Grand Swiss: Three co-leaders as Caruana beats Firouzja

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/6/2021 – In an exciting twist, Fabiano Caruana beat former sole leader Alireza Firouzja in the open section of the FIDE Grand Swiss to set up a thrilling final weekend in Riga. Now Caruana and Firouzja are sharing the lead with David Howell, while no fewer than ten players are standing only a half point back — the fight for the two spots in the next edition of the Candidates has heated up considerably! Meanwhile, Lei all but secured tournament victory in the women’s section, as she incredibly collected a fourth win in a row by beating Alexandra Kosteniuk with the black pieces. | Photo: Anna Shtourman

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Howell wins four in a row to join the lead

Grand Swiss Chess 2021About a month ago, we wrote in our round-7 report on the US Championships: “It is simply impossible to rule out a player like Fabiano Caruana”. The super-GM came from suffering two painful losses in an event in which he was the clear rating favourite, but with a win over former leader Ray Robson, he started to recover lost ground — he would finish the tournament in shared first place, and would even miss a big chance to take down eventual champion Wesley So in the playoffs.

In Riga, Caruana was still undefeated after seven rounds, but he was trailing an in-form Alireza Firouzja by a full point. In round 8, the 2018 World Championship challenger defeated Nils Grandelius and joined a 10-player chasing pack — Firouzja also won on Thursday to keep his full-point lead. Fortunately for the American, being the top seed in Riga (the only 2800+ player in the field) granted him the chance to face the leader in the very next round. Caruana had the white pieces, and inflicted Firouzja’s first defeat of the event, catching the youngster in first place two days before the tournament comes to an end.

Caruana and Firouzja are not alone at the top of the standings though, as David Howell won a fourth game in a row to reach the same 6½/9 score as his higher-rated colleagues. Howell had lost his game with black against Caruana in round 5, and went on to collect win after win to get into the fight for a spot in the next edition of the Candidates. On Friday, the 3-time British champion defeated Anton Korobov with the white pieces.

Howell was not the only player to benefit from Firouzja’s defeat, as ten players are now only a half point behind the co-leaders with two rounds to go. We can expect to see plenty of fighting chess during the weekend, with the likes of Alexei Shirov, Krishnan Sasikiran and Alexandr Predke — three fearless players — getting what will most likely be their only shot at making it into this cycle’s Candidates Tournament.

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Caruana Fabiano 1 - 0 Firouzja Alireza
Anton Guijarro David ½ - ½ Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Shirov Alexei ½ - ½ Vitiugov Nikita
Howell David W L 1 - 0 Korobov Anton
Oparin Grigoriy ½ - ½ Predke Alexandr
Harikrishna Pentala 5 ½ - ½ Sevian Samuel
Alekseenko Kirill 5 ½ - ½ 5 Sjugirov Sanan
Yu Yangyi 5 1 - 0 5 Najer Evgeniy
Petrosyan Manuel 5 ½ - ½ 5 Maghsoodloo Parham
Sasikiran Krishnan 5 1 - 0 5 Eljanov Pavel

...54 boards

Yu Yangyi, Evgeniy Najer

Yu Yangyi beat Evgeniy Najer on board 8 | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Caruana was fully prepared to face Firouzja’s Caro-Kann Defence. The American blitzed out his moves in the opening up to move 9, when he thought for around two minutes before playing a powerful novelty.


With 9.b4, Caruana deviated from a game played earlier this year between Maxime Lagarde and Matthias Bluebaum. Firouzja had already spent over seven minutes on move 8, and continued to take his time in the following five moves (he thought for almost 20 minutes on move 11, in fact). It was clear Caruana had won the opening battle.

Getting your opponent ‘out of book’ does not automatically grant you a full point, however. Firouzja was falling behind on the clock, but continued to find precise moves to hold the balance. Only on moves 37-38 did the youngster make a couple of costly mistakes.


Black’s 38...Nd4 allowed 39.Bxb4 d2 40.Bxd2 Kxd2 41.Rc5. White had given up his bishop for his opponent’s far-advanced passed pawn, freeing his rook and king to focus on supporting the connected passers on the e and f-files.


Caruana needed 13 moves to convert his advantage into an all-important victory from this position. The super-GM will have another tough task in Saturday’s penultimate round, when he will get the black pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 

David Howell, Anton Korobov

Boris Gelfand (who won a remarkable game in round 9) takes a look at the first moves in the game between David Howell and Anton Korobov | Photo: Anna Shtourman

The other crucial result of the round was seen on board 4, where Howell beat Korobov with white. The Englishman confessed in previous rounds that he has not prepared his openings deeply enough for this event, and that is why he so often finds himself in time trouble. Against Korobov, reflecting long and hard in the early phase of the game worked out well for him, though, as he got a strategic advantage in a queenless middlegame position.


Black has his rook on the only open file on the board, but it will be hard for him to defend his weak, doubled e-pawns. After 25...g5 26.Nd2, it is impossible for Black to defend e4 — however, Korobov counted on the tactical shot 26...Nd4


In his specific variation, this manouevre does not work for Black (had he played 25...Kf7, it would have been an effective recourse). Howell refuted the idea with 27.Bf1 Rxd2 28.Bxd2 Nf3+ (forking king and bishop) 29.Kg2 Nxd2 30.Rd1


After 30...Nxf1 Black does get the pair of bishops for a rook, except that the bishops have little to no scope for meaningful development, while the rook is ready to infiltrate Black’s camp with decisive effect.

In fact, resignation came shortly after — 31.Rd7 Nd2 32.Rxd2 Bb7 33.Rd6


One of the bishops is going to fall, and the rook will quickly collect Black’s weak pawns to enter a completely winning endgame. Korobov decided to throw in the towel.

Standings after round 9

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Firouzja Alireza 6,5 46,5
2 Caruana Fabiano 6,5 44,5
3 Howell David W L 6,5 38,5
4 Sasikiran Krishnan 6,0 43,5
5 Yu Yangyi 6,0 43,0
6 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 6,0 43,0
7 Predke Alexandr 6,0 42,0
8 Shirov Alexei 6,0 41,0
9 Oparin Grigoriy 6,0 40,5
10 Anton Guijarro David 6,0 40,0
11 Sargissian Gabriel 6,0 39,5
12 Sevian Samuel 6,0 39,0
13 Vitiugov Nikita 6,0 38,0
14 Petrosyan Manuel 5,5 44,5
15 Keymer Vincent 5,5 43,0

...108 players

All games - Round 9


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There is no stopping Lei

While the fight for first place in the open section heated up considerably after Firouzja’s loss, Lei Tingjie all but secured tournament victory with two rounds to go! The Chinese grandmaster collected her seventh win of the event (the fourth in a row) on Friday, as she beat World Cup winner Alexandra Kosteniuk with the black pieces. 

Moreover, Lei’s closest chaser until round 8, Elisabeth Paehtz, was defeated by Mariya Muzychuk on board 2, leaving the leader two points clear of a 5-player chasing pack with two rounds to go — which means Lei needs merely a half point to win the event.

Remarkably, Lei has gained over 30 rating points in just over a week, having beaten Nino Batsiashvili (rated 2484), Alina Kashlinskaya (2493) and Alexandra Kosteniuk (2518) in consecutive rounds. Talk about a dream tournament!

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Kosteniuk Alexandra 0 - 1 7 Lei Tingjie
Muzychuk Mariya 5 1 - 0 6 Paehtz Elisabeth
Zhu Jiner 5 1 - 0 Pogonina Natalija
Dzagnidze Nana 5 ½ - ½ 5 Assaubayeva Bibisara
Kashlinskaya Alina 5 0 - 1 5 Harika Dronavalli
Batsiashvili Nino 5 ½ - ½ 5 Cori T. Deysi
Badelka Olga 5 0 - 1 5 Javakhishvili Lela
Saduakassova Dinara ½ - ½ Osmak Iulija
Vantika Agrawal ½ - ½ Stefanova Antoaneta
Vaishali R ½ - ½ Cramling Pia

...25 boards

Lei Tingjie, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Fully focused — Lei Tingjie and Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Caruana was not the only player to showcase good endgame technique to score a full point on Friday. In the women’s section, Harika Dronavalli and Sophie Milliet also proved they know how to take full advantage of superior, technical positions.


White could in fact draw this position a pawn down with 57.Rc1, but Kashlinskaya’s 57.a6+ was a losing mistake. Harika needed almost 30 moves, but she scored the win with the black pieces in the end.

Alina Kashlinskaya, Harika Dronavalli

Alina Kashlinskaya playing white against Harika Dronavalli | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Milliet also won from a better position in a rook endgame. Her central passed pawns were the decisive factor in her game against the experienced Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant.


Despite Black having her rook on the second rank, White went on to win from this position.

Our in-house endgame expert Karsten Müller took a closer look at the rook endings shown above, pointing out the most important lines in highly instructive fashion.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Standings after round 9

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Lei Tingjie 8,0 41,5
2 Paehtz Elisabeth 6,0 48,0
3 Zhu Jiner 6,0 44,0
4 Muzychuk Mariya 6,0 43,5
5 Harika Dronavalli 6,0 41,5
6 Javakhishvili Lela 6,0 41,0
7 Dzagnidze Nana 5,5 47,0
8 Batsiashvili Nino 5,5 47,0
9 Kosteniuk Alexandra 5,5 46,0
10 Assaubayeva Bibisara 5,5 43,0
11 Pogonina Natalija 5,5 43,0
12 Munguntuul Batkhuyag 5,5 37,5
13 Cori T. Deysi 5,5 36,0
14 Kashlinskaya Alina 5,0 42,5
15 Zawadzka Jolanta 5,0 41,0

...50 players

All games - Round 9


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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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