Alireza Firouzja: The new chess star who denied Iran | Chess News

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Alireza Firouzja, last September at the Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger (Norway).
Alireza Firouzja, last September at the Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger (Norway).Lennart Ootes/Norway Chess

His game and results at 18 years old are similar to those of the current champion, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, at the same age (he dominates the Dubai World Cup by 6.5-3.5 against the Russian Ian Niepómniashi with four games to go ; this Friday the 11th is played). And they encourage labeling him a genius, with capital letters. Alireza Firouzja, second in the world since last day 1, a French national, reflects the sporting consequences of the Iranian theocracy: chess was banned after the 1979 revolution; then highly encouraged, with great production of talents; but they are forced to lose by default if they have to face an Israeli. Firouzja got fed up and denied his country, in 2019.

“My goal is to be a world champion. I don’t set a date to be a candidate; It will depend on the speed at which you progress, ”Firouzja told EL PAÍS in the Siberian city of Janti Mansiisk (Russia) in September 2019. He was 16 years old, he had been surprising since he was 12 and his games produced a very special feeling, almost only. Chess is, along with music and mathematics, the activity that produces the most child prodigies. But this was not one more: he remembered the greatest geniuses of the 20th century: the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca (champion from 1921 to 1927), the American Bobby Fischer (1972-1975), and the Soviets Anatoli Kárpov (1975-1985) and Gari Kasparov (1985-2000); as well as Carlsen (current champion since 2013), whose progression curve from 12 years to 18 was very similar to that of the Persian.

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Firouzja once again astonished three weeks ago in Catez (Slovenia), where his formidable performance gave the silver medal of the European of Nations to France in his debut with that team. And he jumped to second place on the world list. It is true that he still shows gaps in some facets of the game (openings, very technical endings, time management) that other members of the elite do not have, but it is also true that in recent months he has improved a lot in these three areas.

To be a candidate for the throne in early 2023, he will have to overcome a very tough obstacle: winning the Candidates Tournament in mid-2022 (perhaps in Madrid, if a candidacy is confirmed in the next few hours, the details of which have not yet been revealed). Although good sense invites us to place him as a challenger rather in 2025, even Carlsen sees him already for 2023: “Just look at his numbers and his trajectory. But I have also already played many games against him, especially fast ones, but also at the classic pace, and I can attest that his talent is immense. If he continues to climb at the same rate, it is clear that my situation will no longer be as comfortable as it is now, “he told this newspaper on the 24th. A few days later, the best player in history, the Hungarian Judit Polgar, spoke in the same line: “Alireza reminds me of Magnus at the same age. We all see that it still has gaps, but with them it already ranks second in the world, which indicates its gigantic potential ”.

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Firouzja and Carlsen greet each other at the start of their game last September, in Stavanger (Norway).
Firouzja and Carlsen greet each other at the start of their game last September, in Stavanger (Norway).LennNorway Chess

One wonders if he would not have gotten so high even faster had he had a quiet life and a well-planned training with a world-class coach. No one has seen him travel with a coach, only with his father. It gives the impression that he is almost self-taught – although it is known that he has worked with a grandmaster sporadically – and that he has invested a lot of time, perhaps too much, in playing online in the blitz or bullet mode (one minute for the whole game), where his talent dazzles even more than in slow games.

Grandmaster Bachar Kouatly, former president of the French Chess Federation, who helped him in the most critical moments of his life so far, points out: “Thanks to the internet, Alireza has already played more games in 18 years of life than the sum of all the world champions in history throughout their lives. That is why it is foreseeable that the world champions will be younger and younger ”.

Kouatly, today deputy president of the International Federation (FIDE), also gives clues about the help Firouzja may be receiving now, after a year and a half of some paralysis: “The French Federation cannot help him financially. But he does have the patronage of some private entities. In addition, he lives in Chartres, where chess is highly supported by the City Council, and in whose team are two very illustrious veteran grandmasters, the Ukrainian Vasili Ivanchuk and the American Gata Kamsky ”.

Firouzja symbolizes very well the enormous contradictions of Iran. Almost two thirds of its 83 million inhabitants are under 30 years of age, with a low mortality rate and a very high culture (in proportion to other Muslim countries), but with a radical and theocratic government. Imam Khomeini banned chess after the 1979 Revolution, clinging to the most radical interpretations of the Koran (in the Middle Ages, chess was a gambling game and was sometimes played with dice; these Koranic schools forbid gambling and gambling ). But various intellectuals convinced him to rectify a few years before he died, in 1989.

Since then, The Iranian Chess Federation has done an exemplary job. The result of this is not just Firouzja: there are at least half a dozen other young Iranians of great talent, although not as gigantic as the now French. When Firouzja began to shine internationally, he could not avoid the bitter drink that Iran and other radical countries force their elite athletes to do: lose by default if they face an Israeli. It happened to him a couple of times, and he soon made his opinion on it clear, without expressing it verbally, but doing something scandalous at the Karlsruhe (Germany) tournament in 2019: the day after his defeat without playing against an Israeli, Firouzja committed a supposed beginner’s mistake to lose to a rival of a much lower category, the German Antonia Ziegenfuss.

At the end of that year came the straw that broke the glass of his patience, at the Sunway tournament in Sitges (Barcelona). Two other young Iranian stars, Parham Maghsoodloo and Amin Tabatabaei, 18 at the time, faced (and beat) Israeli Ido Gorshtein, 17, during a nightly blitzkrieg tournament (five minutes per player). , but a simple oversight: in these types of tournaments, the rounds follow one another at high speed; On that specific day, and due to the failure of a printer, which caused a loss of time, the referees decided that it should be played without flags to recover it, and some participants did not find out the nationality of their opponent on duty. The reaction of the Iranian government was strong: on their return to Tehran, Maghsoodloo and Tabatabaei were extensively interrogated by the police in a secret location. And although it was clear that it had been a mistake, Iran withdrew all its players registered in the imminent World Cup of rapid games in Moscow.

Firouzja said enough, he escaped from Iran to France with his family, played that World Cup with the flag of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and achieved the silver medal, only surpassed by Carlsen. In his conversation with EL PAÍS three months earlier, he answered the question of what his schedule was on a normal day, at home: “Breakfast, chess, chess, chess; lunch, chess, chess, chess; I have dinner and go to sleep ”. Although he clarified that he takes great care of his physical preparation, swimming, and that this also helps him maintain psychological stability. “In addition, always looking for the best movement in each position, without thinking about the results, also contributes a lot to my nervous system remaining stable.” And there is no indication that his lifestyle has changed the least in the past two years.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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