Caruana, Firouzja Among Winners As FIDE Grand Swiss Begins In Riga
Alireza Firouzja was among the winners on the first day in Riga. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana, Firouzja Among Winners As FIDE Grand Swiss Begins In Riga

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

Following a precautionary move from the Isle of Man to Riga and despite a new local lockdown in Latvia, the FIDE Grand Swiss and Women's Grand Swiss took off on Wednesday. Top-seed GM Fabiano Caruana and third-seed GM Alireza Firouzja were among the winners in the first round. 

How to watch?
You can follow the games and live broadcast live here: FIDE Grand Swiss | FIDE Women's Grand Swiss.
FIDE Grand Swiss LIVE

Should a player have to choose between health safety and playing in the world championship cycle? This question was posed on social media when FIDE announced only days ago that the Grand Swiss could be held after all, despite the new Covid lockdown in Latvia.

Quite a few top players either withdrew or were forced to cancel due to travel restrictions, which are significant. Besides a total prize fund of U.S.$550,000, two spots for the 2022 Candidates and one spot for the 2022 Women's Candidates are on the line. The biggest names who were planning to play but are missing in Riga are GMs Alexander Grischuk, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Richard Rapport, Hikaru Nakamura, Vidit Gujrathi, Le Quang Liem, and Kateryna Lagno. (One player who stepped in at the last minute was GM Alexey Shirov.)

FIDE managed to convince the Latvian government to include the Grand Swiss in the list of 30 sports events that are exempt, making it possible to go on with the tournament and thereby avoid a potential disaster in terms of scheduling the 2022 chess calendar.

Arkady Dvorkovich FIDE Grand Swiss
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich during a press conference on the first day. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Calling it a "difficult exercise" to hold the tournament under the circumstances, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich defended FIDE's choice not to postpone:

"I think [with] the conditions here that we established based on the medical protocol, all safety requirements are even more secure for the players and everyone involved than in many countries where the formal rates of the pandemic are lower, so we do believe that we will establish a really safe environment for the players here in Latvia. I truly believe we made the right decision." 

Because of the lockdown, the players are basically spending their time either in the hotel or in the playing hall for a period of 12 days as the tournament has one rest day. If a game goes beyond 8 p.m., when the curfew starts, the players need to have a completed exemption letter in case the police decide to check on them during their 10-minute walk back to the hotel.

Technical meeting Grand Swiss 2021
The technical meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

During the technical meeting before the opening ceremony (both were also streamed so players could safely attend from their hotel rooms if they preferred) on Tuesday, the main special measures were explained: face masks are mandatory in the hotel and the venue but not during play; a two-meter social distancing is recommended, and everyone gets tested for the coronavirus four times during the tournament. In case of symptoms that could be Covid-related, players need to immediately contact the local medical officer.

Everyone who arrived a day or two in advance was tested upon arrival and received their meals in their hotel rooms until all results came back negatively. Wednesday, the day of the first round, was another testing day, and players were seen queuing at the hotel reception before or after their dinners.

Hanzas Perons chess
The playing hall is a former cargo railway warehouse.

The tournament is taking place in the Hanzas Perons building, a nicely restored former cargo railway warehouse located almost alongside Mikhail Tal Street, not far from the old city center. There are 108 participants in the open section and 50 in the women's section, with both playing an 11-round Swiss.

One woman decided to play in the open and you can probably guess who. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, who came to Riga right after playing in the main Superfinal of the Russian Championship, started with a draw vs. GM Jorge Cori on Wednesday.

Cori vs. Goryachkina Riga 2021
Cori vs. Goryachkina. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The FIDE Grand Swiss is a very strong tournament overall, and quite a few big names, such as GMs Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, had to be satisfied with splitting the point in the first round. Of the top 20 boards, 14 ended in draws.

Number-one seed Caruana, however, scored a nice win with the white pieces. The American grandmaster played a typical knight sacrifice on d5, basically because he didn't see anything better.

"I wasn't sure until pretty much the end," Caruana revealed afterward. "When I played 22.b3, I pretty much decided on the sacrifice, which was extremely risky, of course. It's almost a full piece that I'm sacrificing. And it's not even that I have a very direct attack."

However, it was also difficult for Black to consolidate and after finding a number of correct defensive moves in a row, he stumbled:

Caruana Chigaev Grand Swiss 2021
FIDE President Dvorkovich made the first move for the game Caruana-Chigaev. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja scored a win with the white pieces as well, where a kingside attack was successful despite the absence of queens on the board.

"I managed to trick him with the attack with 17.g4, and then his king is suddenly under big danger," said Firouzja. "It's surprising because the queens are off, but the king is still very weak."

Alireza Firouzja
Alireza Firouzja, now sporting a modest beard. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The game between GM Yu Yangyi and GM Vincent Keymer stood out for different reasons. This author discussed it in the live broadcast for the move 19...Kd7!? that seemed to prepare a Rubinstein maneuver on the light squares with Qd8-g8-h7. Instead, the black queen would only rinse and repeat back and forth to d8/g8/f8 and eventually, the players agreed to a draw on move 40, with all 32 pieces still left on the board.

One of the first winners in the women's section was GM Valentina Gunina, crowned as the Russian Women's Champion only a few days ago. She won with a swift attack that included a sacrifice on the empty square of e6 with two different minor pieces:

Valentina Gunina
Valentina Gunina. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Lei Tingjie scored an easy win after her opponent allowed a pin on her knight on f3. Although White was already in big trouble, it was instantly over after 19.Qg5 due to the nice reply 19...Ke7! by Black:

White's mistake is also indicated by's Game Review feature:

Game Review Irene Sukandar Lei Tingjie
Game Review showing Sukandar's losing mistake.

Another lovely tactic was played by GM Nino Batsiashvili:

The pairings for the second round are already out. A game to look forward to is Junior Speed Chess Champion GM Nihal Sarin with the white pieces vs. Caruana on board one.

You can find all games of the tournament here for replay and download: FIDE Grand Swiss | FIDE Women's Grand Swiss.

Note that on Saturday, October 30, in the morning before the round there's the first ChessKid Grand Swiss, a seven-round Swiss tournament (3|2 games) for kids with a live broadcast starting at 1 a.m. Pacific | 10 a.m. Central Europe hosted by FM Mike Klein. You can watch the action at or

ChessKid Grand Swiss

The FIDE Grand Swiss and Women's Grand Swiss take place October 27-November 7, 2021 in Riga, Latvia. The format is an 11-round Swiss. The time control for the open group is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, and finally 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30-second increment starting from move one. For the women, it's 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30-second increment starting on move one. The top two finishers in the open and the winner among the women will qualify for their respective 2022 candidates tournaments.

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