Glam rock/wannabe hard rock legends The Sweet, rose to fame in the 70s on the back of notching up eight barnstorming Top Five hits in the UK, with my own particular favourite being Teenage Rampage with its foot-stomping beat and lyrics that warned: “They’ve gotta be heard, they’ve got the word, they really belong / And now they’re coming on strong”.
Now the same could be said for Alireza Firouzja, as the 18-year-old turns another page on his own personal teenage rampage. With a fourth win on top board for France at the European Team Championship in Catez, Slovenia, the Iranian-born exile is sensationally now the new world #3 on the unofficial live rating list, passing Fabiano Caruana, and he now only trails World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren.
And after what’s been a phenomenal period of pure power-house performances from the new teen sensation – seen by all as the natural heir to Carlsen’s crown – by winning the FIDE Grand Swiss in Riga, and now a blockbuster unbeaten score of 4.5/5 on his debut for his newly adopted country, he’s only six points behind Ding, and 6.2 points away from becoming – after Carlsen – only the second 18-year-old 2800 in chess history.
Remarkably, if he continues to burn up the opposition during the remaining four rounds in Catez, he’s not only going to be winning the top board individual gold medal, he’s also going to easily be installed as the new world #2, and knocking hard on the door of breaking Carlsen’s own teenage record of becoming world #1 at the age of 19 years, 2 months, set by the Norwegian in 2010.
In the past month, Firouzja has scored 12.5/16 (only losing to Caruana) with a TPR of 2890 – this is chess at a level that crosses the Rubicon to be talked up as in the same teenage performance parlance as Bobby Fischer and Carlsen.
And his latest win in Catez, over Armenia’s Gabriel Sargissian, was at a different level of opening preparation and accuracy, also up alongside teenage power-house performances from Fischer and Carlsen.
Photo: Watch your back Magnus, Firouzja’s on the rampage! | © European Team Championship
GM Gabriel Sargissian – GM Alireza Firouzja
23rd European Team Championship, (5.1)
Slav Defence, Dutch variation
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 The super-solid Slav Defence is, as the tin states, safe and solid. Normally at GM-level, the games tend to end in draws, but what is remarkable here, is Firouzja’s patience as he keeps control and then ruthlessly pounces on a slip-up from his opponent. 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 0-0 9.Qe2 Bg6 10.Ne5 Nbd7 11.Nxg6 hxg6 12.Rd1 Qc7 13.e4 e5 14.d5 This is all well-known to praxis, but Firouzja relentlessly is blitzing out all his moves, and unlike in the past, when it comes to the critical position, he doesn’t face any time-trouble issues that’s been his handicap in the past, as he simply has oodles of time left on his clock to ruthlessly grind his opponent down with a series of very accurate moves. 14…Bxc3 15.d6 Qa5 16.bxc3 b5 17.Ba2 I can’t be sure off the top of my head, but I think more usual is 17.Bd3 to keep the pressure on Black both on the a-file and the b5-pawn, looking to quickly follow-up with Be3 etc. 17…bxa4 Admittedly the bishop-pair and the d6-pawn look impressive for White – but Firouzja sees through the smoke and mirrors to collect a couple of loose pawns. 18.Ba3 Qxc3 19.f3 With Black’s queenside pawns crippled, long-term Sargissian is pinning his hopes on picking one or more of them off. If he does, he has good prospects with his bishop-pair. 19…Rab8 The Ba3 is taboo as Bxf7+! wins the wayward lady. But that said, in an ideal world, what Sargissian would give to be able to play Rac1 here rather than Rfc1 that he now plays. 20.Rdc1 Qd4+ 21.Kh1 c5 22.Rd1 Qc3 23.Rdc1 Qa5! By now Sargissian was far behind on his clock, and probably hoping Firouzja would be amenable to a threefold repetition with 23…Qd4 – but Firouzja shows no mercy whatsoever, as he digs in to punish his opponent for his loose play. 24.Rd1 Qb5 25.Bc4 Qc6 26.Rac1 Rb6 The start of a series of very accurate moves from Firouzja, that sees the teen picking off the seemingly untouchable d-pawn. 27.Qf2 Qc8 28.Qg3? With the bishop-pair, Sargissian thinks he has more than enough compensation to save the game. But far ahead on the clock now, Firouzja seizes the opportunity offered him with a very nuanced response. White had to play 28.Rd3 to doubly safeguard the weak d-pawn. 28…Qb8! 29.Ba2 A sure sign that Sargissian realises he’s in trouble, because if he intended to go for gold with the spectacular 29.Qxg6, it turns out to be fool’s gold with the stunning riposte 29…Rb3!! and White is in deep trouble, as even 30.Ra1 is answered by 30…Rc3 31.Ba2 c4 and White will lose a piece. 29…Rxd6 30.Qxg6 For the fans watching online, admittedly it did look a spectacular move, but Firouzja has finely calculated the position to negate the potential of his opponent’s bishop-pair vs his knight pair – and the extra pawns make all the difference. 30…Rxd1+ 31.Rxd1 Qb5 32.Qg5 Qe2! White would have excellent saving chances were he able to keep the queens on the board – but Firouzja forces them off and now expertly converts his advantage into an endgame win. 33.Qd2 Qxd2 34.Rxd2 Rc8 35.Kg1 c4 Even stronger is 35…Nb6! according to the engine – but Firouzja sees in his mind a winning scenario and goes for it. 36.Rc2? The second mistake ultimately leads to Sargissian’s downfall. He had to at least try 36.Bb2 (The reason why in the previous note 35…Nb6 is better, is that Black can untangle his knights to meet 36.Bb2 with Nfd7) 36…Nc5 37.Bxe5 Nb3 38.Rc2 and make what he can from this position, where, admittedly, the White bishops are at least more active here, so some slim saving chances will exist. 36…Nb6! Now Firouzja is going to hang on to the pawns, and it’s just a matter of technique for him to convert his material advantage. 37.Kf2 Nfd7 38.Ke3 Nc5 39.Bb2 Nd3 The knights and the extra pawns dominate the bishop-pair – but still, difficult to convert. 40.Bc3 a3 41.Bd2 The online masses watching live on Chess24 were a little puzzled why White didn’t play 41.Bxc4 here – a fair question indeed, as it may well have hung on a bit longer, but it wouldn’t have altered the final result. After 41…Nf4! White is still in trouble due to the big pin down the c-file. Now, after 42.Ba6 Rc5 White can’t stop ….Na4 where, with more exchanges, Black’s big a3 passer wins the day. 41…Rc5 42.Ke2 Nf4+ 43.Kf1 Rb5! Firouzja cuts to the chase of the passed pawns being the game-winner. 44.Bc1 Rb3! [see diagram] The finesses are coming thick and fast now from Firouzja, as he cunningly trades his way down to an easily won endgame. 45.Rxc4 Nxc4 46.Bxb3 Nd3 The knights are fair drawing in, as we would say at this autumnal time of the year in Scotland! 47.Bg5 Na5 48.Ba2 Nb4 49.Bd2 Nxa2 50.Bxa5 Nc1 51.Bc3 a2 The a-pawn is the game-winner, and the rest of the game is just a technicality for the rampant and rampaging teen. 52.Bxe5 Nb3 53.Ke2 a1Q 54.Bxa1 Nxa1 55.Kd3 Nb3 0-1