The time has come to book spots to watch the live stages of the FIDE World Fischer Random Championship. The venue for the semifinals and final will be Norway's Henie Onstad Art Center, located just outside Oslo, which hosted the remarkably successful pilot event, the unofficial title match between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen in 2018.
Those considering a visit would be advised to act quickly - the Nakamura-Carlsen event sold out in advance - despite competing with the Winter Olympics - and proved immensely popular. While chess is of course startlingly trendy in World Champion Magnus Carlsen's homeland, this wasn't quite chess - but it was quickly taken to heart by the viewing public. Once again the FR action in Norway will be televised live and complete by state broadcaster NRK.
This year's event is an attempt to create an official title system and event, beginning with massive open online qualifiers. We are now down to the qualifiers, and some historical context will probably help explain what might appear to be some puzzling aspects of the format.
Last year's unofficial title match pitted the classical titleholder with the man regarded as the reigning Fischer Random champion. During the most organized period of FR competition, the Mainz Chess Classic staged a series of top-level open and match events in 2001-2009 that produced the closest thing to an official world championship the variant had seen, and Nakamura won the last of these, dethroning Levon Aronian in a match, while Alexander Grischuk won the final Open event.
This year's FIDE title event has now reached the quarterfinal stage, with six players emerging victorious from a series of knockout events. In order to integrate classical and FR histories, three players will be joining the qualifiers - and of course some juggling has to take place to make the numbers work out.
The previous classical title challenger, Fabiano Caruana, and the dethroned Fischer Random champion, Hikaru Nakamura, will join the KO qualifiers to make up the eight quarter-finalists. If one thing has become increasingly clear to Fischer Random spectators, it is that there is nothing terribly random about the game.
Skeptics expected some sort of chaotic mess, while adherents argued that the primary effect would be the erasure of the oppressive burden of opening theory. An added bonus has been a higher incidence of surprise and violence as players are plunged into such unknown territory so early, but the games have been very much chess as we know it - and the top players remain the top players.
The 'natural order of things' was so clear in Fischer Random, that the first four KO qualifiers were contested between the top two seeds. The four who emerged from these duels of favorites were all on the 2700+ rating list: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vidit Gujarati, former FR titleholder Peter Svidler and Iranian prodigy and speedster Alireza Firouzja.
The results in the final pair of knockouts could hardly be called shocking. The fifth produced a final between the 3rd and fourth seeds, with an ex-member of the 2700 club, Vladimir Fedoseev, winning in overtime. Bracket favorite Wesley So demonstrated trademark positional mastery to book the sixth and final spot in the quarterfinal, and proved once more that this is very much a chess event.
The quarterfinals must produce three players, who will be joined by Magnus Carlsen in the over-the-board final in Norway. To make this happen, the four first-round losers will contest a comeback round that will produce two players that return to the event and create a group of six - one more KO match will then decide the qualifying semi-finalists.
Fair-play security will be central as the event moves towards the big final: arbiters will be physically present to monitor the players, even though the quarterfinal games will be played online.
If you have missed any of the preceding action, the full results of the KO brackets can be seen here.