Despite being hit by an unexpected Covid national lockdown across Latvia last week, the eager-anticipated FIDE Grand Swiss in Riga did get underway relatively stress-free on Wednesday, save for about twenty last-minute withdrawals, among them being top seeds Alexander Grischuk, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport, that brought the number of participating 2700+ rated grandmasters in the reduced field down to 13.
The only Covid-19 issue so far to hit the tournament has been its chief arbiter, England’s Alex Holowczak, who was found to have been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 on his arrival in the Latvian capital. He was tested and the result came back negative and is following the very strict self-isolation rules put in place for the event to go ahead, though he continues to work closely via Zoom with his fellow arbiters.
Yet with so many high-profile late withdrawals, the big winner in Riga could well be the red-hot and high-flying new star of French chess, Alireza Firouzja, the teenager seen by many to be the young pretender to Magnus Carlsen’s world crown, and whom many would like to see go forward to the 2022 Candidates Tournament.
The Iranian exile, 18, is currently surging with menace up the world rankings. He started the Riga Grand Swiss ranked #9, but he’s got off to a flyer, the only player in the 108-player Open field with a perfect start of 3/3, to take the sole lead, a half-point ahead of a five-strong chasing pack – Yu Yangyi (China), Pavel Ponkratov (Russia), Rob Hovhannisyan (Armenia), Nihal Sarin (India), Ivan Saric (Croatia) – and in the process gaining 10 rating points to jump a further three places on the unofficial live ratings to now at world#6, and tantalisingly just a few points away from #4.
Top seed Fabiano Caruana got off to a promising start with a crowd-pleasing win over young Russian Maksim Chigaev – but the US #1 (and soon-to-be world #3 on the November FIDE Rating List) suffered a setback with a brace of draws from winning positions, against Sarin and Saric respectively, to fall off the pace, though leads a 35-player logjam on 2 points that also includes Levon Aronian (Armenia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), plus Sam Sevian (USA) and Dariusz Swiercz (USA).
Photo: FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich makes the ceremonial opening round first move for top seed Fabiano Caruana | © Mark Livshitz / FIDE Grand Swiss
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Maksim Chigaev
FIDE Grand Swiss, (1)
Sicilian Najdorf, Adams Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 The Adams Attack is named not after England’s Mickey Adams, as many wrongly believe, but rather the early 20th-century US master Weaver Adams. This was a big favourite of a young Bobby Fischer, and it is back in vogue again being a favourite of Magnus Carlsen. 6…e6 7.g4 h6 8.a3 Be7 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Rg1 Nd7 11.Be2 g5 12.Qd2 Nce5 13.0-0-0 b5 14.h4 Bb7 15.hxg5 hxg5 16.Rh1 Rg8 17.Rh5 Rc8 18.Rdh1 Bf6 19.f3 Qe7 20.Kb1 Nc4 21.Bxc4 Rxc4 22.b3 Rc8 23.Nd5!? [see diagram] For the onlookers, it looked like a crushing, thematic knight sacrifice on d5, a tactical theme that every Sicilian player has to be wary about. 23…exd5 24.Nf5 This is one of the key themes to most Nd5 sacrifices, it vacates the f5 square for the other knight to swing into to wreck havoc on the Black defences. 24…Qe6 25.Bxg5 Bc3 Otherwise 25…Bxg5 26.Rxg5 Rxg5 27.Qxg5 and Black not only has to defend against the mating attacks, but also the awkward Ng7+ forking both king and queen. 26.Qh2 Ne5? Chigaev cracks under Caruana’s relentless pressure – but pressure that, with engine hindsight, looks more to be a very clever bluff! The only way to hold off White’s brutal attack was with 26…Be5! and run the gauntlet of 27.f4 Bf6 28.Rh6 and while the engine tells you that is “0.00”, the human instinct kicks in, and spinning round your head is the warning that the pressure will be just too much for Black to defend. But all is not lost here, and to defend, you need to also see some remarkable engine concepts. One such line is 28…d4 29.Bxf6 Nxf6 (It ‘s too risky for 29…Bxe4?! 30.Nxd4 Qd5 31.Rh5! Qb7 32.Qh4 Bxh1 33.Nf5! Qc7 34.Qe1+! Ne5 35.Rh2! and the sort of move only a computer will hit on, strategically retreating the rook to defend c2, and leaving Black’s king in the firing line.) 30.e5 dxe5 31.fxe5 Qd5! the timely hit on h1 seems to save Black. 32.Nd6+ Kd7 33.Nxc8 (Black is also not without resources here. The obvious way to continue the attack is with 33.Qf4 and the pressure is building to bursting point for Black’s precarious king – although it isn’t quite so clear who is on top yet! 33…Rc3! 34.Qxf6 Rxb3+! 35.Kc1 Rxa3 and Black survives.) 33…Qxh1+ 34.Qxh1 Bxh1 35.Nb6+ Kc7 36.Rxh1 Nxg4 37.Nd5+ Kd7 38.Rd1 Ke6 and a likely draw. I may well have missed something in the tactical melee and mayhem earlier, but, as ever, the engine finds ingenious ways to survive where a human might just be resigned to, well, resigning! 27.Rh6 Rg6? The only try was to admit the previous move was wrong and brass-neck it with 27…Ng6! 28.Nxd6+ Kd7 29.Nxb7 Kc6 30.Nd8+ Rcxd8 31.Bxd8 Rxd8 32.Rh5 and a complex struggle ahead. But in the heat of battle, most players find it hard to admit to such errors by moving a piece back to where it had just come from. 28.Rxg6 Qxg6 29.Qf4 Nxf3 A nice try, but not enough now to save the game. And you can’t even run your king from the danger zone, as 29…Kd7 30.Rh6! Qg8 31.Ne7 Qe8 32.Nxc8 Kxc8 33.Qf6! Qd7 34.Rh8+ Kc7 35.exd5 Bxd5 36.f4 Bd4 37.Rd8 Qe6 38.fxe5 wins. 30.Qxf3 dxe4 31.Qe3 The queen infiltrating to b6 or even a7 is enough to doom Black, as he can’t defend everything. 31…Bg7 Trying desperately to stop Rh6. 32.Qa7 Something has to give, as Black’s resources are stretched now across both wings of the board. 32…Qxg5 33.Qxb7 Rd8 34.Rh7 1-0