If you’re bored this year by the chess scene, I don’t blame you. This year hasn’t been all that interesting. The good news is, that all changes today. For today FIDE has announced the first round pairings for the World Cup. The World Cup is the March Madness of the chess world; TIMES TWO! In the NCAA tournament, ~64 teams compete in “one and done” games until a champion is crowned. In the chess world, we have 128 competitors playing matches until a champion is crowned. The last time we had a world cup was 2013. It provided a great deal of blog fodder for me. I will be doing my best to cover the event in detail and will provide recaps for those interested. I’m also going to be providing my predictions as well as any games or anecdotes that I may have. The last time I did this I posted the five most anticipated matches. I’m going to do that again this time around and I’m also going to provide my predictions. If you want to fill out your own bracket you can download the PDF from the FIDE website.
The World Cup is a strange event. It’s important that you play well each game in each match. Perhaps more important though, is the emphasis on not making mistakes. The people who are successful in this event are the ones who can make draws whenever they want to. That’s why guys like Kramnik, Tomashevsky and Andreikin have been successful in the past. If you can play solid chess for like three or four rounds then you can win this tournament. In 2013 we saw Nakamura completely derail against Korobov. Kramnik just played solid risk-free chess and to me that’s the key to success in this event.
I want to point one thing out before my predictions. Take a look at the bottom right corner of the bracket; the one with Caruana and Kramnik. I believe this is the toughest corner in the whole tournament. I’m of the opinion that the winner will likely come from this corner. This year I’m excited to say that I’ve played two contestants from this years world cup; Gata Kamsky and Oladapo Adu. I’ll be paying close attention to their games.
I predict that the elite eight will consist of the following players: Svidler, Aronian, Giri, Tomashevsky, Karjakin, Caruana, Grischuk and Nakamura.
I predict that the final four will consist of the following players: Aronian, Giri, Grischuk and Caruana
I predict that the championship will consist of the following players: Giri and Caruana
I predict the champion will be: Fabiano Caruana.
Most Anticipated Match-Ups of the First Round:
1. (21) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Vs. (108) Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez
Maxim Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) is an elite GM from France. In 2009 he won the World Junior Chess Championship. In 2013 he made it to the semi-finals before succumbing to eventual winner Vladimir Kramnik.
Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez is a Cuban Grandmaster. He won the Cuban Chess Championship in 2014. In 2013 he shocked the chess world by knocking out GM Judit Polgar in the first round.
Why this match Matters: In a rematch of the 2013 second round here we find these two playing in the first round. I really like the idiosyncrasies that occur in events like this; especially in the first round. The first round is cool, a lot of players that you’ve likely never heard of get their shot at playing some of the elite guys. This match is cool; ordinarily these guys would probably never play but through pure luck they find themselves paired once again.
Likely Outcome: I think this is just going to be a little bit of history repeating. I don’t think that MVL is going to have much trouble with Suarez but hey, I could be wrong.
2. (47) Gata Kamsky vs (82) Hrant Melkumyan
Gata Kamsky is someone you should all know. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention; he’s a living legend. The kind of guy you read about in chess books.
Hrant Melkumyan is a GM from Armenian. He’s an incredible blitz player and has had some good results lately against strong opposition.
Why this match Matters: As many of my loyal readers may remember I played GM Gata Kamsky. He is a nice guy and I’m hoping for the best for him. He’s the kind of player that tends to do well in these kinds of events. His style is suitable for it; and he’s clearly no stranger to the knock out style competition. This could be the last hurrah for Kamsky and may be one of the last times that he qualifies for this event.
Likely Outcome: This time around Kamsky seems to have slipped a bit. I think he’ll be able to get out of the round of 128 but unfortunately if he does he’s got a litany of tough players to follow. If he does get out of the first round his next round opponent will probably be Dominguez-Perez; who historically has been tough for Kamsky. It won’t be easy but I believe Kamsky should win this match.
3. (17) Teimour Radjabov vs (112) Samuel Sevian
Teimour Radjabov is an elite GM from Azerbaijan. He never seems to have the results that one might expect from a player of his caliber. He’s capable of some incredible victories but also seems to falter in big events.
Samuel Sevian is a GM from America. He’s one of the youngest players in the tournament and is the youngest player to ever be crowned GM from America. He holds the record for the youngest ever United States Grandmaster at the age of 13 years, 10 months, and 27 days.
Why this match Matters: At ~15, Sevian is currently one of the youngest players in the World Cup. There is one other player who is the same age from Iran, but I couldn’t find his exact birth date. Sevian got a tough pairing against Radjabov but who knows, maybe Radjabov will misplay like he did in the first round last year.
Likely Outcome: I predict that Radjabov wins this match but Sevian is a tough competitor so it won’t be easy.
4. (1) Veselin Topalov vs (128) Oladapo Adu
Veselin Topalov is another player that should be familiar to everyone. Like Kamsky he’s got a litany of accomplishments and has achieved a great deal of success. His plays is aggressive and sharp. He’s going to be one of those guys that you’re going to want to watch; his play is really exciting.
Oladapo Adu is an IM from Nigeria. For a few years he was living in Maryland which is how we met. He qualified for the World Cup by winning the FIDE 4.4 Interzonal Championship held in Togo. He is the lowest rated player in the World Cup with a FIDE rating of 2241.
Why this match Matters: I played IM Adu when he was living in Maryland. Our game wasn’t anything special and he outplayed me in a position he clearly knew better than I did. He’s a very nice guy and we here at lifezugzwang are all wishing him the best. Getting a chance to play Topalov at the height of his powers is a great treat.
Likely Outcome: I’m looking forward to seeing Adu’s games but frankly I don’t give him much of a chance against a guy like Topalov. I predict Topalov should easily dispatch Adu although I hope that’s not the case.
5. (9) Levon Aronian vs (120) Michael Wiedenkeller
GM Levon Aronian is an elite GM from Armenia. He’s been in the top ten for a long time but like Radjabov he never seems to have the individual results to match. In 2013 he was “sick” and blundered against Tomashevsky which enabled Tomashevsky to make his amazing run. This also ruined my bracket; which I didn’t love.
GM Michael Wiedenkeller is the oldest player in the tournament. He’s played for Luxembourg in the last few Olympiads and qualified for the World Cup via a presidential nominee.
Why this match Matters: The first round is filled with fun back stories. We’ve got the youngest players in the tournament and here we see the oldest player in the tournament; Wiedenkeller. At the age of 52 he is currently the oldest player in the tournament.
Likely Outcome: I don’t rate his chances very high against Aronian but he’s got an interesting story.
Stay tuned everyone the World Cup kicks off on Friday September 11, at 3:00pm EST.