Khanty-Mansiysk Preview (FIDE Grand Prix, FINAL LEG)

The pairings have been drawn for the fourth and final event in the 2014-2015 FIDE Grand Prix. Games begin in just over 6 hours! Here is our look at the event, to whet your appetite.

First and foremost, this event is critical because it will determine the final Grand Prix standings, which in turn will determine two of the eight candidates for the 2016 World Chess Championship match against defending champion Magnus Carlsen. The top two players in the Grand Prix standings will join six others in a Candidates Tournament in early 2016, with the winner of that event slated to take on Magnus later in the year. Without the relevance to the World Championship, it’s unlikely this event would be of quite so much global interest as it is – although it’s also certainly a wonderful showcase of 12 fantastic chess players in its own right.

Worth mentioning is that third (and possibly even fourth) place in the final Grand Prix standings could also matter. The official rules for the Candidates Tournament say that the first qualifier is the loser of the 2014 match (Viswanathan Anand), and the second and third qualifiers are the top two finishers in the 2015 World Cup, which will be held later this year. The top two Grand Prix finishers *not already qualified* earn spots four and five. It’s relatively unlikely that one player will finish top-two in both events, but it’s not impossible that someone like Fabiano Caruana might do so, and in that case the third place Grand Prix finisher would earn a spot as well. Furthermore, if any player who qualifies for the Candidates Tournament is unable to participate, or chooses to withdraw, then the first alternate candidate is the third place finisher from the Grand Prix.

How do the standings work? Each of 16 players competes in three of four tournaments. They earn Grand Prix points based on their finish in each event, ranging from 170 points for a clear first place (not tied with anyone) down to 10 points for a sole last place finish. Each player totals their points from the three events, and the player with the most total points wins the Grand Prix! Of course most audience members aren’t concerned with just the winner, we’re also watching closely to see who finishes second.

So what will happen? We can’t know of course, that’s the fun of watching. However we have designed a model to predict the results. Using each player’s current live rating from 2700chess.com we can estimate odds of a white win, a black win, or a draw for every game that will be played. We then simulate the event 20,000 times, tally up each player’s finish (and the resulting final Grand Prix standings) after each simulation, and tabulate the results for your reading pleasure!

So enough with the prelude, who are our combatants?

The Favorites

  • Evgeny Tomashevsky – 2749 – currently ranked #15 in the world. Tomashevsky leads the Grand Prix standings with 252 points, driven by an absolutely stellar performance in the third leg held in Tbilisi in February. He entered that event as an underdog, rated just 2716, and given just a 2% chance of finishing in the top two of the final standings by our model. However he crushed that field, winning five games and drawing the rest, winning clear first by a huge margin of a point and a half, and earning 170 GP points (and 29 rating points) for his efforts. The performance was so remarkable and unexpected that it prompted us to take a deeper look at whether we should have seen it coming. Now our model gives him a much more impressive 51.8% chance of holding his lead and earning one of the coveted candidates berths. His job is not yet complete though. Even with his rating improved to 2749 our model still views Tomashevsky as more likely to finish in the middle of the pack than on top, projecting him to earn an average of 65 GP points from this final leg and giving him only a 3% chance of winning this event outright like he did the last one. He’s bucked such odds in the past, but two highly rated challengers are nipping at his heels, ready to soar past him if he should stumble this time around. One extra challenge in holding his spot: he has to play six games as black and only five as white.
  • Fabiano Caruana – 2803 – currently ranked #3 in the world. Caruana is second in the current standings (ignoring players who already completed their three events and are completely eliminated from contention for the top two spots) with 230 Grand Prix points. He got there by tying for first place in leg one, and adding a middle of the pack result in leg two. As the highest rated player in the field, and with the extra advantage of six games as white, our simulations give him a 17% chance of winning this event outright, while projecting him to earn an average of 106 GP points from the leg. To win, he would need to outscore Tomashevsky by 22 points, and we expect him to do so more often than not (with a 41 point lead in his average projected result). Of course to win the whole thing he also needs to avoid being passed by anyone else, but then again to reach the Candidates Tournament he doesn’t need to win, just finish in the top two. All told, this works out to a 71.1% chance of finishing in the top two of the final standings.
  • Hikaru Nakamura – 2799 – currently ranked #4 in the world. Nakamura is third in the (relevant portion of the) current standings with 207 points. He trails Tomashevsky by a much larger margin (45), and also benefits in our projections from a high rating (although unlike Caruana, he has the tougher draw with six black games). We expect him to score an average of 99 points in this event, with a 14% chance of winning it all, and as with Caruana he of course also could qualify for the Candidates Tournament from second place even without catching Toma. Our numbers show him as the smallest of underdogs to finish in the top two, at a 49.1% chance. Might as well flip a coin!

The Other Contenders

  • Dmitry Jakovenko – 2746 – #17. Tied for (relevant) fourth place in the current standings with 170 GP points, Jakovenko is still in the running if he can swing a good result here. While he has only a 3% chance of winning the event outright, and is only expected to average 68 points from this leg, if he does manage to finish first or second and two of the top three stumble, he’s definitely still alive. We project him to climb into the top two of the final standings and win a berth in the Candidates Tournament 8.6% of the time.
  • Boris Gelfand – 2744 – #18. Tied with Jakovenko for fourth is Gelfand with 170 points of his own. The same principles apply, and their ratings are almost dead even, however his odds are hurt by having the black pieces six times, while Jakovenko only has them five times. He has the same 3% chance of winning the whole event, but projects to average only 62 points. We have him finishing in the top two 7.0% of the time.
  • Sergey Karjakin – 2753 – #12. Next, at #6 in the standings, is Karjakin with 157 points. A slightly higher rating and a good draw (six games as white) actually make his projections marginally better than Gelfand’s, even though he trails currently. We have him averaging 72 points from this event, winning outright 5% of the time, and cracking the overall top two 7.5% of the time.
  • Alexander Grischuk – 2785 – #6. At #7 in the (relevant) standings is Grischuk with just 122 points. That’s an awfully steep hill to climb, but he is the third highest rated player in the field, with six games as white, so his projections are quite good. We expect him to earn an average of 93 GP points, and win this event outright 11% of the time, but even that clear first place result isn’t enough to guarantee he’ll reach the top two position he needs in the overall standings. We expect him to earn a Candidates berth just 3.1% of the time.

The Super Longshots

  • Anish Giri – 2776 – #10. One of three players tied for (relevant) 8th place with 115 points, Giri at least projects well thanks to his top-ten world rating. A 7% chance of winning the event, and an expected average of 82 points, are nice but he needs a lot of help even if he does win it all. To overcome the massive standings deficit and finish in the top two he needs tremendous luck, as we see it happening only 1.1% of the time.
  • Maxime Vachiere-Lagrave – 2743 – #19. The second player with 115 points, MVL is in even worse shape as due to his lower rating he only projects to score 65 points with a 3% chance to win the leg. His odds of reaching the Candidates Tournament are a meager 0.6%.
  • Baadur Jobava – 2699 – #47. The third player with 115 points is Jobava, who is also the lowest rated player in the field. We give him only a 1% chance of winning the event, and project that he’ll earn an average of only 42 points, although he’s very likely to do it in an exceedingly entertaining fashion given his reputation for playing “exciting” chess! Unfortunately for fans of his style, there is only a 0.2% chance he’ll earn the opportunity to showcase that style in the Candidates Tournament.
  • Peter Svidler – 2736 – #23. In 11th place with just 102 points is Svidler. We all see how this works by now: with a mediocre rating (at least in this field… millions of players around the world would love to be able to call 2736 “mediocre”) he projects to add just 58 points, win the event only 2% of the time, and reach the top two just 0.1% of the time. Or, as optimists everywhere would note: “So you’re saying there’s a chance!” Yes there is a chance. It is approximately 1 in 1,000.
  • Leinier Dominguez – 2737 – #22. Finally we have our last place contestant. Dominguez has just 85 points right now, and unfortunately that’s almost certainly not enough. Even if he came in first, he’d have just 255 points, meaning his best case scenario is a second place finish to Tomashevsky (who will add a minimum of 10 to his current 252). Second place is good enough in the Grand Prix, but it would also require Caruana to finish in the bottom two of the field, and Nakamura to finish in the bottom five, and none of the other contenders to pass him either. This is not technically impossible, and a previous simulation gave him a 0.003% shot of everything coming together, but our new simulation today that we ran after the official pairings were released did not see him reach the top two a single time in 20,000 times. His odds are essentially, but not technically, zero.

The Eliminated

  • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
  • Teimour Radjabov
  • Dmitry Andreikin
  • Rustam Kasimdzhanov

These four players have already completed their Grand Prix run, playing the first three events and sitting this one out. Mamedyarov managed the highest score of the group, amassing 235 points, which is enough for him to technically be #2 in the standings at this moment, but that’s a spot it’s impossible for him to hold. It is 100% guaranteed that none of these four will reach the Candidates Tournament by finishing in the top two of the Grand Prix standings. When we referred to players’ “relative” standings above, it was ignoring these four eliminated players, which is why we said Caruana was in second place right now, when technically Caruana is currently third behind the eliminated Mamedyarov.

Other Notes

  • The eagle eyed (or obsessive) among you may have added up the stated odds of each player winning this event outright, and seen that of course they add up to just over 70%. Our simulation predicts a 28% chance that first place in this leg will be a tie between two or more players.
  • Here are projected results for all 12 players in this leg:
    Player K-M AVERAGE SCORE Odds of Clear 1st
    SHARED FIRST 28%
     Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 106 17%
     Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 99 14%
     Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 93 11%
     Anish Giri (NED) 82 7%
     Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 72 5%
     Dmitry Jakovenko (RUS) 68 3%
     Evgeny Tomashevsky (RUS) 65 3%
     Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 65 3%
     Boris Gelfand (ISR) 62 3%
     Peter Svidler (RUS) 58 2%
     Leinier Dominguez (CUB) 58 2%
     Baadur Jobava (GEO) 42 1%
  • Here is how each player’s chances at reaching the Candidates Tournament have ebbed and flowed since we began tracking them before the third leg began:
    Player ODDS (PRE-TBILISI) ODDS (POST-TBILISI) ODDS (PRE-KHANTY-MANSIYSK)
     Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 58% 70% 71%
     Evgeny Tomashevsky (RUS) 2% 49% 52%
     Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 39% 52% 49%
     Dmitry Jakovenko (RUS) 1% 2% 9%
     Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 5% 7% 8%
     Boris Gelfand (ISR) 6% 8% 7%
     Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 40% 3% 3%
     Anish Giri (NED) 14% 7% 1%
     Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 15% 0.2% 0.6%
     Baadur Jobava (GEO) 0.5% 1% 0.2%
     Peter Svidler (RUS) 5% 0.1% 0.1%
     Leinier Dominguez (CUB) 0.3% 0.002% 0%
     Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 6% 0% 0%
     Teimour Radjabov (AZE) 0.02% 0% 0%
     Dmitry Andreikin (RUS) 10% 0% 0%
     Rustam Kasimdzhanov (UZB) 0% 0% 0%
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