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!

 

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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!