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Alireza Firouzja leads Tata Steel Masters

by Satanick Mukhuty - 14/01/2020

He is just 16 but he is already leading the ongoing Tata Steel Masters in Wijk Aan Zee ahead of giants like Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana. Alireza Firouzja is one of the most formidable talents of this generation, many say he even has the potential to become the next World Champion. But what is it that makes him so special? Well, his third round victory against Vladislav Artemiev, who is interestingly also another world class prodigy, might just give us an answer. In this illustrated report we discuss Alireza's encounter against Artemiev in detail and more.

Alireza Firouzja has emerged as the sole leader after three rounds at the ongoing Tata Steel Masters 2020. Defeating the Russian phenom Vladislav Artemiev in the third round, the 16-year-old Iranian-born sensation has pulled ahead of the rest of the field by half a point. Among the players trailing behind him are World Champion Magnus Carlsen, World Champion of Fischer Random Wesley So, and World no.2 Fabiano Caruana. Alireza has managed to score an impressive 2.5/3 points but he thinks it could have been even better if he had made a good use of his chances in the second game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Standings of all Masters after three rounds.

Many experts reckon Alireza to be the greatest talent of the present generation. Rubbing shoulders with the world's elites at Wijk Aan Zee is surely helping him hone his prodigious talent | Photo: Alina l'Ami

In the third round of the event yesterday Alireza was up against another young talent in the world of chess, namely Vladislav Artemiev. Now 21-year-old, Artemiev has often been hailed as the next big thing from Russia and has for very good reasons drawn comparisons with likes of Vladimir Kramnik. Therefore it was naturally very interesting to see these two rising stars pitted against each other. 


The game began with the Caro-Kann and it seemed that Artemiev, who had the Black pieces, was pushed on the back foot right out of the opening. He just couldn't find a safe spot for his king and as soon as Alireza was able to liquidate the situation in the center, his position went downhill.


Alireza Firouzja - Vladislav Artemiev, Round 3  

In the above position after White's tenth move 10...Qxb2 is playable but gives away too many tempos for a couple of pawns. In a typical line such as 11.Bd3 Bxd3 12.Qxd3 dxc4 13.Qxc4 Nb6 14.Qd3 Ned5 15.0-0 Nxc3 16.Rxc3 Qxa2 although Black wins two pawns but finds his king precariously stuck in the middle of the board with White about to launch a powerful attack with f4-f5. In the game Artemiev chose 10...dxc4 but after 11.Bxc4 Nf5 12.0-0 Be7 13.Nxf5 Bxf5 14.Bxe7 Kxe7 the exposed nature of Black's king remained a serious issue. All White had to do now was break open the center.

Position after 14...Kxe7: Can you find a way to open lines in the center for White?

Alireza came up with a nice plan here which, as he later stated in the post game interview, pretty much decided the fate of the game. First he played 15.Qd2 and then maneuvered his knight to e3 via d1. The idea was to exchange off the bishop on f5 and clear open the the e-file by forcing exf5!

Position after 17.Ne3: Black should have gone 17...g6 or 17...Bg6 in order to prevent exf5 but Artemiev erred with 17...Kf8 and after 18.Nxf5 exf5 White easily got in the critical e5-e6 break. 

The game was strategically won for White after 21.e6! followed by 21...fxe6 22.Bxe6

Artemiev played on for 57 moves before resigning but it was really a lost cause after move 25 itself when White managed to break open the center and launch a direct attack on the black king. To see how the rest of the game went check out the annotation below:

A total of three games ended decisively in the third round of the Masters event yesterday - all three in White's favour. Fabiano Caruana beat the Chinese superstar Yu Yangyi who surprisingly chose one of Fabi's own chief weapons - the Petroff, while the Dutchman Jorden Van Foreest bounced back from his last round's defeat and positionally outplayed Daniil Dubov to score his second win of the tournament. 

Yu Yangyi showed some nerves by trying the Petroff against Fabiano Caruana. He even managed to get a decent game out of the opening but misplayed on move 27 in a major pieces ending | Photo: Alina l'Ami 

Fabiano Caruana - Yu Yangyi, Round 3

In the above position 27...Qc5-c6 was the critical error that Black committed. The game went 28.Kg3 Rc4 29.Rd3 Rf7 30.Rd6 Qc5 31.f5! and White was just in time to organize his pieces well. The problem with 27...Qc6 is that it just loses time. The immediate 27...Rc4 28.Kg3 Qc7 29.Rbf3 is much more effective and preserves equality.

The decisive mistake happened in the above position when Black played 38...gxf5. Can you see the finish from here?

Well, 38...Kf7 would have been better resistance. 38...gxf5 simply makes the h6 square available for the white queen. The game followed 39.Qh6+ Kg8 40.Rd8+ Re8 41.Rd7 Re7 42.Qg5+ Kf7 43.Rxe7+ Qxe7 44.Qxe7+ Kxe7 and Fabi found a completely winning pawn ending!

Position after 44...Kxe7: Black is simply lost here.

Jorden Van Foreest made a nice little comeback by beating Daniil Dubov in round three | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Magnus Carlsen is yet to win a game as Jeffery Xiong managed to hold him to a draw with black pieces in round three | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Vishy Anand made a quick 21-move draw against Anish Giri | Photo: Alina l'Ami

In the Challengers group all games ended in draws in the third round. Consequently, there are five players tied for the first place with 2.0/3 points each. Nihal Sarin drew his third consecutive game, this time against Anton Smirnov, and is on 1.5/3.

Standings of all Challengers after three rounds.

Round 4 pairings - Masters

Dubov, Daniil - Duda, Jan-Krzysztof  

Artemiev, Vladislav - Kovalev, Vladislav  

So, Wesley - Firouzja, Alireza  

Giri, Anish - Vitiugov, Nikita  

Yu, Yangyi - Anand, Viswanathan  

Xiong, Jeffery - Caruana, Fabiano  

Van Foreest, Jorden - Carlsen, Magnus


Round 4 pairings - Challengers

Mamedov, Rauf - Eljanov, Pavel  

Smirnov, Anton - Grandelius, Nils  

Warmerdam, Max - Nihal Sarin  

Van Foreest, Lucas - Keymer, Vincent  

Abdusattorov, Nodirbek - L'Ami, Erwin   

Saduakassova, Dinara - Ganguly, Surya Shekhar

Anton Guijarro, David - Smeets, Jan

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