Four Americans will star in the Opera Euro Rapid, which kicks off Saturday as the third event in the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
US Champion GM Wesley So returns to the 16-player lineup alongside GM Hikaru Nakamura, with the two becoming regulars in the online series of top-level events organized by World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and his Play Magnus Group. Making their first appearance in the Champions Tour are GMs Sam Shankland and Leinier Dominguez-Perez.
courtesy Champions Chess Tour
Im absolutely thrilled to be playing in the upcoming Opera Euro Rapid, Shankland said. Obviously online rapid play is not the same as classical chess and cannot replace it. But in this era, its all we have.
The Champions Tour began last November, promising ten total events spread across the 2021 calendar, including a $300,000 tour finale scheduled for September. Each tournament follows the same format, including all rapid games through a three-day round-robin preliminary stage for all 16 GMs, followed by an 8-player knockout bracket to determine a winner.
Both So and Nakamura were in the initial field of GMs that made up the tours kickoff event, the Skilling Open in November, and their performances have earned them automatic invitations to each successive tournament. So defeated Nakamura in the semifinals, then went on to win the Skilling Open by besting Carlsen in the finals on the world champions 30th birthday. In the tours second event, the Airthings Masters in December, both Americans were knocked out in the bracket quarterfinals though placing in the top-8 bracket earned the auto-invitation to the Opera Euro Rapid.
Dominguez and Shankland were selected as wildcards, part of the fresh crop of new faces that get rotated in with each new Champions Tour event.
Historically, I've never been nearly as good at rapid or blitz especially online as I am at classical, but recently I've been doing a lot of work to try to reverse that trend, Shankland said.
Sam Shankland. Photo David Llada
As Americas No. 6 player and 44th in the world in classical chess, Shankland has been active in several high-level online events during the pandemic, appearing in the 2020 US Chess Championship as well as the Ayelen Invitational, a warmup event to the Skilling Open. Shankland won the Ayelen by a full point over an 8-player field that included GMs Vasyl Ivanchuk and Boris Gelfand.
Dominguez, too, played in the Ayelen and finished second behind Shankland. The Cuban-born super-GM also appeared in the 2020 US Chess Championshipand placed fourth. He is currently ranked third in the U.S. and 14th in the world in classical chess, and even stronger sixth in the world in rapid.
Leinier Dominguez (photo Justin Kellar)
After winning the Ayelen Invitational a full point ahead of Gelfand, Ivanchuk, and Dominguez, I'm confident that I have improved and hope I can continue to show good form against the best players in the world, Shankland said. Im delighted to finally be invited to one of the absolute premier events of online chess during the lockdown.
The Opera Euro Rapid begins its round-robin preliminary with the first five rounds planned for Saturday starting at 11:00 a.m. eastern. The first-round marquee features So versus Carlsen and, later in the day, Shankland draws the World Champion in the fourth round, while Dominguez gets his shot in the fifth.
All tournament information, including live play with commentary, may be viewed at the official Champions Chess Tour website.
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