After seven rounds of play at the Grand Swiss, Alireza Firouzja and Lei Tingjie are the sole leaders. Round seven was a day of draws in the Open section and a day of decisive games in the Women’s tournament
The Open event
Naturalised Frenchman Alireza Firouzja is the victor of the seventh round of the Open section at the 2021 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. As the only player among the top ten boards who has secured a victory he is now firmly in first place, half a point ahead of everyone else. Firouzja is followed by a trio on five points: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Krishnan Sasikiran and Alexei Shirov.
Firouzja played on board one against Russian GM Evgeniy Najer. Seeded only 38th, Najer gradually moved up, despite letting winning positions slip to draws in rounds four and six. In the Petrov Defence, Firouzja gained the initiative and transitioned to a better endgame with a free runner on the a-file. However, Black positioned his rook behind the passer and was holding his ground. Alireza made his last attempt and sent his king to the queenside at the cost of the g-pawn. The game saw a dramatic finale on move 50 when Najer prematurely gave up his f-pawn and had to resign a few moves later. By moving his king forward instead Black could have been right on time to create a sufficient counterplay and reach a draw.
Former Indian champion Krishnan Sasikiran drew as White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. In a topical line of the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian, both sides castled on opposite flanks and entered uncharted territory on move 19. After the game, both players said they couldn’t find a way to improve their position so a draw was a logical conclusion. Both are now on five points out of seven games.
Andrey Esipenko, a promising 19-year-old Russian Grandmaster who was knocked out by Magnus Carlsen in the fifth round of the 2021 World Cup, was up against the experienced local Alexei Shirov. In a highly complicated position that arose from the Morphy Defence of the Ruy Lopez, Esipenko got the upper hand but Shirov managed to engineer some counterplay. The critical moment of the game came on move 33: White could have posed much more serious problems with 33.e4-e5. Esipenko grabbed a pawn instead but that gave Shirov a respite that he used to consolidate his position, managing to hold his opponent to a draw.
The highest-ranked player in the Grand Swiss, American Fabiano Caruana was on board four, playing as White against compatriot Samuel Sevian. The opponents tested a sharp line of the Nimzo-Indian in which Black was up to the challenge. Moreover, despite being three pawns up at some point, Fabiano was under pressure and had to find the right answers. Eventually White managed to trade most of the pieces and steer the game into an equal endgame leading to a draw.
The last game to finish on the top ten boards of the open event was between David Navara and one of the young Russian stars Alexei Sarana. The Sicilian was played and both sides went to a seemingly even endgame with a rook and a knight each. White seemed to have a slight advantage and declined Black’s draw offer. After the knights were exchanged, White still had the upper hand, but Black continued to resist. After nearly six and a half hours of play, the two sides agreed to a draw.
One of the leading world players Levon Aronian is not having a good tournament in Riga. In Round Seven, he was defeated as Black by Ukrainian Grandmaster Andrei Volokitin. With just one victory and five draws (four of which were in a row), Aronian is on 3.5/7, and with very slim chances of reaching the top spots.
The Women’s event
Chinese player Lei Tingjie is alone in the lead at the inaugural Women’s Grand Swiss, half a point ahead of everyone else. Elisabeth Paehtz is in second place with 5.5/7, followed by Alexandra Kosteniuk and Alina Kashlinskaya who are on five points.
Lei Tingjie, the only player in the tournament with 5/6, won as Black against Nino Batsiashvili securing that even after Round Seven, she is still alone in the lead. In the Queen’s Gambit Accepted Batsiashvili sacrificed a central pawn but mishandled the opening and got no compensation whatsoever. The rest of the game was a smooth sail for the leader, who forced White’s resignation on move 28. When asked to comment on her good run, Lei Tingjie said: “I just play chess and am relaxed for this tournament”.
Elisabeth Paehtz, in her own words, is “playing the tournament of her life”, as she defeated Natalija Pogonina on board two and has 5.5/7. In the Murphy Defence of the Ruy Lopez, Paehtz gave up a pawn early on to gain the initiative. After exchanges in the centre, White managed to place her knight on c6, disturbing Black’s pieces and ultimately regaining the sacrificed pawn. On move 39 Black missed her last chance for counterplay and ended up in a hopeless position with a rook vs a knight and a bishop.
Former women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk secured a quick victory against Zhu Jiner of China who was half a point up against the Russian before this round. Kosteniuk opened the game with 1.d4, which is not her usual first move. In the Nimzo-Indian Defence, White opted for a very aggressive setup but Black’s reaction was far from best as by move 19 Kosteniuk already got a decisive attack on the kingside which ultimately led to Black’s demise. Kostneniuk is now on 5/7 and in the run for one of the top places.
Top seed Mariya Muzychuk drew her game against Lela Javakhishvili. The Ukrainian obtained a very promising position on the white side of the Modern Defence but made a couple of natural but not optimal moves allowing Javakhishvili to equalize. The opponents agreed on a draw after a threefold repetition on move 25. Both players are now on 4.5/7 and still in the run for the top places.
Poland’s Jolanta Zawadzka, who lost her game against Lei Tingjie in the sixth round, shared a point with Dronavalli Harika of India. In the Four Knights Game, the players quickly transitioned to an equal rook endgame. A draw agreed on move 31 came as a logical outcome.
In the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Alina Kashlinskaya managed to gain some initiative as White against Batkhuyag Munguntuul of Mongolia. With both sides castling on the queenside, White put some pressure on Black’s position and emerged a pawn up. In a rook endgame, full of mutual inaccuracies, the Mongolian was last to err having to throw in the towel on move 60. Kashlinskaya is now on 5/7.
Following a loss in Round Six, second-seeded Nana Dzagnidze made a comeback to the top of the scoreboard after winning against Aleksandra Maltsevskaya. The Georgian now has 4.5 points.
Former women’s world champion Antoaneta Stefanova won her game against the local player Laura Rogule and is now on 4/7.
Round Eight starts at 2 PM on 4th November.
The pairings for the eighth round for the Open event can be found here
The pairings for the eighth round of the Women’s event can be found here
For more information about the tournament, please visit: https://grandswiss.fide.com/
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Article: Milan Dinic
Photo: Mark Livshitz and Anna Shtourman