Alireza Firouzja has been playing under the French flag since July 2021. In round 5 of the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, he faced former Frances number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on top board. The youngster, who is currently rated 7 points higher than his rival, faced MVLs Najdorf Sicilian and drew his compatriot with white in 31 moves.
After being the sole leader for two rounds, Firouzja was caught up by two veterans on Sunday Alexei Shirov (49 years old) and Evgeniy Najer (44). Shirov will get to face Firouzja on top board in round 6. Much like his young opponent, the man from Riga is no stranger to changing federations, as he has represented the Soviet Union, Latvia and Spain at different points during his illustrious career.
Fascinated by the French Winawer
The Winawer Variation in just 60 minutes - that can only work by reducing it to a clear repertoire for Black and, where possible, general recommendations rather than variations. Alexei Shirov was surprised at how quickly he managed to make of the French Winawer an opening he himself could play. And now he will let you share in his conclusions.
The three co-leaders have a 14-player chasing pack a half point back. Fabiano Caruana, Bogdan-Daniel Deac, Krishnan Sasikiran, David Navara, Anton Korobov and Gabriel Sargissian all won in round 5 to join the large group of chasers, which also includes two rising stars who are having a great 2021 so far Nihal Sarin (aged 16) and Samuel Sevian (20).
Alireza Firouzja facing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Anna Shtourman
Shirov beat Croatias number one Ivan Saric with the black pieces. Not surprisingly, the combative opponents entered a line of the Ruy Lopez that gives plenty of play for both sides. A critical position was reached after 20 moves.
The older of the two had spent over 40 minutes on his last four moves, while Saric needed 34 minutes to decide what to do after Shirovs 20...c5. Saric was calculating the consequences of 21.Qd7, when Black can respond either with 21...Rb7 or 21...cxd4, two variations that lead to vastly different positions.
Offering a queen swap was the only move that would have kept the balance though, while the Croatians 22.dxc5 actually leaves Black in the drivers seat after 22...Qxe5 23.Bf4 Qxb2
White has given up a piece, but can now grab an exchange on b8 or go for 23.Qd7, Sarics choice, trying to create complications by leaving more pieces on the board. By this point, the Croatian grandmaster surely noticed he was on the back foot against an opponent famous for his ability to handle the initiative.
There followed 23...Ng6 24.Bd6
Here Shirov did not hesitate before going for 24...e3. The engines show 25.fxe3 is the best response at this point, but all ensuing lines are uninspiring for White, to say the least. Saric played 25.Rf1instead, but after 25...exf2+ 26.Kh1 Rbe8 it was clear that Black would not let this one slip away.
The rook on e8 is ready to infiltrate on e1 with decisive effect. Saric resigned after 27.Rcd1 Bb8 28.Bxf8 Kxf8 (the rook stays on e8) 29.g3 Bxf3 30.c6 Qc2. It was animpressive second win in a row for one of the most famous players to hail from Riga!
2015 European champion Evgeniy Najer| Photo: Anna Shtourman
Russian grandmaster Evgeniy Najer never quite made it to the very top of the world ranking, but he has nonetheless accumulated a number of remarkable results during his career. Among other accolades, he won the European Championship in 2015 and the strong Aeroflot Open in 2016. Moreover, at the first edition of the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man, he managed to upset Vishy Anand in the very first round.
Najer could have joined Firouzja in the lead on Saturday, but missed a big chance to take down Saric from a clearly superior position. The disappointment did not hurt his good form though, as he beat Robert Hovhannisyan with black in round 5.
Hovhannisyan had faltered while under pressure a couple of moves ago, and here found nothing better than 29.e5, giving up his weak pawn and entering a double-rook endgame after 29...Bxe5 30.Nf3 Rd5 31.Nxe5 Rxe5
Najer did not fail to convert his advantage for a second day in a row, as he forced his opponents resignation 17 moves later.
Replay all games at Live.ChessBase.com
It was an eventful round in the womens tournament, with six decisive results on the top 10 boards, leaving five players sharing first place with 4/5 points. Former sole leader Lei Tingjie signed a 30-move draw with the black pieces against second seed Nana Dzagnidze, which allowed Nino Batsiashvili, Zhu Jiner, Elisabeth Paehtz and Jolanta Zawadzka to catch up with her atop the standings.
19-year-old Olga Badelka from Belarus also scored a win, joining the chasing pack going into round 6, the last one before the only rest day in Riga.
Nino Batsiashvili playing white against Alexandra Kosteniuk| Photo: Anna Shtourman
On the second board, Batsiashvili got the better of this years World Cup winner Alexandra Kosteniuk. Out of a Ragozin Defence, Batsiashvili saw her opponent playing overly optimistically, giving White a visible positional advantage in the early middlegame. She still needed to convert her trumps into a tangible edge though and Batsiashvili managed to do just that, in style.
After a quick glance at the position, we can sense that there might be a tactical shot for White here. Batsiashvili had spent almost 20 minutes before pushing17.e4 in the previous move, and after 17...dxe4, she knew what she had to do the Georgian immediately responded with 18.Nxh6+.
The game continued 18...gxh6 19.fxe4 Kg7 20.e5
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There is not much Black can do at this point. Kosteniuk kept on playing until move 33, but Batsiashvili patiently made the most of her strong initiative to join the leading pack with six rounds to go.
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