The hacking of steely sprogs

by Jonathan Speelman
11/21/2021 – In this week’s column, Jon Speelman returns to his explorations of remarkable games by the world’s top juniors. Naturally, he looks at games by Kirill Shevchenko (pictured), Arjun Erigaisi and Alireza Firouzja, three young stars who left a strong mark in top tournaments during the last month or so. | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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Played “by the hand”

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

A month ago, I looked at some games by the world’s top juniors and, after a diversion a fortnight ago to endgame analysis, we return to them today.

One of my lesser eccentricities is a habit of linking items that have the same scansion, and so the hacking of steely sprogs brings me to the patter of tiny feet, and in this case the b-pawn which in two of the three games rather unexpectedly jumps to b4.

Two of the three games are admittedly “just” blitz, but when your hand is working, blitz games can still be very aesthetic. And I very much enjoyed both.

Arjun Erigaisi, Nihal SarinThey come from the Lindores Abbey Blitz Tournament in Riga, which marked 85 years since the birth of the great Mikhail Tal (1936-92).

Sponsored by a whisky distillery in Fife in Scotland, it followed immediately after the FIDE Grand Swiss. Blitz is a wonderful way to burn off the tension of a horribly serious (classical) tournament, and it was surely much appreciated with 120 players from both the open and women’s sections taking part in 9 double rounds (2 games against the same opponent) of combat.

To recap (of course it’s been covered on ChessBase before), almost everybody played except for the Grand Swiss winner Alireza Firouzja himself. The early leader with an incredible start of 10½/11 was 18-year-old Arjun Erigaisi from India, but he lost his second game to Fabiano Caruana in round 6.2 and then hit the buffers. 19-year-old Kirill Shevchenko (Ukraine) took over and in the end he got 14/18, ahead of Caruana and Erigaisi on 13½.

Neither of the games below by Shevchenko and Arjun is at all flawless, and indeed if you were foolish enough to feed them to one of our silicon lords and masters and listen (and watch) then they would harrumph mightily, beep a great deal, and if they still had diodes there would be cascades of despairing lights.  

Of course this doesn’t matter a jot. Good blitz is played “by the hand” with minimal conscious input to supplement and occasionally override the instinctive moves, and both games flow wonderfully.

Following them, we finish with Firouzja at the European Team Championships in Slovenia, with b2-b4 in a position where I can hardly imagine thinking of it even in my pomp.

[Pictured: Arjun chatting with Nihal Sarin in Riga | Photo: Anna Shtourman]


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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