Alireza Firouzja, the silent candidate at the chessboard

DAlireza Firouzja did not get advance credit. After his World Championship victory in December, Magnus Carlsen had declared that he would probably only muster the motivation for another chess title fight against a representative of the next generation. He was referring to Firouzja, who moved to France from Iran two years ago and played more impressively than any 18-year-old before last October and November. Now six of 14 rounds of the Candidates Tournament are over and the Praised One is bottom of the table.

Mohammadreza Firouzja’s regular seat is at a table in front of the VIP room. On his smartphone, he follows what is written on his brother’s board. He doesn’t want to talk, he avoids looks. After the game, he brushes off reporters and autograph collectors, while the brothers leave the Palacio de Santoña as quickly as possible.

Since Alireza Firouzja sensationally rose to second place in the world rankings, he has been rare. He stopped his Twitch channel and stopped giving interviews. A second is known, Ivan Cheparinov, who used to analyze Topalov for Vesselin. But does the clumsy-looking Schlacks also have a coach? Is he consulting with former world champion Vladimir Kramnik? Is he doing anything for his fitness? You don’t even get to ask him.

“Alireza lacks the experience to compete in a Candidates tournament,” says Judit Polgar, who comments on the competition for the chess24 platform. The strongest player in chess history was particularly surprised by Firouzja’s risky play with the black pieces, which always got him into trouble. When he played against Richárd Rapport on his 19th birthday, things went well again. He eluded Hungary in a draw. Against Jan Nepomnyashchi he got involved in a position that suited the Russian attacking player. When Firouzja thought longer for the first time, he missed the right defense. Four moves later he was already lost.

His defeat in the sixth round was even more painful, as he lost with white. He was able to surprise Fabiano Caruana with an unusual early move from the queen, but instead of playing the right position on the queenside, Firouzja looked for attacking opportunities where none existed. In an attempt to limit the damage, he traded a small but decisive material disadvantage.

Nepomnyashchi leads with 4.5 points

Now a race between his two conquerors is emerging. Nepomnjaschtschi has already won his third victory in the sixth round against the Pole Jan-Krzysztof Duda and leads by 4.5 points. Caruana has half a point less. A little behind follow Rapport and Hikaru Nakamura with three points. The leaders meet on Monday. After her first game ended in a draw, Caruana will have White.

Carlsen joined the chess24 commentary, describing a possible Nepomnyashchi win as a “disaster”. If the Norwegian decides not to defend his title, the world chess federation FIDE wants to hold the next World Championship match between the top two in the Candidates Tournament.

Not only the supposedly ideal opponent Firouzja has been disappointing so far. Ding Liren, who recently replaced him as second in the world rankings, has not found his form in Madrid either. In his case, it’s not the course of the game, it’s the exploitation of chances. He couldn’t win any of three very promising games. Because Spanish restaurants serve lunch so late, he’s been trying to stick it out with fruit and chocolate instead. The 29-year-old Chinese traveled alone, his analysis helpers support him online. Apparently he didn’t want to put anyone else through the 14-day quarantine after his return.



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