Sinquefield Recap: Round 1

The 2015 Sinquefield Cup got off to a tremendous start, with all five games proving decisive! In the highest profile game, Veselin Topalov unleashed the remarkable novelty 7. … g5 and went on to defeat the #1 player in the world, Magnus Carlsen, with the black pieces. In another battle of two 2800+ superstars, Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces bested Viswanathan Anand. Also winning with white were Levon Aronian, who climbed his way back into the world top ten by knocking off Fabiano Caruana, and Anish Giri, who beat Alexander Grischuk. And finally Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, playing black, defeated Wesley So.

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I don’t know for sure, but I suspect this was the first time it’s ever happened. It’s probably the first time three different 2800+ rated players have lost on the same day at all, even regardless of the “same tournament” or “first round” provisions. Clearly these players arrived ready to put on a show for the fans, and we appear to be in for a treat as this event continues.

So how did these results impact each player’s chances at victory? The biggest winner was Topalov. While four other players also won their games, those other four all must still face Carlsen, who despite today’s loss is the most dangerous player in the field if ratings are to be trusted. Not only that, but Topalov also doesn’t have to play the second highest rated player in the field (by live ratings), as that is himself. As the highest rated player in the 1/1 score group, and with the easiest remaining schedule in that group, Topalov is of course now the favorite to win yet another leg of the Grand Chess Tour.

Here is everyone’s odds of winning, according to our simulation model, along with how those odds changed from before today’s games:

Player Pre-Event Odds Odds After Rd 1
Veselin Topalov 12.0% 28.2%
Hikaru Nakamura 13.7% 25.2%
Anish Giri 8.4% 15.3%
Levon Aronian 4.1% 9.4%
Magnus Carlsen 29.3% 8.4%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1.9% 5.4%
Viswanathan Anand 11.7% 3.5%
Fabiano Caruana 9.8% 2.6%
Alexander Grischuk 3.9% 1.0%
Wesley So 5.2% 0.9%

We can see that while Topalov is the favorite, there’s still a 72% chance that someone other than him will ultimately take home the cup. Nakamura, now the third highest rated player in the world, is nipping at his heels with a 25% chance of winning here in St. Louis. We won’t have to wait long to see these two players clarify who is truly the favorite, as they play each other in round 2!

As for Magnus Carlsen, things look bleak but not hopeless. A full point is a lot to overcome in eight rounds – this isn’t *that* long of a tournament, and even one loss can be crippling. And because of how today’s games shook out, with nary a draw to be seen, he has offered that full point handicap to half the field. Still, if anyone can come back from a first round loss and still win the event, it would be Magnus, who despite his struggles both today and in his last event (Norway Chess) should never be counted out. Note that Carlsen’s odds of coming back to win the tournament (8.4%) are better than the other four players who lost today combined (they total 8.1%). Don’t give up on Magnus… but he has a lot of work to do now. He has to take on the black pieces against Caruana tomorrow, so it won’t be easy for the champ.

The other three winners from today’s games all saw their odds improve, of course, but their lower ratings (relative to Topalov and Nakamura) make them less likely to ultimately emerge victorious. Two of them, MVL and Aronian, will face each other tomorrow, while Giri will play So. Grischuk and Anand will be the two players at 0/1 who face each other in the final pairing.

What about the overall Grand Chess Tour? Topalov was already the most likely winner there, but his chances got far better with today’s win, as he cleared what might have been the toughest hurdle he faced. Not only did he help himself with the win, but he defeated one of the three players most likely to catch him (Carlsen) and also benefited from the loss of another (Anand). The only other player who still has double-digit odds of surpassing Topalov, at this point, is Nakamura.

Here are everyone’s updated odds of winning the Grand Chess Tour, along with their original odds (before Norway Chess) and their odds prior to the Sinquefield Cup for comparison:

Player Pre-Norway Pre-Sinquefield Now (After Rd 1)
Veselin Topalov 4.4% 42.2% 62.0%
Hikaru Nakamura 6.9% 13.0% 17.6%
Viswanathan Anand 7.1% 21.3% 8.7%
Anish Giri 2.4% 4.5% 6.0%
Magnus Carlsen 68.1% 13.0% 3.4%
Fabiano Caruana 6.3% 5.3% 1.4%
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.2% 0.2% 0.5%
Levon Aronian 2.3% 0.2% 0.3%
Alexander Grischuk 2.4% 0.3% 0.1%

Notably, Carlsen appears to be a non contender at this point. He had chances to recover from his lackluster performance at Norway Chess, but doing so would have required excellent results (perhaps wins) in both St. Louis and London. The former is still possible, but as we discussed earlier far less likely now. Additionally, climbing to the top of the overall standings would have required some of the leaders to struggle, so Topalov and Nakamura’s wins also hurt Carlsen’s chances at a comeback. That said, let’s remember that 3.4% is not zero. It’s a one in thirty chance. It could still happen. Look back at the table above and remind yourself how unlikely it was, before the Grand Chess Tour began, that we would see Topalov in contention at this point. There are still 17 rounds of chess left before the GCT title is awarded, so we can talk about who is a favorite and who is a long shot, but we still have to wait and see what happens before anyone is crowned, and at this point nobody is actually mathematically eliminated yet.

What will happen on board one tomorrow? Will Topalov continue flying high with another win (likely bringing his odds of victory in St. Louis up to near 50%, and his GCT odds over 75%)? Or will Nakamura perhaps clip his wings (bringing HIS odds of victory in St. Louis up near 50% instead, and turning the GCT into a relatively close battle)?

What about Carlsen? Will he finally regain his form, or will he lose again to Caruana (and start this event with the exact same results through two rounds as at Norway)? What about Aronian’s win? Was it signs that he is “back” and ready to push his rating back towards 2800, or was it just a blip? Who among today’s victors might win again, which losers will bounce back, and will we finally see a drawn game in round two? The questions abound. The answers, well, they can be found tomorrow. You will probably want to watch.

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2 thoughts on “Sinquefield Recap: Round 1

  1. With that masterful delivery against Magnus and Naka, I have to refresh my mind and learn to accept that indeed Vaselin is a worthy 2800+ player!
    .
    But Sinquefield has just passed Rd 2, anything can happen, and the situation is normalizing (less crowds that distract the peace of mind of the players).

    At this stage, however, Fabiano and Vishy with 0-2’s score sheets are hardly a run for the top 1st place.
    That honour is reserved for Vaselin, Magnus (still my favs to win) and Naka. Anish and Wesley are still in that loop. I reckon that Levon and MVL, thu in good standing as of now, are not that strong to challenge the 2800+ top dogs.

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