Grand Swiss 4: Firouzja and Lei Tingjie sole leaders

Alireza Firouzja’s quick draw with the black pieces against Yu Yangyi was enough to retain the sole lead after Round 4 of the FIDE Grand Swiss as the chasing pack also drew, with Evgeniy Najer missing a great chance to defeat Ivan Saric. MVL, Aryan Tari, Alexei Shirov, Manuel Petrosyan and Sam Sevian all won to move within half a point of Alireza. In the women’s section China’s Lei Tingjie is now the sole leader after taking down Valentina Gunina in a 72-move game where the Russian Champion put up great resistance in a position three pawns down.

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After winning three games in a row in Riga, and seven in a row in total, Alireza Firouzja finally took a break with the black pieces against Yu Yangyi. After the game the Chinese star explained that he hadn’t rechecked his lines for the position after 12…Qa5.

In the recent Danzhou tournament he’d played 13.Na2 against Bu Xiangzhi, inviting Black to capture the pawn on a4. Bu hadn’t done so, but Yu spent seven minutes before deciding he didn’t want to see if Alireza had come armed with preparation there and instead played the safer 13.Qc2. From there on the game hurtled towards a draw on move 30, the earliest moment at which players are allowed to offer a draw.

That gave a chance for the five players other than Yu on 2.5/3 to catch Alireza, but none of them managed to seize it. Robert Hovhannisyan came under mild pressure for 79 moves against his Armenian colleague Levon Aronian, while the big chance slipped in the incredibly tense Najer-Saric.

Najer is a specialist at winning strong opens, having won the European Championship, the Aeroflot Open and the World Open (twice) and he was one not too difficult trick away from defeating Saric and joining Firouzja.

55.Bf6+! Bxf6 56.Rc7! and the position an exchange up after e.g. 56…Bxg5 57.Rxd7 should have been a relatively easy win for Evgeniy. Instead he captured en passant with 55.gxf6+?! and after 55…Kf7 56.Rc6? (56.Rf8+! Ke6 57.Rg8! may have been the last chance) 56…Ra7! the game soon fizzled out into a draw. 

A winner in the game between 17-year-old Nihal Sarin and Russian Higher League winner Pavel Ponkratov would also have caught Firouzja, and while it ended in a 20-move draw it was anything but dull. After two days in which a bishop was sacrificed on h3 in Nihal’s games, Pavel went for 11…Bxh2+!? 12.Kxh2 Qh4+ 13.Kg1 Rf6.

Here, after a long think, Nihal chose 14.f3 and we got a draw by repetition after 14…Rh6 15.Qe1 Qh2+ 16.Kf2 Qh4+, when the white king has nowhere to go. It turns out, however, that 14.f4! would have been a serious improvement. After 14…Rh6 White now has 15.Nf3!, and after the forced 15…exf3 16.Bxf3 Black can’t get the same draw as in the game as the white king escapes via the e2-square.

That was a small chance missed for Nihal, but he would have had a long road ahead to win the game, and he did well compared to many of his Indian colleagues. Sam Sevian carried on his great form from the end of the US Championship to reach 3/4 after beating Praggnanandhaa in a complicated ending, Adhiban suffered a 3rd loss in a row as he became the highest-rated player 17-year-old Dane Jonas Bjerre has ever beaten, and Arjun Erigaisi fell to Sanan Sjugirov.

Another Indian player to have a bad day at the office was Surya Ganguly, who faced 8.c5!? from Jorden van Foreest. 

The Dutch youngster, who had won his first ever Grand Swiss game after drawing all 11 in 2019, explained how a modern grandmaster approaches opening preparation:

I was looking at all kinds of stupid moves to play that don’t lose, and this was one of them!   

He said it had already worked out as hoped when his opponent spent 16 minutes choosing between the two possible captures and other perfectly good moves for Black. Jorden soon got an advantage and would later give some of the harshest criticism you’ll ever hear of the Stockfish approved first line!

He called 20…Rc7, “insane” and Surya meeting 21.Qc2 with 21…f5, “suicide”, while the computer only labelled 24…Nd5? (24…Qd5!) as the point of no return.

The one major pre-tournament favourite to win in Round 4 was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who’s sticking to the schedule of drawing easily with Black and winning with White. While the 1am fire alarm had been tough for some players — Yu Yangyi said he goes to bed at about 10:30pm and gets up at 7am — Maxime revealed he was in the hobby lounge when the fire alarm went off. 

He still found time to look at chess in the morning and said he’d looked at the offbeat Ruy Lopez line that Anton Demchenko chose before the game.

It was a case of things escalating fast, with Maxime commenting, “I don’t know about the mistake, because suddenly my attack was unstoppable after e5, d5, e6.” He did, however, correctly point to the position after 19.dxe6.

He noted 19…Nxe6 runs into 20.Ne5!, but it seems very playable for Black. Instead after 19…Qc6? 20.Re4! White was already winning:

If he goes 20…g5 I just take on f4, and maybe he should go 20…Nfd5, but I still have a tremendous attack, so I just thought this was already probably beyond repair. 

Maxime wrapped things up quickly after 20…Ned5.

He now has Black against Alireza Firouzja in Round 5, with not just leadership of the tournament but the French no. 1 spot at stake.

Other players who joined Maxime in the chasing pack on 3/4 were Aryan Tari, who shrugged off his missed win the day before to beat the high-flying Parham Maghsoodloo, Manuel Petrosyan, who suddenly had an unstoppable attack against David Anton, and Alexei Shirov, who overcame his Latvian colleague Arturs Neiksans. His exchange sacrifice may not objectively have been the best move in the position, but it was stylish and worked out to perfection.

27.Rxe6!? fxe6 28.Nxd5! and here 28…Ra7?! was already a step on the road to ruin. 28…Rb8!, allowing Nb3 to block the bishop on a2, or moving the king out of the pin on the a2-g8 diagonal, would have been much stronger. 

Other notable wins include the Russian duo of Nikita Vitiugov and Andrey Esipenko picking up their first full points after three draws, and Nils Grandelius taking down Baadur Jobava in a predictably wild game.

Aleksandra Goryachkina is once again showing that she can hold her own in all-male company, and as in the Russian Championship she can regret some missed chances for more. She could have beaten Hans Niemann, but it involved sacrificing a piece with a minute on her clock.

After 39.Qc6+! Kxe5 40.Rf3! Black has no choice but to give a check with e.g. 40…Qe1+ and then after 41.Rf1 there’s nothing better than giving up the queen with 41…Qxf1+. Instead in the game Aleksandra settled for a clever way to force a draw by perpetual check.

The standings look as follows at the top.

Lei Tingjie takes the sole lead

It was once again tight at the top in the women’s event with four of the five games involving the leaders ending in draws. The exception was Lei Tingjie doing what no-one had managed in 11 games in the Russian Women’s Championship and three games in Riga — beating Valentina Gunina.

24-year-old Lei Tingjie commented afterwards:

After almost two years this is my first classical game after Gibraltar last year, and I’m very excited to play this tournament because I didn’t participate in the World Cup.

She won a pawn against Valentina by move 20 and soon had a seemingly overwhelming advantage. Afterwards she was critical of her decision to swap off rooks on move 47.

It seems there was absolutely nothing wrong with 47.Rd8!, however, or the logic that three pawns should be enough to win the game. They were all isolated, however, and Valentina made her work hard until finally conceding defeat on move 72.

“After almost five hours, I was very tired and I can’t think about my game at all,” said the Chinese star afterwards.

There was better news for Russia elsewhere, as Alexandra Kosteniuk (vs. Assaubayeva) and Alina Kashlinskaya picked up wins, though that last win was another story of Indian heartbreak. Padmini Rout was crushing until Alina’s 29…Rxf2 proved to be an inspired last roll of the dice.

Padmini probably rejected 30.Kxf2 due to 30…Qf7+ and Black taking the e6-rook next move, but in fact 31.Nf5! wins there for White. In the game 31.Nd5? was losing after 31…Qxg3! 31.Nxe7+ Kf7! and the attack was over.

Lei Tingjie faces Nana Dzagnidze in Sunday’s Round 5, while in the Open section, apart from Firouzja-MVL, another game that stands out is Caruana-Howell. There are some nice match-ups involving young chess stars, including Abdusattorov-Dubov, Navara-Gukesh and Wojtaszek-Keymer.

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

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