Firouzja wins Grand Swiss, Caruana qualifies to Candidates

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/8/2021 – Draws on the top 13 boards in the final round of the FIDE Grand Swiss meant Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana qualified to the next edition of the Candidates Tournament. Firouzja was the clear winner with a remarkable 8/11 score, while Caruana tied on points with Grigoriy Oparin but got a better tiebreak score than his Russian colleague. In the women’s event, Lei Tingjie had secured tournament victory with a round to spare. Elisabeth Paehtz and Zhu Jiner finished second and third respectively. | Photo: Mark Livshitz

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An outright champion 

Grand Swiss Chess 2021In December 2018, Thorsten Cmiel published an article on whom he dubbed as the “Iranian magician”, a 15-year-old boy from Babol who was already obtaining 2700+ rating performances at World Youth Olympiads. At the time, Alireza Firouzja had a 2607 Elo rating, and had already won the Iranian Championship. Fast-forward three years, and the young man has climbed to fifth place in the world ranking and has already qualified to the Candidates Tournament.

Firouzja was the clear winner of the 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss, after scoring 8 points in 11 rounds. Despite losing in round 9 against top seed Fabiano Caruana, the 18-year-old now representing France only needed a draw in the final round to secure a spot in the next edition of the Candidates. 

Talking to Sagar Shah, grandmaster Ivan Sokolov, who had been working with a group of Iranian young talents, said of Firouzja in 2018:

I think he has something special in him when it comes to chess. And given his young age, he has the potential to become a world champion. And other players will become very strong players, but that is not exactly the same.

It was clear that this was an outstanding talent. With his commanding victory in Riga — the hometown of the well-known chess magician — Firouzja has gained the right to fight for the challenger spot in the next World Championship match, where the winner of the Candidates will face either Magnus Carlsen or Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Alireza Firouzja

Getting ready — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Anna Shtourman

This year, the Grand Swiss granted two spots in the Candidates, with Caruana getting the ticket to the 8-player event after tying on points with Grigoriy Oparin but obtaining a better tiebreak score. For the time being, we know the names of five Candidates:

  • Jan-Krzysztof Duda - World Cup winner
  • Sergey Karjakin - World Cup runner-up
  • Alireza Firouzja - Grand Swiss winner
  • Fabiano Caruana - Grand Swiss runner-up
  • Teimour Radjabov - FIDE nominee

These five players will be joined by the 2021 World Championship runner-up (Carlsen or Nepomniachtchi) and two qualifiers from the FIDE Grand Prix, which is set to take place between February and April 2022 in Berlin.

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Six players qualify to the Grand Prix

While getting directly into the Candidates was the main motivation for the participating grandmasters, this year FIDE decided that the Grand Swiss would also serve as a qualifying tournament for next year’s Grand Prix. Six players gained the right to participate in the series, which will consist of three events to be played in Germany’s capital.

Given this incentive, those who made it into the final round of the Grand Swiss a half point behind Caruana and Oparin mostly decided to play it safe, aware of the fact that a loss would simply leave them out of contention for these six spots. In the end, draws were seen on all 13 top boards on Sunday.

No fewer than 13 players finished the event with 7/11 points, and the five that had the best tiebreak scores joined Oparin (who finished on 7½/11) in getting tickets to the Grand Prix. 

Final standings - Open section

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Firouzja Alireza 8,0 68,0
2 Caruana Fabiano 7,5 67,0
3 Oparin Grigoriy 7,5 63,5
4 Yu Yangyi 7,0 66,5
5 Keymer Vincent 7,0 65,5
6 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 7,0 65,0
7 Predke Alexandr 7,0 64,5
8 Shirov Alexei 7,0 64,5
9 Howell David W L 7,0 62,5
10 Sargissian Gabriel 7,0 61,5
11 Anton Guijarro David 7,0 61,0
12 Korobov Anton 7,0 60,5
13 Sevian Samuel 7,0 60,5
14 Esipenko Andrey 7,0 60,0
15 Deac Bogdan-Daniel 7,0 60,0
16 Artemiev Vladislav 7,0 56,5

...108 players

As shown above, Yu Yangyi, Vincent Keymer, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexandr Predke and Alexei Shirov all qualified. While Yu, Shirov and MVL had undefeated performances, Keymer and Predke went through some ups and downs before getting there in the end.

Keymer, in fact, won three games in a row in rounds 8-10, beating Velimir Ivic, David Navara and Kirill Alekseenko to join the fight for the top spots. On Sunday, the 16-year-old from Mainz drew David Howell with the black pieces in a lengthy 76-move encounter. Howell, who was sharing the lead after round 9, finished in an unfortunate 9th place.

David Howell, Vincent Keymer

David Howell facing 16-year-old German star Vincent Keymer | Photo: Anna Shtourman

All games - Round 11


Replay all the games at

A dominating performance by Lei Tingjie

There was no drama in the fight for first place in the women’s section, as Lei Tingjie had all but secured tournament victory after beating Alexandra Kosteniuk in round 9. A draw on Saturday against top seed Mariya Muzychuk was enough to get first place and a spot in the 2022 Women’s Candidates Tournament.

Seven of the eight players in the women’s qualifying event to the World Championship match are already known:

  • Aleksandra Goryachkina - 2020 World Championship runner-up
  • Humpy Koneru - 2019/21 Grand Prix winner
  • Kateryna Lagno - 2019/21 Grand Prix runner-up
  • Alexandra Kosteniuk - World Cup winner
  • Tan Zhongyi - World Cup runner-up
  • Anna Muzychuk - Third place in the World Cup
  • Lei Tingjie - Grand Swiss winner

These players will be joined by the highest-rated player on the January 2022 standard rating list who played at least 15 games rated on standard rating lists in 2021 or participated in the World Cup or the Grand Swiss.

Zhu Jiner, Lei Tingjie, Elisabeth Paehtz, Alireza Firouzja, Fabiano Caruana, Grigoriy Oparin

Happy winners — Zhu Jiner, Lei Tingjie, Elisabeth Paehtz, Alireza Firouzja, Fabiano Caruana and Grigoriy Oparin | Photo: Mark Livshitz

Lei remarkably finished the tournament with a 9/11 undefeated score, gaining 30 points in the ratings list, climbing seven spots to seventh place in a tournament in which she was the seventh seed — lucky number 7, indeed!

Final standings - Women’s section

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Lei Tingjie 9,0 64,5
2 Paehtz Elisabeth 7,5 69,5
3 Zhu Jiner 7,5 67,5
4 Muzychuk Mariya 7,0 69,0
5 Harika Dronavalli 7,0 64,5
6 Javakhishvili Lela 7,0 64,5
7 Badelka Olga 7,0 61,0
8 Kosteniuk Alexandra 6,5 68,5
9 Pogonina Natalija 6,5 66,0
10 Assaubayeva Bibisara 6,5 62,5
11 Zawadzka Jolanta 6,5 61,0
12 Cori T. Deysi 6,5 58,0
13 Munguntuul Batkhuyag 6,5 57,0
14 Vantika Agrawal 6,5 56,5
15 Girya Olga 6,5 55,5
16 Cramling Pia 6,5 53,0

...50 players

Elisabeth Paehtz, who finished in second place after getting as many points as Zhu Jiner, described her performance as “the tournament of my life”. The 36-year-old from Erfurt not only got second place and $15,250 in prize money, but also obtained her third GM norm and the title — she had collected a second norm back in 2016, and she had a rating of 2500+ in her career.

Elisabeth Paehtz

On her way to becoming a Grandmaster: Elisabeth Paehtz | Photo: Mark Livshitz

Fittingly, we will end the final report from the Grand Swiss with yet another instructive endgame analysed by Karsten Müller. On board 10 of the women’s section, the ever-fighting Pia Cramling defeated Dinara Saduakassova with the black pieces. The young player from Kazakhstan misplaced her rook in the following position.


White here needed to cut the king from f8 and not from a5 as was seen in the game. Cramling showed precise technique to score a final full point in Riga!


All games - Round 11


Replay all the games at


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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