Tata Steel R07: The grind of a future World Champion
The 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja continued his sensational run in the seventh round of Tata Steel Chess 2020, registering a powerful win against America's Jeffery Xiong and stunning the star-studded field by emerging as the new sole leader. The clash between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand, the two World Champions, ended in a hard-fought draw, while elsewhere Fabiano Caruana and Jorden Van Foreest kept up their good forms by beating Daniil Dubov and Nikita Vitiugov respectively. In the Challengers group, Nihal Sarin bounced back with a sublime positional victory over Dinara Saduakassova. We bring you an illustrated report from Wijk Aan Zee.
Alireza Firouzja is not just a strong player but also a tenacious fighter. The way he squeezed out his win against Jeffery Xiong in the seventh round of the ongoing Tata Steel Masters is a testament not only to his ability to win games but also his ability to grind. Jeffery himself is one of those strong up-and-coming talents in the world of chess and by no means is he an easy opponent to face, yet Alireza yesterday seemed quite clearly to be a notch ahead of him. In 2018 Ivan Sokolov, the coach of the Iranian National team, had revealed in an interview that he sees world champion material in Alireza and indeed only a year after that the 16-year-old is already setting the stage at the very highest levels to fire.
Alireza Firouzja - Jeffery Xiong, Round 7
Note that Black has to react in some way in this position otherwise White can create some serious trouble with Ndf5 Rad1 potentially following it up with an e5 break. But probably a more logical plan here could have been 21...Na4 22.Qc2 Nc5 which hits at e4 and directly challenges White's expansion in the center.
It was from here in the game that Alireza slowly started to take charge of the position. The idea behind 23.b3 was simply to push c3-c4 and clamp down on the weak d5 square. Black certainly couldn't allow this and broke out with 23...d5 and things suddenly became tricky with 23...d5 24.e5 Be6 25.Ng3 f5 26.Nf3 h6 27.b4! d4 etc as the situation in the center was now about to clear up.
The game followed 28.bxc5 dxc3 29.Qxc3 Nd5 30.Qd2 Qa4 31.Ne2 Nb4 32.Ned4 Nc6 33.Rad1! and White gained a clear edge by posting his knight firmly on d4, additionally he now also had the e-pawn all set to roll down the board!
Even though Alireza is yet to face some of the big titans like Carlsen, Caruana, and Anand, the fact that he is the sole leader after more than half of the rounds in the event are over is quite exceptional in itself. In the eighth round he faces the Dutch player Jorden Van Foreest who too has been having a good tournament so far.
Pairings Round 8 - Masters
Dubov, Daniil - So, Wesley
Giri, Anish - Artemiev, Vladislav
Yu, Yangyi - Duda, Jan-Krzysztof
Xiong, Jeffery - Kovalev, Vladislav
Van Foreest, Jorden - Firouzja, Alireza
Carlsen, Magnus - Vitiugov, Nikita
Caruana, Fabiano - Anand, Viswanathan
In the Challengers group Nihal Sarin beat the Kazakhstani International Master Dinara Saduakassova in the seventh round. With this victory the Nihal has now moved to 4.0/7 and has only three players, namely Pavel Eljanov, Erwin L'Ami, and Surya Sekhar Ganguly ahead of him. The fifteen-year-old played in his characteristic positional style against Dinara, managed to cripple her pawn structure and simply get into a better endgame avoiding any tactical complications whatsoever.
Nihal Sarin - Dinara Saduakassova, Round 7
Round 8 pairings - Challengers
Mamedov, Rauf - Warmerdam, Max
Van Foreest, Lucas - Smirnov, Anton
Abdusattorov, Nodirbek - Eljanov, Pavel
Saduakassova, Dinara - Grandelius, Nils
Anton Guijarro, David - Nihal Sarin
Smeets, Jan - Keymer, Vincent
Ganguly, Surya Shekhar - L'Ami, Erwin