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Magnus Carlsen thinks long-time rival Hikaru Nakamura has little chance of winning the FIDE Candidates, the World Chess Champion revealed today.
In a blog post written on the eve of the event for his law firm sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig, Norway's five-time champ outlined who his tips are for the race to face him in next year's world title match.
Carlsen placed Nakamura only in the bottom tier of players he believes are likely to win. Instead, Carlsen put his 2018 Challenger Fabiano Caruana and China's world number 2 Ding Liren as clear favourites.
Carlsen told Simonsen Vogt Wiig: "I am always looking forward to the Candidates, both in terms of sporting excitement, and also for the way opening theory is always advanced by these exceptional tournaments.
In terms of chances to win the whole thing, I would divide the players into three tiers. Tier one: the favourites. In this tier I would put Caruana and Ding. To me, they are the best and most consistent players in the field, and I would bet on one of the two winning against the field.
"Tier two: the dark horses. Firouzja and Nepomniachtchi belong here. Neither of them have the consistency to be in the top tier, but they both have a ceiling which gives them a smaller, but still quite realistic chance of winning.
"Tier three: the rest. I see a slight chance Rapport could make it if everything works out for him, but it feels very unlikely that he will survive seven black games against such opposition, even if he wins a few.
Nakamura will probably have a decent event, but I don't see him winning enough games to have a real chance. Duda and Radjabov I just don't think have any shot.
Carlsen's rankings will come as little surprise with fans, experts and the bookmakers all putting Caruana and Ding ahead of the pack. Sky Bet, for example, currently have Caruana at 11/4 and Ding at 9/2. Carlsen's predictions also fall broadly into line with the players' FIDE ratings, although Firouzja is ranked world number 3 above Caruana, and Carlsen also downgrades Rapport.
However, Nakamura's chances are seen by many — including the bookies — as considerably better, and he has an army of fans cheering him on.
Carlsen and Nakamura, the five-time US champion, have a long-standing rivalry dating back to a decade ago when Nakamura referred to Carlsen as “Sauron”.
For years, Nakamura's record against Carlsen was exceptionally poor and he had to endure 30 games and a humiliating 12 losses without reply against the champ before finally beating him at the 2016 Bilbao Masters.
The decade-long needle between Carlsen and Nakamura has also been punctuated by a series of online barbs between the two, but there have been no more clashes in public in recent months. Perhaps the rivalry has cooled? That could change, however, should Nakamura win through to face Carlsen in 2023.
Nakamura's hopes for the classical world title were seen as remote until very recently. In recent years, the American, a former world number 2, has eschewed classical tournaments to concentrate on his online presence. During this time he has amassed more than a million followers to his Twitch stream.
Nakamura has also honed his speed chess skills where he is considered deadly and currently sits ranked as the world number 2 in both rapid and blitz. But a stellar performance that saw him win the FIDE Grand Prix earned him qualification. In a brilliant return to classical chess, Nakamura won the first Grand Prix event in Berlin and then secured enough points in the third, also in Berlin, to book his place for the Madrid Candidates.
In his blog post, Carlsen also confirmed his playing schedule for the next few months. The champion will compete in the GCT Rapid and Blitz in Zagreb, then represent Norway in the Chess Olympiad in Chennai before the next Major of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour in August.
Nakamura faces Caruana in Round 1, which kicks off at 15:00 CEST today, with Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson commentating live here on chess24.
Check out Magnus Carlsen’s reflections on the Candidates in full.
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