What the experts say: predictions, views, opinions

by ChessBase
11/10/2016 – Magnus Carlsen vs Sergey Karjakin - who will win the match in New York? Is there a clear favorite? What are strengths, what are weaknesses of Carlsen and Karjakin? We asked experts, officials, and chess authors how they see the match and what they expect from Carlsen and Karjakin. A lot of experts, a lot of opinions. Statements.

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Ruslan Ponomariov (Photograph by Pascal Simon)

Ruslan Ponomariov

Ruslan Ponomariov, FIDE-World Champion 2002, (on Ponomariov’s way to the FIDE World title Sergey Karjakin, who was 12 years at that time, worked as a second for Ponomariov)
I think Carlsen is the stronger player and a clear favorite in this match. But fortune often smiles on Karjakin. At any rate, after the Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections nothing can surprise me.

Yasser Seirawan with colleagues at the Blitz World Championship 2015 in Berlin

Yasser Seirawan, Grandmaster and a four-time United States Champion
Old lions have given way to the young. This is the first inter-generational match that doesn’t feature the names: Viswanathan Anand; Veselin Topalov or Vladimir Kramnik. In fact in terms of age this will be the youngest world championship match in history. Magnus and Sergey are truly, “children of the computer age.” They have honed their game with the use of engines and databases. For me their styles are quite comparable.

They both play a wide variety of Openings and Defenses and are therefore moving targets in that phase. Both players excel in their fine defensive skills. They spot dangers from a long way away and are very difficult to defeat. They both have good attacking skills and fine endgame techniques. Both have very admirable qualities. The problem for Sergey is in their ‘numerous similarities of strengths’ Magnus has the edge. To this I’d add that Magnus has two World Championship match experiences while Sergey will be making his debut. For these reasons I make the defending Champion the clear favorite.

However, it would be a mistake to think that Magnus will ‘easily’ defend his title. The match will be short, only twelve games long. Six Whites, six Blacks. Opening preparation will simply be a huge factor in the match. As will the form of both players. To win Sergey will have to catch Magnus in an off-beat Opening or Defense that Magnus might try. Good fortune in the team’s guesswork will be needed. With their chess skills so well matched the victor might well be decided by other factors: Nerves. Time trouble pressure. Physical condition. Confidence. Will all play important roles. Magnus will want to grind out long games where he has an advantage to test Sergey’s mettle. To ‘exhaust’ him in such contests so that he will not have the energy to return the favor the next day. I’m expecting a good well-fought match where the first to score will likely prevail.

Mikhail Golubev, Grandmaster and author
Carlsen's chances are higher: he is not necessarily more talented but somewhat more stable and more resistant than Karjakin. Unfortunately, the time control at the top level is quite boring nowadays. They are normally playing the safest openings and are extremely well prepared. I expect this match to be tough and boring, maybe with one or two interesting games. The most probable outcome is +1 for Carlsen.

Daniel King, Grandmaster and author
Although on paper Carlsen is favorite, in this kind of match I don't see the World Champion's usual strengths coming into play. Carlsen has great physical stamina that often allows him to power through in the latter half of a tournament; Karjakin has been training hard on his physical fitness and will match the Norwegian in this regard. Carlsen is deadly at killing off the weaker players in a tournament, but there is only one opponent here. Carlsen's nerves are strong; the same can be said about the stolid Karjakin. His calm performance in winning the Candidates was impressive. Although Carlsen has won two World Championship finals, this is the first time he is facing a player of his own generation, so to some extent he is also facing a new challenge.

Underpinning Karjakin's challenge for the title is the massive support from the Russian Chess Federation, both practical and financial. The Federation has close links to the Kremlin who would love to see the chess world title captured in New York and returned to its rightful place in Mother Russia. I'm sure they haven't stinted on funds. For Carlsen, this is going to be the toughest challenge of his chess career.

Karsten Müller, Grandmaster and author
I think Carlsen’s chances to win the match are roughly 60/40. That is roughly what the Elo difference between the two would lead you to expect and not such a great superiority. Magnus has only a slightly better score from their previous games, and Karjakin is a very stubborn defender. Moreover, the match is short and I don’t see Carlsen as a 70/30 favorite. Karjakin calculates very precisely, particularly when he is defending. I think both have very good nerves though Carlsen has of course more experience with playing matches on this level.

Of course, preparation is an interesting issue. Karjakin will be very well prepared, for forced lines in particular. It will be crucial whether Carlsen manages to avoid concrete lines – as he has done time and again in his career. Okay, if Carlsen has to take a hit by Karjakin in a forced line, Carlsen is in trouble. As a defender Carlsen is very tenacious but in that respect Karjakin is really outstanding. It is impressive how many bad positions he managed to hold in the Candidates.

As far as the endgame is concerned, one has to say that Karjakin has played a lot of rook endings extremely well in the course of his career. In fact, if you want to learn something about rook endings it is a good idea to take a look at these games by Karjakin. But Magnus is of course also extremely strong and has a good feeling for harmony and how to coordinate the pieces. Maybe he is particularly strong if he has enough pieces left on the board which he can coordinate. However, all in all I see a slight endgame plus for Carlsen.

Robert Rabiega, Grandmaster and teacher
Magnus Carlsen is as much favorite to win against Sergey Karjakin as he was favorite to win against Viswanathan Anand, perhaps a 60/40 favorite.

Carlsen’s key strength is to get positions which are playable but seemingly inconspicuous. He then tries to outplay his opponents from these positions which he understands better than most other players. But Carlsen also is mentally ready to play these positions to an end. Back in the day a lot of players back were content to settle for a draw in such positions. Carlsen’s way of playing chess might influence the next generation of chessplayers though the current generation might be unable to adopt this style which in fact is difficult to imitate.

As far as opening preparation is concerned, Karjakin is really strong. He is still young and has a lot of energy. Like any other world class player he has a universal chess education. If players reach a certain level they tend to play on a similar level tactically. Maybe here Carlsen is similar to Bobby Fischer who had some slight weaknesses in complicated tactical positions – on a high level, of course. Karjakin has to try to reach highly complicated positions.

But as always, psychology is the issue. There are only a few players who do believe that they can really win against Carlsen. This might be Karjakin’s handicap. This is similar to the match Fischer against Spassky: before their match in 1972 Spassky had a tremendous score against Fischer but Fischer had a huge winning streak before the match against Spassky. I believe that players such as Vladimir Kramnik or Fabio Caruana or Anish Giri would think: okay, I can win against Carlsen. But does Karjakin believe it?

Dorian Rogozenco, Grandmaster and author
In my opinion the main open question is how will Karjakin be able to deal with the huge pressure of the match in New York City, because he doesn't have experienced playing World Chess Championship matches before. This encounter is something Karjakin has worked on really hard, basically all his life, and it represents the culmination of his career. In the last years Sergey demonstrated on several occasions that he is able to stand up the pressure in the most critical moments, but all that doesn't even come close to a World Chess Championship match. In my opinion chesswise Karjakin is not weaker than Carlsen, but Magnus has the better cards when it comes to dealing with extreme pressure. Therefore my prediction is that if Karjakin will manage to concentrate on chess and get rid of the pressure put on him (which is huge), then the chances are about even. To summarize... my general prediction is something like 55 to 45 for Magnus. A close match.

Jörg Hickl, Grandmaster and director of schachreisen.eu
My yearly view into the crystal ball of chess reveals: all in vain once again!

Making predictions for such a short match is almost impossible. In a 24-game match Carlsen would be clear a favorite and according to Elo he actually is the favorite in this match. But strengths and weaknesses are often not the decisive factors in a match – the psyche and sometimes even luck play a more important role. This can quickly end like an election in the U.S..

However, it is not easy to bet on the underdog – therefore: 60 percent winning chances for Carlsen!

Martin Breutigam, International Master and journalist
I think that Carlsen will have to give it all against Karjakin. If he is ready to do so I would bet on a narrow win for Carlsen. Karjakin will definitely be optimally prepared; his good nerves and his defensive skills are well-known. And I do not see any significant weaknesses in his play (and definitely none in Carlsen’s).

Elisabeth Pähtz, World Youth Champion Girls 2002 and World Junior Girls Champion 2005
Carlsen will win the match. He simply is the better player and he also has more match experience. Perhaps Karjakin puts his hopes on his better opening preparation. But if he does not get anything out of the opening, he will be worse in the middlegame and in the endgame.

Arno Nickel

Arno Nickel, Grandmaster of correspondence chess and publisher
If you follow the bookies Carlsen is clear favorite. But in a World Championship match a number of issues play a role and these issues are hardly predictable. How well did the teams work and which resources do they have? The desire of the Russians to bring the crown finally back to their great realm has been growing bigger and bigger over the last years, and one can therefore presume that Karjakin will receive more and more focused support by experts of all kinds, including sport scientists, psychologists and physicians than Carlsen can possibly get – no matter, if he wants such help or considers it useful.
In the end psychology will decide the match. Who is the first to deeply unsettle the opponent and bring himself into top-form? This is not necessarily connected to the choice of openings, even though the opening is the first important choice of direction. But against Carlsen all phases of the game are equally important. Maybe the role of challenger allows Karjakin to surpass himself. But it is also possible that Carlsen in the end will again have seen a lot more than his opponent.

Morten L. Madsen, President of the Norweigan Chess Federation

Morten L. Madsen, President of the Norweigan Chess Federation
I expect a completely new arrangement, with innovative solutions, as presented earlier by Agon during the Olympics in Baku. I also look forward to a tight and exciting match between two players, brought up under different cultures. 

I’m excited and proud. The Norwegian newspapers and TV-channels already fill their pages and broadcasts about the match. Maybe as much as half of our population In Norway will follow this!

Herbert Bastian, President of the German Chess Federation
I expect to see an excellently prepared Karjakin, who will first of all try to make Carlsen nervous and to provoke him. I also think that Carlsen will have problems to get going, as he has so often had before. But when Karjakin will have used up all the surprises he has in store Carlsen will find his rhythm and overcome the nervousness of the beginning. The match will offer much to talk about, not least because of Agon’s innovative marketing concept, but also because a Russian in America wants to bring the title back to Russia.

In the past, to become World Champion you had to introduce a new wrinkle to the game to exploit a weakness of your opponent. And one was well advised to avoid dancing to the tune of your opponent. Carlsen plays his own kind of chess, he avoids the well-trodden paths and does not rely much on theoretical variations. As far as Karjakin is concerned I can think of no characteristic feature of his play which would allow him to leave his mark on top level chess. But I think Karjakin is very disciplined, and in a match against Carlsen, who at times likes to experiment, this might be an advantage. In tournaments discipline leads to solid but only rarely to exceptional results. All in all Carlsen who I consider to be the better player, will probably achieve a narrow win.

Carsten Schmidt, President of the Chess Federation Berlin, Germany
I think it will be a match in which the opponents are on a par with each other. They are both about the same age and fitness should not play such a big role if both have the right approach.

Thanks to good management Magnus Carlsen by now is a brand name which is immensely important for chess. I don’t know how a World Champion Karjakin would be received by the general press. However, now hardly a day passes in which Carlsen is not mentioned in some newspaper, magazine or blog (which are not geared to chess fans).

In any case, to play important chess matches in big cities is the way to go because in these cities you do have a lot of chess fans who will want to follow the match as spectators. This at least runs counter to the rather consumer-unfriendly commercial live-transmission. My prediction: Carlsen wins +2 after a narrow match.

Ullrich Krause, President of the Chess Federation Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
I first heard the name “Magnus Carlsen” in 2001 when Simen Agdestein, who back then was coach of Carlsen and also played for Lübeck in the Bundesliga, at dinner after a match, said about Carlsen: "I have taught chess to lots of children but with this boy it is something special." Fifteen years later one can only confirm this statement. There are not many sports which have such a relaxed and likeable World Champion. I think Carlsen is a godsend for chess! Of course Sergey Karjakin is a worthy challenger but I still want Carlsen to win the match, and I also think that he is favorite to win. However, with only twelve games everything is possible.

Yannick Pelletier, Grandmaster
No question, the Norwegian is the clear favorite. But the challenger does have some trumps, which I would sum up as follows.

At first, backed by his chess Federation and the Russian government, Karjakin has had endless means to organize his preparation, with all trainers, psychologists, and other things he could wish for. Despite Carlsen's versatility in the opening, this is a phase of the game where Karjakin may be able to take an edge. The Russian is also a tough defender. This resilience may be very helpful against Carlsen's famous technique.

The first few games of the match may be crucial, as the Norwegian often struggles to find his rhythm at the start of tournaments.

Finally, Karjakin has been considered by many (and of course also by himself) as a potential future World Champion since he is about 10. Sometimes, children's dreams come true!

Nevertheless, Carlsen is simply the better player. Unless terrible form, illness, or another unexpected factor comes into play, I do not believe that Karjakin will be able to beat him. My forecast is a 6.5-4.5 win for Carlsen.

... and what do you think about the chances of Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin? Share your opinion in the comments!

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sharpnova sharpnova 11/11/2016 10:13
Kareeyakin and Carlsen are roughly the same age. I don't know why Seirawan described it as an inter-generational match. Very strange that he thinks they aren't in the same generation.
X iLeon aka DMG X iLeon aka DMG 11/11/2016 07:43
My weird prediction: the match will be decided in a game where Magnus wins...
X iLeon aka DMG X iLeon aka DMG 11/11/2016 07:36
"Maybe here Carlsen is similar to Bobby Fischer who had some slight weaknesses in complicated tactical positions"... Really? Is that guy serious??? Is he even aware of, say, Carlsen Li (QM2015)? Carlsen is simply better and the only way to lose would be if he gets bored or doesn't take his opponent seriously enough...
MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs 11/11/2016 03:48
It wasn't my intention to get political. I just pointed out Karjakin origins. He has been raised in Ukraine and just recently decided to switch nationality. Would you call a person "born in the Ukrainian part of what was the Soviet Union" the whole life with a brand new passport, a Russian? Sure, you would. But I will not. Decisive is what the passport says, right?

Logic tells me Karjakin knew he could get more support from the Russian Federation than from its own. He made a career decision. My guess is that it was about chess, not about heritage. Does Lahno have "Russian heritage" too? But let's forget about all this.
What I won't forget it's that you should call Ukraine what it is. Ukraine. It's not Russia. It's a different country. I had a Ukrainian roommate for over an year. She didn't want to be called Russian. Go tell her she is "from the Ukrainian part of the CCCP..."
geraldsky geraldsky 11/11/2016 02:35
Both are well prepared, but for me and for many people, Carlsen will win the match. Carlsen has some advantages like being single than Karjakin who is married.
KevinC KevinC 11/11/2016 01:52
@MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs, Karjakin may have been born in the Ukrainian part of what was the Soviet Union, but he is of Russian heritage, and considers himself Russian. He was given Russian citizenship by Dmitry Medvedev, and has the full support of their government.

You analysis of that is dead wrong.
mcplayerus mcplayerus 11/11/2016 11:15
The title says ' a lot of opionions' but I can't see one single 'opinion' saying that Karjakin will win. Absolutely all of them predict a Carlsen's victory so we actually have one single general opinion : Carlsen wins by a mile.
sizenando sizenando 11/11/2016 11:11
Nothing against Karjakin - I guess most of the new generations players have this "likable" characteristic, no more "love or hate" as before - but I think chess will benefit more from keeping Carlsen as the World Champion. Why? Shortly, because he tweets in English and not Russian.
I'm from Brazil and I think we need a World Champion that sees his whole as a "World" champion, not a National one. :)
vishyarmand vishyarmand 11/11/2016 09:57
Statistically speaking, as Jörg Hickl pointed out, taking elo and age and their high deffensive skills, in 12 game the difference should not be so significative (just slightly better to Carlsen). Of course, in 24 game, Carlsen should be the clear favourite.

But both are humans and there are phsycological factors as well as support from trainers (let see the opening novelties!). And in sports, when there is a clear favourite... all can happen. Carlsen has all the press, and Karjakin is playing for "free" (it is just a challanger).
thlai80 thlai80 11/11/2016 06:30
Karjakin is a lesser Anand of younger age. He had problems even beating Anand, only managing 1 win throughout the years. Is the version of lesser Anand of younger age better than matured Anand of the past two world championships? If Karjakin can withhold Carlsen for at least 6 games without losing, then he has a fighting chance. If he cracks even 1 game in the 1st half, he won't last 12 games. 10 games max.
MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs 11/11/2016 06:15
Most commentators seems to agree to the balanced encounter theory based on the ELO and the history of the players, i.e. 60% for Carlsen. I don't think in this match Carlsen previous scoring against Karjakin or Carlsen match experience will play any role at all. GM Seirawan rightly argued that this can be called the match of the Computer Age, being the contenders the youngest ever, but then gets punched back into thinking the traditional way, where physical condition, psychology, opening preparation and "the first to score will prevail" creep in.

These players are in their top physical condition, being in their early twenties, healthy and sports practitioners. Nerves can always be a factor, but I disagree it will be decisive one in this match.
And the same goes for GM King allusions to the "political" support of the Russian Federation as if we were still in the Cold War - by the way we all know Karjakin isn't even Russian. He's Ukrainian -. Anyhow none of that will matter and the seconds support also won't.

They won't be able to outplay each other in the opening because each other choices will be unpredictable and also because Carlsen will avoid all the theory battlegrounds. As it should be. The Opening has become a written textbook in this game. It's meaningless i.e. those aren't your moves, anti-ideas and anti-thoughts. It's a shame and RJF was right to say that more than 40 years ago now. Carlsen doesn't won't any of it and Karjakin knows it just to well to fall for what the seconds will try to push him to play.
Therefore forget the opening. This match will be played in the middlegame and in the endgame. We will see a continuous change in style of play, change of direction in reckless attacks, complex endings starting right of middle-play, but no bloody Berlin Defense.

Mark my words, this match will be wild. I believe Carlsen won't take draws exactly as he didn't against Anand, albeit Karjakin will not back up, he won't take draws either. This match will be the opposite of boring. It ill be a true fight OTB and any result it will be possible because we will see an enormous amount of mistakes. Hell to the Ivanchukian "find the best move in the position" dogma - see Tal for the answer -.

This match will be the most exciting and profound match since the 1927's match, of what I personally consider the last true World Chess match.
MortalWombat MortalWombat 11/11/2016 05:05
Just like I thought (hoped) that Trump will win despite the odds, so will Karjakin. Mark my words! I think he will give Carlsen tougher resistance than he ever thought possible and will be able to sneak one in towards the end.
KevinC KevinC 11/11/2016 04:27
I also read the comments on the endgame, and I disagree. I am very good, relatively speaking, in the endgame, and while I can't always play like these guys, I know genius when I am watching....as good as Karjakin is in the endgame, Carlsen is just better in my opinion. When I watch him play, there is an eerie powerful mystique about his play. It is just on another level.
KevinC KevinC 11/11/2016 04:24
I think Carlsen will win by two points. He is simply stronger in all phases of the game. Karjakin's only advantage may be the Russian team behind the scenes, but I still don't think that will be enough to overcome Carlsen having been in a match of this importance before.
karavamudan karavamudan 11/11/2016 03:39
People can fall asleep during the games and later check how many moves Sergei could last before drawing or losing.
Peter B Peter B 11/11/2016 03:33
The rating difference of 81 means Karjakin has a 39% chance of winning per game. Doesn't sound too bad, until you account for draws. If 50% are drawn, then it's 50% draw, 36% Carlsen win, 14% Karjakin win, on every game. That translates to Carlsen having a 90% probability of winning a 12 game match.
True there was almost as big a rating difference in KK 2000, but Kramnik had a good record against Kasparov and that was still a major upset.
mellekvese mellekvese 11/11/2016 01:19
It would be 60/40 if they played one game only. With twelve it is closer to 80/20.
WILDBILL1963 WILDBILL1963 11/11/2016 01:07
I think Karjakin will win the match by a slight margin. Sort of like Euwe versus Alekhine 1934, to set up a rematch a few years later!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/11/2016 01:05
@ JFBOBBY : In the "competitive" dimension of things, yes, it would be more interesting if Karjakin won the match.

But in the purely "chess" side of this, I think that this match will be extremely interesting in any case : If Carlsen wins, the games of the match will constitute yet another exemple of chess at an extremely high level, a level where Carlsen is for the moment quite alone, and I think that we are really very lucky to be able to witness it. And if the winner was to be Karjakin, it would be a major upheaval, and a fantastic exploit by Karjakin. And this would also be extremely interesting.

So, for me, even if Carlsen completely "crushes" Karjakin, it will nonetheless be a very interesting match, for its chess content...

And we must not underestimate Karjakin : at the moment of the 2016 Candidates, the two best players of Carlsen's and Karjakin's generation (besides Carlsen) were Caruana and Giri, who where both participating in the Candidates, and Karjakin beat them both to qualify. Caruana was the best of the Caruana - Giri pair, and played above his level (he had a 2800 performance for a 2794 rating), but Karjakin nonetheless finished the tournament with 4 victories against only - comparatively - 2 for Caruana, with one defeat for either of them. So objectively, Karjakin played very convincingly in the Candidates. And to play at this level in such an event necessarily "means" clearly something, for me...
Maturner Maturner 11/11/2016 01:01
Perhaps Fischer had some tactical weaknesses in complicated positions but not from 1970-72. His strength at that time I still don't think has been matched.
nkekere nkekere 11/10/2016 11:29
Carlsen is the better player, i also want him to win. But the challenger will win. Karjakin will win this match!!
JFBOBBY JFBOBBY 11/10/2016 10:47
I want Sergei to win this match, it will be more interesting this way, if he loses the question who will be next champ will stand for a longer period, let us see, carlsen is favorite anyway
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/10/2016 10:09
Just after the Candidates, I "predicted" in the comments of an article by J. Speelman that the result will be no more than one win for Karjakin, and a global win for Carlsen with a minimum margin of two points (2 - 0 or 3 - 1, not counting draws), with what I thought the most probable result being a 3 - 0 for Carlsen. This because I thought that Karjakin's elo level being approximatively the same as Anand's when he played his two matches against Carlsen, and Anand's experience being much wider than Karjakin's, Karjakin would not fare quite as well as Anand in his second match against Carlsen (in the second match, because I think Anand didn't quite play his best game in the first match, probably for psychological reasons, so the second match is, for me, more significant than the first one).

I'm still curious to see if, in reality, things will go this way or not...
Truffaut Truffaut 11/10/2016 09:29
In summary, everyone believes Carlsen will win the match.

One note, many commented on the tremendous amount of help Karjakin is receiving from the Russian government. Trainers, psychologists, financial support, etc. This reminds me of the 1972 World Chess Championship match where Spassky had the full support of the Soviet Union (remember them??). Spassky even had Nikolai Krogius, the "famous" Soviet Sports Psychologist and Grandmaster, who wrote the book PSYCHOLOGY IN CHESS, in his corner. Well, the high school drop from Brooklyn taught them a thing or two didn't he?
Bostonian Bostonian 11/10/2016 09:13
Carlsen by a mile! There is no one strong enough to beat him consistently in the world today. He is miles ahead of his peers.
Ransie Ransie 11/10/2016 08:34
Carlsen will win the Match 7-3 (by winning the 10th Game!) +4 =6 -0.
ajn9 ajn9 11/10/2016 07:29
My weird prediction, the match will be decided in a game with an exchange sacrifice!!