Who Will Qualify For The Speed Chess Championship?
The Speed Chess Championship knockout qualifier will be June 26.

Who Will Qualify For The Speed Chess Championship?

| 31 | Chess Event Coverage

The third edition of's Speed Chess Championship brings back 16 of the world's best blitz ballers, but only 14 will be invited to the bracket. The remaining two have to earn their way in via two qualifiers.

The Speed Chess season kicks off with a high-level invitational knockout qualifier to name one of two available qualifier spots.

That first opening will go to one of four grandmasters. GMs Leinier Dominguez, Eric Hansen, Jon Ludvig Hammer and Georg Meier will play a series of knockout matches to get into the SCC. An open qualifier will determine the second missing player.

What can be expected on Tuesday, June 26 at 10 a.m. Pacific on The players will be seeded according to their blitz rating on the day of the event (#1 will play #4 and #2 will play #3, with the two winners then facing off).

So we don't yet know the matchups. Also, instead of a time limit, the three matches will all be exactly 20 games: five games of 5/1, five games of 3/1, and 10 games of 1/1.

Will they listen to music during the qualifier? And why does everyone want to face GM Anish Giri if he qualifies? Read below to see what this esteemed quartet expects to happen on June 26!

null We do not yet know the seedings, but we do know that the #1 blitz rating will match with #4, and #2 with #3. Will you purposely try to engineer a specific seeding by watching the other players leading up to June 26?

Dominguez: No, I will not try to do that, it would probably take too much energy that I will actually need for the matches! I prefer to enjoy the pairings the way it happens.

Leinier Dominguez

GM Leinier Dominguez, chosen by one of his colleagues as the favorite. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Hansen: I don't think so. It's a close field and I'll try to just be generally prepared.

Hammer: No.

Meier: I will for sure try to be no lower than #2. Will you also prepare openings for the other three players, since you may well have to face two of them?

Dominguez: Not too much, I am thinking about a different strategy which consists of changing my own openings in order to confuse my opponents!

Hansen: I'm pretty familiar with all three other guys because I've played them online a bunch. I haven't planned my opening approach yet.

GM Eric Hansen

GM Eric Hansen, just before playing on the top board in the final round of the last Olympiad. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Hammer: I’m going to refresh and expand my opening prep specifically for this event!

Meier: I've played against all three online and over the board, so like for any serious game I'll think a bit about how to approach a match against each one of them. Be honest here—who will be your toughest matchup?

Dominguez: I think Hammer, due to the fact that we almost never played before.

Hansen: I've had tough times with Meier before—he's rock-solid throughout the game and ruthless when it comes to punishing small mistakes.

Hammer: I have some pretty bad memories against Eric.

GM Jon Ludvig Hammer

GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, playing the role of chess tourist at the PRO Chess League's in-person finals. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Meier: Playing half of the games at a bullet time control is sort of an equalizer in my view. I have a hard time seeing anyone being more than a 2:1 favorite in any match-up. That said, of course the laurels of Leinier, being a former world blitz champion counts for something. He is the slight favorite.

[Note they all picked someone different!—M.K.] Now that listening to music is becoming all the rage (Magnus Carlsen in last year's SCC and also the PRO Chess League finals) will you be listening to any during the matches? If so, what's on your playlist?

Dominguez: I tried a couple of times to play online while listening to music and somehow got the feeling that it does not quite work for me, so I will probably try to avoid it this time.

Hansen: I'll probably vary up the BPM (beats per minute) depending on the time control. You can bet there will be some techno, though! [ has found Hansen the perfect mix—M.K.]

Hammer: I will be listening to lots of music while preparing, but not while playing. Marina and the Diamonds, Coldplay, and Robbie Williams.

Meier: I find it important to have a good rhythm of play, not taking too much time, not playing too fast in the critical moment...but that is very very hard to manage on demand! I find it helpful at times to listen to the same song or classical piece of music over and over while I play, like a soothing background noise. One track that works for me in that way is "Shape of My Heart" by Sting. Which of the three time controls do you anticipate being your best and which your most difficult?

Dominguez: Generally I am not that fast online so I guess five minutes will be my best and one minute my worst, but who knows? Chess is often times full of surprises!

Hansen: 3/2 is probably the easiest because it is a standard time control used in tournaments such as Titled Tuesday [Note to Hansen: It is 3/1 not 3/2.—M.K.]. 1/1 will be harder because I have very little experience in it.

Hammer: I’m usually so slow, and therefore I struggle in internet blitz—but with all three time controls having increments, I think I have excellent chances.

Meier: Probably I am somewhat balanced across all three, and it's a good thing not to have a clear weak spot. If experience counts for something 3/1 is where I should feel most at home.

GM Georg Meier

GM Georg Meier, who likely has the most experience out of this quartet when it comes to events. | Photo: Mike Klein/ How much have you watched the other SCC series of the last two years? If you did, did you pick up on any tips that might be helpful?

Dominguez: I did watch some of the matches, it is always fun to watch it, at least parts of it. I am not sure I learned something from them. If I did I already forgot!

Hansen: I watched most of the matches. How you handle the tilt seems to be an important factor.

Hammer: I learned that getting into a matchup with the top Norwegian is lethal. As I understand it, this year I am the top Norwegian.

Meier: Some of these matches have just been awesome entertainment. Of course I watched a fair share! Again, I think that a good rhythm is of utmost importance. I had no chance against Karjakin precisely because he dominated me in that regard. In critical moments I was lacking time and then you feel that your opponent is more in control of the overall situation. If you qualify from this foursome, which seeded player do you most want to face (not necessarily because they are the most beatable, but who would be the most enjoyable to face)?

Dominguez: Several good options, maybe Wei Yi, because again he is the only one with whom I never played before, I find this kind of situation both tough and enjoyable!

Hansen: Anish would be cool. We haven't really played at all before.

GM Anish Giri

GM Anish Giri: Why is everyone picking me!? | Photo: Mike Klein/

Hammer: I’d like to play Hou Yifan—it's one of the easier matchups, and we always have interesting, fighting games.

GM Hou Yifan

GM Hou Yifan: Hammer is coming for you! | Photo: Mike Klein/

Meier: I would find it very interesting to play Anish Giri or Alexander Grischuk.

GM Alexander Grischuk

GM Alexander Grischuk, who beat GM Levon Aronian in the 2016 version of SCC. | Photo: Mike Klein/ What's a bigger theoretical handicap for you, moving the mouse with your non-dominant hand, or changing the dark squares to pink for the match?

Dominguez: Definitely the mouse moving. Already moving it with my dominant hand is almost a handicap!

Hansen: To be a Chessbrah you need some experience being flamboyant! Mouse with a non-dominant hand would be way harder.

Hammer: I imagine there would be a huge amount of mouseslips if I had to use my left hand!

Meier: Pink squares would be no issue. It would be much more intriguing to have pitch black squares, in the sense that you can't see what piece is standing there and only see its symbol again when moved to a light square.

Tune in to or on June 26 at 10 a.m. Pacific (1:00 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central Europe) to see which one of these four grandmasters moves into the main bracket of the 2018 Speed Chess Championship!

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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