Vladislav Artemiev put in a tour de force performance to streak ahead of the pack as eight were eliminated from the Aimchess US Rapid.
The 23-year-old Russian, who led overnight, kept up the pace in the prelim stage to book a place in the quarter-finals with ease.
He ended unbeaten on 10.5/15 – a half-point ahead of World Champion Magnus Carlsen – and advances with a real chance of making the final.
Behind him, both Carlsen and FTX Crypto Cup winner Levon Aronian also qualified smoothly with the teen hotshot Alireza Firouzja also putting in a stellar show to finish on 9.5/15.
Further back on the leaderboard, however, there was a frantic scramble for places as the field was cut in half.
Wesley So, the only player to have made the cut in every Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event so far and winner of two titles, found himself in trouble early on before launching a recovery.
By Round 12, with three rounds to go, Firouzja and Shakrhiyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan also both looked safe having built on yesterday’s scores.
It left four of the big guns neck-and-neck and battling for just three qualifying spots with several permutations possible.
Poland’s World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda was the first to pull himself clear leaving Leinier Dominguez Perez, Anish Giri and France’s #1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave chasing the last place.
In a nervy final round, it was Dominguez Perez who squeezed into the quarters as Giri couldn’t break down Firouzja and crashed out.
Duda had earlier been involved in a technical drama in his Round 12 match against the “ChessBrah” streamer Eric Hansen which could have made his path to the quarters much easier.
Hansen suffered a disconnection in a dead-drawn position and was on the brink of being handed a default loss.
With Duda battling for a QF place, a win by disconnection would surely have proved crucial to sending him through in the final shakedown.
But Duda showed true sportsmanship by offering a draw through the arbiters, which Hansen accepted. In the next game the Pole was rewarded with a buccaneering win over Jorden Van Foreest which set him on the road to qualifying.
The other streamer in the field was America’s Daniel Naroditsky. Despite being ranked far below the top players in the event, Naroditsky had been in the running overnight for an improbable KO place.
But the underdog’s challenge petered out as he let a winning position slip to a draw against Hansen and was then comprehensively outplayed by Vachier-Lagrave.
Naroditsky impressed far beyond his world #156 ranking – but, while he justified his inclusion, making the knockout stage was a step too far.
Tomorrow four quarter-final matches start at 17:00 CEST and will be played in the chess24.com playzone.