Grand Swiss 5: Shirov and Najer catch Firouzja

49-year-old Alexei Shirov and 44-year-old Evgeniy Najer caught Alireza Firouzja in Round 5 of the FIDE Grand Swiss after the 18-year-old drew his game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Alexei crashed through against Ivan Saric and will now play Firouzja in Round 6, while Najer defeated Robert Hovhannisyan. His opponent will be Fabiano Caruana, who made up for two missed win in a row by taking down David Howell. There are now five leaders in the women’s event after Nino Batsiashvili, Zhu Jiner, Elisabeth Paehtz and Jolanta Zawadzka picked up wins.

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Firouzja is caught

There will be a 31-year age gap when Alexei Shirov takes on Alireza Firouzja in Round 6 of the Grand Swiss. Alireza’s showdown against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, his new teammate and rival for the French no. 1 spot, began with the Najdorf Sicilian, but then fizzled out into a carefully played 31-move draw.

That left the door open for Latvia’s second most famous chess son, Alexei Shirov, who, as we reported, had commented on in the days before the event began.

I turned down playing [the Grand Swiss] almost a month ago because it was already clear to me then that due to the restrictions I wouldn’t be able to travel from home and back, living my normal life, and I didn’t want to stay in a hotel in my home town for 12 days. Unfortunately, the reality turned out even worse than I imagined. Supermarkets are still working, but with restrictions, to 7 at night, while normally they’re open to 10-11. There’s a quiet street from the tournament hall to the hotel, but you can’t expect to meet no pedestrians on it. I hope it all works out, but the event is nevertheless no doubt more of a risk than the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg. However, Radjabov doesn’t have to play 🙂 

He had a late change of heart, however, and after surviving a lost position against Cristobal Henriquez in Round 1 everything has been going his way. He’s picked up wins against Ahmed Adly, Arturs Neiksans and now Ivan Saric, who had escaped in the previous two games against Caruana and Najer but was finally put to the sword in Round 5. 

The opening had already gone Shirov’s way when 20…c5! sent Saric into a 34-minute think.

It was a case of long think, wrong think, as 21.dxc5? (playing a tricky ending after 21.Qd7! was the best White could do) turned out to be the losing move. Shirov took the offered piece with 21…Qxe5 and after 22.Bf4 Qxb2 23.Qd7 Ng6 24.Bd6 he found the killer move 24…e3!

In the game after 25.Rf1 exf2+ 26.Kh1 Black had an overwhelming advantage. The only attempt for Ivan to stay in the game would have been 25.fxe3 Rfd8! 26.Qxa7, restoring material equality, but after 26…Nh4! there’s no good defence against checkmate on g2.

Ivan resigned on move 30.

Shirov, who qualified to play Garry Kasparov in a World Championship match before the bitter disappointment of Garry ultimately playing Vladimir Kramnik instead in 2000, is joined in the lead by another veteran, former European Champion and Aeroflot Open winner Evgeniy Najer.

Evgeniy also had to come back from the dead in Round 1, against Mateusz Bartel, but then won three games and should have won four, since he’d missed a huge chance against Ivan Saric in the previous round. He commented:

Today I feel much better than yesterday, because finally I could win, I could win a very tough game. In this tournament I’ve played all the games on the 2nd or 3rd [time] control, and it’s difficult — so many mistakes in the endgames I did, and my opponents also did a few mistakes in the last moments. 

His win against Robert Hovhannisyan didn’t feel so tough, however, with the Armenian player getting into trouble in a 6.Bg5 Najdorf and ‘bailing out’ into a rook endgame a pawn down.

Not all rook endgames are drawn, and this time Evgeniy made no mistake as he went on to wrap up victory.

Najer’s reward is to get the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana in Round 6, and in fact the players have a history. Caruana beat Najer with Black in Dortmund 2016, but Evgeniy more than got his revenge by knocking out Fabiano in Round 3 of the 2017 FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, in a game that ended when Fabiano blundered mate-in-1.

Fabiano is half a point behind the leaders on 3.5/5 after defeating David Howell. He said afterwards:

I think it was important to win a game. It’s an open tournament and the winning score is very likely to be quite high and already we see some players who are racking up a lot of wins, so it’s kind of important to get in the mix, because also missing two winning positions in a row… I think against Nihal it was winning but it wasn’t very clear-cut, but the game against Saric was just winning with one move, and basically no more work to be done. So yeah, that was a disappointment!

Caruana-Howell featured a 4.d3 Anti-Berlin where David spent over an hour on moves 16-18.

18…Bxc4!? came in for heavy criticism from Fabi:

I was a bit disappointed because he seemed to know the line really well, but at some point he started to the tank and I figured that he was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the position, which is not a bad position for him. It’s just very complicated, and it’s difficult to find the right way for Black, and he shouldn’t take on c4. This is just a very bad positional decision, because after that if he ever plays g4 my knight on h4 suddenly jumps to f5, and if he has this bishop then I don’t have this option, so my knight gets sort of relegated on h4. So he should have played 18…g4 19.Nh4 and there’s probably various moves here which he can play, but after Bxc4 I don’t know if it’s losing, but it’s at least super unpleasant.

The computer, as so often, doesn’t entirely agree, pointing out that after 19.Rxc4 Black had the concrete justification 19…c5! and is fully in the game, while after 19…Rad8?! computers and humans alike agreed that Black was in trouble, both on the board and on the clock.

Fabi took 25 minutes here himself before playing 20.Re1!, commenting:

Re1 was I think a good move. I spent a bit of time. It’s not the most natural move, because the most natural is to get the queen out of the way, like Qc2, but then he plays c5 and he gets some counterplay, but in the game… I guess he shouldn’t play 20…Re8, because it’s just losing, but I don’t know what he should do. I thought the position was borderline winning after Re1.

Fabi made the remainder of the game look very easy, first managing to swap off queens for a position where Black’s scattered pawns and bad bishop were no match for White’s nimble knight.

With no time to think, David only sped up White’s conversion by allowing bishops to be exchanged with 29.Nc4 Kf6 30.Nxb6 cxb6. The pawn endgame was also hopeless, with resignation coming after 34.f4!

White is about to create a passed pawn that will tie down the black king, so the white monarch can march in and finish the game unopposed.

Other players could have caught the leaders, but Aryan Tari defended carefully against Yu Yangyi for 69 moves, Petrosyan-Nihal Sarin was a balanced draw, and Ponkratov-Sevian, with knights stranded on g2 and e7, provided only short-lived excitement.

After 29 minutes, Sam Sevian here found the most accurate move, one once played by Erwin l’Ami, 14…Qc5!, and the game fizzled out into a draw by repetition in 22 moves.

The logic of a big open where only the top two places really matter means that the players lower down find themselves in an all-or-nothing situation if they want to stay in contention, so we got a lot of decisive games. There were comeback wins, for instance, for Parham Maghsoodloo (vs. Vladislav Kovalev), David Anton (vs. Jonas Bjerre), Praggnanandhaa (vs. Rauf Mamedov) and Arjun Erigaisi (vs. Aleksandra Goryachkina). It was a much better day for India overall, with Sasikiran also taking down Vladimir Fedoseev, though Gukesh lost out in a swashbuckling fight against David Navara.

Gukesh is attacking both white rooks, a situation David fixed with 23.Bxh6!? Nxh6 24.Qxe5 Rxf2! 25.Rac1 (25.Kxg2 Ng4+) and the battle went on, before the Czech no. 1, who is now back where he belongs in the 2700 club, finally emerged victorious. 

The position of the day was perhaps the last position of Rinat Jumabayev vs. Volodymyr Onyshchuk.

It’s not often you see four queens on the board in a top-level game, but although White has an extra knight as well it’s of no use here. Rinat resigned, since at best he’s getting mated in two moves.

Here are the standings at the top going into the final round before the rest day.

Five leaders in the women’s section

Lei Tingjie, the sole leader going into Round 5, managed to apply some pressure with the black pieces on Nana Dzagnidze, but the game ended in a draw. That allowed four players to catch her.

Poland’s Jolanta Zawadzka scored a crushing 27-move win over Dinara Saduakassova on the Kazakhstan player’s 25th birthday, while China’s Zhu Jiner at one point missed mate-in-3 but still beat Alina Kashlinskaya with the black pieces. The most dramatic win was for Georgia’s Nino Batsiashvili, who had spotted something Russian Women’s World Cup Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk had missed.

After 18…gxh6 19.fxe4 Kg7 20.e5! Alexandra gave back the piece, but still found herself under an overwhelming attack.

German’s Elisabeth Paehtz beat Georgia’s Lela Javakhishvili with the black pieces, but had a moment of doubt after 41.Kd1.

There’s only one move for Black to be clearly winning, and it took a while for Elisabeth to spot it:

I just missed Kd1, but after 15 minutes of being upset and angry with myself, I found this 41…Rd3+! move, which actually changed the whole outcome, because after that move practically I’m already winning. 

Black can’t take immediately on f8 as 41…Rxf8?? 42.Rxf8+ just loses the rook on f3, but after 41…Rd3+! 42.Ke2 she could play 42…Rxf8! 43.Rxf8+ Kg7 44.Rf4 g5!

The problem is Black’s h-pawn, which after 45.Rf3 h2! couldn’t be stopped. Elisabeth went on to win the Queen vs. Rook position that followed. The German women’s no. 1 says she’s continued the momentum she had in the Spanish League, where she performed at an almost 2600 level. 

Here are the women’s standings at the top after five rounds:

Monday’s Round 6 will be the last before what you imagine is a desperately needed rest day for many of the players, and with games like Shirov-Firouzja, Najer-Caruana, MVL-Ponkratov, Sevian-Yu and Nihal-Navara there’s huge “fire-on-board” potential!

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

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