Alireza Firouzja made it a unique trifecta of Saint Louis Chess Club titles on Sunday, as the 19-year-old – after winning both events in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz in August – beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in a play-off to capture the ninth edition of the Sinquefield Cup, after the two tied for first place on 5/8.
This is the biggest payday yet for the teenage ace, as he earned an extra $10,000 on top of his $87,500 first place prize. Not only that, but in taking the marquee event of the Sinquefield Cup, in the process Firouzja also won the 2022 Grand Chess Tour, taking home an additional $100,000 bonus prize.
Things dramatically swung Firouzja’s way following an unlikely penultimate round 8 win over Wesley So, and he then followed that by clinching the tour title with an uneventful final round draw against fellow countryman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. A clearly elated Firouzja commented: “In general the Grand Chess Tour is the toughest tour in the history of chess I think, so to win it is an amazing feeling and I cannot be more happy.”
It was only left for the playoff between Firouzja and Nepomniachtchi to decide the fate of the coveted Sinquefield Cup, which the teenager – seen by many as the young pretender to Magnus Carlsen’s crown – comfortably won 1.5-0.5 for the clean sweep of the triple-crown of Saint Louis Chess Club titles and overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour.
In addition, throughout the tour season, Firouzja also amassed $172, 250 in winnings on top of his $100,00 bonus for winning the series, making it a final tally of $272,250. American Wesley So and Vachier-Lagrave came in second and third place, respectively, with identical winnings of $140,167.
Sinquefield Cup final standings:
1-2. A. Firouzja* (France), I. Nepomniachtchi (Fide) 5/8; 3-4. W. So (USA), F. Caruana (USA) 4.5; 5. L. Dominguez (USA) 4; 5-6. L. Aronian (USA), H. Niemann (USA) 3.5; 7-9. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 3.
GCT final standings:
1. A. Firouzja, 36.5 ($172,250); 2. W. So, 30 ($140,167); 3. M. Vachier-Lagrave, 29 ($140,167); 4. F. Caruana, 28 ($108,833); 5. L. Aronian, 27 (124,417); 6. I. Nepomniachtchi, 27 ($127,250); 7. L. Dominguez, 27 ($68,833); 8. S. Mamedyarov, 12.5 ($46,750; 9. R. Rapport, 6.5 ($22,750)
GM Alireza Firouzja – GM Wesley So
9th Sinquefield Cup, (8)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The Giuoco Piano – one of the oldest recorded openings in chess – is fast becoming a firm Firouzja favourite, with its nomenclature roots stretching back to 16th century Italy, with the Italian meaning for ‘quiet game’. 3…Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.0-0 d6 6.c3 0-0 7.h3 h6 Living up to its Italian name by initially being very quiet with a slow build-up, as both sides position their pieces for the ensuing middlegame battle. 8.Re1 a6 9.a4 a5 10.Nbd2 Be6 11.b3 Re8 12.Bb2 d5 13.Bb5 dxe4 14.dxe4?! This doesn’t look like the right recapture at all. Better was 14.Nxe4! Nxe4 15.Rxe4! with play against the e5-pawn, and note that 15…f6 (If 15…Bf5 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Rxe5 Rxe5 18.Nxe5 Qf6 19.d4 Bd6 20.c4 with an extra pawn and a big advantage.) 16.d4! Bd5 17.Bc4! Bxc4 18.bxc4 exd4 19.Rxe8+ Qxe8 20.cxd4 Rd8 21.d5 and equality. 14…Nh5! The knight is heading to f4, where if it gets established there, will wreck havoc around the White king. Firouzja now has to move swiftly to try to stop the knight coming to f4. 15.Nc4 Qf6! So has all his pieces primed and ready to launch a kingside attack. He may have had visions right now of a quick and decisive game – but I doubt for one moment he would considered that he would be the one on the receiving end of it! 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Ncxe5 This is the only show in town for Firouzja, as he has to try and roll with the punches. 17…Bxh3 Admittedly the spectacular choice, but more deadly – as the engines are quick to point out – was bringing the knight into the attack with 17…Nf4! as now 18.Nd3 can be met by the sacrifice on the opposite wing with 18…Bxb3! 19.Qd2 Nxd3 20.Qxd3 Rab8! and White’s position is looking very shaky indeed. 18.Nd3 Qg6 19.Nh4 Qg5 20.Nxc5 Qxh4 21.gxh3 Qg5+? I find this move very strange coming from one of the world’s top players, as So misses the very powerful rook lift 21…Re5! and, with the major threat of …Rg5+ looming, White is forced into 22.Bc1 Rxc5 23.Qg4 Qxg4+ 24.hxg4 Nf6 25.c4 Nxg4 and Black holds the advantage. 22.Qg4 Qxc5 23.c4 Amazingly, Firouzja’s once sorrowful position is now opening up to his advantage – and unlike So, he shows no mercy whatsoever. 23…Rab8 24.e5! [see diagram] it just takes one very accurate and good move from Firouzja to totally discombobulate his opponent, with the pawn advance highlighting the huge disconnect now in So’s position. 24…g6?? So must have been seeing more ghost in this position than the legendary spiritualist Doris Stokes! There is no other reason for it, with his collapse coming inexplicably – especially as he had the tactical resource of 24…Rxb3! voluntarily giving up the now dim knight on the rim – but not without excellent chances of holding the game, as it forces: 25.Bd4 Qxc4 26.Be3 Qxg4+ 27.hxg4 Rb4! Not only does Black get more than enough pawns for the piece, but his rooks are now very active. 28.gxh5 Rxe5 29.Bd2 Rg4+ 30.Kf1 Rxh5 and although White has the extra piece, Black has four pawns and a set of active rooks as compensation – and I can’t see how White can even begin to think about winning this. 25.Ba3 Qb6 26.e6! After successfully disconnecting Black’s position, the e-pawn now strips the defence around So’s king. 26…c5 27.exf7+ Kxf7 28.Qd7+ Kf8 29.Qd5! Kg7 30.Bxc5 Nf6 31.Bxb6 The alternative of 31.Rxe8 Nxd5 32.Bxb6 leads to the same thing. 31…Nxd5 32.Rxe8 1-0 And So resigns, faced with the hopeless scenario of 32…Rxe8 33.Bxa5 Ra8 34.Bd2 Nf6 35.b4 followed by b5 and a5 etc.