Firouzja's Opening Tricks

Firouzja's Opening Tricks

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The Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz event is in the history books already, providing a lot of food for thought. First and foremost, let's talk about the phenomenal performance of GM Alireza Firouzja. It immediately brings memories of the famous Herzog Novi blitz tournament of 1970, which was called an unofficial World Blitz Championship.

Back then, GM Bobby Fischer won the tournament, scoring 19 points out of 22 games, 4.5 points ahead of GM Mikhail Tal. You all know what happened two years after that tournament. (Hint: we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that event this year). I am not implying anything, but... well, actually, I am suggesting who will be the World Champion after GM Ding Liren.

More importantly, we could finally hear the new chess sound that I had been waiting for from Firouzja for a long time. Did you notice that? Let me explain.

Alireza Firouzja
Firouzja is starting to show us his new chess sounds. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

These days, when top grandmasters memorize their computers' opening recommendations well into the middlegame (or sometimes even the endgame), it is almost impossible to get a fresh opening position, where your opponent has to use their brain instead of their memory. All players have their own recipe for this problem. Most of them are just trying to out-prepare and out-memorize the opponent.

However, GM Magnus Carlsen has his own unique, inimitable approach. He sometimes plays outright junk moves which both trolls his opponents and forces them to use their heads from move one! Here is an example:

It is difficult to recommend this approach to any of us, mere mortals. Why would you deliberately play the worst move in the initial position and fight for survival instead of an opening advantage?

During this year's Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, Firouzja showed his recipe, which might appeal to many chess players. His idea might sound ridiculous, but upon further inspection, it makes perfect sense. Before I explain his approach, here is a disclaimer that one would normally see when watching videos of daredevils performing dangerous stunts: "Done by professionals, don't try this at home!"

So, what's Firouzja's novel idea? He deliberately wastes tempi in some openings to get a good position! I know, it sounds like chess blasphemy since one of the most basic chess rules states: don't waste time, especially during the opening. Nevertheless, take a look at how Firouzja does it:

Did you notice what happened? White played 6.d3 only to play 8.d4 two moves later. As a result, he got a well-known theoretical position down a tempo! For example, compare it to the following very famous game:

Do you see the difference? While the diagrams look identical, in the well-known theoretical position, it is White to move, so GM Anatoly Karpov played 9.Bg5. But in Firouzja's game, it was Black to move, and therefore GM Sam Shankland played 9...Ne4.

So, what's the method in Firouzja's chess madness? Well, first of all, even after losing a tempo, White's position is probably still preferable due to Black's long-term weakness on d5. And secondly, I guess that the Tarrasch defense is not exactly what Shankland was going to play, leading him into a relatively unfamiliar situation.

Here is another example of Firouzja's "Black Magic:"

Did you notice that Firouzja played 9.Be3 only to play 11.Bc1 back two moves later? Well, that must be stupid for sure, right? Not so fast! Look at the following theoretical position:

I found 16 games in the database where the diagrammed position happened. Do you want to know the score? Twelve wins for Black and four draws! Now notice that this position is identical to the one in Firouzja's game—only the colors are reversed. But because Firouzja lost two tempi, not only is he playing Black instead of White, he is doing it down a tempo!

So, in the theoretical position, it is Black to move, and Black played 12...Rc8 in the game above. Meanwhile, in Firouzja's game, it is White to move, and his opponent played 13...g5, which corresponds to White's move 13. g4.

As you can see, the explanation of Firouzja's bizarre opening play is quite simple: the position is so good for Black, and the score is so overwhelming that he was happy to play it even being down one tempo!

Whenever a new trend appears in chess, top players take notice. Here is the game played by the American chess Superman:

Looks like a crazy game where the opponents started tactical complications right from the beginning. It is funny that most commentators missed an obvious thing: GM Levon Aronian made a mistake in a well-known theoretical position. Don't believe me? Then look at the following diagram:

The above happened in 94 games, including, as you can see, some super GMs encounters. White generally does well when they refuse the "gift:" the hanging rook on a8. By doing his black magic and turning White into Black, GM Hikaru Nakamura confused Aronian, who captured the a1-rook and promptly paid the price.

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura is also working on his own version of Firouzja's Black Magic. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

These days we hear a lot of complaints about computers killing opening play, pushing people to go for Fischer Random chess, or even worse, junk openings like 1.h4 as a solution. To me, Firouzja's approach is a breath of fresh air!

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