Stunning: Firouzja wins St. Louis Rapid & Blitz with four rounds to spare!

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/31/2022 – There was no stopping Alireza Firouzja at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament, as the 19-year-old won the event with four rounds to spare! In his first-ever participation at a tournament in Saint Louis, Firouzja finished with an astonishing 26/36 score, five points ahead of second-placed Hikaru Nakamura. The youngster gained over a hundred rating points in blitz (he now sits at a stratospheric 2902.6), which prompted him to climb to second place in the live ratings list, only six points behind Nakamura. | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Crystal Fuller

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Keeping a promise

It is no secret that Alireza Firouzja is an incredibly ambitious player. In a recent interview by Peter Doggers, grandmaster Ivan Sokolov, who recently grabbed Olympic gold as captain of Uzbekistan and had formerly worked with the Iranian team, had this to say about Firouzja:

What I noticed with Alireza from the very start, and this made him a little bit different, was that he had a massive dedication.

[...] Usually, what would happen is that I would finish this work [in the morning]; I would have a break; I would go for a long walk in a park, have lunch, answer my private emails, and come back to work. Usually, when I would come back for the second part, Alireza would already have some novelties and ideas based on what we were looking at in the morning.

He was working maybe ten hours a day.

This ‘massive dedication’ allowed the Iranian-born prodigy to become the youngest-ever player to cross the 2800-rating mark last year, as he had an incredible run at the Grand Swiss and the European Team Championship, where he represented France for the first time soon after his transfer from Iran.

Given these astounding achievements, there was huge anticipation regarding Firouzja’s participation at the Candidates Tournament — he qualified by winning the Grand Swiss — but things did not work out well for the youngster in Madrid. Firouzja scored 6/14 and finished in a disappointing sixth place. Moreover, amid the tournament, he indulged in his online-chess habits, as he played over 200 bullet games online after round 10 (not on a rest day).

This brings us back to Sokolov, who told Sagar Shah in an interview from 2018:

I saw young Anand. I and Anand are from the same generation, and I can tell that Firouzja has incredible similarities to Anand when he was young. In the sense that he thinks extremely fast and sometimes that becomes a drawback for him, just like it was in Anand’s case. In those years, Anand was also suffering from this. Sometimes, he would take a decision too quickly.

In the case of Firouzja, I think he has something special in him when it comes to chess. And given his young age, he has the potential to become a world champion.

Adding to this, we can also mention the bullet marathon in which Firouzja beat Magnus Carlsen soon after lockdowns began in 2020. Evidently, the wunderkind is a specialist in quick time controls (the quicker the better), which gave him enough confidence to make an ambitious promise to himself — as he told Cristian Chirila.

And he fulfilled his promise with flying colours! Firouzja tied for first in the rapid section of the event with an 11/18 score, and went on to perform at a dizzying level in the blitz, collecting 12 wins and 6 draws for a record-breaking 15/18 performance — the highest-ever score achieved in a GCT rapid and blitz tournament.

Alireza Firouzja, Jeanne Sinquefield, Rex Sinquefield

Alireza Firouzja joined by Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, the couple that revolutionized chess in the United States | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Austin Fuller

Such a remarkable showing gained the youngster 107.6 rating points in the blitz ranking, prompting him to second place in the live list with a stratospheric 2902.6 Elo rating. Firouzja could have easily finished in the top spot of the ranking, had Hikaru Nakamura not performed excellently as well — the US grandmaster collected 14 points in the blitz and is still the world number one in this category.

Besides confessing the promise he had made to himself, Firouzja told Chirila that it was very helpful for him to have his whole family with him in Saint Louis. Responding to a question by Peter Svidler, the youngster ranked this victory as the most important in his career, even more important than his victory at the Grand Swiss.

Cristian Chirila, Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler

The tournament champion joined by three happy commentators — Cristian Chirila, Yasser Seirawan and Peter Svidler | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Crystal Fuller

Nakamura and Caruana finish on a high note

No fewer than four rounds before the tournament came to an end it was already known that Firouzja would win the event, which, for the audience, changed the focus to the fight for second place. At that point, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Jeffery Xiong still had good chances of getting the coveted second spot.

MVL, who had entered the final day of action in sole second place, lost to Nakamura in round 15 and drew his three remaining encounters; Xiong collapsed at the end; Nepo could not keep up the pace; while Naka and Caruana finished the tournament with four and three consecutive wins, respectively.

As mentioned above, this allowed Nakamura to keep the top spot in the blitz live ratings list, besides giving him clear second place. Caruana, in the meantime, caught up with MVL and finished in shared third place with a 19/36 score.

Caruana, who was recently interviewed by Ben Johnson on the Perpetual Chess Podcast, beat Xiong after the latter played the wrong king move in an endgame.

 

The only move that keeps the tense balance here is 57...Kf7. Xiong instead played 57...Kg6 and had to resign after 58.Nf4+ Kg5 (58.Kf7 is mate-in-two) 59.Ne6+, with a royal fork.

A single wrong step with the king had also been the culprit of Caruana’s loss against Nakamura on Monday.

Hikaru Nakamura

Still number one in blitz — Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Crystal Fuller

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana

In a good mood — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Crystal Fuller

Final standings and prize money

Grand Chess Tour 2022

Grand Chess Tour standings

Grand Chess Tour 2022

All games - Blitz

 

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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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