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%

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s