On Tuesday, Alireza Firouzja of Iran plays Sam Sevian of the U.S in the first match of the quarterfinals of the Chess.com Junior Speed Chess Championship, sponsored by ChessKid.
Tuesday’s match will determine who will face the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal match between Wei Yi and Jorden van Foreest, who are coming off round-of-16 wins against the Indian grandmaster Praggnanandhaa and the Norwegian GM Aryan Tari, respectively.
You can watch Alireza Firouzja vs. Sam Sevian on July 9 at 9 a.m. Pacific (18:00 CEST), with expert commentary on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess.
The 16-year-old Firouzja (@firouzja2003) from Babol is currently the top-rated under-16 player in the world. He is regarded as a rising star for his recent performances, placing second in the Reykjavik Open and later winning the European Fischer Random Championship, earning him a spot in the 2019 FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship.
Despite his recent success, Firouzja is wary of his opponents’ dedication to defeating him in this event. When asked what he learned from his first-round match against Jose Martinez Alcantara, Firouzja replied, “I learned that every participant is putting all their energy into this three-hour marathon match so to succeed I must play a bit more seriously in future rounds.”
Firouzja earned his grandmaster title at age 14 and has improved since, currently sitting at his peak FIDE rating of 2685. Perhaps more impressively, he is currently the second-rated blitz and bullet player on Chess.com, behind only Hikaru Nakamura. Firouzja has never played Sevian over-the-board or publicly on Chess.com, but has ample experience battling against tough opponents.
Take a look at this spectacular game played at the Asian Continental last month against GM Murali Karthikeyan:
In March, Firouzja qualified for the Chess.com Bullet Chess Championship and was paired against Hikaru Nakamura, who has lauded Firouzja’s skills on occasion, dubbing him one of the few players who can challenge him at that time control.
In other speed chess exploits, Firouzja was crowned champion of the rapid portion of the 2019 French Rapid & Blitz Championship, defeating Alberto David in the final.
With Chess.com blitz and bullet ratings both over 3000, Firouzja is in rare company alongside names like Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi.
The 18-year-old Sevian (@Konavets), from Corning, New York, isn’t a frequent face on the Chess.com servers but has had a meteoric rise, currently rated third among all bullet players, behind only Firouzja and Nakamura.
After reaching the title at 13 years, 10 months and 27 days, he became the United States’ youngest-ever grandmaster. He has broken records through every title progression, from national expert to international master, and has long been considered one of the top American talents.
Like Firouzja, Sevian sees the match as a marathon to prepare for carefully.
“The whole match is tiring,” said Sevian. “I will have to try getting a good sleep before the match.”
He must have been well-rested in his round-of-16 match vs. Nihal Sarin, winning the tilt by an emphatic 17-8 including a highly-impressive 7-1 score in the 1+1 bullet portion, where many considered Nihal to be the favorite:
Perhaps more impressive than his Junior Speed Chess Championship success is his record in Chess.com’s strongest open titled competition, Titled Tuesday. In April, Sevian emerged victorious among a field that included Alexander Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura and Firouzja.
With that win, Sevian was invited to a qualifier spot for the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss Isle of Man, but his performances have been so impressive that tournament organizers eventually tapped him for a wildcard spot, which he has accepted.
Sevian was coy when weighing his chances against Firouzja: “I’m not really sure, it’s anybody’s guess,” he said.
Firouzja didn’t mince words when determining his chances: “I know he is a very talented young player and a very hard worker. However, I think I am a favorite in all three formats,” he said.
One interesting wrinkle in this match is that Firouzja may be playing with a new, untested mouse, which is a factor unique to online play, especially at the fastest time controls. Whether that will affect Firouzja’s accuracy and speed is yet to be seen, but it’s something fans will want to keep an eye on as the match progresses.
If Sevian wants to find success in the bullet portion, he will need to channel his stellar performance vs. Nihal, which is exemplified by the following miniature:
While Sevian will be playing from home, Firouzja will be playing from just outside of Paris. Their preparation, however, will be similar.
Firouzja: “I will prepare by playing random games on Chess.com!”
Sevian: “I’ll probably play some blitz a day before and do some puzzles.”
The match will start with 90 minutes of 5|1 blitz, continue with 60 minutes of 3|1 blitz, and end with 30 minutes of 1|1 bullet. (Find all regulations here.)
Despite the two players being rated closely in bullet, Sevian’s infrequent online bullet play means he hasn’t been paired with Firouzja at any time in the past. This is evidenced by Sevian’s self-professed comfort level at the various time controls.
Sevian: “I’m maybe most comfortable in the five-minute portion.”
This runs in contrast to Firouzja, who believes his dynamic play gives him a balanced approach to the match.
“I feel comfortable at all three time controls,” said Firouzja. “Obviously, I’m a very strong bullet player compared to the rest of the competitors but I don’t prefer one over the other.”
The prize fund for the quarterfinal matches is $1,200 each. The winner earns $600 and advances to the first semifinal, while the other $600 is split by win percentage.
The Junior Speed Chess Championship is sponsored by ChessKid, the world’s number-one site for kids to learn and play chess. All JSCC matches are broadcast live with chess-master commentary on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess.
Here’s the full schedule for the Quarterfinals:
- Firouzja vs. Sevian: July 9 at 9 a.m. PDT
- Wei Yi vs. Van Foreest: July 10 at 8 a.m. PDT
- Maghsoodloo vs. Sarana: July 11 at 9 a.m. PDT
- Xiong vs. Gledura: July 16 at 11 a.m. PDT
For a full schedule, see our events calendar or this general Speed Chess Championship article.