The Magnus Carlsen Invitational kicks off on Saturday with the opening two matches of the first round, featuring four of the world’s top players including the World Chess Champion himself.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational Round 1 Odds
Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja (pictured) will face Ding Liren in the first round of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. (Image: Getty)

Carlsen will start with his longtime rival and speed chess specialist Hikaru Nakamura, while Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja is paired up with Ding Liren.

Big Prizes Create Unprecedented Online Chess Event

Each of the round-robin matches is a best-of-four series of 15-minute games, with the winner getting three points. In the case of a 2-2 tie, the players will compete in a single Armageddon game, in which Black wins in the case of a draw. In matches that go to that tiebreaker, the winner will receive two points, while the loser gets one. At the end of the round-robin portion of the tournament, the top four players will advance to the knockout round.

Online chess site is hosting all of the action. The Magnus Carlsen Invitational boasts a $250,000 prize pool with $70,000 going to the winner, making it the richest online event in the history of the game.

“What we are doing with the Magnus Carlsen Invitational is showing the game can be played online in a serious, professional manner with high stakes,” Carlsen told The Ringer via email. “I am definitely not taking it lightly, and I am really looking forward to it.”

Carlsen starts off against Nakamura, the highest rated blitz chess player in the world. Unibet – a Carlsen sponsor – has posted Carlsen as a -118 pick to win the match outright over Nakamura (+350). That’s not including the potential Armageddon game, with a 2-2 draw fetching +230 odds.

Firouzja Continues to Stun Chess World

Surprisingly, the second match might generate more hype than the World Champion’s games. Firouzja was already one of the hottest names in global chess circles before he knocked off Carlsen 8.5-7.5 in the final of the Banter Blitz Cup earlier this week, securing a $14,000 first prize.

The 16-year-old could be a future World Champion in his own right. The Magnus Carlsen Invitational gives him a chance to prove he can succeed in a small round-robin against the best in the world. That begins with a matchup against China’s Ding, who is currently ranked third in the world.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational Odds (Round 1)

  • Magnus Carlsen (-118) vs. Hikaru Nakamura (+350)
  • Alireza Firouzja (+335) vs. Ding Liren (-125)
  • Fabiano Caruana (+200) vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi (+150)
  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (-167) vs. Anish Giri (+450)

Odds via Unibet

Firouzja enters the match as a significant +335 underdog to Ding (-125). But those odds may generate lots of action on the young Iranian, especially after his stunning upset of Carlsen – even if that was in blitz, rather than the somewhat slower-paced rapid chess format being used in this event.

The other four competitors will get off the starting blocks on Sunday. American Fabiano Caruana (+200) takes on Ian Nepomniachtchi (+150), while Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (-167) battles Anish Giri (+450).

Round-robin action in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational continues through April 30. The tournament concludes with the final on May 3. Streaming service DAZN will broadcast the matches, along with Chess24’s YouTube channel.