6 Takeaways From The Prague Chess Festival
Firouzja receiving his prize for winning in Prague. Photo: Prague Chess Festival.

6 Takeaways From The Prague Chess Festival

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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47 | Chess Event Coverage

The Prague Chess Festival was a joy for chess fans in an otherwise quiet month for top chess. The Masters tournament was won by 16-year-old wunderkind GM Alireza Firouzja. GM Jorden van Foreest clinched the Challengers as both sections provided great games and plenty of drama.

During the Prague Chess Festival, Chess.com brought daily coverage with brief news recaps. In this more in-depth report on the tournament, we look more closely at the different storylines and provide a thorough GM analysis of five games.


1. Firouzja coming of age

"He has amazing potential," was GM Boris Gelfand's comment on Firouzja during the round six live broadcast, several days before the tournament was over.

The big story of the 2020 Prague Chess Festival is, of course, Firouzja's first major tournament victory. Whether it was a super tournament or not—this author likes to have at least one grandmaster from the top 10 to call it that—the result was very impressive for a 16-year-old. The winner wasn't even a grandmaster two years ago.

Firouzja has been showing his blitz and rapid skills online and over the board for a while, and his second place in 2019 at the World Rapid Championship showed his prowess in that time control as well.

In classical chess, the numbers also speak. After GM Wei Yi, for whom he was a last-minute replacement in Prague, Firouzja is the youngest player ever to reach a rating of 2700. Currently at 2726, he is the number one junior (now that Wei is too old). His debut in the highest group of Wijk aan Zee last month was very fine as well: a 50 percent score in a strong field.

But winning a tournament is something special. It shows something else, besides his incredible talent: that he's got the nerves to win a playoff. Sure, he ended up winning a tournament with only a plus-one score in the classical games (and GM Vidit Gujrathi was the psychological underdog after his unfortunate last two rounds), but you still have to perform.

Let's first look at his win in the third round against GM Pentala Harikrishna, a game this author already compared to some of GM Bobby Fischer's wins in the Ruy Lopez. After the Indian grandmaster made a strategic error in the opening, he was outplayed beautifully on a board full of minor pieces.

Firouzja's second win in the tournament, against GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, won the Chess.com Brilliancy Prize that we introduced in our final wrap-up article on the Cairns Cup. The prize is awarded 50 percent by the choice of the content team, and 50 percent by the Chess.com members (taken from the poll on our site).  

Firouzja Prague Brilliancy Prize

As simple as it may sound, a big part of winning at chess is about not losing. It shouldn't be forgotten that GM David Anton, who had promoted from the Challengers last year, had a big chance of winning this tournament as well. Firouzja not losing their head-to-head match was crucial.

Despite his final-round exchange sacrifice on move 25 that showed knowledge of the classics, Firouzja was clearly lost at some point in his King's Indian against Anton. However, the pressure toward the white king was apparent and Firouzja grabbed the first tactical opportunity that he was given.

This way, no less than five players finished on plus one. Besides Vidit and Firouzja, those were Duda, Anton, and GM Sam Shankland. However, only the top two players on Sonneborn-Berger were invited to play the playoff.

Prague Masters | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
1 Vidit Gujrathi 2721 2744 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 5.0/9 22.5
2 Alireza Firouzja 2726 2743 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 5.0/9 22.25
3 Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2755 2741 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 5.0/9 22
4 David Anton Guijarro 2697 2747 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 5.0/9 21.25
5 Sam Shankland 2683 2748 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 5.0/9 21.25
6 Nikita Vitiugov 2731 2705 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5/9 20.25
7 Pentala Harikrishna 2713 2707 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 4.5/9 19.75
8 Markus Ragger 2670 2672 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.0/9 18
9 David Navara 2717 2668 1 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 4.0/9 17.25
10 Nils Grandelius 2659 2593 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 3.0/9

Here's a closer look at the first tiebreak game, which was a very interesting and sharp fight in which Vidit also played well. However, with little time on the clock, he suddenly found himself in a mating net.

2. Jorden makes a jump

Van Foreest's start of 2020 has gone exceptionally well. His fourth place in Wijk aan Zee with 7/13 was good for a 2774 performance rating. This increased his rating from 2644 to 2667, and for the first time, he entered the world's top 100, at spot 69.

Then came Prague, where he started slowly with five draws but finished strongly with 3.5/4. This time his performance rating was 2696, and he won four more Elo points.

Jorden van Foreest Prague Challengers
20-year-old van Foreest, on his way to 2700? Photo: Vladimir Jagr/Prague Chess Festival.

No rest for the wicked: Two days later he was already in Germany to play two games in the Bundesliga for his team SG Solingen. He won both, gaining another 7.5 points and so his March rating is set to be 2678. He could become the fourth 2700 player in Dutch chess history, after GM Loek van Wely, GM Ivan Sokolov and, of course, GM Anish Giri.

In the final round, van Foreest defeated early tournament leader and 13-time Icelandic champion GM Hannes Stefansson, who was just helpless throughout the second half of the game.

Jorden van Foreest wins Prague Challengers
Jorden van Foreest with his ticket to the 2021 Prague Masters. Photo: Prague Chess Festival.

Prague Challengers | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
1 Jorden van Foreest 2667 2696 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 6.0/9
2 Nijat Abasov 2670 2655 ½ 1 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 5.5/9 23.75
3 Andrey Esipenko 2654 2656 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 5.5/9 22.5
4 Mateusz Bartel 2639 2619 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 5.0/9 21.5
5 Kacper Piorun 2611 2621 ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 5.0/9 20.75
6 Hannes Stefansson 2529 2630 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 5.0/9 18.75
7 Nguyen Thai Dai Van 2560 2588 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 4.5/9
8 Lukas Cernousek 2442 2522 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 3.5/9
9 Jan Krejci 2559 2423 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 2.5/9 12
10 Tadeas Kriebel 2524 2427 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 2.5/9 10.25

3. Don't always trust the engine

The tournament might have given Vidit a few sleepless nights. With one round to go, he was as close as one can get to tournament victory!

In round eight, the 25-year-old Indian GM had quickly reached a winning position against GM David Navara. The local hero wasn't having a great tournament and made some mistakes early in the game. With Vidit's magnet combination 15.Bxf7+ and 16.e6, Navara's king was dragged into the open and the engine was giving plus two for White. This was curtains, right?  

However, the casual fan might be missing some important factors here. For starters, Vidit had spent more than an hour on the clock reaching this position. Besides, there was one clear problem with playing the remainder: time and again, White had plenty of options that looked strong. 

Vidit vs Navara Prague
Vidit vs. Navara. Photo: Prague Chess Festival.

After spending 17 minutes on his 17th move and another 6.5 on his 19th, Vidit had about half an hour left for moves 20 to 40. He decided to go for a promising endgame, which was a mistake according to the engine, who wanted to continue playing for the attack.

But was it a mistake? Vidit was leading the tournament by a point, he just sacrificed a piece and saw a risk-free endgame. It was a sensible decision, more or less confirmed by the fact that soon he was completely winning again.

However, with four seconds on the clock, he forgot to give a rook check, and everything was different after that. Navara was going to draw this! No, worse: Navara even ended up winning the game.

Or, what about GM Nikita Vitiugov's endgame with Duda? It was a tablebase win, but also here, things were much more complicated than they seemed.

Chess is always more difficult than it looks.

4. Gotta keep believin'

Shankland was the other player finishing on plus one, but he remained somewhat in the background. However, the result was important to him personally, and some kind of a moral victory that closed off a bad phase in his life.

On Facebook, and cross-posted as a blog on Chess.com, he writes that he "finally got [his] life back on track," having gone through "the worst phase of [his] adult life."

Last year he narrowly missed out on playing in the FIDE Grand Prix, saw both his parents having "major health scares" and then "a thick glass shard of a broken Pyrex container slashed through the flexor tendons of [his] left hand, leaving [him] disabled, in pain, and sleeping poorly for two months even after surgery."

Sam Shankland Prague Masters 2020
Now in better times: Shankland with Markus Ragger, David Navara and Pentala Harikrishna. Photo: Petr Vrabec/Prague Chess Festival.

But Shankland now feels he is back:

"2019 broke my heart. But it's a new year now. (...) I finally played a decent event where I showed some degree of the strength I know I am capable of. My tiebreak math didn't work out, but I'm still counting this as a tournament victory, and more importantly, as a personal victory. I can only hope the same positive trend continues throughout the rest of the year."

Here's Shankland's win from the last round:

5. A mixed field works

During the Prague Chess Festival, the news came out that all invited players of the Grand Chess Tour had accepted their invitation. While lots of fans will be looking forward to another series of tournaments where the top grandmasters of the world are facing each other, there were also fans lamenting the fact that we'll be seeing the same faces once again.

Round 7 Prague Chess Masters
A mix of different players in Prague. Photo: Petr Vrabec/Prague Chess Festival.

One of the major attractions of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament has always been the diverse field (especially in the Challengers group), and Prague copying this format can only be applauded. Giving local talents the opportunity to face strong international grandmasters is a worthy goal for an event, and having players of different ages and levels, in general, leads to very interesting events to follow.

6. The organizers know what they're doing

The tournament in Prague was a festival in the true sense of the word. Whereas most fans only followed the Masters and Challengers tournaments, there was in fact a large number of side events that made this event truly special.

Besides a Futures group (with promising youngsters), an open, a rapid and a blitz tournament, there was also an exhibition of the international tournament held in Prague in 1990, a lecture by the director of the Vaclav Havel Library and the Czech grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, a children's day, a clock simul by GM Boris Gelfand and a film festival.

On top of that, the Prague organizers re-instated some traditions that are not even kept in Wijk aan Zee anymore: a daily prize for the best game played in the previous round, and a daily chess puzzle presented by IM Yochanan Afek.

It's wonderful to see that the love for the game of chess still creates new amazing festivals (this was only the second edition) that can be enjoyed by fans of all ages. 

The Prague Chess Festival had a prize fund of 44,000 euros ($48,000) and ran February 12-21 in Hotel Don Giovanni in Prague, Czech Republic. Below you can find our news recaps.


Previous reports:

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