There’s no shortage of top-flight action right now as the two rivalling Tours, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour (CCT) and the Grand Chess Tour (GCT), both have a galaxy of stars competing in major events that are running simultaneously, as the Chessable Masters and the Superbet Rapid & Blitz respectively go head-to-head.
Running 19-26 May, the fourth leg of the $1.6m CCT, the Chessable Masters, sees World Champion Magnus Carlsen looking to once again assert his authority as the Tour leader after being pipped by Jan-Krzysztof Duda to the Oslo Esports Cup title. This time, the Norwegian faces competition from his main rating rival, China’s Ding Liren, as the world No’s 1 and 2 head the 16-player field with its $150,000 prize fund.
The full line-up includes Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Ding Liren (China), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Jorden Van Foreest (Netherlands), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wei Yi (China), David Anton Guijarro (Spain), Santosh Vidit (India), Sam Shankland (USA), R Praggnanandhaa (India), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Nils Grandelius (Sweden), Aryan Tari (Norway), Eric Hansen (Canada), Gawain Jones (England) and Abhimanyu Mishra (USA).
Meanwhile, less than a week after Maxime Vachier-Lagrave returned to form by winning the Superbet Chess Classic Romania, the opening leg of the new $1.4m GCT’s 2022 season, the second leg is now underway with the Superbet Rapid & Blitz Poland running 19-23 May, and taking place at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
The line-up includes full Tour participants Levon Aronian (USA), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Wesley So (USA), and Richard Rapport (Hungary); plus the added attraction of wildcards Viswanathan Anand (India), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Anton Korobov (Ukraine), Radek Wojtaszek (Poland), Kirill Shevchenko (Ukraine), and David Gavrilescu (Roumania).
With next month’s Candidates Tournament in Madrid also looming large, the chatter after the Superbet Chess Classic last week was the weirdly off-kilter performance of Alireza Firoujza, the exiled Iranian who now plays for France. After taking five months off from playing any form of competitive chess – explaining away his absence that he was “living the life and preparing for the Candidates” – the top seed in Bucharest looked decidedly rusty with very erratic play.
With one win, two losses, and a below-par 4/9 score that included many error-strewn games, Firouzja’s play will have to improve dramatically if the 18-year-old wants to see his dream come true of capturing Carlsen’s crown. The only bright spot for the world’s youngest-ever 2800-rated player came with a nice rook sacrifice against Leinier Dominguez of the USA.
Photo: Alireza Firouzja finally has something to smile about | © Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour
GM Alireza Firouzja – GM Leinier Dominguez
Superbet Classic Romania, (7)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.a3 Bd6 8.Qc2 c6 9.Nge2 This line against the Nimzo-Indian Defence doesn’t promise much, but it shares many similarities to the Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. 9…Re8 10.Bd2 b6 11.f3 c5 12.g4 c4 13.Bf5 Bxf5 14.Qxf5 g6 15.Qg5 Nc6! Dominguez gets on with the job of developing his pieces – and in doing so, he takes the edge from the opening skirmish. 16.0-0 Bf8 The bishop is heading to g7 to help protect the dark squares around his king and better-attacking prospects on the long h8-a1 diagonal. 17.Qh4 h6 Looking to stop any awkwardness down the h-file after 17…Bg7 18.g5 Nh5 19.Ng3 Nxg3 20.hxg3 etc. 18.Rad1 b5 19.Qf2 Qd7 20.Qg2 Bg7 21.h4 Ne7 22.Nf4 a5 23.Nce2 Qb7 24.g5 hxg5 25.hxg5 Nd7 26.Kf2! This is where the game starts to warm up, and the warning signs are all there for Dominguez, who now has to be extra vigilant of a potential “happening” down the open h-file. 26…b4 27.Rh1 Nf5 28.Qh3 Ne7 Forced, otherwise Nh5 is a bit awkward to meet. 29.Ng3 Ra6! A more than useful mini rook-lift, as it not only threatens pressure on the queenside, it can also swing over to the kingside and/or provide a defensive resource to stop a knight sacrifice on g6. 30.axb4 axb4 31.Bxb4 A risky pawn snatch, as it opens the b-file for Black. It may have been more prudent to contest the a-file with 31.Ra1 Rb6 32.Ra4 Nf8 33.Rha1 with a complex struggle ahead for both sides. 31…Qxb4 32.Qxd7 Raa8! A good strategic retreat that shows how risky the pawn snatch was from Firouzja. 33.Nfe2 Continuing to further snatch pawns doesn’t bode well. After 33.Nxd5? Nxd5 34.Qxd5 Qxb2+ 35.Ne2 Qb3 36.e4 Ra3! and White is in serious trouble. 33…Rad8 34.Qg4 Firouzja has put his faith in the open h-file being his saving grace. 34…Qxb2 35.Qf4! Setting up a fiendish trap that Dominguez walks right into. 35…Nc6? For reasons that will soon become obvious, Dominguez had to leave his knight where it was and play 35…Ra8 where the engine suggests that the safest now for both sides is repeating moves with 36.Rb1 Qd2 37.Rbd1 Qb2 38.Rb1 Qd2 etc. 36.Rh7!! [see diagram] Self-inflicted, so no sympathy! Dominguez only has himself to blame here, as he had to be wary of that aforementioned “happening” on the h-file. 36…Re6 The point is that the rook can’t be taken, otherwise it’s mate after 36…Kxh7 37.Qxf7 and no stopping the deadly Rh1+ and mate. 37.Qh4 How quickly things can change in chess! From looking to defend a slightly awkward position, Firouzja now totally dominates his opponent with the h-file now being exploited to its fullest. 37…Nxd4 The only try. After 37…Qb3? 38.Rxg7+ Kxg7 39.Qh6+ Kg8 40.Rh1 Qxe3+ 41.Kg2 and with no more checks, Black can’t stop the forced mate with Qh8. 38.Rxg7+ Kxg7 39.Qxd4+ Qxd4 40.Rxd4 Exchanging queens and the transition into the ending was Dominguez’s only chance – but even here, with Black’s central pawns well-blockaded, White has no problems in easily picking them off. 40…Red6 41.Nc3 It’s just a matter of time now for Firouzja to best organise his pieces to pick off the pawns. 41…f6 42.gxf6+ Kxf6 43.Nge2 Ke5 44.Rg4 Rg8 45.Nd4 Rd7 46.Rg5+ Kf6 47.f4 Rgd8 If Black could somehow activate his rooks, there might well have been slim drawing chances – but Firouzja doesn’t give Dominguez a chance to regroup. 48.Re5 Our Silicon Overlords will gleefully point out the killer blow being 48.e4! dxe4 49.Nxe4+ Kf7 50.Nc6 Rc8 51.Ne5+ etc – but Firouzja takes the ‘scenic’ route. 48…Kf7 49.Rg5 Rh8 50.Nf3 Kg7 51.Rg1 Rb7 52.Ra1 Rd8 53.Nd4 Rdd7 54.Ra5 Now the d5-pawn will soon fall. 54…g5 55.f5 Rb2+ 56.Kf3 Rd2 57.Nxd5 c3 58.Ne6+ 1-0 And Dominguez throws the towel in as his remaining pawns begin to fall off.