Grand Swiss: Lei and Firouzja on a roll

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/5/2021 – Alireza Firouzja and Lei Tingjie have a full-point edge over their closest chasers in the open and women’s sections of the FIDE Grand Swiss taking place in Riga. Both sole leaders won in round 8, with Firouzja beating Krishnan Sasikiran and Lei scoring her third consecutive victory by defeating Alina Kashlinskaya. Rating favourite Fabiano Caruana joined a 10-player chasing pack in the open section, and will face Firouzja on the top board in Friday’s ninth round. | Photo: Anna Shtourman

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Ranked number 4 in the world

Grand Swiss Chess 2021Back in 2019, Wang Hao won the inaugural edition of the Grand Swiss with an 8/11 score. After eight rounds, the Chinese grandmaster was one of ten players standing a half point behind three co-leaders — David Anton, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana were sharing first place on 6/8 points. In this year’s edition, Alireza Firouzja is leading the event with 6½ points after eight rounds, a full point ahead of ten players. Most likely, draws in the final three rounds will grant the 18-year-old a spot in the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

Firouzja’s great performance has gained him 14.2 rating points, which allowed him to climb to fourth place in the live ratings list. The youngster will face perhaps his biggest challenge in Friday’s round 9, as he is paired up against rating favourite Fabiano Caruana, who beat Nils Grandelius with black on Thursday. Remarkably, Caruana is rated only 5.8 points higher than the tournament’s leader (for comparison’s sake, six months ago, Caruana had a 61-point advantage over Firouzja in the official FIDE ranking).

While Firouzja is now a favourite to get one of the two spots in the Candidates, the fight for the second spot is wide open, with ten players currently tied on 5½ points. Besides Caruana, Nikita Vitiugov, David Howell, Grigoriy Oparin, David Anton, Samuel Sevian, Anton Korobov and Alexandr Predke all won in an eventful round 8 to increase their chances of leaving Riga with a ticket to the next edition of the Candidates.

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Firouzja Alireza 1 - 0 5 Sasikiran Krishnan
Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 5 ½ - ½ 5 Shirov Alexei
Grandelius Nils 0 - 1 Caruana Fabiano
Vitiugov Nikita 1 - 0 Ponkratov Pavel
Howell David W L 1 - 0 Esipenko Andrey
Najer Evgeniy ½ - ½ Harikrishna Pentala
Dubov Daniil 0 - 1 Oparin Grigoriy
Fedoseev Vladimir 0 - 1 Anton Guijarro David
Sarana Alexey ½ - ½ Yu Yangyi
Maghsoodloo Parham ½ - ½ Nihal Sarin

...54 boards

Aryan Tari, Alexandr Predke

Alexandr Predke beat Aryan Tari with the white pieces | Photo: Anna Shtourman

It was two tough pairings in a row for Sasikiran in Riga, as he came from drawing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave before facing an in-form Firouzja with the black pieces. The players followed theory until move 13 out of an Italian, replaying the moves played by MVL and Dariusz Swiercz at this year’s edition of the Sinquefield Cup.


Although Swiercz lost that game with black, his 13...Bb6 was not the culprit. Sasikiran apparently mixed something up in his preparation though, as his choice of 13...f5 — which he played after thinking for over 15 minutes — was a mistake. 

Black’s daring move allows 14.Neg5, after which Sasikiran spent more than 20 minutes on 14...h6 (14...Qf6 was better). 

Firouzja correctly assessed that he had a big chance to score yet another win and carefully considered his next three moves, deducting over 40 minutes off his clock to play 15.Ne6 Qf6 16.Nxf8 Rxf8 17.d4


White has the initiative and plays energetically. Sasikiran responded with 17...e4, and after 18.dxc5 Nde5 saw his opponent finding 19.Nxe5, giving up his queen.


After 19...Bxd1 20.Nd7 Qd8 21.Bxc6 there is little hope for Black, especially while facing a tactician of Firouzja’s calibre. Sasikiran tried to defend his position until move 43, when he finally threw in the towel.

David Howell, Andrey Esipenko

David Howell got the better of Andrey Esipenko | Photo: Anna Shtourman

There was no shortage of decisive games on the top 20 boards of the open tournament, with many players agreeing to enter sharp struggles knowing all too well that this might be their best (or only) chance to qualify to the Candidates.

On board 5, 3-time British champion David Howell got his third consecutive win of the event, first surviving an inferior position and then outplaying Andrey Esipenko while marshalling the white pieces.


Knights are hanging on c4 and a7 in this messy position with Black to move. Esipenko, who beat Magnus Carlsen earlier this year, had a clear advantage here according to the engines. But the young Russian needed to tread carefully amid the chaos — his 32...Ra8 was not the most precise, as both 32...Ne3 and 32...Ba4 were stronger. (Remember that you can try your own variations on our dynamic diagrams!)

A time-trouble addict, Howell handled the ensuing mess masterfully, in fact getting the upper hand by the time they had passed the first control after move 40.


White has a space advantage, while Black’s temporary control over the e-file is not particularly meaningful since all entrance squares are covered. Moreover, Black will have trouble defending his pawn weaknesses on the queenside in the long run. 

Howell did not make any weighty mistakes in the technical phase that followed, and Esipenko resigned in the following position.


Black is busted. 1-0

Standings after round 8

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Firouzja Alireza 6,5 35,5
2 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 5,5 34,5
3 Caruana Fabiano 5,5 33,5
4 Predke Alexandr 5,5 32,0
5 Shirov Alexei 5,5 31,0
6 Korobov Anton 5,5 30,5
7 Vitiugov Nikita 5,5 30,5
8 Sevian Samuel 5,5 30,5
9 Howell David W L 5,5 29,5
10 Oparin Grigoriy 5,5 29,5
11 Anton Guijarro David 5,5 29,5
12 Petrosyan Manuel 5,0 36,5
13 Yu Yangyi 5,0 35,0
14 Sasikiran Krishnan 5,0 34,0
15 Nihal Sarin 5,0 33,5

...108 players

All games - Round 8


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Time to play catch-up

Lei Tingjie is having a dream tournament in the women’s section. The 24-year-old obtained her fifth victory of the event (the third in a row) by beating Alina Kashlinskaya with the white pieces on Thursday. Having gained rating points in seven out of eight games, Lei climbed six places in the women’s live ratings list, surpassing the likes of Nana Dzagnidze and Tan Zhongyi thanks to her astounding performance.

The leader is a full point ahead of Elisabeth Paehtz, who currently stands in sole second place with 6/8 points. The Russian duo of Alexandra Kosteniuk and Natalija Pogonina stand a half point behind Paehtz, while a larger 10-player group is currently sitting on a score of 5/8.

Curiously, two players in the 5/8 group have yet to draw a game in Riga — Kashlinskaya and Deysi Cori. The Peruvian WGM remarkably recovered from a lousy start (three losses in the first three rounds) by winning five games in a row, including victories over Valentina Gunina and Polina Shuvalova.

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Lei Tingjie 6 1 - 0 5 Kashlinskaya Alina
Paehtz Elisabeth ½ - ½ 5 Kosteniuk Alexandra
Zhu Jiner ½ - ½ Muzychuk Mariya
Javakhishvili Lela ½ - ½ Dzagnidze Nana
Harika Dronavalli ½ - ½ Badelka Olga
Assaubayeva Bibisara ½ - ½ Batsiashvili Nino
Pogonina Natalija 1 - 0 Zawadzka Jolanta
Cori T. Deysi 4 1 - 0 4 Shuvalova Polina
Stefanova Antoaneta 4 ½ - ½ 4 Munguntuul Batkhuyag
Cramling Pia 4 ½ - ½ 4 Vantika Agrawal

...25 boards

Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Unlike what we saw in previous rounds, there were many more draws on the top boards of the women’s tournament than in the open. Lei won on top board, but points were split on the next top five encounters, most of them lasting around 40 moves.

On board 7, however, Pogonina bounced back from her loss against Paehtz by taking down Jolanta Zawadzka.


White is a pawn up, but her knight is currently stuck in the corner defending b3. As Karsten Müller shows in his analysis below though, White has enough time to regroup and prevail.  Pogonina did take a step in the wrong direction on move 44, but her rival did not take advantage of the mistake. Resignation came on move 56.


Standings after round 8

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Lei Tingjie 7,0 33,0
2 Paehtz Elisabeth 6,0 38,0
3 Kosteniuk Alexandra 5,5 34,5
4 Pogonina Natalija 5,5 34,0
5 Dzagnidze Nana 5,0 37,5
6 Batsiashvili Nino 5,0 37,5
7 Zhu Jiner 5,0 35,5
8 Harika Dronavalli 5,0 34,0
9 Muzychuk Mariya 5,0 33,5
10 Assaubayeva Bibisara 5,0 33,5
11 Javakhishvili Lela 5,0 33,0
12 Kashlinskaya Alina 5,0 31,0
13 Badelka Olga 5,0 30,5
14 Cori T. Deysi 5,0 27,0
15 Zawadzka Jolanta 4,5 33,0

...50 players

All games - Round 8


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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