2021 Candidates Tournament – Round 13 Preview

Round 12 Recap

In a shocker of a 12th round, all four games saw decisive results! Ding Liren scored a win over Grischuk to climb out of last place in the standings. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave kept his slim tournament hopes alive by beating Alekseenko on demand. And in the game of the day Anish Giri managed to outmaneuver Caruana, eliminating the latter from contention to win the event but setting himself in contention. At the point those three games concluded the final game looked drawn, which would have left Giri tied for first place with almost a 40% chance to win the event, while our leader would have had just under a 60% chance to win it. We wouldn’t have been too far from a coin flip.

But Ian Nepomniachtchi wasn’t done with Wang Hao. He played on and managed to squeeze a win out of that equal endgame, locking up sole possession of first place as we head into the final rest day, followed by the final two rounds of the tournament. After today’s games, here are the current standings and, at the top, the odds of tournament victory for those players still in contention:

NameRatingScoreNew Win%Prior Win%Avg Finish
Nepomniachtchi, Ian2797.3884.9%74.6%1.2
Giri, Anish2791.57.513.5%11.7%1.9
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2754.16.51.7%2.0%3.5
Caruana, Fabiano2816.060.0%11.3%3.9
Grischuk, Alexander2770.85.50.0%0.5%5.5
Wang, Hao2753.350.0%0.1%6.3
Ding, Liren2790.150.0%0.0%6.1
Alekseenko, Kirill2696.94.50.0%0.0%7.6

We can see that thanks to this win, Nepo is in great shape. Giri’s win did slightly increase his own odds, but it wasn’t the dramatic jump he might have seen had Nepo drawn, as it failed to close the gap in the standings. Not only is Giri half a point behind, but he loses all potential tiebreak scenarios so he has to find a way to outscore Nepo by a full point in the last two rounds. MVL can win any tiebreak he might end up in, but at 1.5 points behind the leader with two rounds left his margin for error is almost nonexistent. He has to win both his games and see Nepo score no more than half a point and also see Giri score no more than one point out of two. Such perfection is not likely, as the odds show, but at least he still has a sliver of a chance.

Round 13 Preview

So when play resumes on Monday the 26th, what games are we looking at and what impact can they have on the results?

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (13%)Draw (59%)Black wins (28%)
WhiteAlekseenko, Kirill0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackDing, Liren0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

This one won’t affect who wins the tournament. Both players are eliminated from contention. However they sit half a game apart at the bottom of the standings so it does have implications there. Ding was having a very disappointing Candidates Tournament playing well below his expectations and falling from third to fifth in the world live rankings, but he salvaged some pride with his recent win and perhaps will want to build on that momentum. Alekseenko exactly flips that script, as he was overperforming his low expectations and had brought his rating above the 2700 threshold, before his loss this past round brought him back down to earth. He may be able to rebound and win this game, or that last loss could be the beginning of a freefall if he drops yet another game here. Last place is on the line and both players may fight to avoid it.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (14%)Draw (65%)Black wins (21%)
WhiteWang, Hao0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackCaruana, Fabiano0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Fabi could have been in serious contention if he won with white last round, which is presumably why he pressed and the result was disaster. He is now mathematically eliminated from the tournament – as while there are some extremely unlikely ways he could still tie for first, even then he loses those tiebreaks. The question then is how he will react. If neither player in this game has any interest in playing, as both are eliminated from the only prize that really matters in this event, we could see a quick bloodless draw. But also perhaps one or both may instead decide they have nothing else to lose and choose complications. If the latter occurs we may get a treat of a chess game, even if it isn’t impactful at the top of the standings.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (20%)Draw (66%)Black wins (14%)
WhiteGrischuk, Alexander0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
BlackGiri, Anish13.5%0.8%11.4%41.3%

Giri’s chances are slim because he trails the leader and has losing tiebreaks, so of course a draw wouldn’t do anything to improve his situation. He could still win the event with a draw, but those scenarios are out of his hands and rely on Nepo losing games. The far more promising path would be to win this game, which opens up a world of possibilities for Giri to chase sole first place, as we can see. Of course winning with black is easier said than done, but then again he did it last round against the second best player in the world, and now he may need to do it again to really get on track.

If you recall our event preview, we noted that prior to round 8 Giri had just a 4% chance of winning this event, but if he were able to guarantee seven decisive results and zero draws those hopes would increase to almost 12%. He didn’t quite go that far but he’s produced three decisive results in five games so far, and critically those have all been wins! This has gotten him into his current position and now he needs at least one more win, maybe two, to reach the top. Our model says it’s unlikely, but the chance is definitely there. Winning this game would help tremendously, but again remember that it isn’t quite a must-win either.

PlayerInitial OddsWhite wins (35%)Draw (53%)Black wins (12%)
WhiteNepomniachtchi, Ian84.9%98.4%85.3%39.4%
BlackVachier-Lagrave, Maxime1.7%0.0%0.0%14.5%
Giri, Anish13.5%1.6%14.7%46.1%

And finally we have the game of the day. This is either Nepo’s chance to lock the tournament up for good, or MVL’s chance to create carnage. Note in the table above we were able to include Giri’s chances to win the event in any of the three scenarios as well, but keep in mind those numbers are with the Grischuk/Giri game still being randomized. Winning on demand with black is certainly not easy, and MVL has been much maligned for his struggles with black in both this tournament and Tata Steel earlier this year, but that could be predictive of another struggle – or it could be the setup for a redemption arc! If MVL can find a way to win this game, it throws the standings into chaos, as depending on Giri’s results we may go into the final round with three contenders and no clear favorite!

It’s notable that Nepo has some added value from a win over a draw. A draw would open the door for Giri to tie him for first place prior to the final round, while a win nearly clinches things. That said, a draw probably still is enough to get him to the World Championship match so it would be reasonable for him to play it safe. A loss and he might no longer even be the favorite, although he would still have a chance to recover in the final round.

With only two games that affect the results, we’re able to put together a crude chart of all *nine* possibilities across those three games as well. Here are all the possible ways the odds could look prior to the final round (at low sample sizes, please forgive us of one of these results occurs and our round 14 preview gives different numbers):

If you prefer words to numbers, essentially the scenarios are thus:

If Nepo wins and Giri doesn’t, it’s over. Nepo clinches first place. Also if Nepo draws and Giri loses, ditto.

If Nepo and Giri both win – or if they both draw – it’s over for MVL, Nepo remains a huge favorite, but Giri has a chance in the final round (he would have to win and Nepo would have to lose in the final game).

If Giri wins and Nepo draws, MVL is eliminated and it’s basically a coinflip.

If MVL wins, everything depends on Giri’s results but no matter what all three players go into the final round with a chance.

In Conclusion

For fans of Nepo, the hope is that this round brings a win or a draw, and an uneventful drama-free tournament win with no final-round surprises the following day. For fans of Giri, MVL, or just those who love a dramatic finish, the hope is that MVL upsets Nepo creating all sorts of new possibilities. Either way round 13 will be dramatic with all eyes on the critical game, that will either clarify the tournament with a round to spare or set up an absolute must-see finale. We’ll find out how it all shakes out on Monday!

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