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World Cup Bracketology

World Cup Bracketology

The best players in the world, sweat dripping down their faces.

Win or go home. Big money on the line. One shot at glory. Pawn sacrifices.

No, this is not your traditional sporting event. This is the Chess World Cup 2017.

In the 128-person knockout tournament, only two advance to the Candidates’ Tournament.  The top contenders should be no surprise – they’re in the press all year – but who will emerge to be the biggest bracket busters?  

The World Cup is an opportunity for lesser-known players to go toe-to-toe with 2700s and come out on top.  Nearly any player can pull off an upset, but here is our selection of dark-horse players who could make a surprising run in the tournament.

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In picking these players, we opted out of selecting any player in the top 20. We erred on the side of selecting younger players who can put up breakout performances. Finally, we took into account the bracket and the estimated difficulty of schedule.

  1. Outside Contenders

These players are over 2700 and this is their only shot at making it to the Candidates’. Don’t underestimate them, as they are legitimate shots to go deep into the tournament.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

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Photo: Wikipedia.

Since becoming a GM at 15 years old, Duda established himself as the real deal. Now 19, Duda is the second youngest 2700 in the world, behind only Wei Yi, who would be a shoo-in to this list except that he’s already in the top 20. As a newcomer to the 2700 club, Duda’s got a lot to prove and has the skills to do so.

A strong positional player who does not back down from a fight, Duda has shown brilliance in the past year, including a crushing victory over his compatriot and 2750+ Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

Duda has a tough schedule, with potential matchups in round two against Ivanchuk and round three against Kramnik. While it’s a daunting task, we could have a surprise contender from this section of the bracket.

Baadur Jobava

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Baadur Jobava. | Photo: Chess.com/Peter Doggers.

As one of the most dangerous yet inconsistent players, Jobava could easily go deep into the tournament or drop in the first round. Similar to a player such as Richard Rapport, Jobava eschews conventional chess and challenges his opponents to think on their feet, frequently resulting in complex positions.

At his peak form, Jobava can easily take down any opponent, as shown in the 2016 Chess Olympiad where he won the individual gold medal for his performance on board one. In his game against Topalov, he deviated from normal openings on move two, yet proceeded to outmaneuver the former contender. 

He has a tough road ahead of him in the tournament, as he could play Yu Yangyi in round two and Ian Nepomniachtchi in round three. Look for fireworks in those matches!

Le Quang Liem

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Le Quang Liem. | Photo: Chess.com/Peter Doggers.

At nearly 2740, Le sits just outside the top 20 in the world, yet rarely gets invited to the top classical events. Now, he’s looking to prove he deserves a seat at the table. Le is a solid, precise player in long games and becomes increasingly more dangerous in rapid games, as he was the 2013 World Blitz Champion and finished fourth in the 2013 World Rapid Championship.

Check out a prime example of Le’s rapid skills against Levon Aronian recently in St Louis, where he won a wild, tactical game. 

He’s got intriguing potential matchups in round three against Ding Liren and round four against Mamedyarov. Look for Le to steal the match in rapid games from Ding Liren and have a thriller with Mamedyarov once again in rapid games.

  1. Aspiring 2700s

These players are potentially eyeing the 2700 hurdle and want to prove they can join the top 50 in the world. They won’t win their bracket, but can make pull off some serious surprises before going down.

Baskaran Adhiban

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  • Baskaran Adhiban | Photo: Chess.com/Peter Doggers.

The past year has been huge for Adhiban. He nearly touched 2690 in October and finished an incredibly +2 in Tata Steel. In that tournament, he beat Karjakin, Wojtaszek, and Rapport, along with drawing Magnus Carlsen and Aronian. Adhiban proved beyond a doubt that he can hang tough with any player in the world.

Adhiban is tricky and can quickly turn the tables on his opponents. In this game at Tata Steel, he punishes Karjakin’s center en route to a devastating defeat.

Adhiban will be immediately challenged in the tournament, as he has a potential round-two matchup against Nepomniachtchi. There could be an upset brewing there.

David Anton Guijarro

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David Anton. | Photo: Chess.com/Peter Doggers.

With a huge showing at Gibraltar in January, Guijarro took second in the tournament after losing the rapid playoff to Nakamura and pushed his rating up to nearly 2680. It’s come down since then, but there’s no questioning that he’s got what it takes to be a bracket buster.

In the tournament, Guijarro used strong positional play to take down two former contenders in Topalov and Gelfand. Check out how he masterfully outplays Gelfand to earn a clean victory.

In the tournament, Guijarro has potential matches in round two against Bruzon and in round three against Nakamura. While it’s a tall order to pull off, Guijarro may just get the revenge he’s looking for from Gibraltar.

  1. Remember My Name

This is also known as the "two years too soon" category. These guys are young, with a ton of room to grow.  Watch for a stunner early on and remember them as they rise in the rankings. Next time the World Cup comes around, these players could be heavy hitters. 

Jeffery Xiong

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Jeffery Xiong. | Photo: Chess.com/Mike Klein.

As the 2016 world junior champion, Xiong has proven that he’s a player on the rise. His rating peaked at nearly 2675, yet slid down since then. It seems it’s a matter of time before he rebounds with a strong result.

As a strong tactical player, he frequently dives into tricky positions and comes out on top. Earlier this year in Wijk aan Zee, he had such a victory against Gawain Jones in an epic match.

Xiong will be tested immediately with a match against Motylev in round one. If he manages to emerge from that, it only gets harder with a potential round-two match against Anish Giri. If he gets that far, look for a good fight by Xiong against one of the best players in the world.

Murali Karthikeyan

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Photo: FIDE.

At 18 years old with a rating of 2580, Karthikeyan is the latest young Indian player to watch. He’s been steadily rising over the past couple of years and is looking to break over 2600.

While he doesn’t have too many upsets over elite players, he has shown his potential against strong players, such as this huge victory over Zhou Jianchao. 

While 2700 players rarely go down in the first round of the World Cup, Karthikeyan’s match against Vallejo Pons is one where it could happen. Don’t tune out this match just because their ratings are well over 100 rating points apart.  

Statistically speaking, Goliath may beat David most of the time. The tournament is full of giants, including the world champion Carlsen, the 2015 World Cup winner Karjakin, Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Caruana, So, Nakamura, and Mamedyarov. 

But in the World Cup, David will have his moments. At most, only two of the highest ranked can emerge.

Look for the dark horses above to rise to the occasion and steal the spotlight.

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