Alireza Firouzja: 'I am thinking about improving and having fun'
Alireza Firouzja, this year in Wijk aan Zee. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Alireza Firouzja: 'I am thinking about improving and having fun'

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
|
42 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Alireza Firouzja hasn't given many interviews yet, but during a live broadcast of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament he opened up about a wide range of topics such as his experience in 2020, being respected as a top player, playing against GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Hikaru Nakamura, social media, and the future of OTB chess.

For about an hour, Firouzja appeared as a guest alongside IM Anna Rudolf and IM Levy Rozman during their broadcast on Nakamura's Twitch channel on Sunday, the second day of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament.

The segment, quite a cheerful and insightful interview, was separately uploaded to Nakamura's YouTube channel. Here you can watch it in full, and below you'll find a selection of quotes, sometimes slightly corrected for English grammar.

Still just 17 years old, Firouzja has been racing up the rankings and is now playing for first place in all the events he is participating in. As the youngest player in the world rated over 2700, he will be the world number 13 in the next FIDE rating list, when the results of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament are calculated. It feels like he's been around for many, many years already.

It's mind-boggling to remember that he scored his third grandmaster norm only three years ago, at the 2018 Aeroflot Open—by the way one of many tournaments that has been canceled this year due to the pandemic. 

Firouzja's breakthrough tournament was the World Rapid Championship in December 2018, when he finished in an astonishing sixth place as the 169th seed. A year later, he came in second behind Carlsen.

Alireza Firouzja World Rapid 2019 Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.
Alireza Firouzja at the 2019 World Rapid. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Shortly before, in early December 2019, Firouzja stopped representing Iran and nowadays plays under the FIDE flag while living in Chartres, France, about 90 km (56 mi) southwest of Paris.

"Everything is good here, in the city we live here in France," Firouzja told Rozman and Rudolf. "It is a very big pandemic going on now so there's not much to do. We are just staying at home."

He does speak a bit of French and interestingly, he is taking French lessons online with a teacher and revealed that he continued to do so during Wijk aan Zee.

Firouzja has been somewhat lucky as it comes to over-the-board chess during the pandemic as he got to play in almost all the top tournaments that did happen: Prague (which he won), Norway Chess (second place), and Tata Steel (shared third). "I have been, I think, the most active player in top chess!" smiled Firouzja.

He added: "It's very hard to find motivation even for working on chess because there are not many tournaments. I was a bit lucky that I got over-the-board tournaments for three months. A lot of people don't even have that."

Alireza Firouzja 2021 Wijk aan Zee
Firouzja, this year in Wijk aan Zee. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Firouzja has been very active online as well, for example in the Magnus Carlsen Tour last year and in many Titled Tuesdays and the Speed Chess Championship here on Chess.com. In many of those events, he got to play the two most successful players of 2020: Carlsen and Nakamura.

"They are two very different players," he commented on that. "Everybody knows that it is harder for me to play against Hikaru in rapid and blitz than Magnus. I have much better results against Magnus. They are very different players with very different styles and they are both very good of course in all the formats. I never played Hikaru in classical but I hope I could play him once and we will see."

Asked why, Firouzja said: "Maybe because Hikaru beat me a lot when I was a kid! That fear is still there."

Everybody knows that it is harder for me to play against Hikaru in rapid and blitz than Magnus [...] Maybe because Hikaru beat me a lot when I was a kid!

As Rozman pointed out, Firouzja is of the new generation of players who meet the absolute top GMs online, sometimes in quite a few games, before playing them over-the-board. Another example is GM Nihal Sarin.

Firouzja only needed one super-tournament to get the full respect of his colleagues at the top, because he came second there: Norway Chess, in October 2020. However, he also said that he doesn't think about these things that much: "I am thinking about improving and have fun."

But however you want to look at it, Firouzja is the biggest upcoming star at the moment, and that comes with some pressure. Or not?

"I don't think it's pressure if you don't make it as pressure," Firouzja said. "The fact that at least I have a shot is a good thing for me, I can try, so it's good. I don't feel the pressure."

Carlsen Firouzja Wijk aan Zee 2021
Firouzja facing Carlsen this year in Wijk aan Zee. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Rozman and Rudolf noted that it was a bit surprising not to see Firouzja playing in the Opera Euro Rapid, not even as a wildcard. Apparently, some forces behind the scenes made that impossible for this event. "We are still talking about some agreement, we are still in negotiations," was all Firouzja could say about it.

It probably means that one of the big players in the chess market might be interested in working closely with the Iranian prodigy. In that light, it makes sense for him to start becoming active on social media as well. As of this week, you can find Firouzja on Twitter and on Instagram, alongside the Twitch channel where he streams with his brother Mohammadreza.

"I understood that social media is also very much needed," said Firouzja. "Somebody like me, I have many fans, so I have to somehow try and reach them and be in touch with them."

It was also on Twitch where Firouzja first gave his reaction on the last-round incident in Wijk aan Zee. Speaking to Rozman and Rudolf, Firouzja repeated his point of view: "There were many reports about what happened. I was a bit angry and everybody saw what happened. The organizer was not right and the fact that they apologized was very good, of course, as I said in my stream. I am happy about the fact that they understood their mistake. That's good, I think."

Firouzja had provided similar comments a few days ago on his Twitch channel.

Tata Steel is one of the most prestigious but also the longest tournament. It runs 16 days in total, and because of the quarantine period, Firouzja and his father came to the Netherlands more than a week before the start. 

As it turns out, he was not a big fan of that and he hopes to see shorter top events in the future: "We were in Wijk aan Zee for one month and it's just crazy. Norway Chess is a very good step in the right direction, I think. They make the time control [shorter] and also [it takes fewer days]. That's very good. I think each top tournament has to be only one week if you want to make it more popular. And the game has to finish after four hours, I think, maximum."

If it was up to Firouzja, more tournaments would be rapid, which is his favorite time control. "I like it a lot. You can't train it, you just have to play it by feeling. I think people who are very good at blitz are also good at rapid."

Besides the second half of the Candidates Tournament, now scheduled for the second half of April, it's unclear when we'll see the next big over-the-board tournament. However, close to the end of the interview, Firouzja (perhaps somewhat prematurely) revealed that the next Norway Chess tournament is happening in May. That probably means that, virus permitting, it's then and there that we'll see him behind the (physical) board again!

More from PeterDoggers
Artemiev Swindles Nakamura To Win Another Titled Tuesday

Artemiev Swindles Nakamura To Win Another Titled Tuesday

Golden Globes For The Queen's Gambit

Golden Globes For The Queen's Gambit