Alireza Firouzja beat Dmitry Andreikin in the closest Round of 16 match so far in the 2023 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship. The final score was just a one-point difference, 13.5-12.5, after the players entered the bullet segment with an even score. It all turned on a chaotic final game, where Firouzja underpromoted to a knight and Andreikin missed a win. Firouzja now plays Wesley So in the Quarterfinals.
Replay the commentary from Daniel Naroditsky and Aman Hambleton.
Firouzja, who recently went toe to toe with Magnus Carlsen in the Julius Baer Generation Cup, was uncontroversially the favorite in this matchup. SmarterChess predicted an 83% chance of victory for Firouzja, with a 17.5-10.5 final score. It also estimated he would win every segment. The community, too, supported the French no. 1, with 89% voting for Firouzja.
Curiously, the blitz head-to-head record was dead even, 22-22 with eight draws. Firouzja had a slight pull in the bullet though.
Andreikin made it into the main event through Qualifier 2 and certainly belongs to the elite circle in the online chess sphere, particularly in Titled Tuesdays. With 14 wins, Andreikin is in second place for most Titled Tuesday wins since February 2022. In first place, with 40 (!), of course, is Hikaru Nakamura.
In this match, Andreikin threw these predictions to the wind and took matters into his own hands. It was a riveting match that either player could have won—all the way to the last game. Let's jump in.
The first segment was firmly in Andreikin's grip from start to finish. Firouzja's tenacity allowed him to save several half points, however, and keep the damage to a minimum.
The first game saw Andreikin employ the Jaenisch/Schliemann Gambit with the black pieces, a choice that was so successful that Firouzja eventually gave up on playing the Ruy Lopez with White. After failing in his fourth attempt to crack it, the young grandmaster later moved on to the Italian Opening, 1.c4, and 1.d4.
The first game ended in a draw, despite Andreikin being a (doubled) pawn up, but he struck gold in game two.
They say there's no luck in chess, but once in a while, a super-GM is capable of blundering a mate in one—even after 45 seconds of thought. Game 2 led to an early lead for Andreikin after a
lucky fortunate turn of events.
Andreikin continued to control the psychological momentum, even with some missed opportunities. After two draws (Andreikin had a much-better-to-winning position for one move in the second), he won another game to take a two-point lead just before the midway break.
In that game, Firouzja missed a dazzling rook "sacrifice" that netted Black a pawn, and although Andreikin technically lost the advantage later he did win later in the time scramble.
Firouzja then won a time scramble where the eval bar swung in both directions like a seesaw, but after a draw, Andreikin won once again. "Andreikin taking the lead in the five-minute [segment] is going to give us a very exciting match," said Hambleton.
His third victory came in the last game and gave him a three-point lead going into the 3+1 portion. This was the moment Firouzja gave up on the Ruy Lopez with White, and instead played an Italian—and lost again.
It was an extremely nervy final game where, just when it looked like there was no hope, Firouzja just kept the game going and going.
The 3+1 portion was a brawl. Out of eight games, just three were drawn. Firouzja brought the match to an even score.
The segment started with two draws, where Andreikin failed to convert a full point in the first. What followed were five decisive games, and Firouzja won four of them. He started playing several different openings with White, while also switching his black openings to King's Indian setups (no more Queen's Gambits) on the black side.
The first win happened in the blink of an eye. After the logical but erroneous 35.h4?, it turned out White had no attack or initiative. Instead, he overreached and found his own queen trapped.
Firouzja won a rook endgame in the next one, which was probably the cleanest victory by either side in the whole match. This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.
It seemed like perhaps a decisive momentum shift was taking place. But Andreikin "stopped the bleeding" with a win of his own. Neither player would go gently into that good night.
Firouzja won the last two decisive games, both ending in checkmate on the board. The first one finished with two queens on the board for White.
Then, just as commentator Naroditsky anticipated the possibility of a blunder in the following game, Andreikin walked into the augured fork.
Firouzja nearly won the final game of the segment too, but Andreikin saved it. A draw with an even match score—off to the bullet!
Naroditsky summed this final portion with a comment he made in the second half: "It feels like Alireza is completely in control, but that can change in one game." Firouzja deservedly won, but his success was always teetering on the edge of disaster.
Andreikin won the first game. Just as the momentum was building in his favor, Naroditsky suggested: "This could end up in checkmate after Nd5." Although the game didn't end in checkmate, the result was the same.
Hambleton said after the game: "Alireza needs to wake up in the bullet portion!"
And wake up he did. Firouzja won the next three games.
With the second win, he took the lead for the first time in the match—in the final 20 minutes of it! Andreikin furiously shook his head after sacrificing the exchange for activity, although the passive approach worked better in this case. He fell apart, sentencing his own knight to death with a self-pin.
The next three games ended in draws and drained plenty of match clock. Firouzja was up by two. But then Andreikin won on demand with the black pieces.
This was it. Two minutes on the match clock. One game. If Andreikin won, he would have reached overtime.
What happened is one of the most absurd endings we've ever seen in the SCC. Firouzja was coasting to a comfortable draw when, in his words after the game, "At some point, I was trying to win!" He walked his own king to a1 and now self-mate ideas were in the air—he pretty much found the one way to potentially lose.
Although Andreikin even achieved a winning position for one move and forked a bishop after that, Firouzja was able to swindle-save the game with a miraculous underpromotion to a knight, leaving the commentators in hysterics.
"What the hell is this game! Oh my god!" said Hambleton, while Naroditsky later exclaimed: "That is just illegally beautiful!"
Firouzja earns $4,557.69 while Andreikin bags $1,442.31 by win percentage.
On his upcoming duel with So, Firouzja answered: "I think it will be a very different match," saying that So is extremely solid while Andreikin is more of an attacker.
When will we see Firouzja next over the board, by the way? At the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss in late October, where the top two finishers will play in the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament.
The next Round of 16 match is Fabiano Caruana vs. Nodirbek Abdusattorov, which starts on Monday, September 11, at 1pm ET / 19:00 CEST / 10:30 p.m. IST.