World Cup: Going to the (Under)dogs

by admin on August 25, 2013

We’re down to the final four players now in the World Cup, and it’s a final four that nobody in the world expected. Do you think I’m kidding? Let’s take a look.

Evgeny Tomashevsky — 26-year-old Russian grandmaster, according to Wikipedia called “Professor” for his eyeglasses and studious looks. As the #32 seed in the tournament, Tomashevsky has twice come back from the brink of elimination. In round one, he was behind Alejandro Ramirez 4-3 after the seventh game, but went on to win the eighth game and the Armageddon game. Who would have predicted that, after barely escaping Ramirez’s upset bid, Tomashevsky would then go on to beat the tournament’s #1 seed Levon Aronian, #16 seed Alexander Morozevich, and #8 seed Gata Kamsky? The Morozevich match was, as I wrote in my last post, an epic struggle where Tomashevsky trailed 3-2 and had to win as Black. He succeeded in doing so after a 169-move battle that was, in my opinion, the highlight of the tournament so far.

Tomashevsky’s success was so unexpected that not even one person of the 809 entrants in the Prediction Contest predicted him to get this far. This in spite of the fact that lots of people seeded below him in his group had a few supporters. For example, 18 people predicted that Wesley So (#33) would make it to the semifinals. Nine people predicted Alexei Shirov (#41). One person even predicted Sandro Mareco (#104). But nobody thought of predicting Tomashevsky.

Tomashevsky’s reward for getting to the semifinals is a match against…

Dmitry Andreikin — A 23-year-old Russian grandmaster, Andreikin was the World Junior Champion in 2010, and this year in the Tal Memorial, even though he was the lowest-rated player, he went undefeated with eight draws and a win against Vladimir Kramnik! This is something to bear in mind as he moves toward a potential match with Kramnik. With a resume like this, his success at this tournament is much less of a “coming-out-of-nowhere” thing than Tomashevsky’s. Still, he was seeded only #21 and only five out of 809 people in the Prediction Contest chose him to reach the semifinals.

On the other side of the bracket, things were only marginally less surprising. The third person to make the semifinals is…

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He has a lot in common with Andreikin. Born in the same year (1990), he also won the World Junior Championship (2009) and had a notable success not long before this tournament (Biel, where he finished first). They were also seeded nearly the same (Vachier-Lagrave was #23). However, Vachier-Lagrave was picked to reach the semifinals by many more people — 36 out of 809. I think that may have to do with the perceived weakness of his bracket, where #2 Fabiano Caruana was the highest seed, a much less proven quantity than the other top seeds (#1 Levon Aronian, #3 Vladimir Kramnik, and #4 Alexander Grischuk). Also, players from the West still get more publicity than players from Eastern Europe, so that players like Andreikin and Tomashevsky are almost unknowns compared to Vachier-Lagrave.

Finally, the fourth member of the Final Four is the only one who comes as no surprise…

Vladimir Kramnik. Of course, Kramnik needs no introduction. Former World Champion, #3 seed in this tournament, he was picked to reach the semifinals by 442 out of 809 (54.6 percent) of the entrants in the Prediction Contest.

I’ve already shown my complete incompetence at predicting anything, so I will not bother to try predicting the Final Four. Obviously Kramnik has to be the odds-on favorite to win, but that doesn’t mean anything in this tournament. One point to keep in mind is that the final match, unlike all the previous ones, lasts four games instead of two, and that should work in favor of the higher-rated player.

If you want to read the tea leaves of past games, according to Tomashevsky and Andreikin have met five times previously, with an even score of +1 -1 =3 for both. Kramnik has played Vachier-Lagrave six times and leads by +2 -0 = 4. However, two of those games were at the World Blitz Championship in 2010; if you count only serious games (at your peril) Kramnik leads +1 -0 =3.

Looking forward to possible finals, Kramnik versus Andreikin would be very interesting. Andreikin actually has a 2-0 record against Kramnik in serious games, and 3-2 if you include blitz. He obviously could be a very tough opponent for Kramnik. Kramnik has a 2-0 record against Tomashevsky (but 2-1 if you count blitz games).

Finally, I’d like to point out a remarkable fact — either Tomashevsky or Andreikin is now guaranteed a spot in the next World Championship cycle. That would be a huge breakthrough for either of them, and a welcome change for chess fans who are used to seeing the same names all the time in the top tournaments.

The top two finishers in this tournament qualify for the next Candidates Tournament, and either Tomashevsky or Andreikin is sure to be in the top two. I believe that if Kramnik finishes in the top two, there would also be a match for third place, because Kramnik would almost surely qualify for the Candidates Tournament by other means. The third-place winner would then qualify for the second spot in the Candidates Tournament. Can any readers confirm whether I am right about this? If so, then two of the next candidates will be named Tomashevsky, Andreikin, or Vachier-Lagrave, a really big change in the upper echelons of chess.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin August 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm

According to the slightly weird regulations if Kramnik finishes in the Top 2 Karjakin plays in the Candidates tournament as the third highest ratings qualifier after Aronian and Kramnik. There could only have been a playoff for third place if Anand and/or Carlsen had played and got to the last two.


admin August 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thanks, Colin. “Slightly weird” is one of the gentler phrases one could use.


chessperado August 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm

From Chessbase (
“It is interesting to note that Dmitry Andreikin, rated 2716, has made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, eliminating the likes of Dreev, Karjakin and Svidler, but has actually lost a bunch of rating points in the process. The reason: of the eleven classical games he has played in this event so far he has won just one (against Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen in round two) and drawn the rest, a number against lower rated players. Andreikin is known to be a very strong rapid and blitz player and is probably pinning his hopes on the “Grischuk strategy”: draw your classical game, draw the rapid, take it in the 10 minute or the blitz games, maybe even the Armageddon.”
Now he is in the final, winning just one classical game!


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