The FIDE chess world championship is counting down the days until GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi finally sit down at the board on Friday in Dubai for the 2021 FIDE World Championship match. Everyone’s attention is focused on the big question: who will win? The following are predictions from a diverse range of chess personalities.
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We’ll begin with comments from GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Vladimir Kramnik, the two previous official world champions of chess. They were guests on a November 18 broadcast by Ilya Levitov, a chess enthusiast, writer, entrepreneur, and now “streamer” with an excellent YouTube channel full of interesting interviews.
“I think the most important thing is that Nepo’s style is somehow incompatible with Magnus’s in the sense that it’s not easy for Magnus to lock into this style,” said Anand, a five-time world champion. “He is the only one who can pull off this tactical style against Magnus.”
Although Anand stated that Carlsen has improved in tactical positions and does not avoid them as much as he used to, he may still be vulnerable in them:
“I think his technical thing in 2013/14 was that he would often 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.” He didn’t take many risks in openings because he probably felt that was the one area where people could catch up, and he worked hard to avoid that. He used to avoid main lines like the plague. That is no longer the case. Of course, everyone has evolved as a result of recent computer influence, but I still believe Magnus is vulnerable in these circumstances. If the situation is difficult enough for Ian, it will be difficult for everyone. He has the talent to go after it.”
However, Anand believes that it will be difficult for Nepomniachtchi to achieve such positions: “My problem with Ian is that I don’t see many paths for him to do that.” I believe he has the option to do it, and if he has worked hard and is very intelligent about it, he will be able to get the kind of position to which he is gifted, but Ian also has huge swings, which is a big question mark. He can swing up and down, but he can also swing in the opposite direction.”
“Nepo’s style is somehow incompatible with Magnus’s,” says Vishy Anand. Maria Emelianova/Chess.com photo
“Of course, Magnus is the overwhelming favorite, but Ian will have his chances.” It’s inevitably becoming more difficult for Magnus. It’s his fifth match, so I don’t think the fire is burning as brightly inside him. He’s been complaining about it for a while as well, but Ian should be very motivated now, so it could be interesting. I would have beaten Magnus myself if I had known how! Let’s see if Ian can solve it.”
It’s inevitably becoming more difficult for Magnus. It’s his fifth match, so I don’t think the fire is burning as brightly inside him.
“Preparation is crucial,” Kramnik, the 14th world champion, said. “We don’t know how they prepare or what they prepare.” I believe that the first three or four games of the match will be crucial. It’s challenging. I remember playing my first match with Garry being under pressure, and anything can happen if things start to go wrong. It was critical for me to take the lead slowly…. I’m simply a very valid and serious opponent of the [world champion]. To be honest, I wasn’t sure before the match, so for the challenger, it’s important to get the feeling that you’re in, that you’re as valid as anyone else. I believe he is as important a player in the match as the world champion. It’s deep within you, and if something goes wrong, you might feel shaky.”
“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.” Vladimir Kramnik Maria Emelianova/Chess.com photo
GM Judit Polgar, the best female chess player in history, spoke to The Times of India. She stated:
“The biggest difference I see is that Nepo believes he can win the match.” I didn’t believe Sergey Karjakin truly believed he could become a world champion by defeating Magnus. I wasn’t sure about Fabiano [Caruana], but Nepo has this body language that says, ‘I’m going to win, and it’s perfectly fine if I’m the next world champion.’
“I believe Magnus is the clear favorite. I’ve never played in a world championship match, but I did watch it twice as a commentator in 2016 and 2018. I believe Magnus will feel increased pressure, and I believe he recognizes that he is a better player than Nepo. They are both the same age and have a history. Magnus will need to get a lot of help for Nepo to win this match.”
Commentator Judit Polgar
The 2016 match featured Judit Polgar as a commentator. Maria Emelianova/Chess.com photo
During the FIDE World Cup, and especially during the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, many top players were asked for their predictions. Their responses are provided below.
GM Alireza Firouzja gave the most popular answer to the big question early in the Grand Swiss tournament, before his sensational rise to world number two: “It’s going to be a very close match, but probably Magnus is the favorite.”
It’ll be a close match, but Magnus is probably the favorite.
Russian top GM Alexander Grischuk predicted a similar outcome: “Of course, Magnus is the favorite, but not by much.”
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, who did not qualify for the match in the FIDE Candidates, was impressed by Nepomniachtchi:
“In the last two years, Ian has played very interesting and sometimes fantastic chess.” He was good when it counted, so I believe he’ll be ready for a match. Of course, Magnus is the favorite; he has been the best player in the world for ten years, but Ian has a good chance. I would not rule out Ian, who has been preparing nonstop for the last six months with every resource at his disposal. He has the potential to be a very tough player and opponent.”
“I expect a great fight,” said GM Sergey Karjakin, who played Carlsen in New York in 2016. The main question for both players will be who will arrive at the match in better shape. Because I know you can prepare thoroughly, prepare thoroughly, and then get exhausted or something goes wrong.”
“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’ recent form,” said India’s top player, GM Vidit Gujrathi, who will be playing in Wijk aan Zee next January. Of course, he’s still doing fantastically well, but he’s set such high standards for himself that I believe Nepo is on a roll.”
Aryan Tari, Carlsen’s compatriot and Norway’s number-two grandmaster: “I believe Magnus is a clear favorite, with a 70 percent chance of winning.” He has far more experience and is simply a better chess player.”
The rising star “I think Magnus is just a huge favorite,” US grandmaster Hans Niemann says of the world champion. I believe that if Nepo loses one game, the match is over for him as a player. So I believe it’s a battle to see who can win the first game. I believe Magnus can recover, but if Magnus wins a game and gains momentum early on, I believe Ian’s chances are very slim.”
I believe that if Nepo loses one game, the match is over for him as a player.
“Magnus is the favorite, but I think it’s going to be closer than people think,” says GM David Howell, who spends more time commentating than playing these days but did quite well in Riga.
Mr. Andrey Esipenko
In their first meeting, in January 2021 in Wijk aan Zee, Russia’s GM Andrey Esipenko defeated Carlsen. “I think it will be a tough match,” he said, “and it depends on who is in better shape.”
Alexandra Kosteniuk, Chess.com’s Director of Russian Content, will be a commentator on our Russian channel during the match. This is how she describes her excitement:
“It’s extremely difficult to forecast. I’ll be rooting for Ian. That’s an easy choice for me. But, as a spectator, I just hope we see the tension, the pressure, until the very end, so that it isn’t decided by a few decisive games in the middle of the match. I’m looking forward to the tension of the final games and, hopefully, the tiebreak.”
Chess.com Alexandra Kosteniuk
“I just hope we’ll see the tension, the pressure, until the very end,” says Kosteniuk. Maria Emelianova/
“I never make predictions, but I want to see a big match,” said Anand’s 2012 challenger, GM Boris Gelfand, who was only defeated in a tiebreak. “I want to see all 14 games.”
“I certainly expect a tough match,” said the talented young German grandmaster Vincent Keymer. It is well known that Nepo has a favorable score against Magnus. Also, I believe he has good nerves. Who is the superior player? We’ll see, but I think it’s also about preparation, feeling good, being in good shape, and having the right mindset.”
Chess.com also polled a few other figures, including streamers, commentators, and journalists, for their predictions:
Zhou Qiyu “Nemo”
Qiyu “Nemo” Zhou, a Chinese-Canadian woman grandmaster, esports athlete, content creator, and chess-streaming star, told Chess.com, “I think Carlsen will win, but the score will be pretty close, nothing too extreme.” Carlsen is probably two or three points ahead. I believe Nepo will play some interesting openings, but I’m not certain.”
Our very own Chief Chess Officer, IM Danny Rensch, co-commentator on our broadcast, is one of many with an outlandish prediction: “Nepomniachtchi will win without a tiebreak (someone has to be the black sheep here!
) What was the surprise? Five decisive games of classic chess will be played!”
“Nepomniachtchi will win, by one-two points in the tiebreak,” says Georgia’s WGM and streamer Keti Tsatsalashvili.
“Magnus will win the match in 13 games,” says GM Robert Hess, another co-commentator on the Chess.com broadcast. For him, I predict a score of +3 =9 -1.”
“First and foremost, I believe Magnus will win and defend his title,” says Chessbrah streamer GM Aman Hambleton. I believe the match will be interesting because the’second-best player in the world’ will not be facing Magnus this time.