Carlsen vs Nepomniachtchi: Last Predictions

Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for as the 2021 FIDE World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi finally begins. For last predictions we’ve collected feedback from some of our own experts, including commentators Judit Polgar, Jovanka Houska and David Howell, as well as some of our colleagues at Chessable.

There is a consesus among chess experts and fans that Magnus Carlsen is the favourite and will defend his World Championship title for the fourth time. And if you go by raw statistics, Chess by Numbers estimated an 81.5 % chance of Carlsen retaining his crown.

However, Ian Nepomniachtchi has a plus score in classical chess and has worked hard to prepare himself for his first and perhaps only chance to become World Champion.

We put three questions to our experts:

  1. How do you think this World Championship match will differ from Carlsen’s previous matches?
  2. What excites you most about the match?
  3. Who will win the match, why, and what will be the final result?

Here are their answers:

GM Judit Polgar

1. The biggest challenge for the World Champ is to motivate himself, but each time having a new challenger it can be very different. What is interesting is that this is the 3rd match where he is playing with an opponent of the same age — Karjakin, Caruana, and now Nepo. 

BUT one thing is the same, or even getting more and more difficult for Magnus, and that is the huge pressure he and the fans are putting on his shoulders. This will be a match where a playoff will not obviously favour Magnus.

2. I am very excited as chess becomes the centre of attention as part of the World EXPO, which is very unique. Excited to see how the match will unfold, how the tension will escalate, how both players and teams have been doing their homework. Magnus and Nepo have their past — at the U12 when they played for the first time Nepo took a clear lead against a talented Norwegian kid, but later things turned around  

Still, I feel that there will be more tension and pressure than ever before in matches for Magnus. Also, I’m looking forward to watching the match move by move closely from here in Dubai and analyzing together with world number 6 Anish Giri. I am expecting we will witness something exceptionally interesting in the next three weeks here in Dubai.

3. Magnus is the favourite, no question about it, but Nepo does have chances as he is a very original player, knows Magnus pretty well, and also he is a challenger who believes in himself and can visualize that he could win against Magnus. This is the chance of his life for Nepo. We all think about what will be the result, but for me it is much more interesting what kind of games they will play, how many decisive games there will be, with what kind of amazing ideas by both players. I do hope that this match will be remembered as something extraordinary and let’s get into the chess flow of the match in the next few weeks… follow us on chess24!

IM Jovanka Houska

1. Fewer draws, hopefully — just joking! In all seriousness, there is something about Nepomniachtchi’s natural aggressive style that makes me suspect that it won’t necessarily be about matching Magnus’ strong and stable play. Instead I have a feeling that this match will hinge on forcing the other person to take small but uncomfortable risks.

2. The anticipation! For me it’s the whole storyline, it’s not often you see two childhood rivals with differing career stories and a clash of styles challenging each other for the Crown. I can’t wait to see what opening surprises they have in store for each other — especially when both players have super computers at their fingertips!

3. Hmmm… I would like to pass on this one! But if you force me to make a choice, I would say Magnus is the favourite. He is not only a phenomenal player, he is experienced with dealing with all the pressure and scrutiny that comes with a World Championship match. It will be incredibly hard to beat him.

Result? I think it will be incredibly close, but Magnus will win the match without needing tiebreaks.

IM David Martínez (Divis)

1. I think this match can be similar to Carlsen’s match versus Caruana. A lot of exciting games, maybe with a lot of Sicilians! Nobody can doubt Nepo’s level, but he has to show to the world that he can fight the battle of nerves that is a World Championship match.

2. I dream of a big fight with a lot of action. Nepo’s strategy must be to create chaos on the board and this would be wonderful for the show!

3. I think Magnus will win because he is playing fine and he is the best player in the world. I think he’ll win 7.5 – 5.5.

GM David Antón

1. I think it will be a bit different, with more decisive games.

2. Maybe the most exciting thing is the fact that chess has grown a lot these last years and to see the amount of people following it.

3. I think Magnus will win, he is just a better player, and I bet on 7.5 – 5.5.

GM Pepe Cuenca

1. I think we will see great battles and aggressive play from Game 1.

2. I think chess is getting to the place it deserves. I dream that one day stadiums are filled with people watching chess and this match will definitely contribute to the growth of the game.

3. Magnus wins in tiebreaks.

GM Anish Giri 

We also asked Anish Giri to give his response, but he stated “I can’t risk my reputation and be wrong in hindsight!”

1. I don’t know.

2. Openings.

3. Magnus Carlsen.

GM David Howell

1. As both players have stated, the clash of styles should ensure many exciting games. On paper at least, there should also be more decisive results than Carlsen’s last two matches. I also have a feeling there will be more psychological warfare in this match (despite the players’ obvious respect for each other) than we saw in Carlsen’s matches against Anand, Karjakin, and Caruana.

2. Pretty much everything about this match excites me! On a personal level, there is an immense amount of pride that two of my childhood rivals are facing off for the ultimate prize. It’s a real honour to be part of their generation. In general though, I’m excited for the opening surprises – especially from Nepomniachtchi, who will surely be well prepared.

3. It feels too straightforward to say Magnus! I think he should win, simply because he is more experienced in this type of high-pressure scenario. However, something tells me that it will be much closer than most people assume. Nepo might just be stronger than we’ve ever seen him. I’ll stick my neck out and say that it will come down to the 14th and final game, where Magnus will clinch it. No tie-breaks this time!

Howell also spoke about his expectations for the match in an interview with Askild Bryn.

I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun, exciting games. I am thinking it’s going to be a lot closer than a lot of people assume. Magnus must, of course, be the favourite, he has done it so many times before. He’s arguably the stronger player, higher-rated and everything, but I have seen Nepomniachtchi in interviews on chess24. He is taking it super-seriously and has been preparing for months and months now. If anyone is going to take Magnus’ title of all the previous challengers, I think Nepomniachtchi is going to be the most dangerous opponent, at least.

It might be the case for Magnus as well, firstly surviving the opening, but also coming up with some opening surprises for Nepomniachtchi, because I think Nepo is going to be extremely strong in that phase of the game. If Magnus can survive the opening and get a playable position, I think he will go on to win, but that’s not a given! I just want some excitement, that’s all I am asking for.

We also asked some of our friends at Chessable.

“I think Carlsen will win; he’s the stronger player.” — GM Alex Colovic

“I think Magnus, though if it’s a longer match it may favour Ian.” — Jason Kouchak

“I am a massive Magnus fan so I want him to win, and whilst the match will be really close, I believe his skill and experience will lead him to win! He has been playing some great endgames in Norway and knows how to train for these matches.

Nepo is not scared of him and has a 4-1 result at classical chess, so there is no doubt the match will be close!” — WFM Sarah Longson

“I think Carlsen will win, but Nepo will prove a much tougher opponent than Caruana and Karjakin. Perhaps Nepo has as much as a 40% chance of winning. I see Nepo taking some risks and fighting Carlsen with very challenging chess, and he has some momentum from recent successes.

However, I think Carlsen will ultimately prevail because he is simply a better chess player in all aspects of the game and with the number of classical games increasing, it will be easier for him to prove that than in past matches.” — Andrew Kauffman

“I think whoever manages to draw first blood will win the match. Nepo has often had a tendency of going a bit on tilt after an important loss, and I expect that even for Carlsen, who has been much more known for mental fortitude and the ability to bounce back immediately after a loss, falling behind in this match would be disastrous. As to who is likelier to draw first blood? That may depend a lot on their prep and general match strategy. There the quality and experience of the Carlsen Camp probably has the edge. So I’ll say 55:45 in favour of Carlsen.” — Rok Novak

“Magnus will most likely win. He is the much better player, but the format of the classical time control makes the result somewhat random. Indeed one game could decide the whole thing, as the draw rate is very high. I hope for 14 draws and the end of this pointless format.” — IM Christof Sielecki

“Carlsen — 80% sure.

  1. Carlsen is extremely good at technical positions/grinding endgames whereas Nepo has a more dynamic playstyle and goes for the throat in the middlegame. In classical games, I expect Carlsen to handle Nepo’s complications well or straight out refute them. One does not easily swindle the World Champion.
  2. Carlsen is a way better theoretician/is generally much better prepared. That’s critically important in classical chess.

If the match were to go into overtime, Carlsen would still be my pick, but by a far smaller margin: 60/40 or so.” — Tobias Kabos

Who do you think will win the match? Leave us your predictions in the comments below, or, for a chance to win prizes that include a chessboard signed by Magnus, check out the Aimchess Predictions Page

Then just tune into the games right here on chess24!

See also: 

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