The cream rose to the top during the preliminary rounds of the Airthings Masters, with World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So sitting tied for first during the round-robin portion of the tournament.

Airthings Masters quarterfinals odds
Magnus Carlsen grabbed the top seed heading into the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters online chess tournament. (Image: Chess24/Champions Chess Tour)

Carlsen, So, and Nakamura each scored 6.5/11 in the preliminary rounds, enough to lead a tightly packed field. The three took the top seeds – in that order – heading into the knockout rounds.

Dubov, MVL Grab Final Knockout Berths

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Teimour Radjabov also safely advanced on six points, while Levon Aronian made it through on 5.5.

That created a mad scramble at the cut line of five points. French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came into Monday with little hope of advancement. A final round victory with Black over Alexander Grischuk vaulted him into seventh place.

Daniil Dubov qualified in eighth after starting the final day of the Airthings Masters preliminaries in first place. That left Grischuk and Pentala Harikrishna on the outside looking in on tiebreaks. Anish Giri and David Anton Guijarro failed to qualify, scoring just 4.5 points each.

Dubov’s fall from grace set him up for a quarterfinal matchup against Carlsen. The World Champion rounded into form, moving up the standings on Sunday and Monday to take the top seed.

“It was a good day today, I played a lot better than I did yesterday and the day before. It was more of a typical performance in that sense,” Carlsen said after Monday’s play. “[My top form] is coming for sure. I didn’t feel in too much of a killer mode today, but I just think the positions didn’t warrant that particular mode.”

High Draw Percentage Plagues Airthings Masters

The tournament format also steered players toward conservative play. Eight of 12 players qualified for the Airthings Masters knockout rounds. Players knew that an even score – 5.5/11, or what a player would score if they drew every game – would almost certainly be enough to go through.

As a result, there were only 18 decisive results out of 66 preliminary games. More than 72% of the games ended in draws.

That shouldn’t be the case in the knockout rounds. As in the Skilling Open, the Airthings Masters will feature a best-of-two match series beginning in the quarterfinals. Players will compete over two four-game mini-matches on consecutive days. Should each player win a match (or if both matches end in 2-2 draws), then blitz tiebreakers – and, potentially, an Armageddon game – will determine who moves on.

The eight remaining players will be competing for a $60,000 first prize, part of a $200,000 total purse for the tournament. The winner will also earn an automatic berth into the Tour Final.

As a major on the Champions Chess Tour, the Airthings Maters also features double tour points. Those points could prove valuable, as only the top eight players in the tour standings are guaranteed to be part of the field in the next event.