Unprecedented Magnus Carlsen Invitational kicks off Saturday

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/16/2020 – With no over-the-board action, online playing has gained strength among chess fans. Moreover, the world champion himself has decided to make the most out of a dire situation by organizing an unprecedented elite tournament to be played over the internet. Eight of the strongest players in the world will fight for a $70,000 first prize. The tournament will run from April 18th to May 3rd.

Komodo Chess 14 Komodo Chess 14

Last year Komodo won the world championship title on two occasions and can call itself "2019 World Computer Chess Champion" and "2019 World Chess Software Champion". And the current Komodo 14 has been clearly improved over its predecessor!


A round-robin and a knockout

It is certainly unfortunate that a number of strong chess events had to be cancelled or postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Of course, this is an irrelevant concern compared to the major healthcare crisis some countries are confronting. However, while staying at home during the quarantine, trying to keep our spirits up is highly advisable — following the news 24/7 would only rub salt into the wound. In that sense, chess fans are privileged, as we will get to follow the best in the world battling it out from their houses.

Many blitz tourneys are organized daily over the internet, with strong grandmasters frequently showing up and facing their colleagues in a more relaxed environment. But only a few times do we see major online events using rapid time controls — the biggest exception being the PRO Chess League, a team competition with a time control of 10 minutes plus 2-second increments. The Magnus Carlsen Invitational will go further, as it will use a 15'+10" control (see more details about the format below).

Magnus CarlsenIn a way, it is no surprise that Carlsen is championing the idea of organizing a closed elite event with a rapid time control. In fact, he has voiced his support for accelerated rates of play having a more relevant role even in the World Championship cycle. He declared in 2018:

If you want to see who the best player is, make them play as many games as possible, and if you keep the rapid format then there’s still room for opening ideas, preparation and everything, but the time allowed to conceal your weaknesses and everything is not there. You just up the stakes, you increase the chances for errors and I think it makes it more exciting and it gives a more real picture of the best players.

[Photo: Alina l'Ami]

Given the current crisis, Carlsen considers it a responsibility to try something more ambitious:

This is a historic moment for chess, and given that it’s possible to continue top professional play in an online environment, we have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to players and fans around the world who need a distraction when no other live, competitive sport is being played. 

The champ took the bull by the horns by creating this event with a $250,000 prize fund — the winner will get $70,000 while the eighth-placed participant will receive $15,000. 

Perhaps the biggest concern regarding an online tournament is the issue of cheating. The organizers have addressed this by explaining that extra cameras covering the whole area where a participant is playing (only visible to tournament monitors) will be in use, besides the standard automated and human cheating detection systems. Moreover, given the strength of the players, even a suspicion of cheating would greatly damage their reputation.

Firouzja included in star-filled line-up

The most talked-about rising star in the world at the moment, 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, will be among the eight participants. The wunderkind showed what he is capable of at this year's Tata Steel Masters, getting the sole lead for a couple of rounds. Furthermore, he is known for his abilities in faster time controls, as proven during last year's World Rapid & Blitz Championships, and more recently during a 16-game match with a 3-minute-to-finish time control in which he beat the world champion

Firouzja will nonetheless be the eighth seed, as he will be joined by the five highest-rated players in the world, perennial elite star Anish Giri and blitz specialist Hikaru Nakamura. The full line-up:

Player Classical World # Rapid World # Blitz World #
Magnus Carlsen 2863 1 2881 1 2887 2
Fabiano Caruana 2835 2 2773 11 2711 35
Ding Liren 2791 3 2836 3 2788 8
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2784 4 2778 9 2785 9
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2778 5 2860 2 2822 3
Anish Giri 2764 10 2731 24 2752 22
Hikaru Nakamura 2736 18 2829 4 2900 1
Alireza Firouzja 2728 21 2703 37 2750 24

Magnus Carlsen Invitational

Format and schedule

The tournament involves two stages. First a round-robin and then a knockout among the top four players in the standings.

  • During the round-robin, each match-up will include four rapid games (15 minutes plus 10-second increments), and in case of a tie an Armageddon game (5 v 4 minutes) will be the decider. If a players gets the victory without needing the sudden-death tiebreaker, he will get 3 points, while a win in the playoff will give the winner 2 points and the loser 1 point.
  • In the semi-finals and the final, the same four-game rapid format will be employed, except that in case of a tie the contenders will play two sets of blitz games (5 minutes plus 3-second increments) before going to Armageddon. The tie can be broken in the first set of blitz encounters.

Not all match-ups of each round will be played simultaneously, except in round seven, the last one before the knockout. From rounds one to six, two matches will take place concurrently each day, so these rounds will be played over a two-day period. Each semi-final will be played separately as well. The action kicks off daily at 14:00 UTC (16:00 CEST, 10:00 EST).

Day Date Round  
Saturday April 18 Round 1 Matches 1-2
Sunday April 19   Matches 3-4
Monday April 20 Round 2 Matches 1-2
Tuesday April 21   Matches 3-4
Wednesday April 22 Round 3 Matches 1-2
Thursday April 23   Matches 3-4
Friday April 24 Round 4 Matches 1-2
Saturday April 25   Matches 3-4
Sunday April 26 Round 5 Matches 1-2
Monday April 27   Matches 3-4
Tuesday April 28 Round 6 Matches 1-2
Wednesday April 29   Matches 3-4
Thursday April 30 Round 7 Matches 1-4

The pairings are already out. The world champion will face Hikaru Nakamura in round one, while Firouzja will play Ding Liren.

Round one pairings
Saturday Magnus Carlsen v Hikaru Nakamura
  Ding Liren v Alireza Firouzja
Sunday Fabiano Caruana v Ian Nepomniachtchi
  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave v Anish Giri


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

Queenslander Queenslander 4/18/2020 03:57
Well done Magnus!!

And how about ChessBase deleting unsubstantiated claims such as "the prize money comes from the online gambling industry" and the highly opinionated and moralistic personal attack on the World Champion that accompanies it?
adbennet adbennet 4/17/2020 06:18
@calcomar - Thanks for the clarification. That's certainly a better reason for not mentioning the sponsor than the one that I thought of. Perhaps it was worth a line to say "they aren't saying", to head off any dark thoughts on the part of your readers.

@Daer - I actually expressed a negative opinion of the Unibet sponsorship in a previous ChessBase comment, so I can appreciate your sentiments. But I don't know for sure that everything M. Carlsen does from now on is somehow tainted by this association. That's a moral puzzle I don't have the capacity to solve.
calcomar calcomar 4/16/2020 11:42
@Jeh @Daer @adbennet - There is no information publicly disclosed regarding where the money is coming from within Carlsen's camp, and they have no obligation to do so. The official images shown in the article clearly show the event will be powered by chess24, as at the very least the games will be played on their platform. The tournament has a separate official site, linked above as well (https://www.magnuscarlsen.com/en/invitational). We're just happy we'll get to see some top-notch chess these days :)
Jeh Jeh 4/16/2020 05:09
I thought the official sponsor was the rival site Chess24.com, of which Carlsen is a part owner. That's the site that's hosting the event. It would explain why Chessbase doesn't mention the sponsor, and why Chess.com doesn't have any articles about it at all.
Daer Daer 4/16/2020 04:42
To preempt any misunderstanding;
Unibet is Carlsen's main sponsor nowadays. But they are not directly sponsoring this event.
Details of the sponsorship are not publicly known, but for all I know, it is Carlsen's own decision to channel the 250K$ into the tournament.
Just to make that clear.
The prize fund does nonetheless consist of money lost by citizens and households to an industry many consider immoral, especially in Norway where it is forbidden by law but still operates under the cover of belonging to a foreign jurisdiction.
adbennet adbennet 4/16/2020 04:09
I was looking for a mention of the sponsor in the article, but did not see that anywhere. One almost gets the impression that Carlsen is the sponsor, but surely he would not play for his own money. Now the comment by @Daer explains it. ChessBase, I am surprised! What kind of journalism is this? Trying to avoid controversy only increases the controversy.
Jeh Jeh 4/16/2020 04:07
rtitle, the tournament monitors will be using software that let's them monitor the computers the players are using, including their screens. They're also having their anti-cheating software analyze the moves played to detect cheating, though I don't know how well that works at this level. The only thing I don't know how they would stop are small earpieces or haptic devices.

fixpont, if that happens, I hope it doesn't come at the expense of classical chess. With all due respect to the opinion Carlsen expressed in 2018, he got it exactly backwards. Long time controls don't conceal weaknesses. Short time controls conceal strengths.
Daer Daer 4/16/2020 03:31
The prize money comes from the online gambling industry.
An industry which is based on the unfortune of citizens and households, and which operates in Carlsen's home country in deliberate violation of domestic legislation.
Carlsen even attempted to drag the entire national chess federation into bed with this industry last summer, by means of an utterly anti-democratic method (buying delegates to vote in favour of the federation undertaking a political lobbying assignment on its behalf). A shameful attempt to coup a membership organization. When it failed, he got so grumpy that he withdrew his membership.
Online gambling is a dirty business which has nothing to do with the noble game of chess and it is a disgrace that the World Champion has chosen to embrace it and declares to "share its values".
Accordingly, Carlsen's reputation has deservedly been ruined among Norwegian chess players and citizens who think the law and basic democratic values are to be respected.
But he obviously doesn't care.
And that is his prerogative.
rtitle rtitle 4/16/2020 11:08
This is awesome. I look forward to viewing it.

It's not clear how cameras would prevent cheating. A camera can show if the player is consulting a program running on other devices (e.g. a cellphone). It cannot show if the player is typing things into other windows on the same computer as is being used to make the moves.

However I do agree with Magnus that we can trust the world's top 8 players not to cheat. If this were an open rournament like the World Open (which occurs annually in the US with a big prize fund) there definitely would be a lot of cheating. It already goes on in the in-person World Open and would be even easier in an online event.
EnzoL EnzoL 4/16/2020 10:49
"Eight of the strongest players in the world will fight for a $70,000 first prize." But the 10th, 18th, and 21st ranked players are playing. That sounds about right. It's like having Goffen, Garin and Isner play in a top tennis tournament. Only in chess can this happen.
Keshava Keshava 4/16/2020 10:42
Isn't Grischuk better than Giri in this format?
Suikertaart Suikertaart 4/16/2020 10:15
What a fantastic world champion we have!
fixpont fixpont 4/16/2020 08:27
MC is right, there is and will be more audience (and money) for faster time control events than regular.
Rambus Rambus 4/16/2020 07:30
Firouzja is performing at least 100 points above his rating in blitz and rapid. He may be the 8th seed, but wil definitely some way better than 8th.