Live chess is back! Norway Chess begins on Monday, and the return to over-the-board action means no more disconnects, no more mouse slips, and maybe fewer disqualifications due to computer cheating.

Norway Chess odds Carlsen Caruana
Magnus Carlsen (right) deserves to be the favorite at Norway Chess, but Fabiano Caruana (left) could provide significant value for bettors. (Image: Lennart Ootes)

Most importantly, it means more chances for us to bet on chess. And after going with the chalk last week, I’m in the mood to find bigger scores during Norway Chess.

Last Time on Chess Bets

Was there ever any doubt? Carlsen even came out in Game 1 and played 1. f3 2. Kf2 – one of the worst possible openings for White, which the world champion referred to as the “real” Bongcloud, as opposed to Hikaru Nakamura’s preferred 1. e4 2. Ke2 – and still managed to win.

“It’s just so hard to forget the game when someone plays f3 and Kf2 and just crushes you,” So commented later in the match. “That’s just so humiliating.”

Carlsen won the second game to jump out to a 2-0 lead before So began fighting back. But it proved to be too little, too late, as the Norwegian legend scored yet another title in 2020. The lesson: you should always bet on Magnus Carlsen.

Norway Chess: Let’s Not Bet on Magnus Carlsen

Norway Chess features a field of six grandmasters playing a double round-robin of live, over-the-board, classical chess. But there’s a scoring twist: the winner of each game receives three points, while the loser gets zero. In the case of a draw, the players will head into an Armageddon game. The winner will get 1.5 points, with the loser earning a single point.

Norway Chess Odds (via Bwin)
Magnus Carlsen: -334
Fabiano Caruana: +500
Levon Aronian: +1000
Jan Duda: +1200
Alireza Firouzja: +1200
Aryan Tari: +5000

Since this is classical chess, the games will last far longer than in the recent online events you may have been watching. Each player gets two hours to make all of their moves, along with a 10-second increment after move 40. Interestingly, organizers lengthened the typical Armageddon format as well: White needs to win, but gets 10 minutes compared to seven for Black, with a three-second increment after move 40.

Obviously, Carlsen enters as the favorite. He always enters as the favorite. But there’s some stiff competition, including Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian, the 2018 and 2017 Norway Chess winners, respectively.

Bwin installed Carlsen as a -334 pick to win the tournament. And while the world champion deserves respect, that feels like far too high a price to pay, even for the best player in the world.

At that price, you need Carlsen to win this tournament 77% of the time just to break even. That might seem reasonable based on what he’s done this year, but those titles have largely come in online rapid and blitz event with a large number of games and/or long head-to-head matches. That’s both the type of chess that favors him most, and a format that increases the chances of the best player winning.

Caruana Poised to Continue Classical Success

Let’s fade Carlsen, despite the fact he has an excellent chance to win Norway Chess. Instead, I’m backing Caruana (+500). The No. 2 classical chess player in the world, Caruana won the last top-flight long-form chess tournament held before the COVID-19 shutdowns, finishing two points ahead of Carlsen in a blistering performance. He should rate as a slight underdog to Carlsen; getting 5/1 odds on the American feels like a gift.

Bwin also offers a bet on Carlsen (-334) vs. the field (+230). While taking the field still seems profitable, I think Caruana makes up the lion’s share of that value, so I’m sticking with the higher-paying bet on the American grandmaster.

Online betting sites haven’t posted odds on individual games at Norway Chess yet, but if they do, I’ll be sure to post some picks throughout the tournament. Until then, my money is on Caruana.

The Pick: Fabiano Caruana (+500) to win Norway Chess