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Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura: Chess’ big beasts go head-to-head in grand final with $30,000 on the line

<i>Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto/Getty Images</i><br/>Nakamura (left) and Carlsen (right) during the FIDE Chess World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Warsaw
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto/Getty Images
Nakamura (left) and Carlsen (right) during the FIDE Chess World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Warsaw

By Ben Morse, CNN

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal. Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova. All clashes between the greats of sport which have gripped fans and come to define an era.

In chess, games between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have been such must-watch encounters.

And on Friday, to the delight of fans, the two giants of the game will meet each other in the grand final of the Airthings Masters with $30,000 on the line.

The pair met only a few days ago in the tournament’s winner’s final on Wednesday, with Carlsen winning in the Armageddon decider by bidding just one second less than Nakamura to get the black pieces, therefore only needing a draw to go through.

In Armageddon chess, normal rules apply apart from two distinctions: black has draw odds, meaning that if black draws the game, then they win, and black starts with less time on the clock than white.

In other tournaments, world No. 6 Nakamura would have had to settle for a final loss and head home. But in the Airthings Masters, he was offered one final opportunity to qualify for the grand final, playing Wesley So in the loser’s final.

With his victory in the Armageddon game, Nakamura gave himself another opportunity to dethrone the reigning champion Carlsen.

In the uniquely formatted Airthings Masters, if Carlsen was to lose the grand final, there would be a reset final — a best of three encounter.

Despite beating Nakamura last time out, five-time world champion Carlsen said their game was “really, really poor quality,” admitting he was surprised by the early finish of the games in the losers bracket.

“This was one of the days that I woke up after a long, long sleep,” the 32-year-old explained.

“I had some breakfast, maybe too much breakfast, because afterwards I was spent and I could not recover for the whole match, so I think the match was of really, really poor quality, and I think Hikaru would agree as well.”

Although historically Carlsen has had the better of games against Nakamura, in the cauldron of a final who knows what could happen.

The grand final begins at 11am ET and will be decided in a best of five games format, including an Armageddon tie-break.

Not only is a $30,000 first prize stake on the line, but also a place in the $2 million Champions Chess Tour Play-Off in December.

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