World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Speed Chess Championship winner Hikaru Nakamura, and Skilling Open winner Wesley So lead the field of 12 grandmasters who will compete in the Airthings Masters beginning on Dec. 26.

Airthings Open Champions Chess Tour
Wesley So (left) seeks a second straight Champions Chess Tour title at the Airthings Open, though he’ll have to contend with Magnus Carlsen (right) and others. (Image: Nick Barton/Manila Bulletin)

The Airthings Masters is the second event and the first major of the Champions Chess Tour, an online chess series featuring 10 tournaments in total.

So Coming Off Skilling Open Win

So won the first event on tour – the Skilling Open – beating Carlsen in the final. That victory makes So the early tour leader, both in points (46) and earnings ($30,000).

But, the Airthings Masters could dramatically shake up those standings. As a major, this event features double points and double prize money, with the winner picking up $60,000. The victor will also earn a guaranteed spot in the tour final in September 2021.

The top eight finishers from the Skilling Open guaranteed themselves spots in the Airthings Masters. Along with So, Carlsen, and Nakamura, that group includes semifinalist Ian Nepomniachtchi, along with quarterfinalists Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Anish Giri.

The Airthings Masters features a field of 12 players. David Anton won a fan vote to return, despite failing to make the top eight in the last event. Three-time Russian champion Alexander Grischuk won another vote to place a new legend into the mix.

Joining them are wild cards Daniil Dubov and Pentala Harikrishna. Dubov made waves earlier in the year by winning an event on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour – the only player other than the series’ namesake to do so.

Oddsmakers Favor Carlsen (Again) at Airthings Masters

Carlsen remains the favorite to win the Airthings Masters, something bettors are used to seeing at this point. But, recent events have shown that the World Champion can’t win every event, and bookmakers are starting to take notice.

Unibet lists Carlsen as the -125 favorite to win the major, ahead of Nakamura (+700), So (+900), and Nepomniachtchi (+900). Bwin is offering similar -110 odds on the World Champion. While Carlsen still demands plenty of respect, nobody sees these tournaments as a foregone conclusion any longer.

Airthings Open Odds – To Win Tournament
Player Unibet Bwin
Magnus Carlsen -125 -110
Hikaru Nakamura +700 +600
Ian Nepomniachtchi +900 +1000
Wesley So +900 +800
Levon Aronian +1400 +1600
Daniil Dubov +1400 +2000
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave +1400 +1200
Anish Giri +2000 +2500
Alexander Grischuk +2000 +1600
Teimour Radjabov +3000 +3300
David Anton +5000 +10000
Pendyala Harikrishna +5000 +10000

The Airthings Masters will begin on Dec. 26 with three days of preliminary play. The players will face each other in a full round-robin, with the top eight moving on to the quarterfinals.

For the knockout rounds, players will be paired up to compete in four-game mini-matches. Each pairing will play two matches on consecutive days. A match can end in a 2-2 draw. If either player has an advantage after the first two matches – in other words, if they have secured at least a win and a draw – they will move on. Otherwise, the match goes to blitz tiebreakers and an Armageddon game, if necessary.

The quarterfinals start on Dec. 28, followed by the semifinals on New Year’s Eve, and the finals on Jan. 2. There are no rest days in the event.

Reaching the knockout rounds at the Airthings Masters could provide some long-lasting gifts for players. The top eight players in the tour standings automatically qualify for the next event. With double points on the line, a strong result here might guarantee further participation – and paydays – for at least a few tournaments.

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