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Alireza yet to scale the ultimate height

by Satanick Mukhuty - 23/01/2020

Alireza Firouzja played some very enterprising chess against Fabiano Caruana in the tenth round of Tata Steel Masters. He sacrificed a piece in the opening for a few pawns and then steered the game into unusual complications. But did he actually succeed? Well Caruana, who is widely considered to be the best analyst of the game in the world and whose powers of calculation are by far second to none, gave the young Alireza a valuable lesson. The 16-year-old is enormously talented but when it comes to matching up with the absolute best in the world, he clearly needs to take his game a notch up. In this article we give you an in-depth analysis of how Caruana slowly but surely outplayed the Iranian lad.

Alireza Firouzja has been reckoned as one of the greatest chess talents of the present generation. Ivan Sokolov, a distinguished Grandmaster and the trainer of the Iran National team, has even drawn parallels between him and the five-time World Champion Vishy Anand. The 16-year-old has also not failed to deliver himself. Time and time again he has shown the chess world what stupendous feats he is really capable of achieving. From becoming World no.19 on the FIDE rating list to winning the World Rapid runner-up title in Moscow, the Iranian-born phenom has clearly shown enormous promise. But is he still ready to take on the absolute best? Is he already on the same level as Carlsen or Caruana? Well, chess is a ruthless game and all the more so at the highest level. The recent developments at the Tata Steel Masters 2020 going on in Wijk Aan Zee has proved it beyond doubt that even though Alireza is a prodigious talent he still needs to go a long way in order to establish himself at the most elite level. 

A difficult road still lies ahead of Alireza Firouzja. He is already a great player but can he be one of the greatest? | Photo: Alina l'Ami  

Alireza made an emphatic start in Wijk Aan Zee beating strong players like Anish Giri, Jeffery Xiong, and Vladislav Artemiev but in the last two rounds he really looked out of his depths against Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana - the two topmost players in the world. In this article we critically analyse Alireza's encounter against Caruana and try to understand how exactly the youngster got outplayed by the latter.

Alireza in action against Caruana from the tenth round of Tata Steel Chess | Photo: Alina l'Ami 

A Step by step breakdown of the game


Fabiano Caruana - Alireza Firouzja, Round 10

Fabiano Caruana chose the most aggressive variation of the King's Indian with 9.g4. It has to be said here that Fabi has been especially motivated to win this tournament and doesn't want to let Magnus overtake him. This was also evident from his choice of opening in this game.

The critical moment arrived as early as move 14. White has just played the move 14.g4-g5, what would you play here if you were in Black's shoes?

White's enormous space is already starting to intimidate in the above position but Black has to keep his cool and deal with the situation objectively. The best continuation here would be 14...Nh5 15.f5 Be5 16.Bb5 e6 17.O-O Ng3 18.Rf2


Analysis board

Position after 18.Rf2: Optically White seems to have a huge space advantage but Black is really doing fine. All of Black's pieces are well developed and it is doubtful how effective White's extended pawn center will be in the long run.

But Firouzja was perhaps reluctant to go into such a position. He wanted to release the tension in the situation and took a bold decision to force liquidation by giving up his bishop for three pawns. The game thus followed 15.Nxe4 Bxd5 16.Nf6+ exf6 17.Qxd5 Re8 18.Nc2 fxg5 19.O-O-O gxf4 20.Bd4 - objectively this was equal but practically to play with a piece down against someone like Caruana is not easy.

Position after 20.Bd4 - Notice how things are already very tricky. White couldn't play Bxf4 above because of Qf6. Fabi is of course tactically very sharp!

The problem with Black's position soon became apparent. The pawns on d6 and f4 were weak and if Alireza wanted to support his f5 pawn he had to weaken his kingside. 

White hit at this soft spot right away. By creating more pressure on f4 Black was forced to play g5 and weaken his kingside.

Next it was time to break open the kingside and hence in came h3-h4!

Black's king was forced out in the open. This was nightmarish, more so because White had an extra piece!

Fabi went on to carry out a picturesque king hunt from here where Firouzja's king was chased all around the board. Replay the full game below with detailed annotations:

The finale! | Photo: Alina l'Ami
"I had the feeling that I was on the better side of a complex position" - Listen to Fabi speak of his win after the game | Video: Tata Steel Chess

Fabi maintained his sole lead after this victory but Magnus is just half a point behind him. It will be very interesting to see how the last three rounds of the event pan out.

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