Wei Yi vs. Magnus Carlsen

Yesterday IM David Martinez published an excellent article on chess24.com, 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?


11 thoughts on “Wei Yi vs. Magnus Carlsen

  1. I’ll take the long view and wait for the many inevitable clashes between these two over the next decade or so. There is always so much happening in chess.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To my mind, henceforth and forward, Wei Yi will be a more impressive prodigy.
    He has all the tools to be just that:
    1) A crowd of 2700s fellow Chinese to train at home (Magnus don’t have this)
    2) Undiminished hawkish interest and focus in the game (I’ve not seen him smile!)
    3) Larger crowd of competitive 2700+ GMs worldwide (44 todate) that will push him to perform higher in every tournament he plays, and
    4) Most importantly, a younger mind which is naturally receptive to ideas that are extractable from very strong chess engines nowadays (which was not available to the 16-year-old Magnus)

    I reckon that Wei Yi will hover around ELO 2750 and FIDE rank within the Top 15 before the end of 2015 (that’s a combo of three 5’s). Further, Wei will most likely break ELO 2800 before the end of next year (2016). Hence, on the 3rd year and forward, he will start to challenge Magnus Carlsen.

    This is assuming that neither Caruana nor Wesley has dethroned Magnus by then.


      • You may not have read my previous blogs in other venues, but I have made it clear that Magnus is an IDEAL champion who represents the chess world very well — young, athletic, charismatic and soft spoken. I reckon that none of the present contenders can surpass Magnus in modeling this role as the face of the chess world.


      • Presently, Nakamura is a notch above Wesley but IMO it is that Wesley is a newcomer amongst elite and is still learning the ropes. IMHO Nakamura, thu he has not shown it, will reached his peak at ELO 2810±, i.e., a lofty contender that is always a force to reckon. I strongly vouched for Naka and Caruana to win the Khanty leg and the GP slots for the Candidates right after the Tbilsi leg (and agreeing with Chessnumbers that Tomashevsky is a clutch player).

        Eventually, the younger turks will takeover → not later but sooner. Caruana is an obvious choice, Wesley is promising, while Nakamura’s record with Magnus speaks for itself.


  3. The main reason Carlsen had a (mini-)plateau around the 2700 mark might be that it was the period (end of 2006) when he started participating regularly in super-tournaments, and he seemed to go through an adjustment period – particularly in Tal Memorial 06 & Corus 07, where he finished at the bottom or near the bottom. It will be interesting to see if something similar happens to Wei Yi.


  4. Great site, you have a new subscriber. To add my two cents to this, surely Fischer is still the greatest chess prodigy in the history of chess. Some of his achievements in his early to mid teenage years are still mind boggling by any era’s standards.


    • Yeah, he’s hard to quantify because all our analyses are ELO based, and FIDE’s official ELO system wasn’t actually implemented until he was 24, so there’s nothing in our data set that we can use to assess his teenage years.


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