FIDE Grand Swiss R8: Firouzja Increases Lead, Now World #4


GM Alireza Firouzja is getting very close to qualifying for the 2022 Candidates Tournament. The 18-year-old French star won again in round eight of the FIDE Grand Swiss and is now a point ahead of the pack, with no fewer than 10 players sharing second place. With today’s win, Firouzja also moved up to number four in the live rankings, surpassing GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.

There’s only one Candidates’ spot up for grabs in the women’s tournament, and GM Lei Tingjie also leads by a point after another win today.

FIDE Grand Swiss LIVE


He’s not there yet, especially taking into account that he’s playing GM Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces in the next round. But if he doesn’t lose that game, Firouzja can hardly escape the 2022 FIDE Candidates, which is a welcome development for the many chess fans who root for him and think the French-Iranian GM is destined to be a future world champion.

Having the comfort of getting two white games in a row (which is nothing out of the ordinary in Swiss tournaments or even round-robins), Firouzja made full use of that advantage. His win vs. GM Krishnan Sasikiran was a convincing one, with the Indian player not standing much of a chance after playing inaccurately in the opening.

Firouzja Sasikiran Riga 2021
Sasikiran on the move vs. Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In his interview, Firouzja said that he expected the game to be harder: “Normally he’s a very good theoretician and he knows about what he’s playing but this time I think he mixed up the move order in the opening. He forgot some things. If you don’t remember this line, it will be very dangerous.”

White got a free advantage after the dubious novelty 13…f5 but Firouzja said he still had to be careful after trading his queen for two minor pieces and a rook: “All the top players are very resourceful so you should be very precise until the very end and keep your cool.”

Firouzja was a bit surprised when he was told that he was now the world number four in the live ratings. “I am? I didn’t know,” he reacted with a smile. “I knew I was number five, six, around that. Yeah, sure, it’s good, I am improving the rating but still, there are many rounds left.”

Chess live ratings Firouzja World number four
Firouzja is now the world number four. Source: 2700chess.

Many of the older fans will be happy to see that the 49-year-old GM Alexei Shirov is still holding his own against the world’s best players. He stuck to his guns against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and played his pet line with …Bc5 in the Ruy Lopez and got a decent position out of the opening. MVL tried to press and the players even reached a pawn endgame, but there the game was quickly agreed to a draw.

Shirov arbiters Riga 2021
Shirov chatted with two of the arbiters before the start of the round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After a long and difficult game, world number two Caruana managed to grind down the Swedish GM Nils Grandelius in an endgame. It took so much toll that Caruana declined to be interviewed this time, so we don’t know his assessment during the game. For our GM commentators, it felt Grandelius resigned a bit early but actually White’s h-pawn is going to drop and Black’s h-pawn should decide things soon.

It was an important win for Caruana, who now gets to play Firouzja with the white pieces tomorrow for a chance to catch the French GM in first place.

Caruana Grandelius clock Riga 2021
Early in the Grandelius-Caruana game, a malfunctioning clock had to be replaced by the arbiters. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

A player who got to 5.5 points quite quickly was GM Nikita Vitiugov, who scored a relatively easy win over his compatriot GM Pavel Ponkratov. According to the Russian Champion 15…Bf7 was a big mistake while before that move it was quite complex and double-edged. The engine, however, finds a nice pawn sacrifice that would have kept Black in the game.

“I feel just great,” said Vitiugov, who won two games in a row after the rest day. “It’s always very nice to win in a tournament with this level of players and especially I [scored] the second win in a row, so that is very nice. Somehow a rest day could be a turning point, it gives you some space, some time to recharge your batteries and it looks like I’ve done it very well this time.”

Nikita Vitiugov chess Riga
Nikita Vitiugov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM David Anton, who won the 2020 Tata Steel Chess Challengers group shortly before the start of the pandemic, is among the players on 5.5 points as well. The Spanish grandmaster beat Russia’s GM Vladimir Fedoseev, who went wrong early in the game.

“I think he misplayed [it] in the opening,” said Anton. “If I don’t remember wrong, after 15.Qf3 e4 it’s already better for Black. I think he basically didn’t know anything after 8…Na5 and 11…c4, this thing. There are some games, I think he should know more. After that, it was very comfortable for me. I think after 20 moves I got a winning position more or less.”

David Anton chess Riga
David Anton. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Sam Sevian continues to do well as another player on 5.5 while playing this tournament right after the U.S. Championship. Asked whether he ever gets tired of chess, he replied: “No, not really! This is my 18th game this month and still three to go.”

The win was against GM David Navara, and afterward, the players spent almost half an hour looking at the game. This doesn’t happen too often anymore these days now that computers have become so strong, so it was nice to see these players analyzing quite passionately afterward.

Sam Sevian chess Riga 2021
Sam Sevian at the board. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GMs Anton Korobov, Grigoriy Oparin, and Alexandr Predke are three more names currently in second place. The last to join that group was GM David Howell, who played another long game where he was in trouble but eventually managed to beat Russia’s up-and-coming player GM Andrey Esipenko.

“I am feeling the same as ever, it seems it’s been a long day every day for me,” the English GM said afterward. “Of course, relieved as well, because I played the opening pretty badly, the middlegame pretty badly, but then after move 40, I had a pretty nice position. I am trying not to get too excited, not to get too ahead of myself, but later I will be celebrating.”

David Howell chess Riga
David Howell during his interview. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Howell, who scored his third straight win, pointed out that this tournament is quite tiring and that his evenings are mostly about recovery: “I normally pass out like a zombie at night. I never look at my opponents, I never even check the pairings until the morning, I try and keep fresh and I think that’s the key for me, just maintaining the energy because I know I’m gonna play for six hours each day.”

A spectacular game was played on one of the lower boards, where GM Kirill Alekseenko scored a nice victory:

Kirill Alekseenko
A nice game by Kirill Alekseenko. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

On a final note (about the open section), our photographer Maria Emelianova shared a small story about the game between GM Vladislav Artemiev and GM Hans Niemann.

First, Niemann offered a draw, and Artemiev said: “I want to play.” Then Artemiev offered a draw five moves later and Niemann replied: “I want to play.” A bit later, Niemann offered a draw once again, with Artemiev smirking but refusing. Then, again, Artemiev offered a draw, and this time Niemann accepted, with both players smiling and Artemiev saying: “Finally!”

In round nine, the top pairings are Caruana vs. Firouzja, Anton vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Shirov vs. Vitiugov, Howell vs. Korobov, Oparin vs. Predke, and Harikrishna vs. Sevian.

Round 8 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 3 GM Firouzja, Alireza 2770 6.5 35.5 38.5 30.5
2 4 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2763 5.5 34.5 38.5 25.75
3 1 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2800 5.5 33.5 37.5 25.75
4 26 GM Predke, Alexandr 2666 5.5 32 35.5 22
5 32 GM Shirov, Alexei 2659 5.5 31 33.5 21.5
6 20 GM Korobov, Anton 2690 5.5 30.5 34 23.5
7 5 GM Vitiugov, Nikita 2727 5.5 30.5 33.5 23.5
8 40 GM Sevian, Samuel 2654 5.5 30.5 33.5 22.5
9 34 GM Howell, David 2658 5.5 29.5 32.5 21.5
10 39 GM Oparin, Grigoriy 2654 5.5 29.5 32 21.5
11 33 GM Anton Guijarro, David 2658 5.5 29.5 32 20.5
12 89 GM Petrosyan, Manuel 2605 5 36.5 39 23.5
13 11 GM Yu Yangyi 2704 5 35 38.5 23
14 54 GM Sasikiran, Krishnan 2640 5 34 36.5 21.25
15 41 GM Nihal, Sarin 2652 5 33.5 36 21.25
16 38 GM Najer, Evgeniy 2654 5 32.5 35.5 20.25
17 27 GM Sargissian, Gabriel 2664 5 31 34.5 21
18 44 GM Sarana, Alexey 2649 5 30.5 33.5 21
19 28 GM Sjugirov, Sanan 2663 5 30 33.5 21
20 63 GM Shevchenko, Kirill 2632 5 30 32 17.25

(Full standings here.)

There’s a similar story in the women’s tournament, where GM Lei is now a point ahead of the rest of the field, like Firouzja. The difference is that there’s just one spot for the Candidates.

Already in such a comfortable position, it made sense for the Chinese player to play it safe and go for the Exchange French vs. IM Alina Kashlinskaya. However, the way it went, Lei got a very pleasant advantage in a queenless middlegame and subsequently outplayed her opponent:

Lei Tingjie Zhu Jiner chess
Lei Tingjie (left) and Zhu Jiner, the only two Chinese female players in Riga, chatting before the round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Otherwise, with draws on the other top boards, the situation hardly changed. IM Elisabeth Paehtz is still in sole second place, and behind her we have two Russian ladies in shared third place: GM Alexandra Kosteniuk and WGM Natalia Pogonina, who took Kashlinskaya’s place thanks to a win today:

Natalia Pogonina chess
Natalia Pogonina. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 8 Women Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 7 GM Lei Tingjie 2505 7 33 36.5 31
2 12 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 2475 6 38 42 30.75
3 3 GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2518 5.5 34.5 37.5 25
4 13 WGM Pogonina, Natalija 2467 5.5 34 37 23.5
5 2 GM Dzagnidze, Nana 2524 5 37.5 41.5 24.75
6 10 GM Batsiashvili, Nino 2484 5 37.5 41 23.75
7 15 WGM Zhu Jiner 2455 5 35.5 38.5 22.5
8 4 GM Harika, Dronavalli 2511 5 34 37 22.25
9 1 GM Muzychuk, Mariya 2536 5 33.5 37 22.75
10 34 IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara 2400 5 33.5 37 22
11 18 IM Javakhishvili, Lela 2446 5 33 36 20.5
12 8 IM Kashlinskaya, Alina 2493 5 31 34 18.5
13 20 IM Badelka, Olga 2438 5 30.5 32.5 18.5
14 37 WGM Cori, Deysi 2382 5 27 27 14
15 22 WGM Zawadzka, Jolanta 2428 4.5 33 36 17.25
16 21 IM Munguntuul, Batkhuyag 2433 4.5 30 33 16.75
17 23 IM Osmak, Iulija 2423 4.5 29 32 16
18 27 GM Girya, Olga 2410 4.5 28.5 31.5 15.75
19 11 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 2475 4.5 28.5 31.5 15.5
20 9 IM Saduakassova, Dinara 2491 4.5 28 31.5 17

(Full standings here.)

In round nine, the top pairings are Kosteniuk vs. Lei, Muzychuk vs. Paehtz, and Zhu vs. Pogonina.

You can find all games of the tournament here for replay and download: FIDE Grand Swiss | FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss.

Mikhail Tal Memorial: Lindores Abbey Blitz
Many of the Grand Swiss participants will also be participating in the Lindores Abbey Blitz, a nine-round blitz tournament on November 8, a day after the Grand Swiss finishes and a day before the anniversary of Mikhail Tal’s 85th birthday. You can follow the games and live broadcast live here. Don’t miss it! 
Mikhail Tal Memorial Lindores Abbey Blitz

The FIDE Grand Swiss and Women’s Grand Swiss take place October 27-November 7, 2021 in Riga, Latvia. The format is an 11-round Swiss. The time control for the open group is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, and finally 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30-second increment starting from move one. For the women, it’s 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30-second increment starting on move one. The top two finishers in the open and the winner among the women will qualify for their respective 2022 Candidates tournaments.

Earlier reports:


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