General Sep 16, 2022 | 7:17 PMby Tarjei Svensen

Firouzja eyes St Louis hat-trick as Nepo is stopped

Teenage sensation Alireza Firouzja has already won two events in St Louis. Having taken over the lead on Day 2 of the Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX along with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the 19-year-old could complete an incredible hat-trick of victories.

Alireza Firouzja can't stop winning on his St. Louis debut | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Leader Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed unstoppable when he followed up a perfect Day 1 in St Louis by defeating Fabiano Caruana in the first game of the day, taking his winning streak to 4. However, he then went on to lose his next two games against the new leaders.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (3/3) and Alireza Firouzja (2.5/3) had a great day, taking over the lead on Day 2 of the Fischer Random event. Both defeated previous leader Nepomniachtchi.

Mamedyarov and Firouzja are tied for the lead after 6 rounds. The remaining three rounds take place today | source: St Louis Chess Club

The duo now share the lead in an event filled with excitement and drama thanks to the twist of unfamiliar positions being drawn before the start of the games.

The event will continue today at 21.00 CEST with Rounds 7-9. You can watch all the Chess 9LX games here on chess24.

Firouzja is on fire these days, having secured his first Grand Chess Tour trophy last week by winning the rapid & blitz event and the Sinquefield Cup. Winning the Chess 9LX tournament would complete an incredible hat-trick of events that would make even Magnus Carlsen proud.

While other players use their 15 minutes before the game to analyze the starting position together in front of the board, Firouzja sits on his own just looking at the printed paper with the position.

"I don't think it's important, it's very complicated. Even if they sit for 40 minutes they cannot find the best moves... the chess that we're playing we are analyzing for 1000 years & it's not even clear what to do!" he said, calling it "a bit strange" to analyze the position with a competitor.

It must have been a memorable experience for the youngest player of the event to face the legend, 40 years older Garry Kasparov, in Round 4. The 13th World Champion was able to get several playable positions on Day 1, but struggled on Day 2 and is yet to get off the mark.

Alireza Firouzja and Garry Kasparov discuss their game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Against Firouzja, it seemed as though Kasparov had drawing chances, until a few moves before resignation.

29...Qe4! 30.Kh2? The position is already difficult for White, but 30.Qd7 would put up some more resistance. 30...Qe2! Material starts to fall 31.Qd4 Rf8 32.Kg2 Qxb2 Kasparov decided he didn't want to prolong the suffering 0-1

The rook endgame Firouzja had against Nepomniachtchi seemed equal for a while, until a decisive mistake by Nepo ruined his drawing chances.

36...Kg8?? 36...Ke8! is the defence, as Black can respond to Ke3 by Re5, followed by Re7, which leads to a drawn endgame. Now Black gets time to activate the king and maintain mating threats. 37.Ke3 a6 38.Kd4 Rc5 39.Rb7 Kf8 40.Rxb6 Everything falls apart. Rxf5 41.Rxa6 Rg5 42.Re6 1-0

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a mediocre Day 1 scoring 1.5/3, but climbed to the top after a perfect Day 2.

"Normally in classical chess I just try to play interesting chess and get interesting positions from the opening, but now it's interesting from move 1!" the Azerbajani said about the chess variant.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov completed a perfect day, scoring 3/3 | photo: Lennart Ootes, St Louis Chess Club

His meeting with reigning Chess960 World Champion Wesley So became a chaotic one, with both players missing decisive blows.

31...Rd7?? 32.Rd3?? 32.c6! would trap the queen after bxc6 33.bxc6 Rde7 34.Nc5 followed by Rd3. 32...Ne3! A double threat against the rook and queen. 0-1

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a good mood during analysis with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Leinier Dominguez | photo: Lennart Ootes, St Louis Chess Club

Mamedyarov needed only 22 moves to beat Garry Kasparov, and 25 moves to take down Nepomniachtchi with Black, maintaining a perfect score on Day 2.

Kasparov isn't the only player struggling in St Louis. Peter Svidler has been the unofficial Chess960 World Champion, winning tournaments and matches in Mainz, Germany in 2002-2005. Now more of a commentator than a player, the 46-year-old only has 1.5/6.

A disappointing event in St. Louis for Russian legend Peter Svidler | photo: Lennart Ootes, St Louis Chess Club

In Round 5 against Hikaru Nakamura, he never got out of the blocks.

24.Rxh6! 1-0

The Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX tournament is one of the few over-the-board tournaments played with the popular chess variant.

This year's event can serve as a prelude to the official World Championship which takes place in Iceland in October, with Magnus Carlsen and reigning champion Wesley So confirmed. Online qualifiers are still ongoing.

The Chess 9LX tournament has a prize fund of $150,000, with the winner cashing in $37,500.

The last three rounds take place today from 21.00 CEST. You can watch them here on chess24.

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