Alireza Firouzja Last-Minute Replacement In Prague; Coronavirus Forces Wei Yi's Withdrawal
Alireza Firouzja is soon playing his next strong tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Alireza Firouzja Last-Minute Replacement In Prague; Coronavirus Forces Wei Yi's Withdrawal

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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44 | Chess Event Coverage

In another instance of the coronavirus affecting the chess world, Chinese GM Wei Yi had to withdraw from the Prague International Chess Festival, scheduled for next week. He has been replaced by the number one junior player in the world, Alireza Firouzja of Iran.

Yesterday Chess.com reported on the new virus from China affecting the Candidates Tournament preparation of Ding Liren and Wang Hao. Both had to cancel their plans for a training camp. Now, China's number three player is also facing difficulties.

Today the organizers of the Prague International Chess Festival announced that the 20-year-old Wei had to cancel his participation as it was too difficult to travel to the Czech Republic. In their press release, they quoted the Chinese grandmaster, who said he was looking forward to the challenge of playing in Prague:

"But then the sudden coronavirus happened in China, and as the situation became worse and worse, it was impossible to make this journey."

Wei told Chess.com that he and his family are fine. However, traveling outside the country is getting more and more difficult, and the flight he had booked with China Eastern Airlines had been canceled. Many Chinese and non-Chinese airlines have temporarily halted international flights. Also, a journey would certainly involve strong control measures at airports.

The player replacing Wei is the 16-year-old phenom Firouzja. That was not a difficult choice according to the organizers: "In light of [his] results [at the] Tata Steel Chess Tournament in January, and especially at the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship in December, the name of the substitute was obvious. The 16-year-old Iranian #1 Alireza Firouzja joined the 2700-club last August and seems to be settling in."

Alireza Firouza, World Rapid Championship
Alireza Firouzja took second in last year's World Rapid Championship. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Firouzja, who lives in France and has stopped playing under the Iranian flag, sensationally won the silver medal at the World Rapid Championship in Moscow in late December. At the recent Tata Steel Chess tournament, he finished on 50-percent in a strong field.

I learned a lot from those games, and it will be another great opportunity for me to again play some interesting games.

—Alireza Firouzja

"It is a great feeling to play another super-tournament as I played 13 interesting games in Wijk aan Zee," Firouzja told Chess.com. "I learned a lot from those games, and it will be another great opportunity for me to again play some interesting games."

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The festival in Prague will start on February 12. It includes three main groups of 10 players: a Masters, Challengers, and Futures group as well as different groups for amateurs and an open tournament.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Nikita Vitiugov, Alireza Firouzja, Vidit Gujrathi, David Navara, Pentala Harikrishna, David Anton, Sam Shankland, Markus Ragger and Nils Grandelius will play in the Masters.

You can find all major upcoming chess events at Chess.com/calendar.

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