The Super-sub - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The soccer idiom of ‘super-sub’ was once bestowed on the talismanic figures of Manchester United winger Ole Gunnar Solkjaer and Liverpool striker David Fairclough, but now that tag can equally be used to describe Alireza Firouzja, the young teenage and now Iranian exile, who came in as a last-minute substitute at the 2nd Prague Masters in the Czech Republic, and the 16-year-old has now claimed his first major chess title.

Rising star Firouzja stepped in to replace China’s We Yi, who due to the strict coronavirus travel restrictions was unable to make the journey to the Czech Republic. But after Firouzja was crushed by runaway leader Vidit Gujrathi in round 5, the Indian #2 looked the one poised for his big breakthrough victory.

Vidit looked at one stage to be cruising towards a memorable performance, as entered into the world’s Top-20 on the unofficial live rating list for the first time. But with the title almost in sight, and leading by a full point going into the final two rounds, he suffered a spectacular reversal of fortunes with a dramatic car-crash finish with a brace of potentially psychological-scaring losses to David Navra and Jan-Krzysztof Duda respectively, and the tournament blown wide-open.

A crestfallen Vidit finished in a five-way tie for first place alongside Firouzja, Duda, David Anton and 2018 US champion Sam Shankland. And with Vidit and Firouzja having the best tiebreak scores of the quintet, they had to return for a playoff, with Firouzja getting his revenge with a crushing 2-0 win to take the title, as Vidit slumped to a miserable finish with four straight losses.

Final standings:
1-5. A. Firouzja* (FIDE), S. Vidit (India), J-K. Duda (Poland), D. Anton (Spain), S. Shankland (USA) 5/9; 6-7. N. Vitiugov (Russia), P. Harikrishna (India) 4½; 8-9. M. Ragger (Austria), D. Navara (Czech Rep) 4; 10. N. Grandelius (Sweden) 3.

Photo: A dramatic first major title victory for ‘super-sub’ Alireza Firouzja | © Vladimir Jagr/Prague Chess Festival

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Alireza Firouzja
2nd Prague Masters, (7)
English/Slav
1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 6.Bb2 0-0 7.Qc2 e5! Firouzja seizes the initiative early doors, as this move brings the whole White set-up into question. 8.Be2 e4 9.Ng5 h6 10.h4?! A further risk, but this is the sort of provocative play that’s become the calling card for the young Pole. Sometimes it works for him, and sometimes it doesn’t – and this game firmly falls into the latter category. 10…Re8! Highlighting a major flaw in White’s provocative play, the fact that Black simply ignores the knight and just gets on with the job of developing his pieces. Also ignoring the knight with 10…Bf5 was equally good – buttaking it with 10…hxg5?! is just what Duda is looking for, as he’ll follow up with 11.hxg5 Nh7 (Worse is 11…Ne8?? when White strikes with the stunning 12.Nxe4! and suddenly Black is in grave danger of losing. He now needs to tread carefully with the über-cautious 12…Bf5 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.Bd3! dxe4 15.Bxe4 Bg6 16.Bxg6 fxg6 17.Qxg6 Bb4 18.Qh7+ Kf7 19.Qf5+ Kg8 20.Qh7+ and a draw by repetition.) 12.f4! and a double-edged game. 11.Nh3 Na6 12.a3 dxc4 13.Bxc4 b5 14.Be2 b4 15.Nd1 bxa3 16.Bxa3 Nb4 17.Bxb4 Bxb4 With Firouzja having the bishop-pair, and Duda’s pieces all awkwardly placed, and unable for now to castle, White is going to be in big, big trouble. 18.g3 Ng4! Firouzja isn’t going to hang around – he’s rightly going straight for the jugular. 19.Ra2 A sad concession to have to make – but with …Qf6 threatening the Ra1 and vacating the d8 square for his rook to hit the weak point on d2, Duda has to resort to this further ugliness just to stay in the game now. 19…Qf6 20.Kf1 Duda attempts to cut and run with Ke1-f1-g2, as castling might well eventually walk into a possible …Nxe3 tactic with the Nh3 hanging. 20…Bf5 It’s just simple, logical chess from Firouzja, as he gets on with the job in hand of completing his development and the threat of …Rad8 heaping pressure on the d2-weak-point. 21.Kg2 Rad8 22.Nc3 a5 23.Nf4 Qe5 24.Rc1 Rd6! The immediate worry for White is Black doubling rooks on the d-file and d2 collapsing – but this rook lift also adds to the heady mix of possibilities by swinging over to f6 (or possibly h6 after a …g5) and a sudden assault on White’s king. 25.Qd1 Nf6 26.h5 A desperate measure, but Duda want’s to stop …g5 and lines being ripped open on the kingside, such as 26.Nb1 g5! 27.hxg5 hxg5 28.Nh3 Bxh3+ 29.Kxh3 Kg7! and suddenly White is dead in the water with no way to stop …Rh8 and …Rdh6 and carnage down the h-file. 26…Red8 27.Nb1 g5 28.hxg6 fxg6 29.Qh1 Even opera heroines have died a less agonising, less painful death here than Duda. 29…Kg7 30.Na3 Bxa3 31.Rxa3 g5 32.Nh5+ Nxh5 33.Bxh5 No better was 33.Qxh5 Bg6 34.Qh1 Rxd2 – at least with what Duda played, in his death throes he gets to generate some spurious threats. 33…Rxd2 34.Rxc6 Bd7 35.Rg6+ Kh7 36.Qc1 There’s no time for 36.Ra6 as Black comes crashing in with 36…Rxf2+! 37.Kxf2 Rf8+ 38.Bf3 Rxf3+ winning. 36…Be8 37.Rxa5 Duda decides he isn’t going to go down without at least a speculative sacrifice and a faux attack on Firouzja’s king. 37…Qxa5 38.Qc4 Rxf2+! [see diagram] Why worry about your own king safety when your opponent’s king is even more vulnerable? 39.Kxf2 Qf5+ 0-1 Duda has seen enough and throws the towel in. After 40.Kg2 (And no better is 40.Ke1 Bxg6 which leads to much the same thing) 40…Rd2+ 41.Be2 Bxg6 is simple enough.

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