Twenty-year-old French Iranian Grandmaster Alireza Firouzja is a candidate for the World Chess Championship. He qualifies for the tournament as the highest-rated player to have not already qualified. Just a few weeks ago, American GM Wesley So seemed likely to earn the spot. Alireza pulled off the comeback, but he caused some controversy.
First, Alireza organized his own tournament comprised of grandmasters past their prime. Alireza was expected to gain enough rating points to defeat Wesley So by defeating these overrated grandmasters. His tournament was aptly named the “Way to the Candidates.” There was considerable backlash to the event, and the U.S. Chess Federation requested that FIDE not rate the tournament. FIDE’s statement on the tournament implies that they are considering the USCF’s request. However, this decision is a moot point.
In a stunning turn of events, Alireza lost a critical game late in his “Way to the Candidates” Tournament and fell just short of Wesley So’s rating. Alireza dropped out of the World Blitz and Rapid Championship, which had a $1,000,000 prize fund, for an open swiss tournament with a $700 prize fund. In addition to the smaller prize fund, the swiss tournament forced Alireza into games with much lower-rated opponents. He played two games with players rated lower than 2000, and another against a 2200 player. A single draw could have badly hurt Alireza’s rating, but he went 6-0-0 in the tournament, clinching a spot in the Candidates Tournament.