Iranian-born GM Alireza Firouzja has won the FIDE Grand Swiss Open in Riga, Latvia over a field of more than 100 top international chess grandmasters in the world’s strongest Swiss system tournament. As a result, the young Grandmaster, currently ranked number five in the FIDE world rankings, will advance to the 2022 Candidates Tournament. Italian-born GM Fabiano Caruana, who now plays for the US Chess Federation, also earned a spot in the upcoming Candidates Tournament with a solid second-place showing in Riga.
In a post-tournament interview, Firouzja stated, “these tournaments are very tricky, and I’m happy that it ended well for me.” At 18 years old, Firouzja is the youngest player in the world with a current rating of over 2781. He has been the only teenager ranked in FIDE’s top 15 since March of 2021.
At the age of 12, Firouzja won a gold medal at the Asian Youth Chess Championships, and the Iranian Chess Championship, after which he was promptly awarded the title of International Master. He was then awarded the Grandmaster title after his performance at the Aeroflot Open tournament two years later at 15 years old. The Iranian opted to play under the international FIDE flag in 2019 due to government-related issues in his home country, before joining France’s federation in 2021.
After a score of 6.5 through 8 rounds (5 wins and 3 draws), Firouzja led the tournament by a full point. In the 9th round, Caruana won a Tal variation of the Caro-Kann defense with the white pieces against Firouzja, who resigned after 54 moves. When asked how tough the tournament was for him, the Iranian stated “I had a very comfortable position until the Fabiano game. After the Fabiano game, it was getting very upsetting because I had a good position out of the opening and managed to lose.”
However, Firouzja bounced back in the next game to defeat English GM David Howell in the 10th round. Howell, who had won each of his previous four games, found an amazing defensive move by the Queen that took Firouzja completely by surprise. This occurred on black’s 31st move but Alireza was able to gather himself and find the only counter to save the game. With both players spending so much time on the opening, they had little time to think through all the resulting complications. Ultimately, Howell made some imprecise calculations and Firouzja was finally able to secure the 57-move comeback victory in a double-bishop endgame.
In the 11th and final round, Firouzja and Russian GM Grigoriy Oparin agreed to a draw after only 28 moves. This draw secured Firouzja’s victory in the Grand Swiss with a total of 8 points out of 11. With this incredibly strong win, he has secured a position in the upcoming Candidates Tournament, where the challenger for the title of World Champion will be decided in an 8-player round-robin.
Many chess fans worldwide consider this to be the next stepping stone towards a great potential rivalry between the young Firouzja and the Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen, who has reigned as World Champion for eight years. Firouzja’s rapid progress in the last few years has certainly been emblematic of Carlsen’s own rise to the status of number one in the world. Carlson also achieved major international success at a very young age, and he nearly broke Russian GM Garry Kasparov’s record for youngest World Champion ever.
The youngest chess champions are the following:
- Garry Kasparov 22 years 6 months 27 days November 9, 1985
- Magnus Carlsen 22 years 11 months 24 days November 23, 2013
- Mikhail Tal 23 years 5 months 28 days May 7, 1960
- Anatoly Karpov 23 years 10 months 11 days April 3, 1975
- Vladimir Kramnik 25 years 4 months 10 days November 4, 2000
- Emanuel Lasker 25 years 5 months 2 days May 26, 1894
Any rivalry would have to wait for the results of the upcoming FIDE World Chess Championship between Carlsen and Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. This World Championship match will be held from November 24 to December 16, 2021 in Dubai and will have a $2 million prize pool.
The next championship match, after the contest between Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi, will take place in 2023. If Firouzja wins the round-robin and the subsequent World Championship match, he would break Kasparov’s record by about two years. Of course, that’s a very tall order for the young Iranian-born French grandmaster who has many more challenges to overcome until the next Candidates tournament begins.