Only 1 day and change before the Candidates begins!
There’s been some talk about whether having no clearly overmatched players helps or hurts Magnus (or the others). While guys like Gelfand and Svidler are clearly much lower rated, it’s a very different thing to play them versus playing a mere mortal of a 2600 GM.
My own suspicion was that it would bring the field slightly closer together, as the conventional wisdom is that Magnus beats those guys on-demand. He’d play some offbeat opening line, get a random position, and slowly go to work. Looking at the numbers though, that’s partly true, but that’s not really what sets him apart. However, two other things first …
First, Giri’s comment about Magnus having 80% chances to win this. It’s true he’s been pretty dominant in his recent events, but from Tata Steel 2011 through Tata Steel 2013, he didn’t win 80% of those events (and most of those weren’t as strong as the Candidates will be). As far as I can tell, he’s played at:
- Tata 2011 (3rd behind Naka and Anand);
- Bazna 2011 (tied for first with Karjakin);
- Biel 2011 (clear first);
- Bilbao 2011 (clear first);
- Tal Memorial 2011 (tied for first with Aronian);
- London 2011 (3rd behind Kramnik and Nakamura);
- Tata 2012 (2nd behind Aronian);
- Tal Memorial 2012 (clear first);
- Biel 2012 (2nd behind Wang Hao);
- Bilbao 2012 (tied for first with Caruana);
- London 2012 (clear first); and,
- Tata 2012 (clear first)
Obviously it’s an impressive run (and better than anybody else’s run at the same time), but that’s 12 tournaments with 5 clear 1sts, 3 shared 1sts, and 4 others. So even counting ties, that’s “only” 2/3 of his events.
Secondly, that Biel 2012 event is one example of what many might say is problematic about a tournament deciding things. Magnus took second place with 6.5/10, half a point behind Wang Hao. Interestingly though, Magnus beat Wang Hao 2-0 in their mini-match. If that were the World Championship tournament (or maybe even the Candidates tournament), I imagine there’d be a lot of grousing going on.
Anyway, back to beating up on people. In some of those 12 events, Magnus won by dominating the bottom end of the draw (or the results-table, although that can be somewhat of a tautology), but in others, it was by dominating the top half. So at both Biel 2011 and the Tal Memorial in 2012, Morozevich had the best score against the top half (while Magnus even had a minus score in Biel); but in Biel, he swept the board against the bottom half. In Tata Steel 2013, he went 5/5 against the sub-2700s (and only Van Wely (!) was nearly as effective against the bottom half of the standings).
For looking at some more numbers, I picked a cutoff of about 2715 FIDE (or around #30 and beyond on the list these days). Magnus’s scores against this group from 2011 through 2013 are huge: 81% as White and 71% as Black (15.5/19 and 12/17, respectively).
Meanwhile, as Black against those 2716 on up, he scores a still good 54% (22.5/42). Where he’s become increasingly deadly, though, is with white against that 2716+ crowd: 36.5/45, +18, or 70%. That’s a huge performance. Nobody else is even close to that against such strong players. Next best is Aronian at 61% with the white pieces; Radjabov is at 56%, Kramnik and Anand are both at 55%; Karjakin is at 51% and Nakamura is at 50%.
Meanwhile, as Black, Anand is next up having broken even against that field; everybody else is below 50%, leaving Magnus as the only one with a plus score (These are for classical games, 2011 – 2013, against 2716+ players)
Many of the top guys are similar in their handling of sub-2716 players: Kramnik is actually even more deadly as white, but much less so as Black; Aronian, Radjabov, and Nakamura are also usually big trouble for those guys. Anand, by comparison, has taken it relatively easy against them (with solid plus scores, but nothing quite as outrageous); he used to put up much bigger plus scores against them in the previous 3-year period.