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Reports Feb 21, 2020 | 7:45 PMby Colin McGourty

Prague Masters: Firouzja wins 1st supertournament

16-year-old Alireza Firouzja has won the 2020 Prague Masters after beating Vidit 2:0 in a blitz playoff. It took immense fighting spirit and some help from the universe as Firouzja survived a lost position against David Anton to join a 5-way tie for 1st place. Despite getting blown away by Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Vidit still had the best tiebreaks and qualified for a playoff against Alireza, but his 2 losses there made it a disastrous 4 in a row at the end. Jorden van Foreest took the Challengers title and will play the Masters next year after winning 3 of his last 4 games.

Firouzja and Duda could be very happy with how the Prague Masters had ended - Vidit, not so much  | photo: official website

You can replay all the games from the 2020 Prague Masters using the selector below:

And here’s the last part of the commentary on the final round, including the playoff:

What might have been

The 2020 Prague Masters was an incredibly close battle. It ended with all but one of the players, Nils Grandelius, finishing within a point of 1st place, so that almost everyone but Alireza Firouzja could end with a feeling of what might have been:

All the Masters players at the closing ceremony | photo: official website

In the final round only one game, Ragger-Grandelius, was irrelevant for the fight for 1st place, and it’s no surprise that it ended up being the only quiet draw. On all the other boards the players were going for it, and the margins were tiny. For instance, Sam Shankland beat Nikita Vitiugov to join the 5-way tie for first place, but Nikita was a move away from gaining a huge advantage:

15.Qxb4 would be forced for Sam, and after 15…Nxe3 White is losing either an exchange or both the g2 and f4-pawns (which might have given Vitiugov painful flashbacks to the fateful Armageddon game against Yu Yangyi in the 2019 World Cup). A win for Nikita would have given him outright victory in the tournament and the title for a second year in a row. Instead he played 14…f5?! and in the end it was Shankland who converted a two-pawn advantage in an endgame. Nikita reflected:

David Navara could have tied for first with a win, but he pushed too hard and allowed Harikrishna to pick up a first win of the tournament and end on 50%.

Duda went straight for the jugular against a wounded Vidit | photo: Vladimir Jagr, official website

When it comes to hard-luck stories, however, no-one can compete with Vidit, who seemed to be cruising to the title until it all went horribly wrong during his penultimate round game against Navara. His final-round opponent Jan-Krzysztof Duda summed it up when explaining why he played so aggressively in their game:

It was mainly connected with my opponent’s state of mind, because his game yesterday was a complete disaster and I think nobody could recover after such a game, when he was winning almost all the time. He could also have taken a draw, but sometimes it happens and obviously he was very upset and it’s not fun to play with Black in the last game.

In the end we know that a draw against Navara would have been enough for Vidit to take the title, while a draw against Duda would also have completed the job. Instead Duda sprung a surprise with the sharp 10.0-0-0 and later commented:

I think it’s nothing special, in terms of the computer. In correspondence play I wouldn’t play long castles, but I think it’s a good practical weapon. It’s very difficult to analyse this position with the computer because it shows everywhere either equal or a better game for Black after each move, but I think it was a good practical choice.

It worked perfectly, since the first move that deviated from his analysis, Vidit’s 16…Bc6?!, was a mistake:

It took 18 minutes, but Duda correctly spotted the refutation was 17.Qf4! Nf5 18.g4 Bh6 19.Nxc6! and Black ended up with doubled c-pawns while White’s forces were building menacingly on the kingside. Duda criticised his opponent’s 24…e5!?, though he noted the alternative was 24...Qg5 25.Qe5 and a miserable ending where it’s only a question of whether White can break through. 

The final chance to keep the game alive came after 31.Rf3!?:

31…Rb8!! might not have saved the game, but it’s a nice trick since White has nothing better than 32.Rxf2 Nc3+! and, after the queen exchange, Black can at least play on in the ending. Instead 31…Qxd4? was met by the brutal 32.Qxg6! Nf4 33.Qf6! Qe4+ 34.Bd3! and Black resigned.

Top seed Duda was happy to end with a win, though he admitted it hadn’t been a great tournament for him. His one loss came with the white pieces against Firouzja:

I put pressure on myself because I calculated that the last time I lost with White was in March, in classical games, and obviously I put pressure on myself to withstand a year without a loss! It was very stupid, and with Firouzja I confused variations and he surprised me, and then I didn’t see a couple of things and was totally lost after 12 moves or so with White, which was clearly a disaster.

Duda’s win over Vidit meant it was all to play for in the remaining game of the round:

David Antón ½-½ Alireza Firouzja: Mayhem

Antón-Firouzja was an epic battle in the final round | photo: official website

Both players went into this game knowing that if Vidit drew they would need to win to catch him and reach a playoff, while when Vidit lost it meant that a win would mean clear victory in the tournament. Alireza therefore went for it with the King’s Indian Defence, but 24-year-old Antón, fresh from winning the Tata Steel Challengers, was ready. His 12.g4! looks to be a good novelty, and soon Alireza was fighting to survive:

25…Rf4!? was a nice exchange sacrifice to open up diagonals for the black bishops, though after 26.Bxf4 exf4 27.Ndxe4 White was on top, and the game and tournament could have been decided before the time control:

David spent 5 of his remaining 8 minutes here, but didn’t give back the exchange with 36.Rxg6! After 36…Kxg6 37.Qh4! White has a devastating attack. 36…Bxc3 is trickier, but after 37.Re6! White is again simply winning.

Instead the more circumspect 36.Qh4 allowed 36…Nf8!, though after 37.Qh1 Bg7?! there was another chance to win. 38.Rh3! and then 39.Rf3 was the way, but instead 38.Rh4 allowed Firouzja right back into the game:

With 16 seconds remaining on his clock he went for 38…Rxe4! 39.Rxe4 Bxc3 40.Rhxf4+ (40.Rexf4+! was better) 40…Kg8:

It was now extremely tough for both sides to play, and although it looks to have been a mistake for White to allow 41.bxc3?! (41.Qf3!) 41…Qxc3+ 42.Ka2 Qb3+ 43.Ka1 Qxa3+ 44.Kb1 it was no real surprise when the advantage evaporated after 44…Nd7?!. Firouzja later said of the draw:

Today the classical game was very interesting, a lot of ups and downs, but I cannot say I should have won because he was much better in the opening and middlegame. In the endgame I had some chances that I missed, and it was not easy of course, maybe I should put the queen on c3 and then push, but ok, it’s a very complicated endgame.

For David Antón it was a slightly disappointing finish, but he’d still ended in the tie for first place and, after yet another good tournament, he’s going to be above 2700 for the first time on an official FIDE rating list on March 1st.

There was work to be done for Firouzja, however, since the better Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaks meant he made it into a playoff against Vidit:

Vidit 0-2 Firouzja: Adding insult to injury

Vidit resigns the first blitz game against Firouzja | photo: official website

On the one hand, this was a chance for Vidit still to win the Prague Masters despite all the pain he’d suffered in the last two classical games, but it’s unlikely he was relishing the prospect of playing more chess. Firouzja had only 20 minutes or so to recover after his epic game against Antón, but in the first 5 minute, 3-second increment playoff game he was soon back to doing his thing – taking fast, bold and risky decisions to seize the initiative. He was on top for most of the game, though 36.Qa8! would objectively have been close to winning for White. Instead 36.Qe8 was played:

Black is threatening to win with Qh8+ and Rd6+, but Alireza stopped that with 36…Rxf3! 37.Qh8+ Kg6 38.Qxh5+ (after 38.Rd6+ Black can now simply play 38…Kxg5) 38…Kxh5 39.Bxf3 Kxg5 and Black was a pawn up in an ending with opposite-coloured bishops.

You might have expected a long attempt to convert that extra pawn, but instead Vidit’s 45.Rxb5? pawn grab was falling into the kind of trap you usually see in R+B vs. R endings:

45…Rd7! 46.Bb4 (other moves are no better) 46…Rd1+ 47.Kh2 Kg4 and Vidit resigned. The only way to prevent mate would be to give up his rook.

In the second game Vidit now needed to win on demand with the black pieces to take the playoff to Armageddon, but Firouzja played pragmatically, swapped queens off on move 10 and never looked seriously in danger of losing. Vidit did have an advantage at the end, but he lost on time, a somehow fitting end to two days in which everything that could go wrong had gone wrong for the Indian star.

For 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, however, it was another career milestone, and one that came ahead of schedule considering he only played the event after Wei Yi withdrew at the last moment. You can dispute whether the Prague Masters is yet a supertournament (though it’s certainly a major tournament with a 2700+ average rating) and you can say Firouzja got lucky (though he also, for instance, was a move or two away from beating Vitiugov), but the best players have a way of making their own luck. 

We quoted Vishy Anand in an earlier report as saying of Firouzja, “what struck me is how easily he wins games,” and it’s quite possible we’ll find that applies to tournaments as well. As another Indian grandmaster commented:

Does the future belong to Firouzja? Some new items in our shop suggest it might 

Jorden van Foreest wins the Prague Challengers

Jorden van Foreest won the ticket for next year's Masters ahead of top seed Abasov and Esipenko | photo: official website

In a way the story in the Challengers was the same as in the Masters. The long term leader Hannes Stefansson collapsed at the end to lose his final two games and allow a young grandmaster to snatch the title:

In this case, however, Hannes, the 8th seed and a qualifier by winning the Open a year earlier, was outperforming all expectations and there was no great surprise when he lost to two higher-rated opponents at the end. In the final round that was 20-year-old Jorden van Foreest, who played a very smooth game.

Material is still equal, but Black’s resignation wasn’t premature. If the rook moves f5 or Nh5 is coming next, while 43…g5 44.Nxf5 gxh4 45.Rxg8+ leads to a trivially won knight endgame.

Jorden had ended with three wins in his last four games after starting with five draws, and that proved to be enough for clear first after 17-year-old Andrey Esipenko missed out again when he couldn’t convert an advantage against bottom-placed Jan Krejci. Both have had a very good year so far, however, and are climbing the live rating list together:

The Open tournament finishes today and then that’s all for the 2020 Prague Chess Festival. Let’s hope it continues to go from strength to strength. Meanwhile the chess action doesn’t stop: it’s a Chess Bundesliga weekend, we have Praggnanandaa-Artemiev in the Aeroflot Open and on Monday there’s going to be 18 hours of Banter Blitz with the likes of Peter Svidler, Gata Kamsky and Sam Shankland:

Check out the schedule for upcoming events.

See also:

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