In a few days the chess world will be looking excitedly to Dubai. Norway’s world champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title there for the fourth time from Friday, this time against the Russian Jan Nepomnjaschtschi. But since Sunday evening, the global chess community has not been talking about any of the World Cup opponents, but only about Alireza Firouzja. The native Iranian, who is now on the board for France, set a record that even puts Carlsen in the shade. As the youngest chess player ever, the 18-year-old exceeded the limit of 2800 Elo points. And now the debate has broken out as to whether Firouzja will be the new superstar after Carlsen.
The Elo number indicates the quality of each tournament player. Put simply, it climbs with every victory and falls with every defeat. If you are successful against much stronger players, it increases even faster. Beginners start in the three-digit range. At the top it becomes very thin from 2700 onwards. Only 15 grandmasters have surpassed the 2800 mark since the Elo was introduced by the world association Fide in 1970. Carlsen was the youngest player to date, with Firouzja doing it six months earlier than the Norwegian in 2009. By Sunday, Carlsen was the only player currently above the mark with 2855. Firouzja (2803), who is twelve years younger than him, is now in second place in the world rankings.
Firouzja made the jump with which he overtook seven grandmasters at the European team championships in Slovenia, which he was allowed to play for the first time. Firouzja had competed for his home country Iran until 2019, but was forced not to play a game that he should have played against an Israeli at a youth tournament in Karlsruhe. Iran’s government prohibits participation as the Land of Israel does not recognize it. Firouzja didn’t seem to mind giving up a game as long as he was otherwise left alone.
However, that changed shortly after this incident, because Fide changed its previously yielding policy and threatened Iran’s chess federation with suspension at the end of 2019 if further games were boycotted. Iran then withdrew all players from international tournaments. Firouzja saw his own development endangered and started from then on under a neutral flag. At that time he was already living in France, whose nationality he adopted in July 2021.
Even if it wasn’t for a political motive, this decision was at least worth it for him in terms of sport. Because Firouzja won seven of his nine European Championship games, the other two ended in a draw. Thanks to their new star, the French won EM silver behind the tied Ukrainians. Only the two Americans Bobby Fischer in the Candidates’ tournament in 1971 and Fabiano Caruana in 2014 played mathematically even better than him in a tournament of this level.
“Alireza ignores many common rules. He attacked with pieces that were supposed to protect his own king or let him run around freely on the board, ”analyzed Levy Rozman, international champion from the USA and owner of one of the most successful YouTube chess channels Firouzja’s EM games for an audience of millions. “The computer doesn’t like these steps at first. But two moves later he says: It’s actually really clever. Firouzja is currently in the process of developing chess. “
And so it happens that the thinking sport enthusiasts can hardly wait for the next one before the current World Cup. In any case, Jan Nepomnjaschtschi are hardly given any chances against Magnus Carlsen. Basically, the fans even hope that the Norwegian will defend his throne so that sky striker Firouzja can shake it up in an epic duel next year.