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Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi: Predictions

Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi: Predictions

PeterDoggers
| 112 | Chess Event Coverage

With three days to go until the 2021 FIDE World Championship match, the chess world can't wait until GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi finally sit down at the board on Friday in Dubai. The big question—who is going to win?—is on everyone's mind. Below is a selection of predictions from a wide range of personalities from the chess world.

How to watch?
You can follow the Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi match right here on Chess.com via the following links:

Chess.com live games Carlsen Nepo


We're starting with comments from the two players who were the official world champions of chess before Carlsen: GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Vladimir Kramnik. They were guests on a broadcast on November 18 by Ilya Levitov, a chess lover, writer, entrepreneur, and now also a "streamer" who is running an excellent channel on YouTube with lots of interesting interviews. 

Vishy Anand

"I think the most important thing first is that Nepo’s style is somehow incompatible with Magnus's in the sense that for Magnus it's not easy to lock into this style," said five-time world champion Anand. "He is the only one who has the ability to get this tactical style against Magnus."

Although Anand noted that Carlsen has become better in tactical positions and doesn’t avoid them as much anymore as he used to, he might still be vulnerable there:

"I think in 2013/14 his technical thing was, often he would simplify to the smallest advantage where there was no risk, rather than slightly easier solutions, but I think he was so confident that he would win anyway, that he would go for the smallest edge. In openings then he tended not to take a lot of risks because probably he felt that that's the one area where people could catch up, and he made a big effort to avoid that. He would avoid main lines like the plague before. Now that has changed. Of course, there’s so much computer influence recently that everyone has evolved, but still, I feel that Magnus is vulnerable under these circumstances. If the position is difficult enough, it's difficult for everyone, and Ian can do that. He has the talent to pursue it."

However, according to Anand, it will not be easy for Nepomniachtchi to reach such positions: "My problem with Ian is that I don't see many paths for him to do that. I think he has the option to do it, and if he has worked well and he can be very intelligent about it, then he can get the kind of position that he's gifted, but Ian also has huge swings, and that is a big question mark. He can swing on the up, but he can also swing in the other direction."

Vishy Anand portrait
Vishy Anand: "Nepo's style is somehow incompatible with Magnus's." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"Of course, Magnus is a huge favorite, but Ian will definitely have his chances. For Magnus, it's inevitably getting difficult. It’s already his fifth match, so I don’t think the fire is burning so hard inside. He’s also been complaining about it for a while, but as for Ian, he should be very motivated now, so it can be interesting. Look, if I knew how to beat Magnus, I would have done it myself! Let's see if Ian can figure it out."

For Magnus, it's inevitably getting difficult. It’s already his fifth match, so I don’t think the fire is burning so hard inside.
—Vishy Anand

Vladimir Kramnik

“Preparation is very important," said Kramnik, the 14th world champion. "We don’t know anything about how they prepare, what they prepare. I think the beginning of the match, the first three, four games, will be very important. It’s difficult. I remember when playing my first match with Garry, you are under pressure, and if things would start to go wrong, anything can happen. For me, it was very important to take the lead like slowly.... I’m just a very valid and serious opponent of the [world champion]. Frankly, I wasn’t totally sure before the match, so for the challenger, it is important after the start of the match to get the feeling that you are in, that you are as valid. I would say as valuable a player in the match as the world champion. It's somewhere deep inside you, and if it goes wrong, you might start to be shaky."

Vladimir Kramnik
Vladimir Kramnik: "For the challenger, it is important after the start of the match to get the feeling that you are in, that you are as valid." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Judit Polgar

The best female player in chess history, GM Judit Polgar, provided her comments to The Times of India. She said:

"The biggest difference I feel is that Nepo is a player who believes he can win the match. I didn't feel Sergey Karjakin really believed in the possibility that he could become a world champion by beating Magnus. With Fabiano [Caruana] too, I wasn't sure, but with Nepo, he has this body language which says, 'I am going to win, and it's completely fine that I am the next world champion.'

"I think it's clear that Magnus is the favorite. I haven't played the world championship match before but watched it twice closely as a commentator in 2016 and 2018. I think there will be extra pressure on Magnus, and I think he knows that he’s a better player than Nepo. They both are of the same age and have a past. For Nepo to win this match, Magnus will have to get quite a significant help."

Judit Polgar commentator
Judit Polgar as a commentator for the 2016 match. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

A lot of top players were asked for their predictions during the FIDE World Cup and especially during the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. Below we provide their answers.

Alireza Firouzja

Early in the Grand Swiss tournament, before his sensational rise to the world number-two position had happened, GM Alireza Firouzja gave what is probably the most popular answer to the big question: "It's going to be a very close match, but probably Magnus is the favorite."

It's going to be a very close match, but probably Magnus is the favorite.
—Alireza Firouzja

Alexander Grischuk

The prediction of Russian top GM Alexander Grischuk was similar: "I think Magnus is the favorite, of course, but not a huge one."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The French top grandmaster GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who failed to qualify for the match in the FIDE Candidates, has been impressed by Nepomniachtchi:

"Ian has played very interesting and sometimes fantastic chess in the last two years. He was good when it mattered, so I think he will be ready for a match. Of course, Magnus is the favorite, He is the best player in the world for 10 years, but Ian definitely has a shot. I definitely wouldn't count out Ian, who has been preparing non-stop for the last six months with every resource available at his disposal. He can be a very tough player, a very tough opponent."

Sergey Karjakin

GM Sergey Karjakin, who played a match with Carlsen in 2016 in New York, said: "I expect a great fight. The main question will be for both players, who will get the better form to the match? Because I know you can prepare very deeply, prepare, prepare, and then you just get exhausted or something [goes] wrong."

Vidit Gujrathi

India's top player GM Vidit Gujrathi, who will be playing in Wijk aan Zee next January, said: "The safest answer is to say: Magnus is the favorite, and you can't really go wrong with that, but if anybody can surprise, it's Nepo, also considering Magnus's recent form. Of course, he's still doing really great, but he has set such high standards for himself that I feel like Nepo is having a great trend."

Aryan Tari

Carlsen's compatriot and Norway's number-two grandmaster Aryan Tari: "I think Magnus is a clear favorite, maybe 70 percent for him to win. He has much more experience, and he's just a stronger chess player."

Hans Niemann

The up-and-coming U.S. grandmaster Hans Niemann has a lot of faith in the world champion: "I think Magnus is just a huge favorite. I think if Nepo loses one game, the match is over, just from him, as a player. So I think it's sort of the battle of who can win the first game. I think Magnus can sort of recover, but I think if Magnus wins a game and gets a momentum early on, I really think Ian's chances are quite slim."

I think if Nepo loses one game, the match is over, just from him, as a player.
—Hans Niemann

David Howell

GM David Howell, who spends more time on commentating than playing these days but did quite well in Riga: "Magnus is the favorite, but I think it's gonna be closer than people think."

Andrey Esipenko

Russia's GM Andrey Esipenko managed to beat Carlsen in their first-ever encounter, in January 2021 in Wijk aan Zee. He said: "I think it will be a tough match, and it depends who will be in a better form."

Alexandra Kosteniuk

As Chess.com's Director of Russian Content, Alexandra Kosteniuk will be active as a commentator on our Russian channel during the match. This is how she is looking forward to it:

"It's very hard to predict. I'm gonna root for Ian. That's an easy pick for me at least. But then, as a spectator, I just hope that we're gonna see the tension, the pressure, till the very end, so it's not gonna be decided after a few decisive games in the middle of the match. I want to see the tension of the final games and hopefully the tiebreak."

Alexandra Kosteniuk Chess.com
Kosteniuk: "I just hope that we're gonna see the tension, the pressure, till the very end." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Boris Gelfand

The challenger of Anand in 2012, GM Boris Gelfand, who was only defeated in a tiebreak, said: "I never make predictions, but I want to see a big match. I want to see all 14 games played."

Vincent Keymer

The talented young German grandmaster Vincent Keymer said: "I certainly expect a tough match. It's known that Nepo has a pretty good score against Magnus. Also, I think his nerves are pretty good. Who is the better player? We will see, but also I think the match is always also about preparation, feeling good, being in good shape, and also having the right mindset."

Chess.com also asked a few other personalities, among them streamers, commentators, and journalists, for their predictions:

Qiyu "Nemo" Zhou

The Chinese-Canadian woman grandmaster, esports athlete, content creator, and chess-streaming star Qiyu "Nemo" Zhou told Chess.com: "I think Carlsen will win, but I think the score will be pretty close, nothing too extreme. Perhaps two or three points ahead in Carlsen's favor. I think Nepo will play some interesting openings, but other than that I'm not really sure."

Danny Rensch

Our very own Chief Chess Officer IM Danny Rensch, co-commentator during our broadcast, is one, but not the only one, with a deviant prediction: "Nepomniachtchi will win without needing a tiebreak (someone has to be the black sheep here! ) The surprise? We will see five decisive games in classic chess!"

Keti Tsatsalashvili

Georgia's WGM and streamer Keti Tsatsalashvili: "Nepomniachtchi will win, by one-two points in the tiebreak."

Robert Hess

GM Robert Hess, another co-commentator on the Chess.com broadcast: "Magnus will win the match in 13 games. I predict a score of +3 =9 -1 for him."

Aman Hambleton

Chessbrah streamer GM Aman Hambleton: "First of all, I think Magnus will win and defend his title. I think the match will be interesting because I do not believe the 'second-best player in the world' is facing Magnus this time around.

I do not believe the 'second-best player in the world' is facing Magnus this time around.
—Aman Hambleton

"That being said, Nepo may prove more of a challenge for Magnus stylistically as a wildcard opponent. If Magnus does not win this match, then I think we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of his dominance at the top—but I don't think we are there yet. I expect Magnus to win by a margin of two-three games with no need for tiebreaks, and I also expect that there will be a lot more decisive games (for both players) in this match compared to the last world championships.

"I will be very interested to see what kind of match preparation Nepo does and who will be on his team of seconds because that has always been one of Magnus' strong suits. No doubt it will be an exciting match and likely will captivate the attention of the wider audiences better than the Caruana-Carlsen match did."

Aman Hambleton Isle of Man 2017
Aman Hambleton in Isle of Man 2017. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ben Finegold

"[Ian’s] style is opposite to Magnus’s, which is good," said GM Ben Finegold in a match preview (also picked up in an excellent preview article by FiveThirtyEight.) Ian could get totally destroyed if he plays like himself—or he could win a lot of games and win the match if he plays like himself."

Asked to predict a score, Finegold said to Chess.com: "7.5-5.5 to Magnus." 

Leontxo Garcia

Famous chess journalist Leontxo Garcia, who has covered world championship matches since 1984, told Chess.com: "Carlsen will win because he is a genius. Nepo is an extremely strong player but not a genius. Also, there won't be a tiebreak. If Nepo stays true to his style, he will have to take risks. Moreover, it borders on the impossible that he can beat Carlsen playing technical chess. And Nepo is stronger in rapid chess than Karjakin and Caruana. Therefore, a tiebreak is highly unlikely.

Carlsen will win because he is a genius. Nepo is an extremely strong player but not a genius.
—Leontxo Garcia

"Carlsen told me in 2016 (December 1st, after his victory over Karjakin in New York): 'Emotional control is my weakest point. I have to work on it.' It seems he didn't do that before London 2018. If he hasn't now either, there's a source for a surprise there."

Yasser Seirawan

GM Yasser Seirawan is one of the most respected chess commentators. In his previous "career" he was one of the world's best and one of the very few players who beat both GM Garry Kasparov and GM Anatoly Karpov when they were world champions. Seirawan's insights are fascinating:

"It is hard not to be awed by Magnus.  He has been an absolutely outstanding world champion.  First on the rating lists for years… he has excelled at blitz, rapid, and classical chess. His victories have become repetitive, almost routine. It is easy to get lulled into the false belief that Magnus is and always will be a favorite in any chess competition in which he competes.

"Lest we forget, one day, Magnus will lose his title. And he will lose it to a player who is not awed by him. Nepo is just such an opponent! Nepo’s score against Magnus speaks for itself. Nepo knows he can compete and can compete successfully. This is what makes Nepo a very dangerous opponent for Magnus. Nepo is not one to be intimidated. He believes in his own chess ability—that when he is at his peak form, he can and should beat anyone.

"Magnus will not be seeking solace in a tiebreaker either. Nepo is very dangerous in those disciplines as well. This means that the match will likely be decided in the classical games. While I make Magnus the favorite—I am indeed awed by his successes—I suspect that the match could easily be a blowout. For either side!

I suspect that the match could easily be a blowout. For either side!
—Yasser Seirawan

"Nepo is a very streaky player. When things are going his way, he pushes the risk dials to an extreme. This means he can score back-to-back victories as well as hat tricks. Unfortunately, Nepo suffers from too much creativity! When he gets 'bored' and nothing is happening in the position, he tends to 'create' opportunities. Oftentimes more so for his opponent. This is when Magnus can strike.

"The victor will be the player who is able to 'hold his nerves best' in the critical moments under the pressure of a merciless ticking chess clock. Another key to match victory will belong to the player who is best able to achieve the types of middlegame positions which they favor: Magnus will seek strategic clarity; Nepo will seek tactical mayhem. I'm looking forward to a wonderful match where both players are competing at the pinnacle of their careers. Unlike the last two world championship matches, I'll predict five victories."

Karjakin Seirawan Tata 2019
Seirawan (right) with Karjakin in Wijk aan Zee, 2019. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gregory Serper

In his recent article on the match, our author GM Gregory Serper writes:

"It is very difficult to make any sort of forecast for the coming match since  Nepomniachtchi in a good chess mood and Nepomniachtchi in a bad chess mood are two completely different players. So the biggest question is, 'What kind of challenger are we going to see during the match?'

Let me put it this way. If (and this is a big if) Nepomniachtchi comes to the match in his best form, it is not going to be a snooze fest like the previous two matches, and we'll see some major fireworks! And if (and now this is a humongous if) the challenger wins the match, then the chess world is not going to be the same, and we'll stop hearing about eliminating castles and altering other rules."

Fabiano Caruana

What does Caruana, the previous opponent of Carlsen in a title match, predict? The following is taken from our lengthy interview with America's number-one player:

"I would still consider Magnus the favorite, but I think that he would rather wrap the match up in classical—assuming he wraps it up as a win! [Smiles.] It's just a general thing. I mean, he is, I think, stronger than Ian in rapid and blitz but, I think, because it's fewer games and more randomness, I think, and that actually favors the underdog a bit. In rapid and blitz I really wouldn't be comfortable betting on a favorite. I would still say Magnus should be considered the favorite, but it shouldn't be a major edge that he has. But in classical, I think he still should have a pretty good edge."

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Let's finish with a few statements from the players as well. Nepomniachtchi himself, in a recent interview with Chess.com, replied in trademark style to the question of whether he feels ready for the match:

"Am I supposed to feel ready? But I guess when you prepare for such a major event you always feel like you could do more. We are doing some insane amount of work, so I hope we get to be ready enough."

Famously holding a 4-1 plus score in classical games with Carlsen, Nepo's reply to which is his favorite victory over the Norwegian player: "I guess it lies somewhere in the future." 

Magnus Carlsen

And what about the world champion himself? Well, for starters, an excellent quote was provided by GM Jonathan Tisdall, who recently asked Carlsen if he felt that his experience with long title matches might be his biggest advantage this time. He got a very blunt answer: "No, my biggest advantage is that I am better at chess."

My biggest advantage is that I am better at chess.
—Magnus Carlsen

In an interview in August, conducted right after the FIDE World Cup, where he came third, Carlsen said: "If I can be at my best, I will have very, very good chances to win. I never had a good feeling playing against him because you always feel like he’s the one applying pressure to you rather than the other way around."

Even more recently, on Thursday, November 18, on the Løperekka podcast (in Norwegian; translation by Chess.com), Carlsen provided some interesting comments about the opponent he will be facing. The key takeaway is that Carlsen feels the winner of the Candidates is not his toughest opponent:

"I think the strongest opponents I could face are Caruana or Ding [Liren]. They are the best. I thought beforehand that anyone else would be a good result for me, and I still think so. It doesn’t have much value for me to think about not facing the player I believe is the strongest. He [Nepo] is definitely a wildcard. In Norway Chess, he looked very strong the first three to four rounds. Then he encounters a setback and collapses completely. He can't allow himself to do the same in a world championship match."

He is definitely a wildcard.
—Magnus Carlsen

What are your predictions? Leave your expected match score in the comments!

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