reach the finals. He needs just a draw tomorrow, with the first move advantage to boot, and he would earn a berth not only in the World Cup finals, but also in the 2016 Candidates Tournament. In our other matchup nothing quite so decisive occurred, but the slight ratings favorite (Sergey Karjakin) did draw with the black pieces, improving his odds a little further at Pavel Eljanov’s expense.

Here are each of the four players’ updated odds of reaching the finals, how much those odds improved or dropped on today’s results, and their odds of winning the overall tournament. Note that unlike previous rounds, each player’s gains directly matched their opponent’s drop, as things are now fully one-on-one for those two spots:

Seed Player Rating New Odds of Reaching Finals Change Odds of Winning
16  Peter Svidler (RUS) 2739.5 87.1% 57.4% 37.5%
11  Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2764.0 59.4% 4.3% 33.5%
26  Pavel Eljanov (UKR) 2752.0 40.6% -4.3% 21.1%
4  Anish Giri (NED) 2789.8 12.9% -57.4% 7.9%

Giri’s loss, and massive drop in odds, of course does not hurt him too badly in the long run. He is still almost guaranteed to reach the Candidates Tournament on the strength of his rating, barring an absolutely catastrophic collapse over the next two months. He would have to lose at least 50 net rating points relative to Kramnik (or 53 relative to Grischuk) to actually fall out of second place on the average ratings list. It’s not technically impossible, but it’s definitely not likely. So the players most hurt by Giri’s loss today are actually Kramnik and Grischuk, who now have an 87.1% chance of being left just battling for the relative meaningless third spot in the average ratings list, rather than the much more important second spot. Both are now huge underdogs to reach the Candidates Tournament.

We do give Giri roughly a 20% chance of winning tomorrow’s game to add intrigue back to that matchup, and everything is on the line in the other match, which is currently tied. What will happen in the second classical game of the semifinals? Will we see zero, one, or two tie break matches in this round? Stay tuned, and we’ll find out tomorrow.

World Cup Recap: Day 15 (Conclusion of quarterfinals)

We finally get a rest day, so let’s start with a deep breath. After 15 days of frantic chess action, a starting field of 128 players from around the world has finally been whittled down to the Final Four. In tie break action the last two players eliminated before the break were Wei Yi and Shakhriyar Mamdyarov. The former, a superprodigy at just 16 years old, had been owning the headlines with his remarkable deep run, but finally it came to an end at the hands of Peter Svidler. The latter, from the host country of Azerbaijan, was also a pleasant story to follow as he carried the flag for local fans, but his run too came to an end with his loss to Sergay Karjakin.

By finalizing who their opponents would be, these two matches also of course had small impacts on Anish Giri and Pavel Eljanov (the players that had already punched their own tickets to the semifinal round the day before). Here are the new odds of reaching the finals for all six players, and how those odds changed based on the tie break results:

Seed Player Rating New Odds of Reaching Finals Change
11  Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2764.6 55.1% 24.2%
16  Peter Svidler (RUS) 2733.6 29.7% 15.1%
4  Anish Giri (NED) 2795.7 70.3% 0.4%
26  Pavel Eljanov (UKR) 2751.4 44.9% -3.2%
24  Wei Yi (CHN) 2737.0 0.0% -15.5%
19  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2745.0 0.0% -21.0%

With just four players left, there are only two matches for us to discuss. These are arguably the two most important matches of the entire tournament, however, as the winners of these semifinals will each earn a place in next year’s Candidates Tournament, arguably a bigger prize than can be won in the finals where “only” the title of World Cup Champion is at stake. So let’s take a close look at those two matches:

Anish Giri vs. Peter Svidler

Giri is the top remaining seed, and highest rated player left in the field. Our model of course sees him, therefore, as a strong favorite in this match (70% to win), and the most likely eventual tournament winner (44%). He is also the player with the least to lose, as that strong rating of his will almost certainly earn him a spot in the Candidates Tournament even if he doesn’t advance here. How did his path to this point look?

Giri has perhaps been a little bit underwhelming in the classical games, settling for more draws than his rating would indicate and dropping 2.4 rating points in the process. However this solid approach has worked well, as he has not lost a classical game either. Three times he has won one of two classical games, drawn the other, and advanced without tie breaks. The other two times he drew both classical games, then proceeded to win the first set of tie breaks 2-0. Despite having been made fun of by none less than Magnus Carlsen for his drawish tendencies, they have provided him a remarkably comfortable path to the semifinals with very little danger of elimination at any point so far in the process.

Svidler, on the other hand, comes into this round as an underdog (30% to win the match, and just 12% to win the whole tournament). He got here after a tense back and forth tie break with Wei Yi. Svidler has in fact been more solid even than Giri, with just two wins and eight draws (but no losses) in the classical games so far. Of course one of the wins was against Veselin Topalov, and Svidler entered the event rated much lower, so this performance has been enough to impress the Elo system and add 6.6 points to Svidler’s rating.

Svidler also has not lost a rapid game, but hasn’t been as convincing as Giri in tie break matches. He won his first two tie break matches in the first pair of games with one win and one draw, but got severely tested by Wei Yi drawing both G/25 games and the first G/10 game, before he finally broke through to win and advance in the fourth rapid game.

We have two players who have faced relatively little adversity, and have drawn many of their classical games. Svidler has the experience edge, having won the 2011 World Cup when his opponent was just 17 years old. However Giri is now all grown up and the strong favorite by rating. We estimate that Giri is a 70% favorite to win, and will begin to find out the reality of the match tomorrow.

Sergey Karjakin vs. Pavel Eljanov

This match is much closer by rating. Karjakin has the edge, but our model (which does not look any further than current live ratings in its prognostications) says he is a 55% favorite (with a 25% chance to win the event). Not too far from a coin flip. Karjakin was seeded #11, and is the second highest seed to reach this stage. He survived adversity in round two, losing his first game to Onischuk, but bounced back to force tie breaks, which he won. Overall Karjakin has four wins, but also the one loss, in his classical games, for a net rating gain of 2.6 points, showing less drawish of a nature than our two players on the other side of the bracket, however it has still left him in tie breaks three times so far.

Against Onischuk, he drew both G/25 rapid contests, before winning 2-0 in the G/10 portion. Against Andreikin he won the first G/25 game and held with black to end the tie break match there. Against Mamedyarov he again drew both G/25 games, but then both G/10 games. So his classical loss to Onischuk is his only defeat so far in the tournament, but he has been tested a fair bit.

Eljanov, meanwhile, is the underdog story. Seeded 26th, and entering the tournament rated just 2717, he opened up on an absolute tear winning his first six classical games! While he settled down to draw twice with Jakovenko, he was back to his winning ways against Nakamura taking home the classical match with a win in the first game, and a comfortable draw in the second. This insane +7 score in classical games has meant Eljanov’s rating has risen an astounding 34.4 points, bringing him up to #14 in the live ratings, a gain of 18 spots on the rating chart! It has also meant he has only played one tie break match, giving us less of an idea of what to expect from him in that phase. Against Jakovenko he drew the first three rapid games, before winning the fourth.

We’ve discussed before that we are highly skeptical of the idea of “form”, believing instead that most results that are better or worse than expectations are simply the expression of random variance. However if “good form” is in fact a thing, Eljanov has it right now. The model does give him some credit, in that it uses his massively improved live rating to estimate his chances, rather than judging him on his much lower rating from before the tournament began, but his 45% chance to reach the finals (and 18% chance to win the whole thing) are still based on his current live rating of 2751. He certainly looks to be playing at beyond that level so far, and if that continues then Karjakin may be in far more trouble than the model gives him credit for.

It is worth mentioning that Eljanov isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere. Rather, he’s coming back. Five years ago he was rated 2761 and ranked sixth in the world, so he’s been here before, just not recently.

Tomorrow games will begin again after this brief respite, and we will see if anyone jumps out to a 1-0 lead with a decisive victory in the first classical game. Until then, let’s consider one other question: what merit do our predictions actually have? Many readers may be wondering how accurate our predictions actually are. Well, we’ve provided odds for 124 matches so far in this event that we now know the results of. Let’s divide those up into groups, by the odds we gave the favorite, and see how we’ve done:

Odds Range Matches Favorite Win%
90-100% 21 95%
80-89% 22 91%
70-79% 31 71%
60-69% 23 65%
50-59% 27 59%

Overall our model seems to have done a pretty good job, considering nothing but live ratings. Players in the 80-89% range have won a little more often than expected, and players in the 70-79% range a little less, but one or two matches going differently would true up those numbers, and these sample sizes are small.

Of course it’s always possible to cherry pick cutoff points to imply differently. Statistics don’t lie, but they can be manipulated and selectively presented in ways that will cause people to draw bad conclusions. If you wanted to make the case that our model has underrated strong favorites, you could set a cutoff point at exactly 80.4%. Players given an 80.4% chance, or better, of winning did in fact win 39 matches in this event, with just one loss. That’s a 97.5% edge, when we’d expect a mere 90% edge or so. There should have been four upsets in that range and there was only one!

However five players rated as between a 79.4% and 80.4% favorite, just below the cutoff point, and three of those five lost. Cherry picking data can be fun, but doesn’t help if you want the truth. Overall, if our odds on the 124 matches so far have been accurate, we should have expected an average of 92 favorites to win with 32 underdogs advancing. In actuality, players we’ve deemed to be favorites have won 93 matches and lost 31. Seems like our predictions have been pretty valid to us.

World Cup Recap: Day 14 (Quarterfinals, second classical game)

And then there were six.

Hikaru Nakamura could manage no more than a draw today, when he needed a win to stay alive. Consequently the #2 seed heads home, and Pavel Eljanov heads into the semifinals. Meanwhile Anish Giri overcame his drawish reputation and scored his own victory, the only decisive game of the day, sending Maxime Vachier-Lagrave packing. Giri is now the only top-ten seed left in the competition, and has taken over as the favorite to win it all.

Two other matches were drawn, as they were yesterday, and will be settled tomorrow with tie breaks. That means Peter Svidler and Wei Yi will battle for the right to face Giri, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergay Karjakin will face off to see who must contend with Eljanov. The two players who got the results they needed today to avoid tie breaks are of course the biggest winners of the day, while the two eliminated players saw the biggest drops in their odds of reaching the finals:

Seed Player Rating New Odds of Reaching Finals Change
4  Anish Giri (NED) 2795.7 69.9% 27.1%
26  Pavel Eljanov (UKR) 2751.4 48.1% 13.6%
19  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2745.0 21.0% 4.5%
16  Peter Svidler (RUS) 2733.6 14.6% 0.1%
11  Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2764.6 30.9% 0.0%
24  Wei Yi (CHN) 2737.0 15.5% -3.9%
2  Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2806.0 0.0% -18.1%
21  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 2764.4 0.0% -23.3%

Note that Giri is one of two players who entered today playing somewhat by proxy for others who had already been eliminate. He is nearly guaranteed a spot in the Candidates Tournament regardless of his remaining results, thanks to his strong rating over the course of the year, but this win brings us up to nearly a 70% chance now that he will earn his berth via the World Cup, opening a ratings vacancy for either Kramnik or Grischuk. If Giri does end up in the finals, then every classical game played by those two later this year (particularly at the European Club Cup) will be of the utmost importance as they are separated by the slimmest of margins in the rating calculations. The other proxy player was Nakamura, who could have carried Jakovenko into the Candidates Tournament by reaching the finals here. Unfortunately for Dmitry and his fans, the Russian’s chances fell to zero with Hikaru’s elimination.

The grueling schedule continues tomorrow with the 15th straight day of action, as two crucial tie break matches are played. Afterward an actual scheduled rest day finally shows up in the tournament calendar, so those players who advanced today actually get to enjoy two days off to recuperate, and to prepare for the next round.

World Cup Recap: Day 13 (Quarterfinals, first classical game)

Today saw three draws, two big losers, and one big winner. First, let’s discuss Pavel Eljanov. The 32 year old Ukrainian is the lowest seeded player left in the competition, and entered the event rated just 2717. Not exactly patzer material, but not a rating you expect to see in serious contention at a tournament like this either. Then he breezed through the first three rounds winning every single classical game, and earning a rest every third day like clockwork. The third opponent whom he dispatched so unceremoniously was Grischuk, who entered the event ranked among the top ten players in the world, but could put up no resistance against Eljanov. In the fourth round it looked like perhaps Pavel had hit a stumbling block against Jakovenko, when he merely drew his first two games, but a comfortable 1.5/2 win in the first round of tie break games move Eljanov along to the quarterfinals. And that brought us to today, when he returned to his winning ways with an upset win over Hikaru Nakamura!

The thing is, at this point it’s hard to even call the win an upset. Eljanov is now rated 2750 in the 2700chess.com live ratings, making him the 15th best player in the world and now just 57 points the inferior of Nakamura, the top remaining seed and current #2 player in the world. Add in the advantage of having the white pieces, and in retrospect today’s matchup was pretty close to equal according to Elo, not the shocking upset it seemed to be. With today’s win, Eljanov is now the favorite to win his half of the bracket, advance to the World Cup finals, and earn a spot in next year’s Candidates Tournament. Certainly Eljanov is today’s big winner.

The obvious big loser, of course, is Eljanov’s victim: Nakamura. Now the American faces a must-win game tomorrow, where our model gives him a 41% chance of winning to force tie breaks, but a 59% chance of being eliminated for good. Overall, by virtue of his gaudy rating, our model still rates Nakamura as having a decent 18% chance of reaching the finals, but that looks far more disappointing when we remember he was sitting at 50% to reach the finals yesterday. However we said in the intro that there were two big losers today. The thing about Nakamura is that while he would undoubtedly be disappointed to lose here, it only costs him a chance to win the World Cup. He doesn’t need to reach the finals for the sake of his World Championship aspirations, as he already clinched a berth in the Candidates Tournament with his second place finish in the Grand Prix earlier this year. There is another player who perhaps has more investment in Nakamura’s results than Nakamura himself: Dmitry Jakovenko.

Jakovenko finished third at the aforementioned Grand Prix, which sufficed merely to make him the first alternate for the Candidates. However the World Cup takes precedence as a qualifying method, so if one of the players ahead of him (Nakamura) were to reach the World Cup final, then Jakovenko would become a Candidate via the Grand Prix standings. Of course before he was eliminated, Jakovenko also had another path to the Candidates Tournament: simply reach the World Cup finals himself. Two days ago, before his tie break round with Eljanov began, we rated Jakovenko’s chances of reaching the Candidates Tournament at almost 58%, a 6.4% chance for himself, and a 51.4% chance for Nakamura on his behalf. Now, two days later, and entirely at the hands of Eljanov, those hopes have been cut down to a mere 18%. It hasn’t been a great two days for Dmitry.

The other three games today were drawn, which ultimately benefits black slightly, but has relatively little impact on the predicted results in comparison to the one decisive result. Overall here are how everyone’s odds of reaching the finals changed today, along with their updated chances:

Seed Player Rating Odds of Reaching Finals Change
26  Pavel Eljanov (UKR) 2750.1 34.5% 21.8%
11  Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2765.0 30.9% 7.8%
4  Anish Giri (NED) 2791.4 42.7% 2.3%
19  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2744.6 16.5% 2.1%
24  Wei Yi (CHN) 2737.1 19.5% 1.7%
16  Peter Svidler (RUS) 2733.5 14.5% -1.7%
21  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 2768.7 23.3% -2.2%
2  Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2807.3 18.1% -31.8%

Note that Karjakin is the second biggest beneficiary of Eljanov’s success today, as he’s favored to reach the semifinals, where his opponent is now more likely to be Eljanov and less likely to be Nakamura. Our model still rates Eljanov as the easier opponent (though you certainly wouldn’t know it from his play so far in this tournament), and so sees the result as helpful to Karjakin’s chances as well. If we do end up seeing a matchup of Karjakin versus Eljanov (which should occur about 45% of the time), then we’ll find out if the model was right to consider it a blessing for Karjakin, or whether it proves instead to be a curse.

Tomorrow brings us another potential elimination day, where in three matches any decisive result sends someone home, and in the fourth match anything but a comeback win will end the tournament of yesterday’s favorite to win it all. However it all shakes out, there should be no shortage of drama!