Norway Chess Round 5 Update

Veselin Topalov has remained red hot, winning his games in both the fourth and fifth rounds at Norway Chess 2015. Given that former co-leader Hikaru Nakamura has merely drawn his own games over these last two rounds, Topalov now holds a commanding full point lead in the tournament standings, with just four games left to play. Regardless of whether or not we consider this run “lucky“, the results count. In addition to being the clear favorite to win this event (now with a 77% chance of doing so, per our model), he is also now ranked #2 in the world with a live rating of 2816.3 (within a point of his lifetime best). Furthermore, we now see him as a strong favorite to win the broader Grand Chess Tour, with a 37% chance of doing so.

While Topalov is the tremendous favorite to win the event, here are the current odds for all the other players as well, there are a couple players not yet eliminated from contention:

Player Pre-Event Odds Odds After Rd 5
Veselin Topalov 7.8% 77.0%
Hikaru Nakamura 10.6% 11.1%
Viswanathan Anand 11.4% 7.2%
Anish Giri 6.2% 4.3%
Fabiano Caruana 9.7% 0.2%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1.5% 0.1%
Alexander Grischuk 5.3% 0.1%
Magnus Carlsen 41.9% 0.0%
Levon Aronian 5.3% 0.0%
Jon Ludvig Hammer 0.2% 0.0%

Note that although Magnus Carlsen did finally win his first game this round, it’s clearly too little too late and there’s no realistic chance of him coming all the way back to win (although technically it’s not impossible… out of a million simulations of the remaining rounds we actually saw him win outright 11 times, and tie for first another 758 times.)

Here is a graph of each player’s victory odds on a round by round basis, to show how convincingly Topalov has been separating himself from the field:


And then of course there are ramifications for the broader Grand Chess Tour. Topalov became the new favorite to win the overall GCT title after round 4, and only extended his lead in that chase with today’s win. Carlsen, who had been the massive favorite before this tournament started, fell from first to third after round 4, but rebounded back to second with today’s win. Here are each player’s current projected odds of winning the Grand Chess Tour:

Player Pre-Event After Rd 5
Veselin Topalov 4.4% 36.9%
Magnus Carlsen 68.1% 21.4%
Hikaru Nakamura 6.9% 17.9%
Viswanathan Anand 7.1% 13.4%
Anish Giri 2.4% 5.2%
Fabiano Caruana 6.3% 3.2%
Alexander Grischuk 2.4% 1.0%
Levon Aronian 2.3% 0.8%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.2% 0.2%

And here is the round by round graph:


Norway Chess Round 3 Updated Odds

Here is each player’s updated chances of winning Norway Chess 2015, accounting for results in round 3, according to our simulation model:

Player Norway Odds
Veselin Topalov 39.0%
Hikaru Nakamura 30.7%
Anish Giri 14.2%
Fabiano Caruana 7.4%
Viswanathan Anand 5.3%
Magnus Carlsen 1.6%
Alexander Grischuk 0.8%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.6%
Levon Aronian 0.4%
Jon Ludvig Hammer 0.0%

As expected, the two players tied for the lead, who are also currently rated #2 and #3 in the world (by live ratings), are the most likely champions. Topalov’s edge is largely due to which Norwegian he has already faced. He infamously beat Carlsen in round 1, while Nakamura still has a game scheduled against the world champion, who remains the most dangerous player in the field by the model’s rating-based estimations, despite his poor start and current last-place standing. Meanwhile Nakamura has already played (and beaten) Hammer, while Topalov’s projections still benefit from a future game against the lowest rated player in the field.

Next: here is a graph of how those odds have fluctuated after each round (note that the graph is to scale, showing how much chess is left in the tournament with white-space, “round 10” refers to potential tie-breaks while “round 0” refers to the blitz tournament that determined pairings):


As for odds in the overall three-event Grand Chess Tour, here is each player’s updated chances of winning the overall Tour crown:

Player Win Odds
Magnus Carlsen 28.1%
Hikaru Nakamura 23.4%
Veselin Topalov 21.1%
Fabiano Caruana 9.3%
Viswanathan Anand 8.1%
Anish Giri 7.4%
Alexander Grischuk 1.4%
Levon Aronian 0.9%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.2%

Despite his tepid start in Norway, Carlsen remains the favorite. He does have two more tournaments to make up ground, and still has plenty of time to at least partially salvage his spot in the standings for this first leg as well. After all we are only one-third of the way into the first of three tournaments. That said, he is the favorite by a much more modest margin than he was three days ago. This graph shows his free-fall well (again, note the large amount of white-space, indicating how much more chess there is left to play between today and the eventual determination of a winner):


Norway Chess Round 2 Update

After a crushing loss on time (in a won position) yesterday, the question of round 2 was how Magnus Carlsen would respond. The answer was: poorly. Fabiano Caruana played a fabulous game and defeated the world champion in a Berlin Endgame, dropping the pre-tournament favorite to a shocking 0/2 score and last place in the standings!

With the victory, Caruana is now the favorite to win the event, while Carlsen now projects to win less than one time in twenty! Here are each player’s odds, along with how they’ve shifted each round:

Player Pre-Event Odds Odds After Rd 1 Odds After Rd 2
Fabiano Caruana 9.7% 9.7% 25.2%
Veselin Topalov 7.8% 25.3% 23.1%
Hikaru Nakamura 10.6% 17.5% 18.3%
Anish Giri 6.2% 14.5% 13.5%
Viswanathan Anand 11.4% 9.5% 8.9%
Magnus Carlsen 41.9% 15.9% 4.5%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1.5% 4.6% 4.0%
Levon Aronian 5.3% 1.4% 1.3%
Alexander Grischuk 5.3% 1.6% 1.1%
Jon Ludvig Hammer 0.2% 0.1% 0.04%

Even with this second loss, Carlsen still remains the favorite to win the three-event Grand Chess Tour. While his odds of winning the first leg are low, he still has a strong chance to rebound for solid points, and of course remains the favorite in the remaining two legs. Here is each player’s updated odds of winning the tour:

Player Pre-Norway After Rd 1 After Rd 2
Magnus Carlsen 68.1% 49.5% 33.6%
Fabiano Caruana 6.3% 8.0% 17.9%
Hikaru Nakamura 6.9% 12.6% 14.9%
Veselin Topalov 4.4% 12.7% 13.9%
Viswanathan Anand 7.1% 8.3% 9.5%
Anish Giri 2.4% 5.9% 6.7%
Alexander Grischuk 2.4% 1.4% 1.4%
Levon Aronian 2.3% 1.2% 1.4%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.2% 0.6% 0.6%

Tomorrow sees Carlsen with the white pieces against Anish Giri, one of five players currently tied for first place with 1.5/2 points. The other four leaders face each other in two critical games, with Nakamura taking white against Caruana while Vachier-Lagrave gets white against Topalov. Will there be a decisive result in either game, allowing the winner to pull further ahead of the pack one third of the way through the tournament? Or will both games be drawn, perhaps allowing someone in the bottom half of the standings to make up ground? We shall see!

Norway Chess Round 1 Update

The first round of Norway Chess 2015 came to a stunning conclusion. With three decisive games already in the books, only world champion Magnus Carlsen was left pressing for the fourth white win of the day against Veselin Topalov. Commentators agreed that the position appeared to be a dead draw, but Carlsen is famous for pressing apparently stale positions and wringing unexpected extra half points from them. Today appeared to be no exception. Topalov erred, and suddenly the computer evaluations spiked into the double digits, showing that Carlsen had achieved a clearly winning position. The champion made his 60th move and the computer read “+91.70”, completely winning. And then… his time expired.

Carlsen had misunderstood the time control, and mistakenly believed he would get additional time added to his clock at move 60, and so failed to convert his advantage. When he allowed his clock to tick down, not only did the win slip away from him, but so did the draw. For in chess, when your clock reads zero, you lose; regardless of the position on the board.

Topalov, beneficiary of the shocking result, perhaps responded best when, as reported by Tarjei Svensen, he said “I feel sorry for him, but what can I do.”

Now Topalov suddenly finds himself tied for first place, a full point ahead of Carlsen, and with an easier path than any of his rivals on 1/1 (as the rest of them all must still play games against Magnus). In other words, Topalov is now the favorite:

Player Pre-Event Odds Odds After Rd 1
Veselin Topalov 7.8% 25.3%
Hikaru Nakamura 10.6% 17.5%
Magnus Carlsen 41.9% 15.9%
Anish Giri 6.2% 14.5%
Fabiano Caruana 9.7% 9.7%
Viswanathan Anand 11.4% 9.5%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1.5% 4.6%
Alexander Grischuk 5.3% 1.6%
Levon Aronian 5.3% 1.4%
Jon Ludvig Hammer 0.2% 0.1%

It isn’t impossible for Carlsen to rebound from this, but his chances of victory dropped 26 percentage points on the results of this round (where had he won this game, his odds of victory would instead have risen to around 56%). Meanwhile Topalov’s odds shot upward and he takes over as the favorite for now. Also gaining significant equity in a potential victory were Nakamura (up to 17.5% from 10.6%), Giri (up to 14.5% from 6.2%), and MVL (up to 4.6% from 1.5%), the other three victors of today’s decisive games.

But there is more at stake than just the title in Norway. This is the first leg of the three-event Grand Chess Tour, and odds shifted there as well:

Player Pre-Norway After Rd 1
Magnus Carlsen 68.1% 49.5%
Veselin Topalov 4.4% 12.7%
Hikaru Nakamura 6.9% 12.6%
Viswanathan Anand 7.1% 8.3%
Fabiano Caruana 6.3% 8.0%
Anish Giri 2.4% 5.9%
Alexander Grischuk 2.4% 1.4%
Levon Aronian 2.3% 1.2%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.2% 0.6%

Three full tournaments gives Carlsen a much more forgiving time frame in which to try to recover from today’s blow than does a single event, so the damage here wasn’t quite as severe, but the world champion is no longer favored over the entire field combined. The eight players not named Magnus now have a combined 50.5% chance of winning the combined Tour title, up from just 31.9% before play began in Norway. That being said, Carlsen remains the most likely winner by a large margin – no individual player comes close to matching his chances at this point. For the record, if Magnus had won today he’d be up to roughly a 76% chance of here, instead of being down to 49%.

Tomorrow sees Carlsen try to bounce back with the black pieces against Fabiano Caruana, who dropped today to #3 in the world by live ratings. Not exactly the easiest spot to stage a recovery – black against an opponent rated above 2800 -although in this field easy spots are few and far between.

New favorite Topalov at least gets the white pieces, but must face fellow co-leader Hikaru Nakamura – the player who passed Caruana today and is now #2 in the world. The fourth player tied for first is Anish Giri, who also gets the white pieces, but must also face an opponent rated over 2800 – Viswanathan Anand. Again, in this field easy games are few and far between.

Put another way, the six highest rated players in the world are all facing each other! And the “underdog” in each game has the white pieces, perhaps balancing the matchups further!

#3 Caruana vs. #1 Carlsen

#4 Topalov vs. #2 Nakamura

#6 Giri vs. #5 Anand

What battles and drama will these epic round 2 clashes bring us? What new twists and turns will we see in the odds? We’ll find out in 14 hours!

Grand Chess Tour Preview

The 2015 Grand Chess Tour will be a series of three events played by most of the top rated chess players in the world. It begins in just a few minutes with Norway Chess, then continues with the Sinquefield Cup and concludes with the London Chess Classic. All three events will be 10 player round-robin affairs, featuring the same nine elite players, including the five highest rated in the world, battling for tour points, plus one unique wild card to round out each field. Players earn points based on their finish in each event, and those points are added together to find an ultimate winner of the tour.

And in the end it all really boils down to just one question: exactly how big of a favorite is Magnus Carlsen? The world champion is rated an astounding 71 ELO higher than the second best player in the world. This is a huge gap, and over the course of nine games it clearly makes Carlsen the prohibitive favorite. Anything can happen in any given game, but in the long run larger sample sizes offer more opportunity for the cream to rise to the top.

Carlsen has won all three tournaments he has competed in so far this year. He has only lost two competitive games. He is a dominant force in the chess world, even with the rest of the top ten arrayed against him. Any discussion of other players’ chances seems silly, the answer is same for all of them: minimal. It’s a question of Carlsen vs. The Field.

We have prepared a simulation model for the Grand Chess Tour, like we did with the Grand Prix. The model is not perfect – we will discuss flaws in a later article on the methodology – but for now the games are starting in less than 10 minutes as I type this, so lets get to the results! Here are each player’s odds of winning the overall tour:

Player Rating Win Odds
Magnus Carlsen 2876.0 68%
Fabiano Caruana 2805.0 6%
Viswanathan Anand 2804.0 7%
Hikaru Nakamura 2802.0 7%
Veselin Topalov 2798.0 4%
Alexander Grischuk 2781.0 2%
Levon Aronian 2780.0 2%
Anish Giri 2779.5 2%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2727.7 0.2%

Carlsen works out to be better than a two to one favorite when given the benefit of three tournaments combined. He’s the only player in the field who is not only most likely to win any given event, but also least likely to ever finish in the bottom half. A “bad” tournament might mean he finishes third or fourth at worst, but that still brings home decent points if paired with two other strong results. We actually estimate a 96% chance that Carlsen finishes in the top three of the final standings!

There is still that 32% chance that someone passes him though! You can see the players are basically divided into rating groups, with the four players rated around 2800 each having around a 6% chance (plus or minus a couple percentage points based on their blitz rating, which we’re guessing will impact pairings in legs two and three). Then the three players rated in the 2780 range have a 2% chance each. MVL at 2728 ELO will have to play far above the level his rating indicates to have any chance.

What about this first tournament on its own? Carlsen has a 34% chance of winning outright, and a 17% chance of sharing first place with one or more other players. In the former case he would earn 13 tour points, while the latter would result in a playoff where the eventual winner earns 12 points, as the official regulations offer a bonus to outright winners. If you’re doing the math as you read, I won’t need to point out that this means there is also a 49% chance that Carlsen does not take first place in Norway. A field this strong is certainly a threat to end his tournament winning streak. As we develop the model further we’ll be able to say what each other player’s odds of winning are as well. Inevitably someone (we don’t know who, yet) will jump out to a hot start and put their name in the mix, but for now it really is just Magnus vs. The Field. And it’s basically a coin flip.

Let the games begin!

UPDATE: We have now added an analysis of each player’s odds of winning each individual event. Although round 1 is already underway at Norway as we edit this update into the article, the analysis is based only on information available before the games began. This analysis splits equity equally in the case of ties (so if three players tie they each get “one third of a win” for that simulation), so perhaps it slightly underrates the top players who in reality are probably favorites in tie-break scenarios. It also makes an educated guess as to who the wild card will be in London, and makes marginally skeptical assumptions about pairings at both the Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic:

Player Rating Norway Odds Sinquefield Odds London Odds
Magnus Carlsen 2876 41.9% 41.3% 42.3%
Fabiano Caruana 2805 9.7% 9.1% 9.5%
Viswanathan Anand 2804 11.4% 9.6% 9.9%
Hikaru Nakamura 2802 10.6% 9.7% 10.1%
Veselin Topalov 2798 7.8% 7.8% 8.0%
Alexander Grischuk 2781 5.3% 5.6% 5.8%
Levon Aronian 2780 5.3% 5.6% 5.7%
Anish Giri 2780 6.2% 5.4% 5.5%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2728 1.5% 1.3% 1.4%
Jon Ludvig Hammer 2677 0.2%
Wesley So 2776 4.6%
Michael Adams 2740 1.8%

Wei Yi vs. Magnus Carlsen

Yesterday IM David Martinez published an excellent article on, pondering whether or not Wei Yi should be considered to be “ahead of Magnus Carlsen at the same age”. I started to respond with my thoughts in that article’s comments section, but when I reached the character limit I realized it should be a blog post instead.

Ultimately, in my view, the question of whether Wei Yi or Magnus Carlsen proves to be the more impressive prodigy will come down not to anything that has happened yet, but to the coming year.

Wei just had a published rating of 2721, a day before his 16th birthday, while Carlsen had his 2698 rating 56 days before his own 16th birthday (although he dropped to 2690 on the first list published after he turned 16).

23 ELO is a solid edge, but Carlsen has the counterargument of a higher world ranking, and ratings inflation. Ultimately they are relatively close right now, and have been for a long time. Carlsen was rated a little higher from the ages of 12 to 14, Wei higher from 14 to 15, and from 15 to 16 they tread nearly identical ratings paths:


However it’s worth noting that Carlsen had a bit of a mini-plateau around the 2700 mark. After hitting 2698 in October 2006, he didn’t break 2700 until July 2007, and in October 2007 he was still “only” 2714. Now let’s not get carried away with somehow pretending 2714 isn’t insanely impressive. It was good enough for him to be ranked 16th in the world, and remember he was still 16 years old at the time. That said, he was 10 months older when that rating was published than Wei Yi is now, and Wei is already rated higher!

Now if Wei Yi has a mini-plateau of his own, and 10 months from now his rating remains in the range of ~2720, then he and Magnus will remain neck and neck. In that case, the argument can continue with no clear winner (which is fine – Magnus doesn’t need to forever remain the “greatest prodigy ever”, as he has moved on and is now working on building a case for the more important unofficial title of “greatest world champion ever”).

On the other hand, if Wei Yi wants to cement himself as the top prodigy of all time, this is his chance. If by the time he’s 17 he has achieved significant additional rating gains and finally managed to put some separation between his graph and Carlsen’s then the crown could be his. A good mark might be cracking the top 15 in the world (which would probably require a rating somewhere in the 2750 range), as this would greatly weaken the ratings inflation argument. If 10 months from now Wei were not only rated 35 points higher than Magnus was at the same age, but was also ranked higher than Magnus’ #16 ranking from October 2007, then things would be pretty clear in my view.

And as we discussed last time I posted about Wei Yi: there is reason to suspect that he has in fact not plateaued yet, so rating gains over the coming 10 months may be likely. Since that article went up, all he’s done is won his first national championship. In May he defeated five of his countrymen, including most notably a win over Ding Liren, en route to a clean victory in the tournament. A loss in the final game put a small damper on the statistical side of things, costing six rating points and leaving his tournament performance rating at “only” 2730, but that doesn’t reduce the brilliance of the result for the then-15-year-old.

So when will Wei Yi and Magnus Carlsen get a chance to “settle” this over the board? Of course one game won’t actually settle anything, statistically speaking, a long match would be much better, but let’s not be greedy! We’ll take a game whenever it comes up! As it so happens, it seems extremely likely that the two will play at least one game at classical time controls before our 10 month window is complete. After crushing the Challengers section at Tata Steel, Wei Yi has earned an invitation to play in the Masters section next January. Presumably we should see Magnus playing that supertournament as well, to defend his title. It’s a long way off, and right now I’m more focused on seeing how Wei Yi performs at the World Cup this fall, or in any other major tournament he may play in that hasn’t been announced yet, but fast forwarding seven months it appears that we should get our showdown. How patient are you?