Grand Swiss: Firouzja wins, Nihal escapes

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/29/2021 – Three players are sharing the lead at the open section of the FIDE Grand Swiss in Riga, as Alireza Firouzja, Alexandr Predke and Ivan Saric are the only participants to have won both their games so far. Meanwhile, seven players have a 2/2 score in the women’s section. | Photo: Anna Shtourman

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Firouzja, Predke and Saric lead

Grand Swiss Chess 2021There simply are no easy games at the Grand Swiss in Riga. Only three players, out of 108, have kicked off the tournament with two wins. The lengthy 11-round competition is more a marathon than a sprint though, as the players will only get one rest day (on Tuesday) while being restricted to remain within a strict ‘sanitary bubble’. 

Alireza Firouzja, Alexandr Predke and Ivan Saric are the early co-leaders in Riga. While Firouzja benefitted from Dariusz Swiercz failing to find tactical shots that might have ended in defeat for the youngster, Predke and Saric obtained clean victories to go into round 3 with a perfect score.

No fewer than 35 players stand a half point behind the leaders, including top seed Fabiano Caruana and 17-year-old Nihal Sarin, who faced each other on top board on Thursday. The rating favourite had his young opponent on the ropes, but Nihal defended resourcefully and was rewarded with a half point in the end.

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Nihal Sarin 1 ½ - ½ 1 Caruana Fabiano
Swiercz Dariusz 1 0 - 1 1 Firouzja Alireza
Saric Ivan 1 1 - 0 1 Alekseenko Kirill
Maghsoodloo Parham 1 ½ - ½ 1 Gukesh D
Artemiev Vladislav 1 ½ - ½ 1 Brkic Ante
Bluebaum Matthias 1 ½ - ½ 1 Wojtaszek Radoslaw
Kollars Dmitrij 1 ½ - ½ 1 Kryvoruchko Yuriy
Predke Alexandr 1 1 - 0 1 Yakubboev Nodirbek
Petrosyan Manuel 1 ½ - ½ 1 Ponkratov Pavel
Howell David W L 1 ½ - ½ 1 Neiksans Arturs

...54 boards

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian beat Hans Niemann on board 11 | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Predke’s victory — on board 8, over Nodirbek Yakubboev — was remarkable. Out of a King’s Indian Defence, the Russian gave up his queen for two pieces as early as on move 12.


White has just grabbed a pawn on d4, and he has done it with his queen (instead of his bishop), not fearing a discovered attack by the bishop. Predke did not hesitate to capture with the queen, while his opponent spent over 15 minutes on 11...Ng4. Yakubboev was perhaps thinking about the consequences of 12.hxg4, which Predke also played instantly.

The Russian was giving up his queen for a couple of pieces and an edge in development — 12...Bxd4 13.Bxd4 Kh7


Apparently, Predke was sure about entering this line, but once in this positoin he needed to find a way to make the most of his initiative, as he is material down, after all. The Russian spent over an hour on his next four moves. Luckily for him, after 14.Be2, the engine already thinks 14...f5 was a considerable mistake by Black.

Predke never stopped putting pressure on his opponent, who had trouble finding time to coordinate his pieces. The game ended on move 34, when the Russian played an elegant manoeuvre to prompt Yakubboev’s resignation.


Instead of immediately capturing the rook on g8 — which by no means is a mistake — Predke went for 34.Rg4, pinning the bishop and leaving his opponent with no useful move to make. It was a memorable victory for the 27-year-old from Dimitrovgrad.

Grand Swiss Chess 2021

The playing hall amid the second round | Photo: Mark Livshitz

Firouzja’s path to victory was much more obstacle-ridden. The youngster employed the Sicilian Defence against Dariusz Swiercz and found himself in an unfavourable position in a complex middlegame. 


White is visibly better here, with Black’s rook and knight on the kingside unlikely to create much trouble for the white monarch without the help of the queen — thus, the engines suggest 34.Be2, when 34...Rg5 blocks the queen’s path to h4 (34...Rf4 fails to 35.Bxh5 Rxf2 36.Qxf2 gxh5). In these lines, White neutralizes his opponent’s threats and can focus on attacking Black’s weaknesses on the queenside.

Swiercz, who had needed 103 moves to win his round-1 game, quickly played 34.e5 though, allowing his famed opponent to go for 34...Qh4 35.Rf3 Rxc4 36.Bxc4 Qxc4, getting two minor pieces for a rook.


There followed 37.exd6. Black is now in control, and if he manages to activate his knights he will get a clearly superior position. From this point on, Firouzja demonstrated why he has climbed to the chess elite at such an early age, as he slowly improved his position until getting a 61-move victory.

Thanks to his back-to-back wins, Firouzja has climbed to sixth place in the live ratings list!

Nihal Sarin, Fabiano Caruana

Nihal Sarin drew Fabiano Caruana with white | Photo: Mark Livshitz

On top board, Nihal showcased great ability to handle a technical, inferior position. The youngster was two pawns down in an endgame against the tournament’s rating favourite.


By this point, the worst had passed for the Indian prodigy, but he still needed to work hard until signing a 57-move draw with Caruana. Nihal later noted that “there was like a 20% chance that I could save this game”.

Standings after round 2

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Firouzja Alireza 2,0 1,0
2 Predke Alexandr 2,0 1,0
  Saric Ivan 2,0 1,0
4 Caruana Fabiano 1,5 1,5
  Maghsoodloo Parham 1,5 1,5
  Artemiev Vladislav 1,5 1,5
  Ponkratov Pavel 1,5 1,5
  Neiksans Arturs 1,5 1,5
9 Fedoseev Vladimir 1,5 1,5
  Yu Yangyi 1,5 1,5
  Wojtaszek Radoslaw 1,5 1,5
  Korobov Anton 1,5 1,5
  Kryvoruchko Yuriy 1,5 1,5
  Shirov Alexei 1,5 1,5
  Ponomariov Ruslan 1,5 1,5

...108 players

All games


Seven co-leaders in the women’s section

Decisive results continue to be the rule rather than the exception in the women’s tournament. Going into round 3, seven players are sharing the lead on 2/2, with three powerhouse countries of women’s chess each having two representatives in this group: Georgia (Nana Dzagnidze, Nino Batsiashvili), China (Lei Tingjie, Zhu Jiner) and Russia (Natalija Pogonina, Valentina Gunina). These six players are joined by Germany’s number one Elisabeth Paehtz.

Mariya Muychuk, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Polina Shuvalova (seeded 1st, 3rd and 5th respectively) all signed draws in the second round.

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Osmak Iulija 1 0 - 1 1 Dzagnidze Nana
Kosteniuk Alexandra 1 ½ - ½ 1 Javakhishvili Lela
Shuvalova Polina 1 ½ - ½ 1 Badelka Olga
Lei Tingjie 1 1 - 0 1 Atalik Ekaterina
Vaishali R 1 0 - 1 1 Batsiashvili Nino
Garifullina Leya 1 0 - 1 1 Paehtz Elisabeth
Pogonina Natalija 1 1 - 0 1 Sargsyan Anna M.
Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan 1 0 - 1 1 Gunina Valentina
Zhu Jiner 1 1 - 0 1 Melia Salome
Muzychuk Mariya ½ ½ - ½ ½ Assaubayeva Bibisara

...25 boards

Meri Arabidze, Vantika Agrawal

Meri Arabidze (Georgia) versus Vantika Agrawal (India) | Photo: Mark Livshitz

For a second day in a row, Anna Sargsyan featured in a tactical struggle that could have gone either way during time trouble. She had the black pieces against Pogonina.


Sargsyan had already survived what seemed to be a deadly attack by White, but her 36...c5 was a grave mistake (36...Bd5 was called for, looking to exchange the dangerous white bishop). Pogonina quickly replied 37.Qf6, attacking both the rook on d8 and the bishop on f7.


Pogonina’s natural-looking moving was in fact a mistake — 37.Qg5, pinning the knight was the precise continuation. However, Sargsyan failed to find the refutation, as she blundered with 37...Rd5 and resigned after 38.Qxf7+ (the black queen no longer protects f7)

In the above diagram, Black had the strong 37...Rf8, when White needs to find 38.Nf3 to keep the game going — after 38.Nf5, for example, Black can go for the lethal 38...Qxf1+ (diagram below), gaining material, as 39.Bxf1 can be responded by 39...Bd5+ and the rook on f8 grabs the queen on the next move.


All sorts of tactical shots can be missed during mutual time trouble!

Standings after round 2

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Dzagnidze Nana 2,0 1,0
  Lei Tingjie 2,0 1,0
  Batsiashvili Nino 2,0 1,0
  Zhu Jiner 2,0 1,0
5 Paehtz Elisabeth 2,0 1,0
  Pogonina Natalija 2,0 1,0
  Gunina Valentina 2,0 1,0
8 Shuvalova Polina 1,5 1,5
  Javakhishvili Lela 1,5 1,5
10 Kosteniuk Alexandra 1,5 1,5
  Badelka Olga 1,5 1,5
12 Harika Dronavalli 1,5 1,0
  Stefanova Antoaneta 1,5 1,0
14 Garifullina Leya 1,0 2,0
  Sargsyan Anna M. 1,0 2,0

...50 players

All games



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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