The 2013 World Chess Championship is set to be the chess betting event of the year. Okay, I know that sounds ridiculous: after all, chess isn’t nearly as popular as NRL or AFL betting, and if your sportsbook of choice offers betting on chess, you probably haven’t even noticed it before.
But betting on chess tournaments and matches is a real thing, and it’s likely that this year’s World Championship will see more media attention than any has in a long time – which also means that even many bookmakers who don’t normally offer bets on chess could have lines for this year’s match.
The reason why any chess match has the chance to capture the public’s imagination comes down to who is playing. In 1972, the clash between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky may well have been the biggest sporting event of the year, as it was seen as a symbolic representation of the Cold War conflict between the United States and the USSR. In the 1980s, the Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov matches gained some notoriety as well as being representative of a power struggle in the Soviet Union, and Kasparov’s later matches against IBM’s Deep Blue computer turned him into an international celebrity.
This time around, the defending champion is Viswanathan Anand, who has held the title since 2007. Anand was India’s first ever grandmaster, and spent plenty of time in the chess elite even before winning the world title. But reaching the summit has made him a very popular figure inside of India, and his friendly disposition has made him a popular figure with chess fans from around the world as well.
Anand’s inclusion is enough to get the match followed extensively in India – which alone guarantees plenty of eyeballs will be watching – but the international attention is due to the challenger, Magnus Carlsen. A true prodigy, the 22-year-old Carlsen hails from Norway, and is ranked as the #1 player in the world, the youngest player to ever reach that mark. In fact, Carlsen holds the highest rating (which comes a system used to gauge the relative strength of players from beginners up to the world’s best based on tournament play) in the history of chess, breaking the immortal Kasparov’s record. He’s the first true “Westerner” to play for the title since Fischer, and has already become a star in his home country and a minor celebrity elsewhere. He’s modelled clothing, is athletic, and generally fits outside of the stereotypical image of a chess player.
The World Chess Championship 2013 will take place from November 6 to 26 in Chennai, India. The match will be 12 games long, with players having six rest days throughout the course of the match as well. In tournament chess, players receive a point for a win, and a half-point for a draw; the scoring will work this way in the World Championship as well, but if you’re just worried about who is going to win, it’s easiest to just say that the player with the most wins will win the title. Should the match be level after 12 games, a series of tiebreakers will be held; these games will be played at a faster pace than the regular match games (first as rapid games, in which each player has about a half-hour to make their moves; if that doesn’t settle the tie, there can then be blitz games that give each player just a few minutes to think each).
While most Australian bookies haven’t yet set lines on the World Championship, some UK bookmakers have. Carlsen has been installed as the favourite, with odds of around 1.35 being offered against 2.88 being offered at one site (others have Carlsen as a slightly bigger favourite, and give a full 3.00 on Anand).
It’s clear that Carlsen is the favourite. While it might seem weird to think of chess as a physical game, chess players do have a peak, and at 43, Anand is likely past his, while Carlsen could still be getting stronger every year. Carlsen is rated higher, has had far more success in tournament play in the last two years, and generally seems poised to become the next World Champion – one that could potentially sit on the throne for a long time to come.
There are a couple of factors in Anand’s favour, however. His overall record against Carlsen in standard time control games is 6-3 (with 20 draws), though it’s important to note that some of those wins for Anand came when Carlsen was younger: in their last 10 head-to-head long games, Carlsen has two wins and Anand has none. Perhaps more importantly, Carlsen showed a potential weakness in the Candidates Tournament that determined the challenger for Anand’s title. Carlsen appeared to be in great shape with two rounds to play, but actually lost his last two games, barely holding on to the title when his chief rival also lost in the final round. Carlsen admitted that his nerves got the best of him to some extent, and it remains to be seen if he’ll learn from this experience or if this could be a recurring issue for him.
One final note: the match is taking place in Anand’s home town, but unlike in many sports, I don’t think this should be considered an advantage. It’s not as though there will be cheering crowds during the games, and any adjustments Carlsen will have to make in terms of climate or diet will probably be offset by the increased media pressure on Anand. Venue once mattered in chess when the Soviet Union still existed, but between two players who have always had a friendly relationship, it’s really a non-factor.
If you want to bet on the championship match, I recommend taking Carlsen. In reality, he’s probably more than a 2-1 favourite in this match; lately, it seems hard for just about anyone to win a game against him, and I think some of the nervousness he suffered in the Candidates Tournament came from the fact that he didn’t know how the games on other boards would go – something that’s not a problem in a one-on-one match.
Carlsen also seems to excel in taking relative equal positions and finding ways to win, even against the world’s best players. In a championship match, both players are likely to be well-prepared for the opening, leading to a lot of games in which players will be fighting for small edges. In these games, it’s a lot easier to imagine Carlsen finding ways to squeeze out a couple of victories than Anand. It’s not a walkover – Anand is experienced, and it should go without saying that he’s strong, as he’s the World Champion for a reason – but Carlsen looks to be in the pole position in this encounter.
When the match comes to fruition, many bookmakers may also offer betting on individual games. This will normally be in the form of three-way betting, allowing you to bet on a win for either player or a draw.
A few things to keep in mind if you make these bets: