2022 Candidates: Birthday Gift for Alireza Firouzja on Nakamura's Resurrection Day

Chess is a very tough sport.

2022 Candidates: Birthday Gift for Alireza Firouzja on Nakamura's Resurrection Day

Chess is a very tough sport. You don't just have to be "willing to kill", as Nigel Short said. A loss is especially painful because it is not easy to blame anyone, but sometimes it is almost more difficult to bear the disappointment of having a game won and to lose it. Richard Rapport appeared before the press half sunk by the tie, which is not a bad result, and even joked about his gift to his rival. The Frenchman of Iranian origin Alireza Firouzja turned 19 this Saturday. He held out for six hours and went off to celebrate. He had a double motive.

The most curious thing about the duel between the two young stars is that they both know what it is like to change countries.

Firouzja left Iran and lives in France with his family, which has also been brought to Madrid. Rapport's path is less common: a few days ago it became known that he is leaving Hungary to defend the Romanian flag. His federation, something else unusual, is reluctant to lose the star, which is why he is still listed as Hungarian.

In the game between the two, Rapport seemed on the verge of winning time and time again, and each time there was a plot twist that once again evened the scales, to the shock or delight of what a friend calls "hairline worshipers." It refers to those fans who, spoiled by computers, do not trust their judgment (it is not an error in itself) and blindly believe what the computers say, which indicates with a bar next to the board which side is better, but not why. Machines calculate like beasts, but they aren't as good at predicting the mistakes of human players.

Fortunately, chess is so complex at times that the best experts, aided by their computer programs, did not quite understand either this game or the other, even longer, marathon of the day between Hikaru Nakamura and Teimour Radjabov.

The American, since he was in our country, chose the Spanish opening to recover lost ground. The Azerbaijani, meanwhile, got into trouble first and then showed that he has admirable cool-headedness and resilience. His departure lasted six and a half hours. With black and a pawn down, he gave his life to prevent the comeback of the American, who at some point seemed to lose the opportunity to join the platoon.

Chess is also a curious game. The most dangerous doping is electronic and, in fact, the players undergo an exhaustive control before each game. A scanner checks that the grandmasters do not carry transmitters or electronic devices. In addition, another thermal analysis is made, capable of discovering, for example, the remote possibility that someone blows their moves thanks to a tiny earphone embedded in the ear. Iosu Mena, main referee of the Candidates tournament that has been played in Madrid since Friday, believes that it is an almost formal act, given that no player of this level would risk such a deception.

As if that were not enough, the winner of each game is passed the detector again, just in case, to which must be added the random urine tests that are carried out in search of substances more typical of other sports. To finish off the job, Dr. María Rubio Yuste is in charge of controlling the temperature of the chess players. Her first fear, before the start of the competition, was that the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi and the Chinese Ding Liren would not arrive in Spain, since the Sputnik vaccine is not recognized in all countries and some customs controls could be problematic.

As chance would have it, the two winners of the first day, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana, faced each other this Saturday. Whoever won would run away from the rest. The Russian played white, but the Italian-American, who has come to one of the cities where he grew up willing to do anything, played very aggressively and got an advantage. He first decided to risk it with a debatable novelty prepared in the laboratory: «I was on the verge of defeat. It's a big gamble, but I was counting on the wow factor," Caruana declared after the game.

Then, at the decisive moment and with very few minutes on his clock, he had the opportunity to make a material sacrifice (a rook for a bishop), but at the last moment his hand shook. David Martínez (commentator on Chess24), considered it a complete “disappointment”, but nothing was clear.

What did the lines say in this case? They didn't dislike risk, but they didn't consider the line to be definitive either, and they don't understand us, among other things because they have no fear or heart. Perhaps if 'Fabi' had been allowed to wear an earpiece... In the end, a draw was signed between the two leaders. The worst thing is that theirs was the fourth consecutive tie in the competition, after the first two games of the Candidates ended on Friday with a decisive result.

Shortly before, the Chinese grandmaster Ding Liren – the only one who has come to Spain without a team, something really unusual in elite chess – had some trouble against the Polish Jan-Krzysztof Duda. He did not finish throwing himself at the neck of his enemy, who breathed a sigh of relief when the tables were signed.

The greatest peculiarity of the tournament, it should be repeated for the less experienced, is that only first place counts. Whoever wins will have the right to play in the World Cup final. The rest will receive their check and go home.

In any case, in the first two rounds it has been seen that the mood of the players is creative. No game has been boring and even when they have the black pieces, the grandmasters do not blatantly play to win. The same spirit can be seen in the organizers. After some controversy in the first round, in the second they enabled a space for the players to respond to the journalists, beyond the official interview with the sponsor portal.