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All major sports events are preceded by expert predictions. It is an old ritual, and we are not going to miss it. After all, sports fans have the right to mock the unfortunate experts, and predictions always provide a good ground for that. We'll use spent coffee ground.

A few words on the formula of the World Cup. 128 players, KO system, everybody starts from the Round 1. All matches except the final consist of two games with FIDE time control (90 minutes for 40 moves and 30 minutes plus 30 seconds per move for the rest of the game). The tie-break is played on the third day and consists of two rapid games (25 minutes plus 10 seconds per move), two «semi-rapid» (10 minutes plus 10 seconds per move), and two blitz games (5 minutes plus 3 seconds per move). If the tie remains unbroken, the Armageddon time begins. This dreaded ultimate game is played with the must-win White having five minutes against Black's four, and both sides get extra three seconds per each move after 60th. The rules of the final match are basically the same except for starting with four long games. Also those who lose in the semi-finals will stay in Khanty-Mansiysk to play for the third place, which is very valuable as the third place finisher advances to the Candidates tournament. The only official day off is September 15, and it takes place before the semi-finals.

The easiest approach to my guesswork is to quote the rating list and base my conclusions on Arpad Elo formula. Here is the 2011 World Cup top ten.

Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 2788

Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 2768

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 2765

Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine) 2764

Vugar Gashimov (Azerbaijan) 2760

Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 2764

Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 2744

Gata Kamsky (USA) 2741

Peter Svidler (Russia) 2739

Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia) 2736.

The 10th rated Dmitry Jakovenko represents Ugra, so he is going to be the local fans favorite.

However, one also has to take into account the player's toughness in knock-out events. So let's take a look at the tournament grid and try to figure out eight quarter-finalists.

Sergey Karjakin is a sporty young man with calm nerves and aggressive and well-shaped opening repertoire. His most dangerous opponents on the way to the quarter-finals are Wesley So, Judit Polgar, Sergey Movsesian and Viorel Bologan. I think Karjakin will succeed.

The next group of 16 players is really tough, with Gata Kamsky, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Peter Svidler among them. Peter is in good form after his powerful Russian Superfinal, Ian can be unstoppable when he catches the wind, which he proved last year, and Gata has a ton of experience and a World Cup second place under his belt. The rating favorite is Kamsky, but we love sports for unpredictability, and I doubt that the American will advance to the quarter-finals. All in all, I have nothing else to say about this part of the grid.

In the next group I want to draw your attention to Ponomariov and Efimenko. The Ukrainians might meet in the Round 3, and the winner of this match is very likely to advance much farther. Certainly, there are other dangerous players around, such as Tomashevsky, Andreikin, Adams (who might suddenly regain his old form), or Gashimov (who can regain old solidness of his play), but I rate Ruslan highly and will perhaps bet a few coins on the World ex-Champion.

Let's turn to the right side of the garden. Ivanchuk... Sutovsky... Vachier-Lagrave... Leko... Oh, Leko! The Hungarian didn't play any chess for nine months. He not only produced tons of analysis, but also gained the necessary desire to play. He is my favorite for the quarter-final.

A very curious group of players forms the next 16: Radjabov, Bacrot, Jakovenko, Jobava! Maybe it's time for Baadur to mount a major breakthrough? Or the local favorite Dmitry will finally catch fire on Ugra land? Radjabov has a world-class opening repertoire, and his punch remains strong. I keep looking into the depth of time, and... no, I can't find the winner! Each of these four players has good chances. We shall see.

Eljanov and Malakhov are my favorites in the penultimate group, although I am sure Moiseenko and Inarkiev will object.

And, last but not list, the final group of 16 players. Or should I call it the Elite group? Grischuk, Wang Yue, Morozevich, Vitiugov, Shirov, Potkin! Perhaps, Grischuk's chances are marginally better — of course, if he recuperates after disastrous and disappointing team result in China and regains his Candidates matches level of play.

So, this is all I can say for now. Guessing farther than top 8 becomes too difficult. We'll need more coffee.

And now it's time for the grandmasters to confirm our genius predictions. Get to work, guys!

Vladimir Barsky
International master


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