So in the semis and out of Isle of Man

by Macauley Peterson
9/18/2017 – Grandmaster Wesley So is in the semifinals where he faces Ding Liren. That puts him one match away from qualification to the Candidates. In the extended video interview, he explains how he beat Fedoseev, why he turns his chair sideways, how he tracks the average rating qualification for the Candidates, the role of his foster mother Lotis Key, and why his fans give him hope. So is unique among the remaining World Cup participants in that he can also qualify by rating, should he lose to Ding. We take a look at the interesting scenarios. | Photo: Macauley Peterson

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Where So stands

According to our (unscientific) poll of ChessBase readers, Wesley So is almost a 3-to-1 favourite to beat Ding Liren and advance to the finals of the World Cup. If he does, he would not only qualify for the Candidates tournament in Berlin next March, but he would also make Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana very happy. If So gets in via the World Cup they would both then certainly qualify by rating. If he doesn't, and loses to Ding in the coming days, then there's a chance that only one of them will make it.

Potential Candidates

In the running for the seven remaining Candidates spots | Graphic: Macauley Peterson; Player drawings:

Although the universe of possibilities is rapidly shrinking, this subplot generates additional drama as we watch the World Cup semifinals unfold — especially as both Kramnik and Caruana are slated to play in the Isle of Man International, beginning next Monday, September 25th.

So withdraws from IoM

Wesley was also slated to play, but has decided to withdraw since the World Cup semifinal schedule would not allow him time to travel, rest and prepare for IoM even if he is eliminated. (Of course he intends to focus on reaching the final match, which overlaps IoM directly.)

During the quarterfinal, I discussed the potential qualification scenarios for So and his peers on the official webcast with GM Ivan Sokolov:

Ivan Sokolov and Macauley Peterson during game 2 | Source: ChessCast

Of particular interest is the question of how the Isle of Man could potentially affect the average ratings of Kramnik and Caruana, who were elminated from Tbilisi after losing 9.2 and 5.2 rating points respectively. The pair are currently both precisely 2793.8 on the live ratings. But for the Candidates, the average of the monthly ratings over the entire calendar 2017 are what matter.

As of today, if nothing else changed between now and December, the average rating list would be as follows:

  1. Caruana (2807)
  2. So (2806)
  3. Kramnik (2805)

Martin Bennedik was keen to point out that his list is in no way official, and he has now added a disclaimer to that effect. But it has become the de facto way to track the rating race — even among the players — as Wesley So explained in our extended interview following his quarterfinal win:

So on Saturday, after eliminating Fedoseev

So was impressively nonchalant when it comes to the prospects of qualifying for his first trip to the Candidates:

"Even if I don't qualify for the candidates, it's not like I'm going to die or I'm going to retire from chess."

His withdrawal from Isle of Man most likely increases his chances to keep his average rating edge over Kramnik, as the conventional wisdom is that it's difficult for an elite player to avoid losing points in an open tournament — even a very strong one. Actually gaining points is even harder. That's the dilemma facing both Kramnik and Caruana, as rating qualification is now their only route to Berlin.

Update — September 20th:

Here's another (unofficial) effort to track ratings mentioned by "LearnZ" in the comments. Both Caruana and Kramnik have confirmed to ChessBase that they will play in Isle of Man regardless of the outcome of the semifinal match. In fact Caruana is already there!


Back in Isle of Man! Hoping to repeat my success from last year.

A post shared by Fabiano Caruana (@fabianocaruana) on

​Update — September 21: FIDE confirmed Isle of Man will be rated for November as expected, and definitely not October.

Aronian and Ding join Karjakin in the Candidates, and So will have to rely on his rating to hold up. The road just got a bit clearer:

Road to Candidates

Vachier-Lagrave and Radjabov have chances in the Grand Prix, Kramnik, Caruana and So fight for two rating spots | Graphic: Macauley Peterson; Player drawings:


Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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macauley macauley 9/21/2017 11:32
@polkeer I see. In other words, you don't include November and December 2017. So the difference is Bennedik takes the live rating as a projection to calculate a final average for the year, which would be correct if the players played no more games. Of course Caruana and Kramnik WILL play in Isle of Man, if not more, so this is only an estimate.
polkeer polkeer 9/21/2017 10:09
@macauley 9/19/2017 10:19
I have taken the 9 FIDE Elo rating lists of 2017 for the first ranking. For the second I have added the actual live-rating.
Elias450 Elias450 9/19/2017 10:16
Its clear,Wesley win this Tournament.He has the best Coach of the World.Jesus Christ!!!
macauley macauley 9/19/2017 10:19
@polkeer - Is there some misunderstanding? Bennedik's spreadsheet projects out the current live ratings for Oct-Dec 2017. No 2016 ratings are referenced anywhere.
polkeer polkeer 9/19/2017 08:17
I'm not totally agree with the ranking of Mr. Bennedik, who take account of the lists of October, November and December 2016, which, at the end, don't count. Then, my ranking, after 9 lists of 2017:
1. So 2812.56
2. Caruana 2812.33
3. Kramnik 2809.00
4. MVL 2797.11
5. Aronian 2789.44

If we take the live-rating as basis for the 10th list (October), we have, before the semi-finale of the World Cup:
1. Caruana 2810.48
2. So 2810.14
3. Kramnik 2807.48
4. MVL 2796.84
5. Aronian 2790.80
LearnZ LearnZ 9/19/2017 06:57
Rating tracking with plot can also be found at:
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 9/19/2017 04:37
So is an extraordinary talent!
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 9/19/2017 03:55
Thanks for the answer Macauley.
tcmits tcmits 9/19/2017 02:17
Go, go, Wesley So.
macauley macauley 9/19/2017 12:19
There's really no chance for MVL to qualify by rating as he himself stated after beating Svidler:
nutflushing nutflushing 9/18/2017 11:37
I atill remember when the FCPL guys put him up for the Dubai Open when he won it
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 9/18/2017 10:34
If So qualifies to Candidates through World Cup, would there still be a slight chance for MVL to sneak in by rating if catastrophe for Kramnik and/or Caruana in IofM and MVL raises his rating enough until December? Or did MVL's rating go down too much in the world cup for him to have any reasonable chance of qualifying by rating?

If MVL would have a slight chance through rating, MVL qualifying through the World Cup with So would be a bonus for Kramnik and Caruana.
DrAlexanderSchmidt DrAlexanderSchmidt 9/18/2017 10:26
So is NOT unqiue to also possibly qualifying via rating, as MVL can this as well...