Carlsen is Huge Favorite, but “Trump Effect” Looms

In the lead up to the 2016 World Chess Championship there are any predictions being made. Both and ChessBase pundits give almost no chance to challenger Sergey Karjakin against Magnus Carlsen. This wasn’t enough for former FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov to say,

I think Carlsen is the stronger player and a clear favorite in this match. But fortune often smiles on Karjakin. At any rate, after the Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections nothing can surprise me.

So we have one who is giving Karjakin a remote chance. Personally, I am giving Sergey Karjakin a near 50-50 chance here. Why? Matches are very different. Too many predictions are based on ratings, Carlsen +3 score, a particular game and the fact that Carlsen is objectively stronger. However, as you see in many sports the post-season is entirely different. History is full of upsets and we have just seen one of the biggest competitive upsets in history when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the U.S. Presidency. Is the Trump analogy appropriate? How did Trump defeat 16 seasoned politicians? How did he beat an 30-year seasoned politician who was the odds-on favorite according to all the polls?

There is no serious way to compare Karjakin to Trump’s divisive tactics, but the Russian also overcame serious odds to win the Candidates. How did Karjakin defeat a number of undisputed world championship contenders in the Candidates? In the final analysis, Karjakin was the most consistent in his play, his was emotionally steady and his preparation was outstanding.

In this match, Karjakin only has to focus on one opponent and will be better prepared than in a tournament of multiple players. However, the biggest factor for me is that Karjakin is very steady emotionally… almost Sphinx-like. Not quite Gata Kamsky, but certainly less expressive than Carlsen. The World Champion has to avoid distractions of New York where he has many ties. If Karjakin breaks ahead it will put Carlsen under pressure he has never seen and he could go down another game in the short match. Carlsen is visibly rankled when he loses.

Karjakin has nothing to lose and will be very relaxed with the full weight of the Russian colossus. Carlsen has every right to be concerned about external forces becoming involved as Russia has sought to reclaim the world championship for the past decade without success. So who wins? Carlsen is the odds-on favorite, but in a short match, Karjakin has much better chance to win than the polls state! Whomever wins first has the obvious psychological advantage. If it is Karjakin who wins early, I would give him a 50-50 chance to win. Carlsen must avoid tiebreaks.

~Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

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