Grand Swiss 2: Firouzja world no. 6 as Caruana misses win

Alireza Firouzja moved above Anish Giri to world no. 6 after surviving a scare to beat Dariusz Swiercz and reach 2/2 in the FIDE Grand Swiss. Alexandr Predke, who unleashed a queen sacrifice, and Ivan Saric, are the only other players on 100% in the Open after Nihal Sarin pulled off a great escape against Fabiano Caruana. Levon Aronian and MVL, and 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa and Vincent Keymer, all picked up wins, while David Howell escaped against Arturs Neiksans after 142 moves and almost 8 hours of play. 7 players still have a perfect score in the Women’s Grand Swiss.

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At first it looked as though Round 2 of the Grand Swiss was going to be a great day at the office for world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana. By move 20 it was clear he’d tricked 17-year-old Nihal Sarin and was on course for victory.

Nihal thought for 12 minutes, but there was nothing better than 21.Nf3 Bxh3! 22.gxh3 Qxh3, and the only defence against a rook coming to the 6th rank with a winning attack was 23.Qf1, leaving the following position after 23…Qxf3 24.Qg2 Qxg2+ 25.Kxg2.

Nihal commented afterwards:

I think objectively it should be extremely bad. I’m just two pawns down, but the thing is I had two bishops and his d5-pawn was a bit weak. There was no obvious plan for Black, I think… I thought there was like a 20% chance that I could save this game.

That’s just what the youngster went on to do.

While Fabi had looked winning, one of his big rivals Alireza Firouzja was living very dangerously against Dariusz Swiercz.

The move would have been even stronger a move earlier, but it seems 34.Be2! here would still have left Alireza more or less busted. Instead 34.e5? Qh4! suddenly swung the game in Black’s favour, and by the time control it became clear that it was only going to be about whether Alireza could find a way to win. He got some help — 55.h3! could have stopped the knightmare that followed — and also finished off in brilliant style.

Many moves win, but 58…Nxh2! was crisp, based on the fact that 59.Qxh2 Ng3+! 60.Kg1 Ne2+ 61.Kh1 Qxh2+ 62.Kxh2 Rh4# is checkmate.

Dariusz went for 59.Kg1, but that enabled Alireza to clinch victory by simply capturing on f1 and then c4. The win saw him overtake Anish Giri on the live rating list, with World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi next in the firing line.

The only players to match Alireza’s 2/2 were Ivan Saric, who did what no-one had managed in the 2019 Grand Swiss and beat Kirill Alekseenko, and 27-year-old Russian Grandmaster Alexandr Predke, who got to unleash a queen sacrifice. 19-year-old Uzbek Grandmaster Nodirbek Yakubboev perhaps feared the worst when he spent 16 minutes on 11…Ng4.

Alexandr knew this position and that 12.hxg4!, a queen sacrifice for just two pieces and a pawn, was good for him. What he didn’t know was how exactly he should play afterwards, but his opponent went astray almost immediately — after 13…Kh7?! 14.Be2 f5? Black was already lost, and Predke went on win convincingly. 

Some of the favourites to win the tournament got moving in Round 2, with 2nd seed Levon Aronian beating Hans Niemann when the young US star went astray in time trouble. 

They had an animated postmortem, with Levon explaining:

I think generally the ethical code is, you won the game, don’t talk first! If your opponent wants to discuss with you, discuss with him. But don’t really start the conversation saying you should have played this or that, because that’s not very pleasant, it’s like you’re trying to beat him twice!

4th seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also won, in even more convincing style, after Amin Tabatabaei lived to regret playing the Berlin against its most renowned killer.

16…g6!, attacking the white pawn chain immediately, was essential, since after 16…Be7? 17.Kg3!  Maxime never looked back, later explaining:

It was a Berlin Endgame, which I know very well, and incidentally it turned out to be very close to the win I had against Jeffery Xiong in the Sinquefield Cup, the same motifs and the same sort of attack. And here I think it’s just an opening disaster. He made a mistake early in the game and I think after Kg3 his position is already extremely difficult, because suddenly I can keep all my pawns on the kingside and this is the ideal setup, and if he does nothing then I’m going to steamroll.

The rest of the game was hard to watch for any fans of the Berlin Defence out there. 

In this position Maxime decided to win with a flourish with 25.Ng5! Bd5+ 26.Kg3 Bxh1 27.Rxh1.

The way he played I did manage to get the h-file, and then it was only a matter of time before my attack crashes through. I gave up the exchange — it was not necessary, but I just figured it out to the win.

There wasn’t long to wait.

Maxime, who has yet to qualify for a Candidates Tournament (he got a helping hand when Teimour Radjabov withdrew in 2020) looked fresh afterwards, and commented.

I definitely worked very hard in the past few weeks just to be ready physically, ready technically and ready mentally to fight for one of the two top spots.

It was also a good day for two of the world’s most promising 16-year-olds. Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour winner Praggnanandhaa managed to outplay Indian no. 4 Adhiban, while Germany’s Vincent Keymer got the better of US star Jeffery Xiong in time trouble. Down to just 11 seconds, Jeffery picked the wrong option.

38…Qf3+! is just a draw after 39.Kh2 Rc3!, and White can defend, but no more. Instead he played 38…Qe4+? 39.Kh2 Rc2, which looks winning for Black at a glance, but after 40.Qxc2! Qxc2+ 41.Kxg3 it was White who had an overwhelming material advantage.

There was drama everywhere. Veteran Aleksey Dreev took down Indian no. 3 Harikrishna, while the move of the day was played by Armenia’s Robert Hovhannisyan, against Jorden van Foreest.

34…Ba3!! left White helpless. 35.bxa3 and the connected black passed pawns on the c and d-files are unstoppable. The problem is, if White doesn’t take the bishop there’s no way to stop Black simply taking on b2 — 35.Rf2 still runs into 35…Bxb2!, while in the game we saw 35.Kg2 Bxb2 and Jorden soon resigned. 

That move had shades of 47…Bh3!! in Topalov-Shirov, Linares 1998, so it was appropriate that Alexei himself also won a nice game on the same day, taking down Egypt’s Ahmed Adly. 22…Qxg2? was a very bad idea!

23.Nf5! Re6 24.Be4! Qg4 25.Nxd6+ and Shirov was unstoppable.

Another dramatic tactical blow came in Goryachkina-Oparin, where Aleksandra looked to be doing well until what was presumably an attempt to play solidly with 27.Rf1?, adding to the defence of f3, completely backfired.

27…Rxf3! was now working, since after 28.exf3 Nxf3+ the king can no longer escape from the firing line to f1, while all other moves run into a lethal discovered check. Aleksandra tried to play on with 28.Qc1 but admitted defeat a few moves later. The consolation? She now gets a chance to face chess legend Boris Gelfand in Round 3! 

We can’t end our look at the Open section without mentioning the remarkable Howell-Neiksans. David blundered and was all but lost on move 17, but finally managed to save himself in 142 moves and very close to 8 hours of play. 

7 lead in the Women’s Grand Swiss

There are less than half the players in the women’s event, but more than double the number of leaders, with Nana Dzagnidze, Lei Tingjie, Nino Batsiashvili, Elisabeth Paehtz, Natalia Pogonina, Valentina Gunina and Zhu Jiner all winning both games so far. 

Lei Tingjie vs. Ekaterina Atalik was perhaps the most intense fight, and should have ended in a spectacular draw.

Ekaterina here played 44…Ne3+! and after 45.fxe3 Qg1+ 46.Ke2 Qxe3+ 47.Kd1 just needed to continue 47…Rg1! to force a draw. Instead after 47…Qd3+? 48.Kc1 there were no more checks and Lei Tingjie went on to win.

It was a day of birthdays.

Alina Kashlinskaya, who once won the women’s title in the Isle of Man Masters on her birthday on the same day her husband Radek Wojtaszek won the main event, commented:

Unfortunately yesterday I lost a very painful game, so today was much luckier — I played horribly, but I got my birthday gift, I guess!

Jovanka Houska had been a healthy pawn up for most of the game, but was down to under a minute on her clock when she picked up a second pawn on move 40.

The 9-time British Women’s Chess Champion played 40.Bxe6? (40.Qxe6 was playable, but 40.Qa6!, forcing off queens, was even better), but after 40…Bd3+! 41.Kf2 f4! the white king was trapped in a mating net that cost a bishop and the game.

David Howell’s reward for his 8-hour marathon is to play Black against Praggnanandhaa, who beat him back in 2017 on the Isle of Man while still a 12-year-old! On the top boards we’ve got Firouzja-Predke and Caruana-Saric, with Alireza and Fabiano unquestionably out for blood, while the favourites have the black pieces in Demchenko-Aronian and Donchenko-MVL. 

Tune in to all the Grand Swiss action here on chess24 from 13:00 CEST each day: Open | Women

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