Alireza Firouzja and Lei Tingjie both scored victories in the eighth round of the Grand Swiss, as they continue to lead alone
Tournament leader Alireza Firouzja won as White against Krishnan Sasikiran on the first board of the Open event, securing that he alone is at the top before Round Nine, a full point ahead of the rest.
In the Italian Game, the opponents followed the footsteps of Nepomniachtchi - Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave - Swiercz games (White won in both), but on the move 13 the Indian GM Sasikiran introduced a novelty of questionable quality (13...f5?). Black sacrificed an exchange pinning his hopes on some counterplay on the kingside, but Firouzja responded coolly by trading his queen for a rook and two lighter pieces and obtained an overwhelming advantage. Black’s desperate attempts to fight back were thwarted with relative ease, and the leader comfortably scored a full point.
In an interview following the game, Firouzja said that he feels very comfortable with his performance and that, apart from himself, he would like to see Maxime Vachier-Lagrave take the second spot at the Grand Swiss and qualify for the Candidates.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played on board two against Alexei Shirov, who is having a very good tournament in his native city. One of Shirov’s pet lines was played - the Morphy Defence of the Ruy Lopez. White sacrificed a pawn and got sufficient compensation, but Black returned the gift a few moves later, simplifying the position. The game quickly transpired into an endgame in which Shirov was perfectly solid. After 48 moves, the opponents agreed to a draw. Both players are now on 5.5/8 and with solid chances for the two top places.
There were as many as 28 players in the Open event who started Round Eight with 4.5 points.
Swedish Grandmaster Nils Grandelius was up against top-seed Fabiano Caruana. In the Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian, White achieved a slight edge but tried to avoid any complications, steering the game towards a calmer endgame. However, Caruana managed to gradually realign his pieces and advance his kingside pawns to keep the position playable. Ultimately, Caruana broke through on the queenside and, after more than six hours of play, pulled off a very important victory. The American is now sharing second place, with 5.5 points.
Nikita Vitiugov notched up a smooth win against Pavel Ponkratov. In a rare line of the English Opening played by Pavel a couple of times before, Vitiugov achieved a strategically better position with a strong pawn on d5 and gradually exerted pressure on his opponent. Facing numerous problems, Black blundered a piece and had to resign. Vitiugov is now on 5.5/7 and is in a solid position ahead of the final three rounds.
Grigoriy Oparin (pictured below), Anton Korobov, Samuel Sevian, David Anton Guijarro, Alexandr Predke and David Howell are also among the players who started the round with 4.5 points and scored a victory.
Evgeniy Najer, who had a good start to the tournament but lost to Firouzja in the previous round, drew with Pentala Harikrishna, and both are now on five points.
Things continued to go downhill for the world’s fourth top-rated player. Following a loss in Round 7, Levon Aronian drew his game against Mustafa Yilmaz. From early on, Aronian achieved a more comfortable position in the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian. White developed and secured a castle on the queenside, while Black had an exposed king in the centre. Combine that with a significant difference in clock times in favour of White, it looked like Aronian had everything going for him. However, following a pawn sacrifice with the ambition to organise an attack on Black, White made a severe mistake with 23.Qg3. This gave Black an opportunity to exchange his queen for a rook and two lighter pieces, turning the tables and making the position difficult for White. After this slip, Levon had to work hard but, eventually, he secured a draw. Aronian is now on only 50% (4/8).
Among the world heavyweights, Peter Svidler made his seventh draw in the tournament. With one loss and no victories, Svidler is just on 3.5 points out of eight.
Chinese player Lei Tingjie continues her great performance at the inaugural Grand Swiss, having secured another victory in Round 8. She now has 7/8. Lei is followed by Elisabeth Paehtz with six points, while Alexandra Kosteniuk and Natalija Pogonina share 3-4th place with 5.5/8.
Lei Tingjie, who was leading everyone by half a point before Round Eight, won as White against Alina Kashlinskaya. In the Exchange Variation of the French, White made the best of the opponent’s inaccuracy to transpose into a better endgame. Black had some drawing chances, but after another mistake (22...Re8?) White won a pawn and quickly converted her advantage. With this victory, Lei Tingjie extended her lead over other players - with 7/8 she is a full point ahead of everyone else in Round Nine.
Elisabeth Paehtz (who started the round in second place, with 5/7) drew her game on board two with the former women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (who had five points before this round). In the Morphy Defence of the Ruy Lopez, the position was mostly even. White tried to organise an attack on the black king’s castle, but Kosteniuk’s defences were solid. A draw was agreed on move 25, following repetition.
On board three, Zhu Jiner played against former women’s world champion, Mariya Muzychuk. In the Sveshnikov Variant of the Sicilian, Black sacrificed an exchange on move 23 and got sufficient compensation in the form of a pair of bishops and an attack on White’s king that stuck in the centre. Jiner came up with the right idea of returning an exchange to relieve the pressure, but her execution was simply bad. Black had a great chance to punish White, but luckily for Zhu, Muzychuk returned the favour, and when the dust settled, an even endgame emerged on the board, in which the two sides agreed to a draw.
Natalija Pogonina won her game against Jolanta Zawadzka in the Closed variation of the Catalan. Black was holding her ground throughout the game, but a couple of mistakes in the endgame cost her dearly as White ultimately forced Zawadzka into a zugzwang.
Other games of players on 4.5 points - Lela Javakhishvili vs Nana Dzagnidze, Dronavalli Harika vs Olga Badelka and Bibisara Assaubayeva vs Nino Batsiashvili - all ended with a draw.
Peruvian GM Deysi T. Cori - who started the tournament with three defeats - won her game against Polina Shuvalova and is now on five points. In the King’s Indian Defence, Shuvalova found herself in a tough position, but on the move 15, Cori let her guard down and allowed Black to get off the hook. Regrettably for Polina, after she missed her chance (15...Qxa3) Deysi swept to the victory.
Round 9 starts at 2 PM on the 5th of November.
The pairings for the ninth round for the Open event can be found here:
The pairings for the ninth 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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Text: Milan Dinic
Photo: Mark Livshitz and Anna Shtourman