St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Firouzja loses to Caruana, still leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/28/2022 – Alireza Firouzja has played in four out of the nine decisive games seen so far at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament. On Saturday, the 19-year-old lost to Fabiano Caruana and defeated Leinier Dominguez to keep the sole lead he had attained on the first day of the competition. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jeffery Xiong — all undefeated in the event — stand one point back. | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

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Going for it

A considerable number of Petroffs and Berlins have been played during the first two days of action at the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament. There is one player, though, who has, for the most part, avoided entering long, theoretical opening lines: the ever-fighting Alireza Firouzja. The Iranian-born GM is the sole leader of the event after six rounds, having collected three wins, two draws and one loss for an 8/12 score.

After winning his first two games on Friday, he could have lost in round 3 against Sam Shankland — had the US grandmaster found some unlikely tactical shots in a rarely seen endgame setup. Firouzja drew that game, much like his first encounter on Saturday, against Jeffery Xiong.

In round 5, his creative approach backfired early on against Fabiano Caruana, as the latter found himself in a very favourable position after only 11 moves.

 

Less than a year ago, Caruana had this position with white against David Howell. The US grandmaster played 11.Bxc6 and went on to score an important win at the FIDE Grand Swiss.

Firouzja, true to his approach in this event, thought for five minutes before lashing out with the fighting 11.d4. This push had been employed four years ago, which means Caruana had studied it — he later commented that he knew that this left White in a tough position.

The American confidently improved his position, while Firouzja struggled to justify his early decision to enter this variation. On move 18, the youngster made a drastic decision, looking for (somewhat desperate) attacking chances.

 

By playing 18.Rb5, Firouzja gave up an exchange just to bring his rook to the kingside: there followed 18...Ba6 19.Rf5 Bxf1 20.Nxf1

Two moves later, Caruana found a nice tactical shot to further increase his advantage. After 20...Rfe8 21.Nxg5 (sacrificing more material for the attack) hxg5 22.Qxh5, he went for the good-looking 22...Bxf2+

 
  • Capturing with the king would give Black a deadly attack with the queen and the rook on the b-file.
  • Capturing with the rook would give Caruana a key tempo to return with his queen to g7, defending.
  • While after Firouzja’s 23.Kh2, Black can play 23...Qg7, not fearing 24.Rxg5, as he has 24...Re6 in response, threatening to transfer the rook to h6 — note that the white king is in deep trouble with the bishop protecting the escape squares on g1 and g3.

Firouzja knew his desperate attempt had not worked. Three moves later, he resigned.

 

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

After the loss, Firouzja went from being the sole leader to sharing first place with four players. He bounced back immediately, though, as he defeated Leinier Dominguez from the black side of a Caro-Kann Defence. Once again, he did not shy away from entering sharp lines.

Dominguez’s decision to open up the position on move 26 was a grave mistake.

 

After 26.dxe5 Black transferred his queen to the f-file, targetting the weak f2-square. Much like his rival in the previous round, Dominguez reacted by sacrificing material, but was also punished by precise play. Firouzja consolidated his material (and positional) advantage to win the game and retake the sole lead.

 

Leinier Dominguez, Alireza Firouzja

Leinier Dominguez versus Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

Three players stand a point behind Firouzja going into the final day of rapid in Saint Louis (wins are worth 2 points in this section of the event). The chasing pack includes Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jeffery Xiong. All three of them are undefeated, having each scored a single win in the first six rounds of the event.

While Xiong and MVL scored a win each on Friday and drew their games on Saturday, Nepo collected his one win of the event on the second day of action. The Russian showed great preparation against an out-of-form Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in round 4.

 

When Nepo played 28.Bxg6, he already had a massive advantage on the clock. After 28...fxg6 29.Qd3, targetting the weakness on g6, Mamedyarov found the correct 29...Ne4, giving back the piece to prevent a quick loss.

White still had a big edge, though, with Black’s pieces stuck on the queenside. Nepo continued to blitz out his moves, including 32.g4

 

Simple chess. White opened up the g-file, making the most of the black king’s vulnerable position on the kingside. Soon after, Mamedyarov resigned.

 

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

Standings after round 6

 

All games

 

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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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