Firouzja Wins FIDE Grand Swiss, Reaches Candidates With Caruana
The prize winners and officials at the closing ceremony. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja Wins FIDE Grand Swiss, Reaches Candidates With Caruana

| 98 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Alireza Firouzja won the FIDE Grand Swiss on Sunday in Riga. The French-Iranian grandmaster was the only player to finish on 8/11 after all the key games ended in draws in the final round. Firouzja qualified for the 2022 FIDE Candidates together with GM Fabiano Caruana, who came second.

GM Grigoriy Oparin, GM Yu Yangyi, GM Vincent Keymer, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Alexandr Predke, and GM Alexei Shirov qualified for the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix for finishing in third through eighth places.

GM Lei Tingjie, who had already secured victory in the women's section with a round to spare, drew her game to finish on 9/11. WGM Zhu Jiner and IM Elisabeth Paehtz shared second place, and the latter scored a GM norm.

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

The long tournament, successfully held in Riga during a lockdown in Latvia, came to an end on Sunday. FIDE took some risk with not canceling the event, and all is well that ends well. On the final day, some of the suspense lingered on for many hours, especially related to the second Candidates spot, but when the top 13 boards all ended in draws, everything was clear.

For the Oparin-Firouzja game on board one, we knew that at least one of the two players would qualify for those Candidates and that Firouzja needed only a draw. That result was also likely to happen, taking into account that Oparin probably wanted to secure his spot in the FIDE Grand Prix, for which six players would qualify. A fairly quiet Anti-Berlin finished after 28 moves.

"It's a very tricky situation," said Firouzja. "For me, luckily a draw was 100 percent qualifying so I had this in mind. In general, I think the most important game of the tournament was yesterday. Today I was pretty confident, and he was also not going all-in because of the Grand Prix qualification, I guess."

Oparin Firouzja Riga 2021
Oparin vs. Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

By that point, Caruana could still catch Firouzja in first place, but the draw meant that Firouzja was certain of his participation in next year's Candidates. At 18, he's not the youngest-ever world championship candidate (GM Bobby Fischer was only 15 when he reached that feat in 1958) but if he wins, he will be the youngest player ever to play a world title match.

See if you can find the moves from the best games of one of the most exciting grandmasters in the world. Start playing like Firouzja today!

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"It feels great," Firouzja started his interview after his tournament was over. "It was a very long tournament. When I came here, I thought my chances were very low because the players are very experienced here, and I didn't see myself as a big contender. OK, rating-wise I was a contender, but in general these tournaments are very tricky, and I'm happy that it ended very well."

I didn't see myself as a big contender.
—Alireza Firouzja

Firouzja gave a lovely answer to the question of what he would say to beginners who want to take up the game: "Chess for me is always a game I can never quit, I believe. When you learn chess, it's finished. I think you should go all the way and even if you're not a professional, every day you will think about chess. It is a very nice game and it's very good for mental health; everything is great."

As it turns out, he doesn't have a favorite player: "I try to learn from all 16 world champions. They're all great. But in general, for me, there's no difference."

Chess for me is always a game I can never quit.
—Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja
Alireza Firouzja: "I try to learn from all 16 world champions." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The next key game to finish was Yu vs. Vachier-Lagrave, one of the most interesting ones of the final round. In a sharp Najdorf with opposite casting, the Chinese player had his opponent under severe pressure but then missed an amazing tactic (the point behind 29...Qf4—see annotations) with which MVL could suddenly solve all his problems.

Yu Yangyi Vachier-Lagrave Riga 2021
With a nice tactic Vachier-Lagrave could equalize vs. Yu Yangyi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Not long after, Caruana also drew his game with Predke, and that result likely gained him the second Candidates spot, but it wasn't 100 percent clear yet due to the first tiebreak (technically called Buchholz Cut 1) for which the results of games still underway were relevant.

That Yu-MVL had ended in a draw was definitely good news for Caruana. "I thought the most dangerous game was Maxime against Yu Yangyi, and I was very worried for both of them at some point. I was hoping for a draw!" Caruana said. "Maxime's position looked extremely suspicious and then near the end, I already thought Yu Yangyi's position was very dangerous."

Fabiano Caruana interview
Fabiano Caruana got what he came for: a spot in the next Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

His own game was a closed Ruy Lopez where Predke simply played a fine game. "I didn't feel I had so many chances; probably I was even slightly worse at some point," said Caruana. "He was super well-prepared, this whole line…. I kind of knew it was possible, but I didn't know the details.

"After 21...Nd4 I didn't really know what to do. It's super sharp. I thought 22.Bb2 was interesting, but then this Qb4-Qd2 was a nice maneuver and after that, I'm certainly not any better. I was kind of worried that I might come under pressure because he has a passed a-pawn which is very dangerous. But I never felt I was in real danger at least."

Alexandr Predke chess
Alexandr Predke played an excellent game vs. Caruana. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"It was a tough tournament. It was really tough—both the length of the tournament and the length of the games," said Caruana. "I kind of felt exhausted after I beat Firouzja. I just had no energy left. So I was also happy that I could draw Maxime because my energy level is pretty much at zero now!"

Next for Caruana, like for many participants (but sadly not Firouzja), is the Lindores Abbey blitz tournament tomorrow in the same playing hall (see below for more info). After that, Caruana will head back home and then to Salt Lake City where he'll join's world championship commentary from our new Utah studio.

It will be nice to see Shirov in the FIDE Grand Prix. The 49-year-old finished high enough in the final standings after a remarkable draw in the final round: his opponent GM Gabriel Sargissian, apparently happy with a draw, copied another game of Shirov's from a month ago played in the Spanish league from start to finish (and the same sequence is known from at least 30 more games in the database).

"White has some opportunities to try for a win in those lines but always, if he really tries, it involves some risks," said Shirov. "My opponent went for a, I would say, safe continuation if you can say this about a continuation that involves the sacrifice of two rooks but it was clear that my opponent did not mind to make a draw in this game, and normally when you're Black, you don't mind it either."

Sargissian Shirov Riga 2021
Sargissian and Shirov didn't play a single new move. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Afterward, Shirov expressed his disappointment about the lack of information about the situation with the FIDE Grand Prix qualification. "I only learned yesterday shortly before the pairings," he said. "That says something about FIDE communication. All those rounds I think: I only have chances to be in the top two, which I thought was a bit unrealistic, or I simply want to have a good performance. So I thought, I am only playing for one of those two things. And about the FIDE Grand Prix, yesterday during dinner my teammate David Anton told me this, and he himself only learned this maybe two days before. So this is FIDE communication."

We finish the coverage with the following, nerve-wracking game by two players who could have reached seven points as well if one of them had won, but it looks like the tiebreak would not have given either of them a spot in the Grand Prix. According to our GM annotator, it's the Game of the Year so don't miss it: 

Sjugirov Vitiugov Riga 2021
Sjugirov vs. Vitiugov, the game of the year? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Final Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 3 GM Firouzja, Alireza 2770 8 68 72 50.25
2 1 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2800 7.5 67 72.5 49.75
3 39 GM Oparin, Grigoriy 2654 7.5 63.5 68.5 45.75
4 11 GM Yu Yangyi 2704 7 66.5 72 44.5
5 65 GM Keymer, Vincent 2630 7 65.5 70 43.25
6 4 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2763 7 65 70 43.5
7 26 GM Predke, Alexandr 2666 7 64.5 70 42.25
8 32 GM Shirov, Alexei 2659 7 64.5 68.5 41.5
9 34 GM Howell, David 2658 7 62.5 66.5 40.25
10 27 GM Sargissian, Gabriel 2664 7 61.5 65.5 40.5
11 33 GM Anton Guijarro, David 2658 7 61 65 39.25
12 20 GM Korobov, Anton 2690 7 60.5 66 41.5
13 40 GM Sevian, Samuel 2654 7 60.5 64.5 39.75
14 6 GM Esipenko, Andrey 2720 7 60 64.5 40
15 50 GM Deac, Bogdan-Daniel 2643 7 60 63 39.25
16 14 GM Artemiev, Vladislav 2699 7 56.5 61.5 39
17 89 GM Petrosyan, Manuel 2605 6.5 66.5 70.5 40.75
18 41 GM Nihal, Sarin 2652 6.5 64 68 38.75
19 8 GM Dubov, Daniil 2714 6.5 61.5 66 37.5
20 72 GM Kuzubov, Yuriy 2624 6.5 61.5 65 36.5

(Full standings here.)

With Lei securing her victory on Saturday, the biggest story of the day was Paehtz reaching her third GM norm. She had earlier norms from 2011 and 2016, which still need to be checked before it's certain that she will meet the requirements for the GM title. has learned that there might be an issue with one of the norms, so perhaps the cheering for Paehtz was premature, but let's hope not.

If she does get the title, Paehtz will be only the 40th female player in history to achieve this (and all happen to be still alive). She had missed her chances for a norm in rounds nine and 10, but on Sunday she pulled it off with a win against IM Bibisara Assaubayeva.

"Of course, when I lost to Mariya [Muzychuk], I became a little bit insecure or shaky because OK, it was in a way a crucial game because a draw would have secured me the norm. But actually, my main aim here was not to score any norms but to qualify for the Grand Prix. This was basically the top priority," said Paehtz.

"A game like today means everything. If you win, you score the tournament of your life. If you lose, you want to basically die somewhere alone in your room. If it would be a draw, it would be more or less neutral, but I mean, sometimes to have a single game which actually changes from happiness into sadness in such a drastic way is actually quite nerve-taking."

Paehtz Assaubayeva Riga 2021
Paehtz vs. Assaubayeva. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Besides the blitz event on Monday, many players, including Firouzja and Paehtz, will be heading to Brezice, Slovenia, where the European Team Championship (Open | Women) will start in just a few days.

Women Final Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo FED Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 7 GM Lei Tingjie 2505 9 64.5 70 56
2 12 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 2475 7.5 69.5 74.5 49.5
3 15 WGM Zhu Jiner 2455 7.5 67.5 71.5 46.75
4 1 GM Muzychuk, Mariya 2536 7 69 74 46.5
5 4 GM Harika, Dronavalli 2511 7 64.5 68.5 42.25
6 18 IM Javakhishvili, Lela 2446 7 64.5 68.5 41
7 20 IM Badelka, Olga 2438 7 61 63 37.25
8 3 GM Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2518 6.5 68.5 72.5 41
9 13 WGM Pogonina, Natalija 2467 6.5 66 70.5 39.5
10 34 IM Assaubayeva, Bibisara 2400 6.5 62.5 68 39
11 22 WGM Zawadzka, Jolanta 2428 6.5 61 65 35.25
12 37 WGM Cori, Deysi 2382 6.5 58 58.5 30.5
13 21 IM Munguntuul, Batkhuyag 2433 6.5 57 61 33.75
14 46 WIM Vantika, Agrawal 2322 6.5 56.5 60.5 33.25
15 27 GM Girya, Olga 2410 6.5 55.5 60 34.5
16 17 GM Cramling, Pia 2447 6.5 53 55.5 32.25
17 10 GM Batsiashvili, Nino 2484 6 68.5 74 37.75
18 2 GM Dzagnidze, Nana 2524 6 68.5 73.5 38.75
19 8 IM Kashlinskaya, Alina 2493 6 62.5 66.5 31.5
20 5 IM Shuvalova, Polina 2509 6 58.5 63 30.25

(Full standings here.)

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

Mikhail Tal Memorial: Lindores Abbey Blitz at 2 a.m. Pacific / 11:00 CET
Many of the Grand Swiss participants will also be participating in the Lindores Abbey Blitz, a nine-round blitz tournament on November 8, a day after the Grand Swiss finishes and a day before the anniversary of Mikhail Tal's 85th birthday. You can follow the games and live broadcast live here. Don't miss it! 
Mikhail Tal Memorial Lindores Abbey Blitz

The FIDE Grand Swiss and Women's Grand Swiss took place October 27-November 7, 2021 in Riga, Latvia. The format was an 11-round Swiss. The top two finishers in the open (Firouzja and Caruana) and the winner among the women (Lei Tingjie) qualified for their respective 2022 Candidates tournaments.

Lei Tingjie Riga Grand Swiss
Lei Tingjie with her prize, with Arkady Dvorkovich (left) and Bachar Kouatly. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Fabiano Caruana second place Riga 2021
Fabiano Caruana, second place in Riga. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Alireza Firouzja wins FIDE Grand Swiss
And the winner is... Alireza Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Earlier reports:

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