FIDE Grand Swiss 2021

FIDE Grand Swiss: Round 9 Recap

Fabiano Caruana knocked out Alireza Firouzja and, together with David Howell who also won, the three players now share first place in the Grand Swiss. Lei Tingjie won again and with 8/9 is almost certain to take first place at the inaugural Women’s Grand Swiss

The Open Event

The open section of the 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss turned into a three-man race following the defeat of leader Alireza Firouzja at the hands of the former contender for the title of World Champion, Fabiano Caruana. England’s David Howell was the second player with 5.5/8 who scored a victory in round nine. With 6.5/9, the three are now tied for first place. They are followed by 10 players on 6/9.

The derby between the top-seeded player Fabiano Caruana and tournament leader Alireza Firouzja ended with a victory for the American. In the Mikhail Tal Variation of the Caro Kann, White played an early 9.b4 move, with the idea of getting compensation on the b-file and achieving better development. Following the exchange of queens, Black entered a position that seemed more comfortable. Caruana, however, had one important advantage: time. Firouzja had just 20 minutes on move 19. Caruana used this to put more pressure on Black as Firouzja was forced to move fast. His move 20…c5 seemed to have surprised Caruana. After some thought, the American put his knight on d5 and it was White who now had the upper hand. Three moves down the road Caruana decided to go after Black’s e6 pawn instead of a more solid 23.Bb4 and snatched it but allowed some counterplay. Despite being very short on time since the opening, Firouzja was managing to find strong moves which kept him in the game as White’s pawn mass in the centre did not go anywhere. Closer to the time control Firouzja conducted a raid with his king to White’s camp but it backfired as Caruana finally managed to advance his pawns at the cost of a bishop. Firouzja continued to resist, trying every trick and tactic he could find, but it wasn’t meant to be. After five and a half hours of play and 54 moves, the naturalised Frenchman had to resign and give up the sole possession of the top place in the tournament rankings.

On board two, David Anton drew with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and both are on 6/9. White opened with 1.d4 but had not developed his queenside knight to avoid a theoretical discussion in the Frenchman’s favourite Gruenfeld Defense. However, after a timely breakthrough in the centre (17…e5) Maxime equalized completely. White ended with two extra pawns but as both were doubled (on files f and d) Black was never in danger of losing.

The most senior player among the top boards, Alexei Shirov made a very quick draw as White with Nikita Vitiugov. After just 20 minutes of play and 16 moves, a draw was agreed upon repetition. Such a quick draw on one of the top boards in such an event as the Grand Swiss is both surprising and disappointing. Both players are now on six points.

David Howell

Englishman David Howell scored a victory against Anton Korobov of Ukraine on board four. Most of Howell’s games in the previous eight rounds have been long and tense but this one was shorter. In an interview after Round Eight, Howell said that his main problem is “surviving the openings” as he “isn’t really prepared”. Probably due to the lack of opening preparation, Howell again spent a lot of time on his first moves in the game against Korobov. After some interesting complications in the centre, the Englishman ruined Black’s pawn structure and obtained a long-lasting advantage but was still short on time. Korobov seems to have played more against his opponent’s clock than on the position, but that didn’t phase Howell who made all the right moves to force the Ukrainian to resign. With 6.5/9 and in a tie for first place, Howell’s performance so far is proving that innovation can defeat preparation.

The Russian derby between Grigoriy Oparin and Alexandr Predke ended in a draw. In the Ruy Lopez with 5.d3 White got a slight edge. However, after a questionable manoeuvre Nh4 and Black’s centre push, Oparin had to assume the defensive. After exchanges in the centre where both sides had major pieces hanging, the game transitioned to an even rook endgame and a draw was agreed. Both Oparin and Predke are on 6/9.

Samuel Sevian was the last of the second-tiered players who started the round on 5.5 points. He was Black against Pentala Harikrishna. In the Queen’s Gambit Declined, White managed to get a slightly better endgame following the opening, but it was hard to make progress. Eventually, Sevian traded his knight for the bishop and the two called it a draw after playing a few moves in a rook endgame. Sevian is now on 6/9.

Gabriel Sargissian scored a smooth win against Alexey Sarana after Black blundered a simple tactic resulting in a lost position. With 6/9 the Armenian has joined the second tear of players ahead of Round 10.

Evgeniy Najer’s good run in this tournament seems to have come to an end as he was defeated by Yu Yangyi. The Chinese player’s attack on the queenside unfolded much faster than the Russian’s counterplay on the kingside. Yu Yangyi is now on 6/9.

Boris Gelfand

In the other boards in the open tournament, the former contender for the title of World Champion, Boris Gelfand, played a wild game against Sergei Movsesian. In a well-rehearsed line of the Slav Defence, the game saw four queens on the board as early as move ten. A piece down, Gelfand pinned all of his hopes on an advanced h-pawn which he eventually promoted, leading him to his first victory in the tournament. Gelfand is now on 4/9.

The Women’s Event

On 8/9, Lei Tingjie of China is playing the tournament of her life in Riga. With just two more rounds to go, Lei achieved a two-point lead ahead of all of her opponents and is almost certain to take the top spot in the Women’s section of the Grand Swiss which will take her to the Candidates. She is followed by five players on 6/9.

Alexandra Kosteniuk - Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie is continuing her crushing pace, steamrolling former world champion and this year’s winner of the Women’s World Cup, Alexandra Kosteniuk. In the Two Knights Variation of the Caro Kann (which was played often by Kosteniuk) the opponents entered uncharted waters as early as by move nine. Despite White’s two bishops, Black had a slightly better pawn structure and a more clear-cut plan. After the queen exchange Lei started prodding White’s defences but Kosteniuk was holding her own up to a certain point. Black’s persistence was rewarded in the end as Kosteniuk gave up a pawn and after another mistake (32.Rxe5) the Russian found herself in a hopeless rook ending.

Mariya Muzychuk

On board two top-seeded Mariya Muzychuk faced Elisabeth Paehtz. Black played the French Defence which seemed to have surprised Muzychuk. However, the Ukrainian sacrificed a pawn and got a powerful compensation, but might have not been energetic enough. Black managed to trade the queens and came very close to equality but somewhat optimistically castled long, giving Whtie new targets. Soon enough, Paehtz had to part with an exchange just to avoid the worst. Muzychuk confidently brought the game to the end and secured an important point. With 6/9, Muzychuk is now one of the top contenders for first place.

Chinese Zhu Jiner scored a very important victory as White in the Chigorin System of the Ruy Lopez over Natalija Pogonina and is now on 6/9. On move 24 Jiner broke through in the centre and although it did not promise much according to chess engines the ensued complications required deep calculation from both sides. The opponents were on par for quite a long time but on move 36 Pogonina cracked and made a decisive mistake that cost her an exchange and eventually the game.

Nana Dzagnidze was White on board four against Bibisara Assaubayeva. The Grünfeld Defense was played and Black managed to achieve a somewhat comfortable position. After exchanges in the centre, Black didn’t seem to have the appetite for more adventurous play and went for a threefold repetition. Both now have six points.

Alina Kashlinskaya and Dronavalli Harika played a long game which ended in a victory for Black. Dronavalli opted for the Slav Defence. With kings castled on opposite sides, White managed to coordinate her pieces slightly better and got the upper hand. However, following the exchanges in the centre White erroneously entered a slightly inferiour endgame which quickly went sour for Alina. Harika obtained an overwhelming advantage in a rook endgame and smoothly converted it. White resigned on move 83. Harika now has 6/9.

The game between Nino Batsiashvili and Deysi T. Cori ended in a draw after a heated duel in the Makogonov Variation of the King’s Indian. By move 20 White had a dominant position but failed to find the most precise continuation of her attack. Nino was still much better, but after a series of inaccuracies Deysi engineered some serious counterplay. In the final portion of the game the evaluation changed several times but eventually White’s winning advantage evaporated, bringing the game to a draw.

IM Lela Javakhishvili won her game against Olga Badelka. Playing as Black, Javakhishvili opted for the Sicilian. After mutual inaccuracies, White’s attempts to orchestrate an attack came to nothing and Badelka ended in an inferiour position. After the transition into an endgame White fell under a deadly pin and had to give an exchange. Badelka tried to put off the inevitable but had to resign on move 47.

Round Ten

Round Ten starts at 2 PM on the 6th of November.

The pairings for the tenth round for the Open event can be found here.

The pairings for the tenth round of the Women’s event can be found here.

For more information about the tournament, please visit:

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Article: Milan Dinic

Photo: Mark Livshitz and Anna Shtourman