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Firouzja in his biggest win

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

2nd Prague Masters
Prague, Czech Republic
Feb. 11–22, 2020

Final Standings

1–5 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2721, Alireza Firouzja FIDE 2726, Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL 2755, David Anton Guijarro ESP 2697, Samuel Shankland USA 2683, 5.0/9

6–7 Nikita Vitiugov RUS 2731, Penteala Harikrishna IND 2713, 4.5/9

8–9 Markus Ragger AUT 2670, David Navara CZE 2717, 4.0/9

10 Nils Grandelius SWE 2659, 3.0/9

Tie-Break for 1st Place

Alireza Firouzja defeated Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2-0

Average Rating 2707 Category 19

Time Control: 90 minutes for 1st 40 moves followed by 30 minutes play-to-finish with a 30-second increment starting from move one.

The 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja scored his biggest win to date by taking the category 19 (Average Rating: 2707) Prague Masters after tying for 1st with four others and beating Vidit 2:0 in a blitz playoff.

Last December 2018 he was here in Makati playing in the 17th Asian Continental Chess Championship. His rating was 2607 and he was not even the top Iranian player here. Grandmaster M. Amin Tabatabaei tied for 1st with Wei Yi (China) and Le Quang Liem (Vietnam) and, together with Surya Shekhar Ganguly (India) and Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (Vietnam), qualified for the 2019 World Cup.

Another Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo tied for the last qualifying slot but was eliminated by his inferior tie breaks.

Firouzja tied for 12th place with 5.5/9 by winning 5 games, drawing 1 and losing 3 (to Wei Yi, IM Shamsiddin Vokhidov and GM Lalith Babu of India).

I witnessed the following game firsthand during the penultimate round when he lost to Babu:

Firouzja, Alireza (2607) — Lalith, Babu MR (2529) [C92]
17th Asian Continental
Makati PHI (8.8), 17.12.2018

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Nd7 11.Nbd2 Na5 12.Bc2 Re8 13.Nf1 exd4 14.cxd4 c5 15.d5 Bf6 16.Rb1 Nc4 17.b3 Nce5 18.N3h2 c4 19.Ne3 Qc7 20.Nf5 Nc5 21.Bb2 Bc8 22.Ng3 g6 23.b4 Ncd7 24.Bc3 Bg7 25.Qd2 a5 26.bxa5 Nc5 27.Rxb5 Bd7 28.Rb6 Ncd3 29.Reb1 Qc5 30.a6 Bh6 31.Qxh6 Qxf2+ 32.Kh1 Nf4 33.Rg1 Qxg3 34.Be1 Qe3 35.Bh4?

It seems to me that Firouzja’s original plan was to go 35.Rxd6 but suddenly noticed that 35…Nxg2?! 36.Qxe3 Nxe3 when White is only slightly better. However, in reality, 35.Rxd6 Nxg2 36.Bd2! White gains two pieces for a rook with a very strong position, perhaps even winning.

35…Qxb6

Now 35…Nxg2 does not work because of 36.Bg5 Qxb6?? 37.Bf6 and mate.

36.Qxf4

Alas! 36.Bf6 Nh5 there is no mate.

36…f6 37.Bxf6 Rf8 38.Rf1 Rf7 39.Qc1 Raf8 40.Bxe5 Rxf1+ 41.Nxf1 dxe5 42.Ne3 Qxa6 43.Qa1 Qa3 44.Qe1 Qxa2 45.Qc3 Qa7 46.Kh2 Qc5 47.Bb3 Rf4 48.Bc2 Bb5 49.Ng4 Qd4 50.Qa5 h5 51.Nh6+ Kh7 52.Nf5 Qc5 53.Qd8 Rf1 54.h4 gxf5 55.exf5 Qg1+ 56.Kh3 Qe3+ 0–1

The leader of their delegation, GM Ghaem Maghami, could not contain himself and scolded Alireza for bungling the tactics.

That was in December 2018, and he has been on a tear since then. The next month, January 2019, Alireza Firouzja won the Iranian Chess Championship, the second time he has done so, finishing undefeated with 9/11 (+7−0=4).

In March, he competed in the World Team Chess Championship with Iran. He scored 7/9 points (+6−1=2) as Iran placed sixth out of 10. Later in March, he participated in the 3rd Sharjah Masters. He tied for 1st–7th on 7/9 (+5−0=4), placing fourth on tiebreak. Ernesto Inarkiev won the event.

In April, Firouzja placed second on tiebreak behind Constantin Lupulescu in the Reykjavik Open with 7/9 (+6−1=2). Next came the Grenke Chess Open, held from 18 to 22 April. He won his first two games but then, on orders of his Federation, refused to play against the Israeli FIDE Master Or Bronstein in the third round, thus forfeiting the game. This completely destroyed his momentum as he then lost in the fourth round to 1945-rated Antonia Ziegenfuss. He then won his remaining five games to place 27th with 7/9.

In June, Firouzja took part in the 18th edition of the Asian Chess Championship, held from 6–16 June in Xingtai. He finished the tournament in sixth place with 6/9 points (+5−2=2). Though only the top 5 were set to qualify for the Chess World Cup 2019, Firouzja qualified for a spot in the World Cup as 1st-placed Le Quang Liem and 5th-placed Rinat Jumabayev had already previously qualified.

He was getting stronger with each event and made a breakthrough in the Turkish Super League (July 17-28). He scored 11½/13 (+10–0=3) and increased his rating to 2702. This made Firouzja the first Iranian to reach a rating of 2700 or above. It also makes him currently the youngest super grandmaster in the world.

At the FIDE World Cup in September, Firouzja defeated Arman Pashikian and Daniil Dubov in rounds one and two, respectively. Another milestone here as this is the first time an Iranian player has reached the third round of a Chess World Cup. In round three, he faced the number-one seed Ding Liren. Firouzja drew with Ding in the two classical games but lost both of the rapid tiebreakers and was eliminated from the tournament.

In December of 2019 Firouzja was getting ready to play in the 2019 World Rapid and Blitz Championships when the Iran Chess Federation banned all of their players from participating to uphold their ban against Iranians playing against Israelis. This was the last straw and Firouzja instead withdrew from his own Federation and decided to compete as a FIDE-licensed competitor. He could do this since he is residing in France.

His participation in the championships was sensational. He finished the World Rapid Chess Championship (Dec. 26–28) as runner-up with 10½/15 (+8–2=5), one point short of the winner Carlsen. He is the first-ever Iranian-born grandmaster to be able to go on a podium in the history of this competition. At the World Blitz Chess Championship held immediately after Firouzja as again among the leaders and placed sixth with 13½/21 (+12–6=3).

More was to come. Firouzja participated in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in January, the first Iranian to compete in the Masters’ bracket of the tournament, and his first time to face the world elite in a classical round-robin tournament. He finished with 6½/13 (+4–4=5), placing ninth. The final score does not tell the whole tale as in the first half of the tournament he even got the sole lead before suffering in consecutive games against Carlsen, Caruana and Anand.

Which brings us to the Masters section of the Prague International Chess Fesrival, a 10-player category XIX round-robin event. Firouzja was not scheduled to take part he was called in by the organizers as a last-minute replacement of Wei Yi who could not attend due to the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus. And now he made history once again, tying for first with Vidit and becoming one of the youngest players to ever attain a supertournament victory.

Duda, Jan Krzysztof (2755) — Firouzja, Alireza (2726) [A11]
Prague Masters Prague (7.4), 19.02.2020

This game won the Chess.com Brilliancy Prize. The prize is awarded 50% by the choice of the Website chess.com content team, and 50% by the Chess.com members (taken from the poll on the chess.com site).

1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 6.Bb2 0–0

The “logical” 6…e5?! here is exactly what White’s formation is designed against. He will be putting pressure against the center with 7.cxd5 cxd5 8.Nb5 Nc6 9.Nxd6+ Qxd6 10.Bb5 (10.d4!? e4 11.Ne5 also looks OK for White) 10…e4 11.Nd4 0–0 and now GM Hracek recommends 12.Qc1! Nb4 (12…Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Rd8 14.Qb2 is likewise favorable for White) 13.a3 Na6 14.Be2 Nc7 15.h3 White is doing well with the two bishops getting ready to deploy.

7.Qc2 e5

With the King castled Black can now play this.

8.Be2

It might be a good idea to play 8.d3 to prevent 8…e4, but that is what Duda’s style is — provocative.

8…e4 9.Ng5 h6 10.h4!?

OK, here we go.

10…Re8

[10…hxg5? 11.hxg5 Nh7 12.f4 White has a strong attack coming up. Take note that 12…exf3?? 13.Qxh7#]

11.Nh3 Na6 12.a3 dxc4 13.Bxc4 b5 14.Be2 b4 15.Nd1 bxa3 16.Bxa3 Nb4 17.Bxb4 Bxb4 18.g3 Ng4

The idea is Qf6, Bf5, Rad8–d6, Re8–d8 with maximum pressure on the d2–pawn.

19.Ra2 Qf6 20.Kf1

White can castle but 20.0–0 g5 looks dangerous for him.

20…Bf5 21.Kg2 Rad8 22.Nc3 a5 23.Nf4 Qe5 24.Rc1 Rd6 25.Qd1 Nf6 26.h5 Red8 27.Nb1

Time remaining: 9 minutes for Duda and 15 minutes for Firouzja.

27…g5 28.hxg6 fxg6 29.Qh1 Kg7 30.Na3 Bxa3 31.Rxa3 g5 32.Nh5+ Nxh5 33.Bxh5 Rxd2 34.Rxc6? <D>

It looks like 34.Qe1 is the only move to prevent instant disaster. However, Black can still continue 34…Qb2 35.Rxa5 Rf8 and the pressure against f2 will win for him.

Diagram here!!

POSITION AFTER 34.RXC6

34…Bd7!

Preparation for Rf8 targeting f2. 34…Rxf2+? right away does not work because 35.Kxf2 Qb2+ would fail to 36.Be2! and h6 hangs.

35.Rg6+

[35.Rc1 Rf8 36.Rf1 Qb2 does not help]

35…Kh7 36.Qc1

[36.Ra6 Rxf2+ 37.Kxf2 Rf8+ 38.Kg2 Qb2+ 39.Kg1 Qf2#]

36…Be8 37.Rxa5 Qxa5 38.Qc4 Rxf2+ 39.Kxf2 Qf5+ 0–1

[39…Qf5+ 40.Ke2 Bxg6 41.Bxg6+ Kxg6 Black is a whole rook up]

Two years ago not yet even an International Grandmaster, and now, only 16 years old, playing at the elite level. Let’s see the next milestones he will attain in the coming months.

 

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.

bobby@cpamd.net

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