Fabiano Caruana carried his form from the end of the US Championship into Round 1 of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss in Riga as he sacrificed a full knight to take down Maksim Chigaev. 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja moved above Wesley So and Alexander Grischuk to world no. 7 as he beat Nijat Abasov, with Kirill Alekseenko scoring the only other win on the top 10 boards. Dariusz Swiercz’s reward for winning the longest game of the day is a Round 2 pairing with Firouzja, while it’s Nihal Sarin vs. Caruana on board 1.
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Fabiano Caruana is the clear favourite to win the Grand Swiss. It’s not just that he’s the world no. 2 and top seed, but that his own route to the top of the chess world was built on playing a relentless schedule of Swiss tournaments. He’s much more of a specialist in opens than most of his elite colleagues.
He finished 2nd in the stronger 2019 Grand Swiss — and 2nd place in 2021 would be enough to qualify for the Candidates Tournament — and while he might suffer from fatigue from playing the US Chess Championship so recently, it could also work in his favour. His comeback run in Saint Louis featured just the kind of wins against strong 2600+ grandmasters that will be needed to win in Riga.
Fabiano was probably also holding back in the openings in the US Championship, while now, with the stakes at their highest, he can reveal all his tricks. Against 24-year-old Russian GM Maksim Chigaev he went for a sharp Keres Attack setup against the Najdorf, had played a novelty by move 10, and already felt his opponent’s 11…g5!? was asking for trouble.
On move 23 Fabi went for a typical, but nevertheless radical solution.
When I played 22.b3 I pretty much decided on the sacrifice, which was extremely risky, of course. It’s almost a full piece that I’m sacrificing, and it’s not even like I have a very direct attack. I have some initiative, which could last for one move — it’s possible if you miss something that Black consolidates and is a piece up, so I was really not sure, but it also seemed difficult for him to find a way to consolidate, and I didn’t see anything better than this piece sacrifice, so I didn’t want to shuffle around. Things can get very unclear if that happens.
After 23…exd5 24.Nf5! Qe6 (one point of 22.b3!, expelling the rook from c4, is that 24…Qe5, threatening mate-in-1, can now be met by 25.Bd4) 25.Bxg5! Bc3 26.Qh2 Ne5 27.Rh6 we got what a critical turning point.
The computer gives its famous 0.00 evaluation to 27…Ng6!, cold-bloodedly allowing 28.Nxd6+. In the game Maksim went for 27…Rg6, when after 28.Rxg6! Qxg6 29.Qf4 Black gave back the piece and was simply lost after 29…Nxf3?. The computer still gives the very tricky 29…f6! as a chance, but such moves are almost impossible to find in a practical game with little time on the clock.
The way he played I think was the most natural and obvious, but I think he missed that I can take on g6 and play Qf4. I think he was counting on 28.Ng7+, winning the queen, and then it’s a big mess. He has a rook and two pieces for the queen and it’s difficult to say what’s happening.
As it was, Caruana went on to score a powerful win.
Perhaps his most dangerous and ambitious opponent in the tournament is 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who might have climbed even higher by now if not for the pandemic. The Iranian, who now represents France, commented:
The only problem was that there were very few tournaments, so I played just 2-3 tournaments in this year and last year, so this was the only problem, but in general for my level I think it didn’t really matter. Some players are not in shape because they didn’t play for such a long time.
In Round 1 he had the white pieces against 26-year-old Azerbaijan Grandmaster Nijat Abasov, and summed up the game:
In general he was ready to play a worse position and I thought I had a better position in the middlegame, but the queens are off, so always it’s possible to be very simplified. Then I managed to trick him with the attack with g4, and then his king is suddenly in big danger, so it’s surprising, because the queens are off but the king is still very weak.
The right response to 17.g4 was to ignore it, or rather to meet it with the counterattacking 17…b4! on the other side of the board. Instead after 17…hxg4?! 18.hxg4 Bxg4 19.Nxc6! Alireza was winning and played the rest of the game flawlessly: 19…Rfe8 20.Rd5! Rac8 21.Na7! Ra8 22.Nxb5 Reb8 23.Nc7 Ra7
24.e6! Black is defending e6 three times, but the problem is the f4-bishop will hit the undefended rook on b8 if Alireza gets to play Nxe6. The game ended 24…Rab7 25.exf7+ Kf8 (after 25…Kxf7 the a2-bishop is suddenly a monster, with 26.Rd8+ one of the winning moves) 26.Be5 Nd7 27.Rxd7! Bxd7 28.Rh1! and there's no good defence against the threat of mate on h8.
A real tour de force, that sees Alireza climb the live rating list yet again, this time moving up to 7th place, above the absent Wesley So and Alexander Grischuk.
Alireza will now have Black against Dariusz Swiercz in Round 2, after the US/Polish grandmaster needed over six hours and 103 moves to defeat local star Nikita Meshkovs in Round 1.
Caruana’s Round 2 opponent is 17-year-old Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin, who put grizzled veteran Kiril Georgiev to the sword in Round 1. The final position is a study in total domination.
The most pressing threat is Qxg6+ and mate on g7 next move, while 36…Qe8 is met by 37.Rxh5!, threatening mate on h8, or on h7 if the rook is taken. Kiril resigned.
In total there were just three wins on the top 11 boards in the open section, with 18-year-old Hans Niemann getting rewarded for a draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with Black against Levon Aronian in Round 2, after Levon had to suffer somewhat to make a draw against Amin Tabatabaei.
That third win at the top went to Russia’s Kirill Alekseenko, whose convincing victory over Kirill Shevchenko recalled the form he showed in finishing 3rd in the 2019 Grand Swiss. Another player who starred back then was England’s David Howell, who turned the tables to beat World Cup star Velimir Ivic with the black pieces.
The finish was nice. After 44…h1=Q 45.Rxh1 Black would probably win simply by capturing on h1.
Howell's 45…Rh2+! was much better, however, and provoked instant resignation. After 46.Rxh2 Qxh2+ the white king is hopelessly weak, with Bf4 ready to reinforce Black’s attack.
There was of course too much chess action to cover. Jorden van Foreest and Alexei Shirov came back to rescue draws from seemingly hopeless positions against Yuriy Kuzubov and Cristobal Henriquez, but there was no way back for Boris Gelfand after he missed a tactical detail against Dmitrij Kollars.
Parham Maghsoodloo is up to 2709.9 on the live rating list after defeating Vasif Durarbayli, Radek Wojtaszek scored an impressive win over Haik Martirosyan, 19-year-old Nodirbek Yakubboev overcame Rauf Mamedov, Vladislav Artemiev won a slow, model grind against Alan Pichot, and Ante Brkic may have had some help to take down the formidable Maxim Matlakov!
Aleksandra Goryachkina, the one woman playing in the open section (she’s already qualified for the next Women’s Candidates Tournament), began with a comfortable draw with the black pieces against Jorge Cori.
Perhaps the most curious game of the day was 16-year-old German prodigy Vincent Keymer’s draw with Black against Chinese star Yu Yangyi.
What’s so remarkable about this final position? It’s move 40 and all the pieces and pawns are still on the board!
While 20 out of 54 games were decisive in the Open section, it was 18 in just 25 in the Women’s, where the time control is the much faster 90 minutes for 40 moves, then 30 minutes to the end of the game, compared to the very long 100/40 + 50/20 + 15 time control in the Open.
There could have been more decisive action, since top seed Mariya Muzychuk flirted with disaster against 19-year-old Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, a player whose mother Tatiana has complained about the Russian Chess Federation providing no support.
Women’s World Cup winner Alexandra Kosteniuk was in even more trouble against France’s Sophie Milliet.
Alexandra had completely misplayed the opening with Black and here a nice computer-spotted win for Sophie is 18.Nc4! After 18…dxc4 19.Bxc4 White is a piece down but has a crushing advantage due to the pinned pieces on d7 and e7 and the weakness of f7. If the knight isn’t taken, however, it’ll head to b6 or d6, doing almost as much damage. In the game after 18.Bc2 Kosteniuk gradually took over and won.
16-year-old Russian Leya Garifullina scored a notable win with Black against Zhansaya Abdumalik, while the reigning Russian Champion Valentina Gunina got to finish in style against Hungary’s Thanh Trang Hoang.
It might look as though Black had managed to save herself with a nice sacrifice on g2, but here Valentina uncorked 32.Qg6! and suddenly Black is defenceless. The e6-pawn is pinned since the queen on d6 is undefended.
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