‘I’m just completely collapsing in these games… unbelievable.’ World Champion Magnus Carlsen didn’t hide his anguish after losing a game against Alireza Firouzja, the 16-year-old who went on to defeat him 8.5-7.5 in an online blitz match last week. It was a dream final for the Chess24 website’s ‘Banter Blitz’ knockout tournament. Carlsen is the reigning World Blitz champion in over-the-board play. Firouzja, originally from Iran but now living in France, is an exceptional talent, and a serious candidate to succeed him in the future. He is still inexperienced in elite classical tournaments, and was convincingly beaten by Carlsen at the Tata Steel tournament in January. But in online speed chess, he is already among the world’s best. Just two weeks earlier, Firouzja won an informal bullet match (one-minute chess) against Carlsen by 103.5 to 90.5.
In the ‘Banter Blitz’ event, games are played with three minutes for all moves, and each player streams a running commentary on their moves. (Both recordings, about 90 minutes long, are available online). Carlsen acknowledged from the outset what a tough opponent Firouzja would be, and looked uncharacteristically hesitant and uncomfortable throughout the match. ‘He’s amazingly strong. Full credit,’ said Carlsen when it was all over.
Firouzja, who played under the name ‘FantasticStar’, never looked intimidated by ‘MagzyBogues’ (a neat nod to basketball star ‘Muggsy’ Bogues). The teenager looked patient and poised throughout the match, but demonstrated his notably sharp eye for tactics in this, the first game.
Magnus Carlsen (MagzyBogues)–Alireza Firouzja (FantasticStar)
Chess24 Banter Blitz final, April 2015
1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 O-O 7 e3 h6 8 Bh4 Bf5 9 Qb3 Bxc3+ 10 Qxc3 g5 11 Bg3 Ne4 12 Qa3 Nc6 13 Bb5 Ne7 14 Nd2 c6 15 Bd3 Nxd2 16 Kxd2 Bxd3 17 Qxd3 Qa5+ 18 Ke2 f5 19 Bd6 Rae8 20 g4 Rf6 21 Be5 Ng6! Very neat, as 22 Bxf6 Nf4+ wins the queen. 22 h4 Nxe5 23 dxe5 Rxe5 24 hxg5 hxg5 25 Rh5 Qb4 26 Rxg5+ Kf7 27 b3 (see diagram) Qf4!! Beautifully tricky. The Rg5 is in serious danger, and would be lost after 28 Rxf5 Qxg4+. Instead, there is just one defence, 28 Qc3, which counterattacks the rook on e5, a move which was spotted instantly by Firouzja. After 28…Qxg5 29 Qxe5 Qxg4+ the position remains unclear. 28 Qxf5 A very clever try, but it falls short. After any capture on f5, White keeps material equality, but instead. 28…Qxg5! and White is just a rook down. 29 Qxg5 Rxg5 30 Rg1 Rg8 31 f4 Re6 32 Kd3 Rge8 33 Rg3 Re4 34 Rh3 Kg7 35 g5 d4 36 exd4 Rxf4 A rook to the good, Black won thirty moves later.
Chess24 will also host the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the most prestigious tournament ever held online, with a $250,000 prize fund. The event runs from 18 April to 3 May, with games played at a rapid time limit of 15 minutes plus ten added seconds per move. Firouzja’s inclusion in the lineup, alongside Carlsen, Nakamura, Giri, Ding, Nepomniachtchi, Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana, is a mark of respect from the champion.
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