In round 12 Ian Nepomniachtchi chose, with his opponent’s cooperation, to take a 14 move draw in just 7 minutes of play. And when Ding Liren surprisingly lost with white in the only decisive game of the round, Nepo’s approach paid off as he clinched at minimum a tie for first place as he now leads the field by two full points with just two rounds left. Let’s take a look at how our model measures each player’s chances to win, or to finish top two, and how their odds of first place changed in round 12.
For all intents and purposes, Nepo is going to win this tournament outright. Technically if he loses both of his final games he could still be forced into a playoff against either Ding or Naka if one of them wins their final two (they play each other in round 14 so only one can possibly win out). However there is no plausible reason to think he won’t be able to force at least one more draw, particularly in his remaining game with white, which would be enough to truly clinch victory.
With first place basically set in stone, normally these final two rounds would carry very little interest, as the Candidates is usually an all-or-nothing tournament as the winner goes on to play in a world championship match while the difference between second and eighth places is basically nil. However this year is potentially different, as we don’t know for sure that Magnus Carlsen will choose to defend his title against the winner of this event, and if he doesn’t then the winner will likely instead face this tournament’s second place finisher. So it might not matter, if Magnus plays after all, but for now the players have to take very seriously the idea that second place might have major value, and as such we have reason to pay attention to the second place odds. And that battle for second is intense.
The favorites for second place are of course Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura who are tied for second place. Ding is more likely to win the spot outright, by virtue of his higher rating and the fact that he has white in their potentially critical head to head matchup in the final round. However if the two are involved in any kind of tie for second place, Naka is much more likely to win the mathematical tiebreaks that would determine the spot, so as a result our model gives him better overall odds of second.
Also in contention for second place are Radjabov and Caruana, who sit just half a point behind Ding and Naka, which with two rounds left means plenty of scenarios exist where they could get sole second themselves. Radjabov also has an extra edge because his potential tiebreaks are also excellent in most scenarios where he manages to play his way into a tie.
ROUND 13 PREVIEW
|Adjusted Odds of FIRST if…|
|Player||Initial Odds||White wins (32%)||Draw (56%)||Black wins (12%)|
We start by looking at the most important game if first place is your concern, because it’s really quite straightforward. Ian can clinch sole victory in the tournament with a win or a draw here, and although our model treats it like any other game and puts the draw odds at 56% based on rating differentials, we expect Nepo to once again play for a forced draw, and Rapport to have very little incentive to resist, so we think it’s extremely likely this game will end all uncertainty around the #1 spot in the tournament. In the very unlikely case that Nepo does lose, he can still clinch unless at least one of Ding or Naka win their games to stay alive.
|Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…|
|Player||Initial Odds||White wins (15%)||Draw (70%)||Black wins (15%)|
And now we move on to the three games that are all critical to the battle for second, assuming Nepo ultimately wins sole first place. Ding is currently in the pole position, tied for second place with Naka and having white against Naka later on, but that position is hardly safe as his tiebreaks are quite poor. A draw in this game probably leaves him as about a 2 to 1 underdog to take that #2 spot, so his quest for second can really only be bolstered by a win here with the black pieces. That might be an achievable result if Firouzja continues to struggle as he has all tournament, but on the other hand Firouzja has white and is coming off a rest day, and if he gets his head in the right place he could have good chances to win this game, and largely ruin Ding’s hopes of second place.
How bad are Ding’s tiebreaks? All in all there is a 31% chance Ding ends up tied for second place, but tiebreak math would only actually award him the spot in 9.1% of those scenarios. He either needs to take second outright, or else get very lucky with all eight of the final games giving precisely the right results to optimize his Sonneborn-Berger score.
|Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…|
|Player||Initial Odds||White wins (29%)||Draw (59%)||Black wins (13%)|
Nakamura has very similar chances as Ding, which isn’t surprising as they currently share second place. He can become a 2 to 1 favorite for the #2 spot with a win, remains a slight underdog to pull it off with a draw, and would be in bad shape with a loss. The difference is that Hikaru with white is in much better position to play for a win than Ding is, and he has incentive to do so if he wants second place because if he doesn’t win here he has a much tougher game in the final round defending with black against Ding.
One thing working in Naka’s favor is tiebreaks. 30% of all scenarios leave him involved in a tie for second place, and he wins 73.4% of those. Nothing is yet guaranteed for anyone in terms of where their tiebreak scores will land, a few rare scenarios even exist where there is a two-way tie between Naka and Ding and it’s Ding who gets second place, but overall the tiebreaks work out well for Naka more often than not. This is why he has better odds of second with a draw than Ding does, even though a win would of course be better for either of them.
|Adjusted Odds of SECOND if…|
|Player||Initial Odds||White wins (15%)||Draw (69%)||Black wins (16%)|
And finally we have the two players who are currently half a point back in the race for second place squaring off against each other. A draw here would be great news for both Naka and Ding, as the race for second would most likely turn into even more of a two-player affair than it already is (as far as realistic hopes go). But while these two players are both currently longshots for second place, and become bigger longshots with a draw, they can actually both put themselves into solid contention for that #2 spot with a win. So if this game is decisive it will add a third serious contender to the battle for second place.
Radjabov in particular becomes a serious threat if he manages to win here with white, because if he finds a way to play himself into any sort of tie for #2, his tiebreaks are excellent. There is only an 8.4% chance Radja ends up tied for second place but he wins the tiebreaks 89% of the time that it happens, and a win makes it far more likely. Caruana on the other hand has much lower chances at second place despite the same score largely because he has much less ability to rely on tiebreaks, winning just 21.2% of the ties he’s part of.
Round 13 is all about the battle for second place. Not that we know with certainty that it actually matters who comes in second, but there is a chance of it being critical so we can follow the race eagerly for now and then wait for Carlsen to confirm whether it was important or not later. Of course along the way Nepo will probably go ahead and clinch sole first place with a round to spare (just like he did at the last Candidates) and if that doesn’t occur it will bring us a tiny touch of drama for the final round. As far as final round drama goes, though, it will more likely have to do with the race for second. We know that Ding and Naka play each other in round 14, and it looks like a critical game for the #2 spot, but we won’t actually know for sure how critical it is until we see what happens in all four games this round as they will clarify both the standings and much of the tiebreak math. So every game has the ability to affect either the race for first or the race for second, meaning we have another exciting round ahead of us. Enjoy the show!