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World Championship Predictions Print E-mail
By Pascal Charbonneau with Irina Krush   
September 12, 2007
When Jennifer asked me to write up predictions for the upcoming World Championship tournament, I imagined the exercise would be relatively easy, for in my mind I have a very clear idea of what the chess pyramid looks like from the top down. As I glanced at the list of players after having come back from my 9-5 on Wall Street, I realized that not unlike some stock lists I examined when the sun was still out, it suddenly appeared difficult to rank them in the correct order. It is well-known that some chess players tend to go for a random walk during their games, but are their results equally unpredictable? I have made an honest effort to rank them, and I would like to make some early nominations for a few special prizes as well. Irina, I suspect, will make an even more honest effort to disagree with everything I write. Her comments are in italics. So without further ado:

I rank players in two ways. Their expected score, and their likelihood of winning the tournament, in percentage.

1: Vishy Anand

While it would be more glamorous to disagree with Garry Kasparov's pick, Anand has a few things going for him: he has been the most consistent player in the world, and rarely has a very bad result. His main weakness: his nerves. But given that a double round robin really does not lead to very tense situations (compared to, say, a KO), that weakness will most likely remain in the shadow. Vishy is also the only player in the whole event whom I have defeated, but also the only player in the field who has defeated me. This rollercoaster of an experience gives him an extra, perhaps unnoticed edge.

Expected Score: 8.5/14
Chance to win the event: 38%

I agree that Vishy is a strong contender for first place, but I would put him at 30%. When he wins, he makes it look easy, but he doesn't always recover so well after losses and in this field there's no one who's going to give points away- Irina

2: Vladimir Kramnik

The system which FIDE, through yet another meeting of the minds, developed, provides Kramnik with bizarre incentives. If Kramnik prefers not to face Topalov (who incidentally has been severely "reprimanded" for his actions), he will towards the end of the tournament begin to root for all of his opponents. In fact, he may wish to favor the weakest players in the field (because then he would get to play the "lucky winner" of this championship) That being said, the man wants to show that he's still got game. That means he's going to be shooting for second place. I believe in this fellow's talent, his health seems solid, and his wife writes for Le Figaro, and therefore has long gained my respect.

Expected Score: 8/14
Chance to win the event: 22%

I rate Kramnik's chances as equal to Anand's: 30%. He's been playing pretty well lately (although I can't remember a single tournament he's played in) and he's just a high class player. I expect to see some nice chess from him in this tournament. The only concern is that his fire to win might have been doused by the fact that he'll play a match no matter how he fares in Mexico City.

3: Levon Aronian

Aronian's play combines a certain craftiness, at times impressive preparation (and at times simply awful), inventiveness, and an acquired taste for simple endgames. Such a pot-pourri of ingredients, at a young age (ie he may still well be improving), should propel him within the top three of this event, as long as he stays focused. Rumor on W 10th St has it that he could be the dark horse of the event, but could this stem simply from being Arianne's Knight in shining armor?

Expected Score: 7.5/14
Chance to win the event: 15%

Irina: Who's going to understand your puns, Pascal?- Oh, alright, I guess 15% seems reasonable to allocate to Levon.

4-5: Peter Svidler and Peter Leko

In the middle of the field there will be the two Peters. While both of them are capable of extraordinary performances, the forces of inertia just don't seem to work for them. Leko had his shot and came as close to the title as anybody will, but it seems like his chess has since lacked the luster it once had . Svidler, for some reason, just doesn't seem to me like he is trying so hard anymore. I don't want to go for an easy pun, but the Peters' game often peters out to a draw.

Expected Score: 7/14
Combined % chance of winning the event: 15%

Loved that last pun, Pascal. Svidler finished pretty well in San Luis (tied for 2nd with Anand) but nor do I see the Peters winning this tournament. And since I want to leave some chances for Moro to win, I'll say that they have a combined chance of 10%.

6-7 The Sasha's

I had trouble putting them here because it just doesn't look right to have them near the end of any field, but somebody has to end up there, no?? Because they are so different, though, they each receive a paragraph:

Moro's going to be a dangerous opponent for anybody, as he always is, but this type of a field just does not seem to suit him. Like a boxer with a solid uppercut, he could put a dent in anybody's ascent at the most unexpected moment. However, he just does not have the jab to keep his opponents at bay, and in the end, the unorthodoxy of his play unfortunately hurts his result. Statistically speaking, however, I'd say that he has the greatest variance of any player out there, and therefore this prediction (and this one only) could potentially be wrong.

Grischuk has not been playing badly lately, but I can't help but to think about his focus steering away from chess. Be it poker or a little baby, you wonder what time slot (not slot machines) is allotted to chess. The guy's good enough to get away with it in league games, but in a tournament like this one, I don't expect it to happen.

Expected score: 6.5/14
Combined % chance of winning the event: 8%

We have to predict something unusual to happen, don't we? How many times is Moro going to see-saw his way through the tournament? It's rather a pity that a player of his talent and style has never won a super GM event, and I am going to guess that sooner or later he will rise to the occasion. Now seems like a good moment. So he's going to get the rest of my votes, all 15% of them. I want to see a black swan…


Gelfand is a fantastic player. That being said, I just don't think he will be able to compete with all the eager and aggressive young guns. His openings are extremely predictable, despite being very solid. What this means is that he can sometimes get caught, but rarely catches. This means he will draw most of his games but lose a few.

Expected Score: 5/14
Chance to win the event: 2%

Unfortunately, I ran out of percent for Grischuk and Gelfand. I could have tried to throw them a few, like Pascal did, but I do believe the chances of them winning are very small. Gelfand's a great player, and will nick some points off the top seeds, but winning against all these guys? Come on. And Grischuk, as far as I can remember, has never actually won a super tournament either, and this one seems like a tough one to get started in.

Special Awards:

Fewest Draws:
Alexander Morozevich, uncontested

Toilet visits:
While this is a hotly debated topic, I will go for a scientific explanation. The player with the longest games should naturally make the most frequent visits. Now who may that be? Somewhat likely to be Morozevich too, but Anand could give him a run for it.

Number of hours spent not looking at the board:
Before I nominate a player, I'd like to point out to those who may not have watched the elite play that they are often looking at the ceiling, walls, or women in the audience. It is not clear whether they are actually looking deeply into their minds for hidden variations, or seeking inspiration. In any case, I nominate Alexander Grischuk for this coveted prize.