Alireza Firouzja won the Iranian Championship as a 12-year-old in 2016, though when he claimed the grandmaster title at the age of 14 years, 8 months and 2 days that was unspectacular compared to some of his contemporaries. A year later, though, and it had become clear that he had the potential to be a very special player. He was the second fastest player ever to reach a 2700 rating, and subsequent events suggest he may be on the trajectory of a Vladimir Kramnik or Magnus Carlsen, who both reached the world no. 1 spot in their teens, rather than Wei Yi, who was the fastest ever to 2700 but then hit a plateau.
Firouzja appears to be equally strong at all time controls and, despite being the 169th seed, he finished 6th in the 2018 World Rapid Championship. His participation in the 2019 event was in doubt when Iran decided not to send their players, but Firouzja and his father took the decision to leave Iran for France, with Alireza switching to playing under the FIDE flag. That decision had no doubt already been considered when Alireza was forced to forfeit a game in the GRENKE Chess Open earlier in the year rather than play an Israeli and face sanctions at home.
Firouzja made the personal drama count as he went on to take a silver medal in the 2019 World Rapid Championship and then finish just short in the blitz after dramatically losing a won position against Magnus Carlsen on time.
The 2020 Tata Steel Masters that followed was a first supertournament test for Firouzja and one he passed with flying colours. Magnus hadn’t won a game in his Wijk aan Zee top tournament debut as a 16-year-old, but Alireza raced to 4 wins in his first 7 games, giving him the sole lead. He then lost consecutive games to Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand to drop back to 50%, but he’d only enhanced his reputation.
He didn’t need to wait long to win his first major tournament, since he got the chance to play the Prague Masters as a late replacement for Wei Yi. Vidit seemed destined to take first place, but a complete collapse on the last two days allowed Alireza to win the title in a playoff.
An absolutely thrilling victory in the chess24 Banter Blitz Cup over Magnus Carlsen once again suggested Firouzja’s potential, but when chess moved online because of the pandemic Alireza was surprisingly quiet. He memorably beat Magnus again in an individual game in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational but otherwise didn’t set the world on fire online.
Nevertheless, when over-the-board chess returned for Altibox Norway Chess Alireza got back down to business – picking up another 20 rating points as he finished in 2nd place, matching Carlsen’s score in classical chess despite losing a drawn endgame to the World Champion. It’s going to be fascinating to watch where Alireza goes from here.