The FIDE World Cup starts tomorrow in Tromsø, Norway, and I was excited to see at the official Web page that you can fill out a bracket to predict the winners. Although I think the knockout format (with two-game matches followed by tiebreaks) is dreadful for actually determining the best player, it should be wonderfully entertaining. It calls to mind the NCAA basketball tournament (aka “March Madness”), my favorite sporting event of the year.
Half the fun of the NCAA tournament is entering the pre-tournament pools. It gives you a stake in the outcome of even the most irrelevant games, between teams you may never have heard of. So I’m glad that FIDE is doing the same thing for the World Cup. It doesn’t matter that the prizes are small (e.g., an autographed board).
Although nobody asked, here are my predictions. I’ll only list below the upsets, with my reasons for predicting them.
Holt (112) over Vitiugov (17). Okay, I admit that this one is purely sentimental. I’ve blogged recently about Conrad Holt, and I would love to see him burst onto the world stage here, as Sam Shankland did with his huge upset over Peter Leko in 2011.
Popov (81) over Ragger (48). Watch out for Russians that you haven’t heard of! Ivan Popov is about the most generic name possible in Russian (kind of like “John Smith”) but after this tournament you’ll know who he is. Among other things, he’s the 2012 Moscow champion.
Smeets (73) over Matlakov (56). This time, however, I went with the lower-rated Westerner. Not sure why I did, but I guess nothing on Matlakov’s resume hugely impressed me.
Swiercz (68) over Zvyaginsev (61). A complete pick ‘em. I went with Swiercz because he’s younger and therefore more likely still on the rise. He pulled off the amazing feat of winning the world under-21 championship before winning the world under-18 championship!
Brunello (92) over Eljanov (37). Brunello steps out from the long shadow of his countryman, Fabiano Caruana.
Beliavsky (66) over Yu (63). What a great age-versus-youth battle, one of the oldest players in the tournament versus a guy who pulled off the biggest upset of the 2009 World Cup. I’m guessing that Yu won’t do as well when he is the favorite, and I’m going with age this time (as in the following game).
Christiansen (95) over Fressinet (34). Another sentimental pick. Of course I think Fressinet is better, but in a two-game match I think Christiansen can do this. I just couldn’t forgive myself if I picked Fressinet and then Christiansen won.
Melkumyan (79) over Granda Zuniga (50). No particular reason, it just seems as if Melkumyan has been on the upswing lately. Plus, don’t bet against the Armenians.
Agdestein (103) over Bacrot (26). Agdestein rides the “home-court advantage” (one of four Norwegian invitees to the tournament, which is taking place in Norway).
Felgaer (94) over Riazantsev (35). Not sure why, except I wanted to show some support for South America.
Negi (78) over Kryvoruchko (51). Negi had a big recent win in Politiken, which was enough to make me pick him over a Ukrainian I don’t know much about. Besides, India needs someone to cheer for with Anand not playing.
Amin (70) over Safarli (59). Who against whom? Well, Amin is from Egypt and recently tied for first in Reykjavik. It’s about time for somebody from Africa to win a World Cup match, and this one seems like a great opportunity.
Fier (91) over Wojtaszek (38). Fier scored a big upset over Wang Yue at the 2011 World Cup, why not another one?
Dubov (75) over Fedorchuk (54). Along with Popov (81), Dubov is one of the lesser-known Russians that I see having a breakthrough tournament. He was a GM at 14, and at 17 is still one of the youngest players in the tournament.
Round 1 totals — 14 upsets picked in 64 matches.
So (33) over Tomashevsky (32). The closest match rating-wise of the second round, this scarcely qualifies as an upset.
Movsesian (40) over Navara (25). Don’t bet against the Armenians. Plus, Movsesian holds a +3 -1 =5 advantage over Navara in long games.
Smeets (73) over Mamedyarov (9). This would, of course, be a huge huge upset. I’m going with the Dutchman because he is +1 -0 =2 against Mamedyarov, and he said that the win was “the game of his life.” So there should be no fear factor here.
Bruzon Batista (45) over Radjabov (20). My hunch is that Radjabov hasn’t gotten over his last-place finish in the Candidates Tournament yet.
Akopian (44) over Andreikin (21). Don’t bet against the Armenians. Besides, are you serious that Akopian is ranked #44? If you had asked me who was higher-rated, Akopian or Andreikin, no question I would have said Akopian.
Onischuk (55) over Dominguez (10). Gotta support the Americans. And I’m guessing that Dominguez’s rating has gone up a little faster than his true strength. I could be wrong, of course.
Polgar (42) over Vachier-Lagrave (23). This is an upset?
Dubov (75) over Ponomariov (11). Going with the up-and-comer against the already-been-there Ponomariov.
Jobava (43) over Korobov (22). Jobava is one of my favorite players in the world because of his romantic opening repertoire. It probably can’t stand up against top-flight opposition, but I’m guessing that Korobov isn’t top-flight yet.
Round 2 totals — 9 upsets picked in 32 matches.
Popov (81) over Morozevich (16). After cruising through his round 2 match against another “Cinderella” (Holt), Popov pulls off a huge upset against Moro. But believe it or not, this isn’t my big upset of the round.
Le (29) over Grischuk (4). Le recently won the World Blitz Championship over Grischuk, and my guess is that he beats Grischuk in the blitz playoff. This would be a nice irony, because Grischuk got to the finals of the 2011 Candidates Tournament mostly by winning blitz playoffs. Here he meets his match. But believe it or not, this isn’t my big upset of the round.
Akopian (44) over Wang (12). Odd fact for this match: Both Akopian and Wang had to miss the last World Cup for medical reasons: Akopian broke a leg, Wang had heart problems. This time Akopian breaks Wang’s heart.
Malakhov (31) over Caruana (2). This one is my upset for the round, and for the whole tournament. I see the World Cup as a referendum for whether Caruana is really “all that.” He has recently reached the 2800 pantheon, which already includes Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, Aronian, and Carlsen. Does Caruana really belong on that list? I’m saying that he has had just a little bit too much success too quickly, and is due to come back down to Earth. The strong Russian GM, who isn’t quite on anybody’s list of household names yet, is just the person to do it.
Giri (18) over Leko (15). Youth over age this time, and if Shankland could take down Leko in 2011, then Giri surely can do it.
Ivanchuk (19) over Adams (14). I know, Adams has had a great year, but come on — would anyone really consider this an upset?
Round 3 totals — 6 upsets in 16 matches, and some huge ones. This is really my “going-out-on-a-limb” round.
Nepomniachtchi (24) over Kamsky (8). Seems like I’ve been waiting for Sergei Shipov’s protege to really join the world’s elite since forever. Maybe this is the tournament where he does it.
Malakhov (31) over Giri (18). Malakhov shows the previous round wasn’t an accident, as he takes out another highly-rated young player.
Round 4 totals — 2 upsets in 8 matches. A little bit of a respite from the madness in the round before.
Svidler (13) over Karjakin (5). We are now at the level where either player could win. My guess is that Svidler, who won the last World Cup, will be a tough out and will be able to get by Karjakin.
Nakamura (6) over Kramnik (3). Maybe again this is my favoritism towards the U.S., but it seems to me that Nakamura still has something to prove to the world, while Kramnik has already proven all he needs to. Not only that, Nakamura actually enjoys a positive record over Kramnik in their long games (+4 -3 =7). So, no question that he can do this.
Round 5 totals — 2 upsets in 4 matches.
Gelfand (7) over Nakamura (6). Another upset in name only. Gelfand has a strong positive score over Nakamura (+5 – 2 = 5). Curiously, in their games Black has an even stronger positive score (+7 -0 = 5). If it goes to an Armageddon game, expect Black to win. Heck, they might even bid for the privilege of playing Black instead of White!
Round 6 totals — 1 upset in 2 matches.
No upsets. I’m predicting Aronian (1) over Gelfand (7). Professor Elo’s rating system holds up in the end, after taking a beating in some of the earlier rounds. And besides… Never bet against the Armenians!