He’s back! Magnus Carlsen struggled greatly in his last tournament, Norway Chess, in the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour. This led to two months of speculation regarding what might be “wrong” with the world champion, leading up to the Sinquefield Cup. Then when he lost his first round game in St. Louis, and his live rating dropped below 2850, that speculation began to approach a fevered pitch. Then he recovered. If anything had genuinely been wrong, it certainly hasn’t been in the last four rounds, as he has reeled off three wins in four days, and climbed back into a tie for the lead as we enter the first rest day.
Carlsen’s round 5 victim was Wesley So, the wild card entrant who now languishes in a tie for last place. Also helpful for Carlsen was the fact that the former leader, Veselin Topalov, lost the other decisive game of the day to Fabiano Caruana. This dropped Topalov into a tie for third place, half a point behind Carlsen and the other leader Levon Aronian. This combination of a Carlsen win and a Topalov loss flipped the odds entirely, driving Carlsen into a position as the new clear favorite to win the event:
Carlsen is now favored over “the field”. Aronian, who is tied with Carlsen for first, now comes in second with about a 1/6 chance of winning the event, just ahead of Topalov who is also around 1/6, but has dropped to third place in the odds (as well as third in the standings) with his round 5 loss. After the rest day, round 6 will pick up with the two leaders facing each other, as Aronian has the white pieces against Carlsen, so we may see some quick resolution of the tie if that game proves decisive. The two other main contenders, Topalov and Giri (tied for third, at half a point behind the leaders) face Vachier-Lagrave and Anand, respectively, and looking ahead will then play each other in round 7. So the next two rounds will offer lots of key matchups with high leverage (meaning they will impact the battle for first place more than the average game).
Carlsen has also re-established himself as a contender to win the Grand Chess Tour. He’s still an underdog, with slightly under a 1/5 chance, but he’s far more alive in the race than he was a couple rounds ago, when Topalov looked to be close to locking things up entirely:
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Nevertheless, Topalov remains a strong favorite to win the GCT as long as he can finish near the top in St. Louis. He will only really drop off if he loses another couple games and drops into the bottom half of the standings. Right now we can see that Carlsen is a threat, and that a few others are still alive to contend, but if you had to pick a most likely winner today it would still be the man who won Norway and is currently tied for third at the Sinquefield Cup (and oh yeah, is still the second highest rated player in the world!) It’s also worth noting that Topalov’s odds are much higher now (despite his recent loss) than they were when the Sinquefield Cup began. His odds have risen 21 percentage points, while Carlsen’s odds are up less than 7 percentage points from their pre-event levels. Carlsen was the big winner in round 5 (in terms of odds shifts), but Topalov is still in far better position in the Grand Chess Tour. The huge differential between their finishes in Norway still holds strong.