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Coronavirus in check: World chess champion fights sports shutdown with $250k online 'Magnus Carlsen Invitational'

Coronavirus in check: World chess champion fights sports shutdown with $250k online 'Magnus Carlsen Invitational'
Magnus Carlsen, the World Chess Champion, is fighting back against the shutdown of sports worldwide forced by Coronavirus by staging his own $250,000 super-Grandmaster tournament against seven of his closest rivals – online.

The "chess from home" tournament, scheduled from April 18 to May 3, will be the most prestigious chess event to be held remotely, with players taking part over a specialized chess server from their homes around the world.

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational, to be broadcast live with commentary on the Chess24.com platform, is being announced just days after FIDE, the World Chess Federation, halted the over-the-board World Chess Candidates tournament halfway through. The players were abruptly given just a few hours to leave the Russian city of Ekaterinburg to enable the players to return to their home countries in the face of an imminent travel ban.

Also on rt.com International Chess Federation Candidates Tournament 2020 halted halfway amid coronavirus pandemic

Carlsen’s new event – featuring the biggest-ever prize fund for an online chess tournament – will see him taking on seven of his closest rivals at rapid-play time controls, including several of the Candidates players now stuck at home.

Games will be played from home, connected by internet linkup, with cameras and spy-software observing each player and their computers to ensure fair play.

Chess24 said the response to Carlsen’s invitations has been very positive so far, and they expect to announce a top-class line-up within days. Among those elite Grandmasters being tipped to challenge Carlsen are World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana, of the United States, No. 3 Ding Liren of China, and the co-leaders of the postponed Candidates tournament, Ian Nepomniatchi of Russia and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France.

Instead of games lasting several hours, as in the Candidates, Carlsen’s format will see players each contest 4 rapid-play games per day against the same opponent, with 15 minutes on the clock, plus an increment of 10 seconds per move. After a preliminary round-robin contest, the four top players will go into the final stage of the competition. The winner of the tournament will win a first prize of $70,000.

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Magnus Carlsen said his new fast-paced, online format would bring exciting rapid-play chess action to a wider audience at a time when the world needs competitive entertainment.

Carlsen said, "Chess is unique in the sports world as the moves are the same whether played on a wooden board or a computer screen."

In comments distributed ahead of the launch of the tournament, the Norwegian Grandmaster added, "This is a historic moment for chess, and given that it’s possible to continue top professional play in an online environment, we have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to players and fans around the world who need a distraction and when no other live, competitive sport is being played."

The coverage on Chess24 will feature expert online commentary and post-game analysis by the players themselves – giving viewers around the world the chance to hear the players’ own thoughts on the competition. Commentary of the event will be broadcast in nine different languages – making it a truly global event.

Carlsen’s online tournament will fill a yawning gap in the chess calendar, which has seen all major over-the-board chess events canceled for months to come, including the postponed Chess Olympiad, now no longer going ahead in Moscow this summer.

The World Championship match itself, originally scheduled to take place during the Dubai Expo in December 2020, may now also have to be postponed if the Expo is delayed or canceled.

Chess24 is insisting that the games will be monitored closely online by an expert team of anti-cheating specialists and arbiters, and the games will be analyzed by powerful chess-playing computers (far stronger than any human player) to detect if any player is getting outside help from a computer, known in chess circles as an "engine."

A tournament of this scale online has never been done before – and could revolutionize the sport. The tournament even plans to give chess fans the chance to Carlsen and the other players to online challenge games.

More than 70 million people around the world play chess online and interest in the game has rocketed with people staying at home in recent weeks, with online playing platforms such as Chess24.com, Chess.com and lichess.org reported millions more players going online in recent weeks, and tens of thousands of new members being reported each day.