Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So come into a Champions Chess Tour event as the favorites once again, after dominating the series all season long. But it will be players further down in the standings who create the real drama at the Aimchess US Rapid, starting on Saturday.

Aimchess US Rapid odds
Players will be fighting for spots in the Champions Chess Tour Final during the Aimchess US Rapid, which begins on Saturday. (Image:

The Aimchess US Rapid is the final regular-season event on the 2021 Champions Chess Tour, with only the Tour Final following next month.

MVL holds final qualifying spot heading into Aimchess US Rapid

A total of 16 players will compete in the Aimchess US Rapid, which follows the same format seen in most tour events. The competitors will face off in a full, rapid round-robin, with the top eight advancing to knockout matches to eventually determine a winner.

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen comes in as the +115 pick to add a third title to his collection this season, according to online sportsbook Unibet. So (+400) ranks as the second choice, as the American grandmaster looks to win for the fourth time this year.

Carlsen, Anish Giri, and Teimour Radjabov have already booked their spots in the Tour Final by winning major titles this season. Five other players will get into the final via their tour points totals, meaning the Aimchess US Rapid represents the last chance for grandmasters on the bubble to clinch a spot in the final.

French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave currently holds the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot with 64 points. Meanwhile, Vladislav Artimev sits just outside the automatic qualification zone with 52. Vietnam’s Le Quang Liem (30 points), Azerbaijani grandmaster Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (23), and young star Alireza Firouzja (15) could potentially overtake Vachier-Lagrave if they win the tournament.

Players earn 40 points for winning a regular event, 25 as the runner-up, 15 for third place, and 10 for fourth. The eight players who qualify for the playoffs also earn up to 10 points based on their finishing position in the round-robin portion of the event.

Regular-season points critical in Tour Final

That means that Firouzja would need to win the tournament and finish first in the round-robin, while Vachier-Lagrave failed to make the knockout round in order to surpass him – a tall order indeed. But other players hold far more qualifying scenarios. Mamedyarov (+900) comes in as the third choice to win the Aimchess US Rapid.

Aimchess US Rapid Odds (via Unibet)
Magnus Carlsen: +115 Wesley So: +400
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov: +900 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: +1000
Levon Aronian: +1400 Anish Giri: +1400
Vladislav Artemiev: +2000 Alireza Firouzja: +2000
Le Quang Liem: +2000 Leinier Domingeuz Perez: +3000
Jan-Krzysztof Duda: +3000 Santosh Gujrathi Vidit: +8000
Jorden van Foreest: +8000 Eric Hansen: +15000
Daniel Naroditsky: +15000 Awonder Liang: +25000

Even for players who don’t qualify, there are two wild-card spots in the Tour Final. Organizers will choose those entries, making it a dicey proposition for anyone who doesn’t get an automatic bid.

Even for players who have clinched a spot in the Tour Final, the Aimchess US Rapid offers the chance to improve their position. Much like the FedEx Cup Playoffs, players who rank higher get an advantage in the final event. A player will start with 0.5 points for every 10 tour points they have more than the lowest qualifier, a potentially massive advantage for Carlsen and So in particular, who are over 100 points ahead of third-placed Levon Aronian.

There’s also cash on the line this coming week. The winner of the Aimchess US Rapid takes home $30,000, with the field competing for a total of $100,000 in prize money.