World Championship Sochi: who will win?

by ChessBase
11/8/2014 – It's not just the bookmakers, it's top players, chess journalists and even high-calibre statisticians who have been trying to predict the outcome of the match starting today. Most predict a closer fight than in Chennai, but see Magnus Carlsen in the lead, with a renowned sports prediction site putting his chances at 80-95%. As so often it is Kasparov who delivers the punch line. Look for it.

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Nigel Short: World comes around in a year

When the Candidates (the FIDE qualification tournament for this year’s championship) took place in Khanty-Mansiysk, in darkest Siberia, this March, few, if any, commentators gave [the former World Champion] much hope. They were very wrong. Unburdened by the weight of expectation, the rejuvenated Anand eased to a convincing triumph. There was nothing fortuitous about Anand’s sublime performance in Russia. If anything, he could have scored more points. It was as though all his cares and worries, which had inhibited his form for an aeon, had vanished. Therein lies Anand’s best, and perhaps only, chance: if he is to regain the throne, he must liberate his mind completely. He must accept that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He must be undaunted by adversity and attack his opponent boldly, without compromise. This is not, I hasten to emphasise, to advocate a kamikaze approach. One may begin a game innocuously, but there often comes a moment when a player can choose to intensify the pressure or take a calmer, safer option. In those situations, Anand must ratchet up the tension. He must let his opponent smell and fear the symbolic death of defeat.

Magnus Carlsen, on the other hand, has had a slightly disappointing year by his own lofty standards — although, by no small consolation, he did win both the Rapid and Blitz World Championships. In contrast to recent history, 2014 has been dominated by Fabiano Caruana. The 22 year-old Italian’s astonishing 7/7 start, against the world elite at Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, Missouri, had even Garry Kasparov gasping in admiration. From a sporting perspective, the match promises to be closer than the one-sided drubbing of last year. If forced to pick a winner though, I’ll stick with Carlsen. – Read the full article in the Indian Express.

Nigel Short: Magnus Carlsen has just one advantage

Chess rematches have their own characteristics, being psychologically difficult, in particular, for the previous winner. As Garry Kasparov, the Russian grandmaster who had five epic duels with Anatoly Karpov, said this week, it is almost impossible to escape the negative emotion of “Why the hell am I playing this guy again?” Anand will be encouraged by the precedent of the Soviet chess patriarch, Mikhail Botvinnik, who although well into middle age, twice won return matches by cunningly exploiting the disorientation of his opponent. Carlsen is well aware of this potential danger. His standards have slipped a little in 2014. Chess experts think that Anand, at his advanced age, must understand he has nothing to lose and sharpen the struggle rather than engaging in the lengthy, subtle manoeuvring where Carlsen excels. Almost every change since the rout of 2013 has been to Anand’s benefit – which is why it is likely to prove a much tighter contest. As Kasparov says, Carlsen just has one advantage – he is the better player. – Read the full article at the Financial Times (requires registration).

Since dethroning Anand last November in Chennai and going on to reach the highest ever rating of 2882 — surpassing Garry Kasparov’s high of 2851 that stood for 13 years — Carlsen has lost five times this year. Defeats to Germany’s Arkadij Naiditsch and little-known Ivan Saric of Croatia in the Olympiad showed that even this 23-year-old was not immune to fatigue. In the Sinquefield Cup that followed Carlsen suffered his second defeat to Caruana this year. Softened up by these reverses, Carlsen will either come very hard at Anand in Sochi over the next three weeks or be less aggressive owing to the silently creeping self-doubt.

Though Carlsen has not lost to Anand since December 2010 in the classical time format, and dominated the Indian in their last world title clash, his game in recent times appears far from intimidating. More often than not, Carlsen’s strong defence saves him from the slightly inferior positions he tends to get into while heading for the middle-game. Give Carlsen an equal middle-game position and watch him enhance his winning possibilities. Being from the ‘computer generation’, the young champion possesses amazing end-game skills that set him apart. However, in the past six months, he has found it increasingly difficult to ‘grind’ his opponents, as is his wont. More players are opting for opening lines that lead to dynamic possibilities instead of the ‘dry’ positions that Carlsen so loves to pursue. Though good at playing any opening, Carlsen’s strength lies in the ability to get his kind of position in the middle-game. He tries patiently, but relentlessly, to win from an equal position. – Read the full article in The Hindu.

This Polgar Sees Outside Edge for Anand in Sochi
Nerves may not be something that one would usually attributes to Carlsen, but it is precisely what former women’s champion Susan Polgar believes Anand has to exploit to regain his title. “In this match, it will all come down to if Anand can capitalise on any of Carlsen’s shaky moments. Anand had that opportunity in the first few games in Chennai but failed to do it. Once the young challenger got his nerves settled, he was unstoppable. If Anand can score first in this match then anything can happen. ... I think Anand will have a better chance this time. However, Carlsen is still the slight favourite. He is younger and in his prime. But it is silly for anyone to count Anand out." – Read the full article in the Indian Express.

Abhijeet Gupta: Carlsen-Anand will be much closer than the last time
Anand, who qualified for the rematch by surprisingly winning candidates' tournament earlier this year, backed his performance in the qualifier by winning the Bilbao Final Masters too and seems to be in fine nick ahead of the clash. Carlsen, on the other hand, has not had the best of times recently. "If you take the games of Sinquefield Cup into account, Carlsen was not playing too well. Now we know he is not someone who likes to hide any special preparation which in fact means he was in below par form," said grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta reflecting his thoughts on Carlsen's last big tournament. "On the other hand, Anand has been at the top of his game with a few expected ups and downs. He won the Bilbao even though his last round loss might have been disappointing and he was clearly the best player in the Candidate's tournament, where everyone made more mistakes than him." Soon after Anand's victory at the Candidate's former world champion Garry Kasparov had tweeted: "Anand will be underdog to Carlsen, clearly. But chess history has shown rematches have their own dynamics. Rarely a repeat of first". – Read the full article in ISBN Live.

“Good Luck Vishy! Conveying my best wishes to our pride, Viswanathan Anand for t
he World Chess Championship in Sochi.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Oliver Roeder: Magnus Carlsen Is More Than An Odds-On Favorite

FiveThirtyEight is a polling aggregation website with a blog created by analyst Nate Silver. In became a licensed feature of The New York Times online in 2010 and taken over by ESPN in March 2014. Since 2008 the site has published articles – typically creating or analyzing statistical information – on a wide variety of topics in current politics and political news. These included a monthly update on the prospects for turnover in the U.S. Senate; federal economic policies; congressional support for legislation; public support for health care reform, global warming legislation, gay rights; elections around the world; marijuana legalization; and numerous other topics. The site and its creator are best known for election forecasts, including the 2012 presidential election in which FiveThirtyEight correctly predicted the vote winner of all 50 states. – More at Wikipedia.

Oliver Roeder, a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight and the economics fellow at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, has used the statistical methods that have worked so successfully in predicting results in other sporting events – and in US elections – to analyse the chances of both players in Sochi. He begins by reminding us that Anand, the world's No. 6, became a grandmaster two years before Carlsen was born. This is how their ratings compared since Magnus, still a pre-teen, started playing internationally:

Roeder focusses his predictions on the propensity of top players to draw their games. Anand and Carlsen have a 70% draw rate. He ran 100,000 simulations each of the championship match, assuming a number of values for draw prevalence. His conclusion: "The more likely draws are in this match, the better Carlsen’s chances to defend his crown. If draws are expected a quarter of the time, say, Carlsen has about an 80 percent chance to win the match. If they’re expected half the time: an 85 percent chance. Three-quarters of the time: nearly 95 percent." The reasoning for these conclusions are given the the article to which we link below. The betting market, we are told, may be underestimating Carlsen’s chances.

Incidentally few other top players would have a better chance against Carlsen. Roeder ran the same simulations pitting Carlsen against each of the other top ten players in the world. With the exception of Fabiano Caruana, the 22-year-old Italian, Carlsen would have a better than 80 percent chance against anyone in the world:

Roeder concedes that all these estimates take the players’ Elo ratings and the Elo system itself at face value. But: "an Elo rating is necessarily only an estimate of a player’s true average skill, based on actual game outcomes, and the system itself makes statistical assumptions. And there may be 'intangibles' at play, too: how the contestants’ styles of play clash, Carlsen’s discomfort with the match arrangements, or a bitter taste left in Anand’s mouth by last year’s match, for example. My simulations are agnostic about those." – Read the full article at FiveThirtyEight here.


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