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: WorldChess.com/ratings

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 Chess.com 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: WorldChess.com/ratings

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Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.

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