The tournament I think everybody’s been looking forward to this year will start pretty soon. Information can be found all over the place, although as I’m partial to Wikipedia, I’ll link to their entry.
ChessBase has published some nice profiles of some players already: (1) Peter Svidler, (2) Vassily Ivanchuk, and (3) Alexander Grischuk. I’m not sure how they’ll get to everybody before the tournament actually starts on Friday, March 15th, but maybe they’ll start double-posting entries this coming week.
These profiles are nice both because they show the full head-to-head history, but also because they remove those pesky rapid and blitz games that pop up in the simplest of database searches. That’s especially unimportant here I think, given that any rapid tiebreak is only if there’s a tie for first and a bunch of other mathematical tiebreaks come out even.
There were a couple surprises to me in these 3 profiles. While I knew Chucky was Magnus’s customer and that Grischuk has played the top guys pretty close (albeit without any/many decisive results in his favor), I was quite surprised about Svidler’s relatively good scores against almost the entire field. Some of that is probably because he hasn’t played as much recently with Aronian and Carlsen, but it’s still an achievement. I remember first reading about him after he beat Kasparov in their first two head-to-head encounters I think (Tilburg and some other tournament) in the mid-1990s – by most accounts, he certainly had the class, if not always the drive and work ethic, to hang with the guys at the very top. (That game can be replayed here, or read with Seirawan’s annotations here)
As for predictions, I think the smart money has to be on Magnus. In conversation with a couple other players, I put Magnus’s odds of first place (clear or shared) at about 45%. After that, I had Aronian at about 25%, Kramnik at 20%, and the rest of the field at 10%. That was before the Zurich event, but even with that, it’s hard to say what form Kramnik and Gelfand will really be in for the Candidates.
Still, I’m a numbers guy, both in inclination and in terms of my actual job these days, so I was interested in what some simulations might show. Last time around, I collected everybody’s classical game results against 2700+ opposition, took their color results, and simulated the candidates matches.
What was interesting then was that the short matches coupled with the randomness of tiebreaks meant that while I felt Aronian was a reasonable (but not strong) favorite going in, his odds of actually making it through the match cycle were much lower than I expected. With longer matches, maybe it’d be different.
In a tournament though, you aren’t eliminated after a drawn mini-match and some random blitz loss. To me, this means that somebody like Carlsen is likely to do much better in this format than in a match format; that’s because there’s no real issue if he draws a mini-match with Kramnik for example. It doesn’t come down to rapids or blitz, and meanwhile, he gets to snack on some of the lower-rateds where he is expected to do better than his expected competition.
A tournament is also easier to simulate than a series of matches with potential tiebreaks. But before I did it myself, I looked around online and I stumbled upon a site called Chess-DB, which has a tournament simulator. I plugged in Carlsen’s rating from the January 2013 and March 2013 rating lists (handily listed on Wikipedia!) and lo-and-behold, I got a distribution of likely finishes.
Amusingly, with the March 2013 ratings, this simulator gives him a 42% chance of taking first place. Not so far from what I had pulled out of the air. However, with Jan 2013 ratings, his odds drop to about 29%.
I’m pretty sure that when I said 45%, I took into account the results that took him from 2835 to 2782. Still, thinking about it more now, I’m not sure if he’s really gotten that much better compared to this kind of field. Even if he wins, I don’t think he’ll exactly run away with it – at his dominant Corus/Tata Steel 2013 performance, 5 of his 7 wins came against sub-2700 players.
2 of these set of 3 numbers align pretty closely; the 3rd also makes sense given the input parameters. A 4th set of odds from Anish Giri’s comments at a German site (excerpted here, h/t TheChessMind) though is way out in left field by comparison – he seems to give Magnus odds of 80%!! Now maybe he truly believes this, but if you think about this prior probability as the odds you’d set as a betting line so as to be indifferent between either side of the bet, I’m quite sure Vegas would not agree. Nor would most people, I imagine.