World Cup Prognostications

by admin on September 10, 2015

Tomorrow the FIDE World Cup chess tournament begins in Baku, Azerbaijan, the birthplace of former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

I’ve gone from being a detractor to a fan of the World Cups. I hated them when they were masquerading as a world championship. I think that world champions should be decided the traditional way, by long matches without blitz games and Armageddon games for tiebreakers.

But nowadays the FIDE World Cup has become a world championship qualifying tournament, and in that context I love it. This is the one event on the chess calendar that gives us great matchups like #1 seed Veselin Topalov against #128 seed Oladapo Adu, who is from Nigeria by way of Washington, DC. (The United States officially has nine players in the World Cup, but Adu should be an unofficial tenth.) This is your chance to see the knowns against the unknowns, and it’s the first chance for many of those unknowns to make a splash on the world chess scene. Like Sam Shankland in 2011, when he upset Peter Leko. (Shankland is back this year, as the #63 seed, and he is thus actually favored to win his first match. We’ll see how he handles the pressure!)

I also love the FIDE World Cup because it is so reminiscent of my favorite event on the U.S. sports calendar, the NCAA basketball championship. That has the same dynamic and the same sense of crazy, non-stop action.

The NCAA basketball tournament also has prediction contests. The FIDE World Cup had one two years ago, which was a lot of fun even though I did terribly. As far as I know, there is no prediction contest this time, which is disappointing. But I won’t let that stop me! Here are my round-by-round predictions, moving backwards from the finish.

Champion: #9 Levon Aronian.

Comment: Amazing to see Aronian seeded so low. But he just won the 2015 Sinquefield Cup, and I’m predicting that the momentum will carry over into the World Cup.

Championship Match: #9 Levon Aronian vs. #6 Vladimir Kramnik.

Comment: Kramnik won the 2013 World Cup and it’s very difficult for me to imagine anyone in this field beating him. But I also think there is a healthy dose of luck in these tournaments, and so it’s also hard to imagine anyone running the table twice in a row.

Final Four: #9 Levon Aronian vs. #21 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; #6 Vladimir Kramnik vs. #18 Leinier Dominguez Perez.

Comment: These picks are very bold. I think that MVL is playing very well, he had a super result at the Sinquefield, and again I’m going with the momentum. Probably a mistake, I know. Momentum is overrated in sports. Dominguez Perez is also a big roll of the dice. I just like the idea of a Cuban going into the bracket that is stacked with four Americans (including #2 Hikaru Nakamura) and smoking them all like a Havana cigar.

Elite Eight: #1 Veselin Topalov vs. #9 Levon Aronian; #4 Anish Giri vs. #21 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; #7 Alexander Grischuk vs. #18 Leinier Dominguez Perez; #6 Vladimir Kramnik vs. #14 Pendyala Harikrishna.

Comment: Normally #9 beating #1 would be a big upset, but come on. In any reasonable world Topalov-Aronian is a pick-’em or Aronian would be the favorite. Giri vs. MVL is also a pick-’em in my book. Dominguez over Grischuk is an upset, but Dominguez (like Grischuk) is a former world blitz champion, and that makes him dangerous in a tournament where everybody is going to have to win a blitz game or a rapid game at some point. Harikrishna is Anand’s successor, and this is his big chance to step out of Anand’s shadow in India. But I don’t think he can get past the stone wall that is Kramnik.

Sweet Sixteen: #1 Veselin Topalov vs. #17 Teimour Radjabov; #8 Deng Liren vs. #9 Levon Aronian; #4 Anish Giri vs. #45 Vladislav Artemiev; #37 Le Quang Liem vs. #21 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; #2 Hikaru Nakamura vs. #18 Leinier Dominguez Perez; #7 Alexander Grischuk vs. #10 Dmitry Jakovenko; #3 Fabiano Caruana vs. #14 Pendyala Harikrishna; #6 Vladimir Kramnik vs. #22 Yu Yangyi.

Comment: Topalov-Radjabov and Deng-Aronian could be two of the best matches in the tournament, and they’re in the round of sixteen! I’m picking #45 Artemiev as a longshot to reach this round because there has to be a Russian you haven’t heard of. In the last World Cup, Tomashevsky and Andreikin had their breakthroughs. I’m just guessing that Artemiev is the one this year. Le is very dangerous, another former world blitz champion. Nakamura, well, of course you know all about him, but I’m predicting that Dominguez will complete his trifecta of beating three Americans in a row (Kamsky, Akobian, Nakamura). Jakovenko is always around but never at the top. Caruana has been too unsteady this year. Yu is a Chinese player to keep your eye on, a former world junior champion. But remember: Kramnik, brick wall, etc.

Round of 32: Okay, I’m not going to list all sixteen matches. I’ll just list the people I’m predicting for the round of 32 that are not in the top 32 seeds:

#34 Ian Nepomniachtchi (I’ve always liked his name);

#35 Rustam Kasimdzhanov (NOT an upset! I don’t know how Kasim got seeded below #30 Sandro Mareco, who is so obscure that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry!);

#37 Le Quang Liem (mentioned him already);

#40 Maxim Matlakov (see remarks above about Russians you haven’t heard of);

#41 Ray Robson (having unpatriotically predicted three Americans being beaten by a Cuban, I have to make at least one pro-American selection);

#45 Vladislav Artemiev (mentioned him already);

#46 Yifan Hou (one of two women in the event);

#52 Julio Granda Zuniga (one old-timer, Granda Zuniga, beats another, #13 Boris Gelfand);

#79 Varuzhan Akobian (another “Go USA!” pick);

#90 Alexander Ipatov (former world junior champion);

#97 Lu Shanglei (another Chinese player, another world junior champion).

Second round: I will not predict the round of 64 because there are just too many names that I don’t know.

Final caveat: My record as a prognosticator is extremely poor, so don’t believe anything I’ve written here!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Wall September 10, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Warren Buffet will give you one million dollars if you’re right.


Brian Wall September 10, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Doesn’t Nepomniatchi mean no one like war orphan?


admin September 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm

It’s more like “The person who doesn’t remember.” Not related to Ernst Neizvestny, the Soviet sculptor whose name means “The unknown.” You could probably write a joke about what happens when Neizvestny meets Nepomniachtchi.


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