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General Dec 23, 2020 | 9:57 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Aronian in Round 1 of Airthings Masters

Carlsen-Aronian and Grischuk-Nakamura are among the pairings for Round 1 as the Airthings Masters kicks off at 15:00 CET (09:00 ET) on Saturday 26th December. The $200,000 first Major of the Champions Chess Tour will again feature a 3-day preliminary battle, with only the top 8 players going through to the knockout stages that continue into the New Year. First prize is not only $60,000, double that on offer for the Skilling Open, but direct entry to the Grand Final next September.

Levon Aronian spoilt Magnus Carlsen's tournament victory in the recent Altibox Norway Chess by winning their last-round game | photo: Lennart Ootes 

The full pairings are out for the Airthings Masters preliminary stage, starting on Boxing Day, the 26th December.

As in the Skilling Open, the first Champions Chess Tour event, the preliminary stage sees the players play each other once at 15-minute rapid chess, with a 10-second increment after each move. There are two differences, however. The games now start 3 hours earlier at 15:00 CET, but more significantly there are 12 players instead of 16, meaning 11 rounds instead of 15. We’ll therefore have 4 rounds on the first two days and 3 on the third.

It also means the preliminary stage is a little less cut-throat – rather than half of the field being eliminated we’ll lose 4 of the 12 players before the knockout. It’s enough to glance at the field, however, to realise that this isn’t going to be easy for anyone!

As well as the best 8 performing players from the Skilling Open, we have two star Russians making their tour debut. Daniil Dubov was the only player other than Magnus Carlsen to win an event on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour and comes into the new tour basking in the glory of a wonderful queen sacrifice win in the final round of the Russian Championship. Don’t miss his own analysis from a recent show on chess24:

Alexander Grischuk was missing from the Russian Chess Championship, but the 3-time World Blitz  Champion is a danger to anyone, and not just in chess. He was recently spotted posting some fine results at the Online World Series of Poker.

If you were looking to identify weak links in the line-up you might pick out tour debutants Harikrishna and Spanish Champion David Anton, but those are also players you underestimate at your peril. David beat Svidler, Nepomniachtchi, Radjabov, Duda and Karjakin in the Skilling Opening prelims, while Harikrishna has been ranked as high as 10th in the world and claimed the scalp of Magnus Carlsen in this year’s St. Louis Rapid & Blitz. He’s also been getting in some practice with the irrepressible Levon Aronian!

The favourite, as always, is World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who might have given some chess enthusiasts the shock of their life if he did turn up at a chess section at his latest undisclosed tropical location!

Magnus hasn’t been having things easy on the board since he turned 30, however. Not only did he lose the final of the Skilling Open to Wesley So, but he lost a 3-hour match to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the recent Speed Chess semi-finals.

Hikaru Nakamura triumphed there, beating Maxime in the final after getting revenge on Wesley So for the Skilling Open, and is likely to be there or thereabouts in the Airthings Masters.

Any of the remaining players could challenge, however. Teimour Radjabov and Anish Giri only narrowly lost in the Skilling Open quarterfinals, while Ian Nepomniachtchi only lost to Magnus in the semi-finals and comes into the event as the newly-crowned Russian Champion.

So we can expect a great battle right from the start, and we once again have a wealth of options for you when it comes to where to watch. Kaja, Jovanka and David will be back in the Oslo studio, aiming to make the chess accessible to the widest possible audience…

…while Peter and Tania will again be sharing their immense knowledge and enthusiasm in a more traditional chess24 broadcast.

We’ll have more English broadcasts and multiple other languages so all that’s left to do is to sit back and enjoy the action. For the best possible experience, and to support the shows, why not Go Premium here on chess24 – you can get a 40% discount with the code CCT40.

Merry Christmas from everyone here at chess24

Make sure to report back at 15:00 CET on Saturday 26th December for the Airthings Masters.

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