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The Ali-Frazier Battle Of Internet Chess Is Happening This Week

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Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess grandmaster and No. 1-ranked chess player in the world, is just over two weeks away from defending his world championship in New York City. It’ll be a grueling test, with hours-long games spread out over 19 days, but Carlsen will be the heavy favorite. But rather than poring over potential opening moves or studying the intricacies of endgames, he’s heading to the internet to play some speed chess.

Thursday, Carlsen will play Hikaru Nakamura, the four-time U.S. chess champion, in Chess.com’s online Grandmaster Blitz Battle final, which the site is billing as the Ali vs. Frazier of online chess. In the world championship for chess with “classical” time controls, each player gets at least 100 minutes for all his or her moves. But Thursday’s blitz battle will feature a series of games wherein the players get just 5 minutes, 3 minutes and, finally, 1 minute per side.

According to the latest FIDE list, a ranking that uses Elo ratings and in-person results, Carlsen and Nakamura are the second- and third-best blitz players in the world, respectively. (China’s Liren Ding is No. 1.) But according to Chess.com’s newly developed Computer Accuracy & Precision Score (or CAPS), Nakamura may have a slight edge in speed games over the world champion. CAPS is based on a comparison between the humans’ actual moves and the moves deemed best by a computer.

You can watch the match, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern, on Chess.com and Twitch. And if you can’t wait, here’s an appetizer — the two grandmasters playing a private speed game in a hotel room a few years ago:

Oliver Roeder is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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