World Cup Recap: Day 13 (Quarterfinals, first classical game)

Today saw three draws, two big losers, and one big winner. First, let’s discuss Pavel Eljanov. The 32 year old Ukrainian is the lowest seeded player left in the competition, and entered the event rated just 2717. Not exactly patzer material, but not a rating you expect to see in serious contention at a tournament like this either. Then he breezed through the first three rounds winning every single classical game, and earning a rest every third day like clockwork. The third opponent whom he dispatched so unceremoniously was Grischuk, who entered the event ranked among the top ten players in the world, but could put up no resistance against Eljanov. In the fourth round it looked like perhaps Pavel had hit a stumbling block against Jakovenko, when he merely drew his first two games, but a comfortable 1.5/2 win in the first round of tie break games move Eljanov along to the quarterfinals. And that brought us to today, when he returned to his winning ways with an upset win over Hikaru Nakamura!

The thing is, at this point it’s hard to even call the win an upset. Eljanov is now rated 2750 in the 2700chess.com live ratings, making him the 15th best player in the world and now just 57 points the inferior of Nakamura, the top remaining seed and current #2 player in the world. Add in the advantage of having the white pieces, and in retrospect today’s matchup was pretty close to equal according to Elo, not the shocking upset it seemed to be. With today’s win, Eljanov is now the favorite to win his half of the bracket, advance to the World Cup finals, and earn a spot in next year’s Candidates Tournament. Certainly Eljanov is today’s big winner.

The obvious big loser, of course, is Eljanov’s victim: Nakamura. Now the American faces a must-win game tomorrow, where our model gives him a 41% chance of winning to force tie breaks, but a 59% chance of being eliminated for good. Overall, by virtue of his gaudy rating, our model still rates Nakamura as having a decent 18% chance of reaching the finals, but that looks far more disappointing when we remember he was sitting at 50% to reach the finals yesterday. However we said in the intro that there were two big losers today. The thing about Nakamura is that while he would undoubtedly be disappointed to lose here, it only costs him a chance to win the World Cup. He doesn’t need to reach the finals for the sake of his World Championship aspirations, as he already clinched a berth in the Candidates Tournament with his second place finish in the Grand Prix earlier this year. There is another player who perhaps has more investment in Nakamura’s results than Nakamura himself: Dmitry Jakovenko.

Jakovenko finished third at the aforementioned Grand Prix, which sufficed merely to make him the first alternate for the Candidates. However the World Cup takes precedence as a qualifying method, so if one of the players ahead of him (Nakamura) were to reach the World Cup final, then Jakovenko would become a Candidate via the Grand Prix standings. Of course before he was eliminated, Jakovenko also had another path to the Candidates Tournament: simply reach the World Cup finals himself. Two days ago, before his tie break round with Eljanov began, we rated Jakovenko’s chances of reaching the Candidates Tournament at almost 58%, a 6.4% chance for himself, and a 51.4% chance for Nakamura on his behalf. Now, two days later, and entirely at the hands of Eljanov, those hopes have been cut down to a mere 18%. It hasn’t been a great two days for Dmitry.

The other three games today were drawn, which ultimately benefits black slightly, but has relatively little impact on the predicted results in comparison to the one decisive result. Overall here are how everyone’s odds of reaching the finals changed today, along with their updated chances:

Seed Player Rating Odds of Reaching Finals Change
26  Pavel Eljanov (UKR) 2750.1 34.5% 21.8%
11  Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2765.0 30.9% 7.8%
4  Anish Giri (NED) 2791.4 42.7% 2.3%
19  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2744.6 16.5% 2.1%
24  Wei Yi (CHN) 2737.1 19.5% 1.7%
16  Peter Svidler (RUS) 2733.5 14.5% -1.7%
21  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 2768.7 23.3% -2.2%
2  Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2807.3 18.1% -31.8%

Note that Karjakin is the second biggest beneficiary of Eljanov’s success today, as he’s favored to reach the semifinals, where his opponent is now more likely to be Eljanov and less likely to be Nakamura. Our model still rates Eljanov as the easier opponent (though you certainly wouldn’t know it from his play so far in this tournament), and so sees the result as helpful to Karjakin’s chances as well. If we do end up seeing a matchup of Karjakin versus Eljanov (which should occur about 45% of the time), then we’ll find out if the model was right to consider it a blessing for Karjakin, or whether it proves instead to be a curse.

Tomorrow brings us another potential elimination day, where in three matches any decisive result sends someone home, and in the fourth match anything but a comeback win will end the tournament of yesterday’s favorite to win it all. However it all shakes out, there should be no shortage of drama!

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One thought on “World Cup Recap: Day 13 (Quarterfinals, first classical game)

  1. My tentative predictions for Round 4:

    Eljanov – Nakamura: Eljanov (80% confidence)
    Wei Yi – Svidler: Wei Yi (65% confidence)
    Mamedyarov – Karjakin: Karjakin (60% confidence)
    Giri – MVL: MVL (55% confidence)

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