Chess: candidates for Carlsen’s crown stumble as teens surge

Last week’s $350,000 Bucharest Classic was the opening round of the seventh annual Grand Tour conceived by FT reader Rex Sinquefield, whose climax is the Sinquefield Cup at St Louis in September. It was also a warm-up for four of the pretenders for Magnus Carlsen’s world crown, who will face off at the eight-man Candidates in Madrid next month.

Wesley So, the US world No5, led most of the way in Bucharest until France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat him in a speed tiebreak. Significant features were the unusually high error count for such an elite contest and the fact that all four candidates finished in the bottom half.

Alireza Firouzja, the 18-year-old who left his native Iran for France and was the winter favourite for Madrid, was especially disappointing. The teen had played no classical chess for five months, and was thought to be in seclusion honing his opening specialities, but he conceded six draws and two defeats in nine rounds.

Perhaps Firouzja will up his game for Madrid, but time is short with the first round there now only three weeks away. It now looks as if China’s world No2 Ding Liren, whose career has been disrupted by Covid and visa problems, will be the player to beat in Spain. Ding did well in recent training games, including the precisely calculated finish in this week’s puzzle.

In contrast to the troubles of Firouzja and the elite, the rest of the teenage generation have turned in some impressive performances. Rising talents such as Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Dommaraju Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi of India, Vincent Keymer of Germany, and Hans Niemann of the US, are already in or close to the world top 100 and are surging upwards. By 2025, some or all of them could be playing in the Candidates.

Puzzle 2470

Ding Liren v Xu Xiangyu, Hangzhou 2022. White to move and win. A tricky puzzle with pieces scattered round the board, but the world No2 found both the winner and the follow-up which led to capture of Black’s queen.

Click here for solution


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