FTX Crypto Cup: Carlsen faces stiff test in elite field

All top-10 players in the world, headed by Magnus Carlsen, are part of the 16-player field that plays three days of round-robin league to decide the quarterfinalists. Thereafter, the event follows the knockout format.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen   -  Getty Images

The world’s strongest field ever for an online chess event promises plenty of excitement when the $320,000 FTX Crypto Cup online rapid chess tournament opens on Sunday.

All top-10 players in the world, headed by Magnus Carlsen, are part of the 16-player field that plays three days of round-robin league to decide the quarterfinalists. Thereafter, the event follows the knockout format.

Even if one goes by the world rapid rankings, 11 out of the top-14 players, including the top four - Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura - are in the field.

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After topping the league in all five events so far, Carlsen won his maiden title on the $1.5 million Meltwaters Champions Chess Tour by claiming the New in Chess Classic earlier this month and topped the Tour standings.

This time, in addition to the regular challengers, Carlsen also faces World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana and comeback man and World No. 3 Ding, both wild cards for this event.

This will also be the first time Carlsen will play Ian Nepomniachtchi after the Russian gained the right to challenge him for the World title in November this year.

Wesley So, the only player to win twice this season, will be determined to win back his place on top of the Tour standings. Anish Giri and Teimour Radjabov are the other two title-winners in the fray.

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Other serious contenders for the title are Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi. Nakamura, runner-up to Carlsen in the previous event, was the losing semifinalist along with Nepomniachtchi in the inaugural event.

Alexander Grischuk, Teimour Radjabov, Levon Aronian, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and the unpredictable Daniil Dubov are capable of pulling off surprises.

The prodigious Alireza Firouzja - an Iranian settled in France who plays under the FIDE flag - is yet to cross the quarterfinals in two attempts. Given the immense talent of this 17-year old, his chances of making the knockout phase appear bright.

Also in the field is Argentine Alan Pichot (22), who gained the most votes from the premium members of the host broadcaster chess24.com. A former World under-16 champion, Pichot faced several elite names from the game on the online platform this year. The last time Pichot played on the Tour, in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, he finished last in the league with 2.5 points.

Seasoned campaigners like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler have a reputation to protect. It is important to remember that Vachier is second behind Carlsen in the world rapid ratings. However, his results this season have not been in keeping with the expectations.

Svidler impressed one and all by reaching the semifinals of the Legends event last year before losing to the eventual winner Carlsen. He could well turn out to be the ‘dark horse’, ready to go deep into the event.

The players:

1. Magnus Carlsen (Nor), 2. Fabiano Caruana (USA), 3. Ding Liren (Chn), 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus), 5. Levon Aronian (Arm), 6. Anish Giri (Ned), 7. Alexander Grischuk (Rus), 8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Aze), 9. Wesley So (USA). 10. Teimour Radjabov (Aze), 11. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Fra), 12. Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), 13. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 14. Peter Svidler (Rus), 15. Daniil Dubov (Rus), 16. Alan Pichot (Arg).
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