With an open qualification process that began in April, the FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship continues the final qualification phase as it plays down to the final six players who will qualify for the quarterfinals in early October.
The fourth of six knockout qualifiers will be hosted on Chess.com this Sunday, Aug. 22, featuring some of the strongest players in the world including three-time world blitz champion Alexander Grischuk, and fan favorite Peter Svidler as they headline a pack of 16 players vying for their chance to qualify for the next phase, the quarterfinals. You can watch coverage of the Knockout Qualifier at 8 a.m. Pacific, Aug. 25, on Twitch.tv/chess, with commentary by GM Aman Hambleton.
The most recent Knockout Qualifier saw Vidit Gujrathi advance after stellar performances in a bracket which lasted 7.5 hours and concluded around 3 A.M. in India. The bracket was thrown into chaos by myriad mistakes, blunders and missed mates despite featuring four players rated over 2700 FIDE. This bracket may be even stronger, with the top-4 seeds holding an average rating of 2729 FIDE. Names like Nikita Vitiugov, Francisco Vallejo Pons and Jorden van Foreest are littered among the star-studded group and each will feel they have a claim on being called a favorite to win the Knockout Qualifier and advance to the quarterfinals.
Grischuk's first round opponent, WFM Olesya Shevtchenko, qualified for the Knockout Qualifier by advancing through the stacked Play-In Qualifier 10 where she finished equal on points with Chess.com commentator GM Robert Hess, August 22 semifinalist GM Matthias Bluebaum, and Chess.com mainstay GM Pavel Anisimov, who Shevtchenko may meet in round two if she manages to pull off a shocking upset of Grischuk.
On the other side of the bracket, Svidler will likely be looking ahead to a potential semifinal encounter with Vitiugov, a player who may not be a household name for casual fans but is a feared veteran on the professional tournament calendar, currently ranked as the 26th best player in the world. Vitiugov, who first crossed the 2700 barrier all the way back in March 2010, will be hoping to use his experience at the top levels to pull off the mild upset over Svidler in the event they end up battling for a spot in the finals.
The Fischer Random Chess Championship is recognized by FIDE, the international chess federation, and is hosted by Dund AS in partnership with Chess.com.
The championship seeks to crown the best Fischer Random (also known as Chess960) player in the world. All games will be played in the popular chess variant with shuffled starting positions, first promoted by the former world chess champion Bobby Fischer.
After hosting over 40 qualifiers that saw nearly 2,000 players participate, the Fischer Random action speeds up even more as the first knockout bracket begins, featuring two-game mini-matches of 15+2 time control with tiebreaks along the way to decide who moves on to the next round. Players were expected to play the entire bracket over the course of a grueling five-hour span, but because of the close matches that have played out in the first three qualifiers, a more accurate prediction is a nail-biting seven hours of play for these elite players.
Among the other well-known players in Sunday's bracket are Ukranian blitz and bullet specialist GM Oleksandr Bortnyk, who played in this year's Bullet Chess Championship final vs. Hikaru Nakamura, Russian phenom GM Andrey Esipenko, fresh off his appearance in the Junior Speed Chess Championship, and veteran GM Alexey Dreev, whose peak FIDE rating has also been north of 2700.
So far, the following top Fischer Random grandmasters are confirmed to participate as invited players in the six knockout tournaments:
The following players have qualified for or been invited to the quarterfinals stage:
In addition to the notable grandmasters participating in the knockout qualifiers, four players have qualified all the way from the initial phase, the open qualifier. These four underdogs, including August 31 participant 14-year-old untitled Singaporean Ethan Poh, will look to keep their Cinderella stories alive as they now face the daunting task of taking on multiple grandmasters—some of whom are ranked in the top-50 players in the world.
Poh's first-round opponent for August 31, Leinier Dominguez-Perez, recently accepted an invitation to play in the qualifiers as the top-10 FIDE Cuban-American looks to avoid an upset at the hands of Norwegian GM Frode Urkedal. After tomorrow's qualifier, the knockout tournaments continue on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in a weekend full of Fischer Random action.
You can watch all knockout tournament coverage live on Twitch.tv/chess with commentary from top grandmasters during each Knockout Qualifier.
The six survivors of the knockout brackets will join Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, who were seeded directly into the quarterfinals, already recognized as two of the strongest Fischer Random masters in the world.
For more in-depth information on the FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship, including all titled player qualifiers, visit the official Chess.com guide here.
For the official rules of the FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship, see this PDF.
Remember to watch all upcoming FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship coverage on Twitch.tv/Chess starting this Sunday, Aug. 25, and continuing throughout the knockout phase until Sept. 1.