The odds for the World Chess Championship at Pinnacle have 22-year-old Carlsen as the 1.282* favourite to end the eight-year reign of Anand, who is a 3.740* underdog in his own back yard.
What this means for those unfamiliar with betting is that the market thinks Carlsen has approximately a 75% chance of winning, so if the tournament were played 100 times Carlsen would win 75, while the odds give Anand – 21 years Carlsen’s senior – just a 25% chance of retaining his title.
In betting terms Carlsen is a very strong favourite. Should you bet £100 on the Norwegian winning the best of 12 series you would make just £28 profit, while the equivalent bet on Anand would return £274 profit. So what makes Carlsen such a sure thing?
Forget Home Advantage
One of the universally accepted factors in sports betting is the important influence of home field advantage. HFA derives largely from the positive benefits of home support and the influence this can bring to refereeing decisions. In Chess however, these factors are redundant.
Concentration is so critical that Carlsen and Anand will face off in a completely soundproof arena at the Hyatt Regency in Chennai (India) cut off from the audience and journalists by a glass partition.
The referee is so rarely called into play that again this cannot be considered as having any influence on the match. In fact the FIDE Supervisor is specifically tasked with making conditions equal for both players, and since the venue isn’t “neutral”, Carlsen is allowed to appoint a preferred FIDE Supervisor, and (along with Anand) has seen and approved the venue in advance.
HFA does also derive from the comfort of playing in familiar surroundings, so Anand will benefit in some small measure from this. Even for a sport where focus and preparation are supremely important Carlsen is a stickler for routine. He sleeps as close to start time as possible “because my mind works best four or five hours after I wake up”. To get his mind right he will need to spend several days acclimatizing, but despite his youth Carlsen has already collected many air miles (he took a year out from school and travelled the world with his parents playing chess) so the adjustment shouldn’t be a significant issue.
His youth does also bring a potential advantage given the physical and mental demands of World Championship format. Chess players tend to peak in their late thirties, so at 41 Anand could be considered past his best.
Other than facing each other across the board the two will be kept very much apart from each other and the outside world, occupying separate floors at the Hyatt, and even use separate lifts to the playing area. Bettors may however, derive useful insights into their state of mind during the mandatory post-match press conferences. Pinnacle will be offering odds for each game alongside the outright winner market.
In other sports World Championships dirty tricks have been rumoured – late night prank calls, or food poisoning – but FIDE go to the nth degree to ensure fair play with an elaborate security system from the moment players arrive.
So as long as Carlsen can settle into his familiar routine the home advantage doesn’t seem like helping Anand, and the odds underline this. There may be some pressure simply from being such a strong favourite, but equally Anand, a legend in India, may feel the pressure of expectation from a nation counting on defeating the challenger, 21 years his junior.
Form, Rankings & the Genius Factor
Form and situational factors aside, one of the reasons Carlsen is such an overwhelming favourite may come down to the genius factor. Even among Super Grand Masters – with FIDE ratings over 2800 – Carlsen is regarded as something special. Carlsen rates top of the table of all-time best ever FIDE ratings (2,872 in march 2013) on that basis making him the greatest ever Chess player – and is rumoured to be mentored by the man who sits second on that all time list, Garry Kasparov. Singling him out even more, he is unique among top players of not having a favoured opening, which certainly makes his opponent’s preparation even harder.
Anand sits fourth on that elite roll-call but that is based on his best ever rating of 2,817 achieved over 2 years ago in March 2011. His current rating sits at 2,775 – ranking him 8th, with Carlsen no.1 on 2,870 reflecting the fact that Anand hasn’t been at his best of late.
On head-to-head stats Anand actually leads 6-3 in Classical Games with 20 draws, but in the most recent 14 duels, Carlsen has drawn 11 and won 3, the most recent being at the Tal Memorial in June.
Carlsen is capable of losing, as Indian National Chess Champion and Grand Master Abhijeet Gupta points out, “Carlsen lost the last two games (at the London Chess Candidates) under pressure.” But he did prevail at that World Championship eliminator earning him the right to face Vishy and arrives at Chennai in form following his success in the Sinquefield Cup.
Experience in Anand’s favour
Though Carlsen seems to have so much in his favour there is one area where Anand holds a significant advantage – experience
Though Carlsen seems to have so much in his favour there is one area where Anand holds a significant advantage – experience. Vishy turned Grandmaster 2 years before Carlsen was even born, and has been World Champion for 8 years, undisputed for the last six. His experience of successful World Championships in Mexico, Germany, Bulgaria and Russia could prove invaluable.
His experience at the 2010 event in particular shows what a resilient character he is. The Icelandic volcanic eruption saw his flight from Frankfurt to the venue in Sofia grounded, and with his pleas for a three-day delay turned down, he was forced to endure a 40 hour round trip. Against the background of that brutal trip Anand won the deciding game 12 on Black.
Vishy is clearly capable of handling pressure as again in 2012 his defence went to the wire; with the game tied at 6-6 he won a rapid tiebreaker. In this regard the jury is out on Carlsen. He comes across as a calm and level-headed young man, but Chess is littered with casualties from the mental torment the game can inflict, termed ‘the crazy’. Comparisons with Bobby Fischer – considered the most gifted chess player to have lifted the crown, but whom spent almost 20 years as a recluse – have emerged against which Carlsen has made clear distinction.
“It was probably only the chess keeping him sane. He would have gone insane much quicker without it. His story is very different to mine. He had a difficult upbringing. Difficult relationship to his family. I have lived a much more sheltered, normal life.”
If you can take Carlsen at his word, and assume he has the mental toughness to match the undoubted skill that his current FIDE rating clearly denotes, then the odds at Pinnacle for the 2013 World Championship may seem fair value, but as in life, and all other betting, nothing is ever certain in chess.