The Magnus Carlsen Invitational sparked a revolution in the game when it launched at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the first time, the elite-level chess went online with big prize money, big stars, and a new professional attitude – all broadcast from the safety of the players’ homes.
Now the MCI has gone stratospheric having spawned a series of new tournaments that eventually became the biggest event in online chess history – the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
A year after World Champion Magnus Carlsen beat rival Hikaru Nakamura in a thrilling finale, the prize pot is bigger at $220,000, the competition more intense and the line-up more exciting.
The new MCI is a tour “Major” and also has significant new support – from two projects founded by tech investors and philanthropists Yuri and Julia Milner.
A galaxy of stars
Breakthrough Initiatives and Breakthrough Junior Challenge are funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation which is in turn backed by, among others, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google founder Sergey Brin.
Magnus Carlsen, the winner of the first eponymous event, has known Yuri Milner for years and the pair have a shared interest in space. As a result, the event will carry a space theme dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the first human space flight.
In the tournament itself, Carlsen will face the challenge of a galaxy of stars which includes the resurgent US Champion Wesley So who has defeated him twice already in finals this season and leads the Tour.
The American has a strong claim to have eclipsed Carlsen as the world’s top online chess player. But the Norwegian will have something to say about that in his own event.
The frontrunners Carlsen and So are also up against several of the brightest stars of the next generation.
First, there is Alireza Firouzja; the 17-year-old tipped as the long-term successor to Carlsen’s crown.
Firouzja has rocketed to no.14 in the world rankings – a rise comparable only to Carlsen in his youth and the greats Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov.
Jorden van Foreest, the shock winner of the Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee tournament, is also in the line-up. Can he light up this event as well?
Magnus Carlsen's invites
Another young star who has dented Carlsen’s status in recent months and will be playing is the exciting Russian Daniil Dubov. Let’s hope all these youngsters don’t come crashing back down to Earth.
Two more of Dubov’s countrymen are in the line-up: Carlsen’s 2016 world title challenger Sergey Karjakin and Russia’s No.1 Ian Nepomniachtchi. Both are hardened campaigners.
Two stars chosen by fans, Dutch No.1 Anish Giri and Spanish Champ David Anton, are also on the roster.
World No.5 Levon Aronian will make his first appearance after announcing he intends to switch from his native Armenia to represent the US.
Hikaru Nakamura, the world No.1 in blitz, beaten finalist in the first MCI and hugely-popular streamer, will return. He took Carlsen the distance last time and nearly won – can he go one better?
National No.1s from France (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) and Azerbaijan (Shakhriyar Mamedyarov) are also included plus world number 10 Teimour Radjabov, who set the early running in the tour and who has been in the form of his life.
Two more wild card entrants will be decided by a double round-robin tournament held at 17:00 CET on Tuesday called the Magnus Carlsen Invitational Qualifier. It will be broadcast live on chess24.com.
The four players in with a chance are: Aryan Tari (Norway), Alan Pichot (Argentina), Nils Grandelius (Sweden) and Max Warmerdam (Netherlands).
The 16-player Magnus Carlsen Invitational will run from March 13 culminating in a two-day final that ends on March 21.