Is Alireza Firouzja overrated? (Original research!)

Update: This article was written before Alireza has ever risen as the number 2 in classical ratings, this is why some of the events mentioned are outdated. On the plus side I was completely right! I called it, he is not overrated.

You know the story, young prodigies rising to the top of the chess world only to be beaten and stagnated out of relevance.

I think the biggest reason for this trend is the amount of unreasonable hype that has been put on the young player’s career, putting much pressure than someone at a young age can handle.

And one of those individuals who we are seeing now is that of Alireza Firouzja, is the amount of attention given to him reasonable? Is Alireza Firouzja overrated? In my opinion, this is not the case.

Alireza Firouzja has proven himself to be formidable in the past beating the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, etc., and even winning several super-elite tournaments. He is the second youngest grandmaster in history with a very fast rating climb from 2607 in 2018 to 2749 in 2021.

I’ve been following this competitor since he is still a nobody (that is about the time when I started learning chess) so I am pretty interested in how far he has come.

I’ve done an array of research in order to give really valuable information here, I want to make this a good topic. With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

Can Alireza Firouzja beat elite chess players?

Alireza Firouzja has beaten prominent chess players in the past in the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Andrew Tang, etc., and has excelled in tournaments hosted both over-the-board and online that have participating elite players.

One of the borderline bases in determining whether someone can compete in the elite levels is if they have also beaten elite players in the past, it can confirm it.

Alireza in this case has a good record against not only the top 20 players but also those that are making history, the best of the best players in this generation.

Alireza Firouzja for example did beat Magnus Carlsen himself in banter blitz (basically an online blitz tournament) which may not be played in an over-the-board setting but does hold up some value.

The setting of the competition is just like any other tournament online (knockout basis) and Alireza has beaten Magnus when they have matched up in the event, defeating the world champion himself.

If you don’t know Magnus Carlsen he anonymously retained the title of being the best player of all time as discussed by my other article (will open in a new tab) comparing him to Garry Kasparov.

Beating someone like him in a knockout match even just once is indicative of a very bright future especially for a young player such as Firouzja, it is an astonishing accomplishment.

Of course this does not mean that Alireza has surpassed Magnus in any way since the tournament is not taken as seriously by the competitors making it like a game for a show.

But you cannot deny that there is still a degree of competitiveness since there is prize money even if it is not in the same intensity as with regular tournaments, so it does have some relevance.

Alireza definitely deserves the credit for beating the world champion in their 20 + games and winning the tournament altogether.

Alireza has beaten other prominent chess players

Alireza has beaten a lot of prominent names in the chess world including the likes of Hikaru Nakamura (in blitz) and Andrew Tang (in bullet), he is now treated as a legitimate contender in every tournament.

If you do not know Hikaru Nakamura he has earned the nickname of being the speed demon, even outranking Magnus Carlsen as the number one blitz player several times.

The best about his first victory against Hikaru (later on defeating him occasionally) is the setting, which is in the world blitz championship where Hikaru along with Magnus is favored to win.

He has beaten the speed demon himself at his own game, I think this achievement deserves the recognition that he will at least be a top player in the future.

Another one that can be proof of his potential is his match in bullet format against grandmaster Andrew Tang, who would just kill everybody in bullet time control.

This is a video of him winning against Tang, which may not be online (Tang’s specialty) but it still counts in their overall encounter:

This is not an easy accomplishment, chess players are better than they were many years ago. For alireza to do this at such a young age means something.

Does Alireza Firouzja thrive on elite chess tournaments?

Alireza Firouzja has won several noteworthy elite tournaments like in the World Rapid championship only coming second behind Carlsen, second in Norway Chess, and first in Banter blitz beating Magnus Carlsen.

Firouzja has been winning tournaments left and right, not typical for someone his age that has entered the realm of elite levels.

I remember the day when Alireza Firouzja is just having his very first break, everybody is treating him like an easy win and something that doesn’t belong in prestigious environments.

However over the course of time he is now being treated as a reasonable contender in every tournament he participated in, partly due to his results against top players.

Now there’s a lot of very positive impressions in his style of play and what he can achieve in the future, if a top player can say that it is a good validation of potential.

Here’s a video of Magnus Carlsen praising Alireza Firouzja’s play (even when Carlsen won):

Alireza has taken a lot of shots against Magnus Carlsen

The one that caught my eye the most is during the world blitz championship where Magnus Carlsen is trying to dominate (to acquire the three world titles that year) but would have been beaten by Alireza if he hadn’t run out of time during their match.

This is also the same tournament where Alireza beat Hikaru rounds earlier and everybody is looking forward to his clash against the world champion.

He did have his clash with Magnus and has almost beaten Carlsen in an endgame that is completely winning for him only to run out of time, giving Magnus the win.

Alireza thought the result would just settle to a draw as per rules of chess, which made him try to contest the loss and cause a controversy that you can view here:

Magnus Carlsen actually did deserve to win this one as dictated by the laws of chess.

I actually made an article about this similar situation, talking about results on cases where the time ran out which you can view here (will open in a new tab) to explain this scenario.

Is there statistical evidence that Alireza Firouzja is a good player?

Alireza Firouzja has become a grandmaster at the young age of 14 being the second youngest grandmaster in history only behind Magnus Carlsen, and already have a peak rating of 2607 at age 16, compared to the elite Hikaru Nakamura who only had a peak rating of 2506 at age 16.

Being a grandmaster in contrast to most people’s belief is pretty difficult to achieve, there are phenomenal players that have spent their lives improving and still haven’t got the title.

This means that anyone who is capable of earning something that other people find so hard to obtain is pretty amazing, so I went and took a look at the age Firouzja got his grandmaster title.

Firouzja has a meteoric-like advancement if we take an overview of his career, he has become one of the youngest players to become a grandmaster in history.

This is pretty notable seeing that almost everyone that has such a feature is an elite player today, indicative that anyone who can do this will have the potential to excel in chess.

Here is a table including very strong players and when they’ve got their grandmaster title (along with Alireza):

PlayerAge when they’ve become a Grandmaster
Magnus Carlsen13 years old
Alireza Firouzja14 years old
Fabiano Caruana14 years old
Bobby Fisher 15 years old
Garry Kasparov 17 years old
Vishwanathan Anand18 years old

As you can see he’s at the same level of grandmaster accomplishment (when it comes to age) as some of the best players in the world proving that he is really that good.

Comparing the rating growth of Alireza to other elite players

One of the best ways to evaluate the intensity of a player’s career is providing a comparison to other elite player’s ratings, preferably if it is adjusted to the gap in age.

The rating attainment after all does not change over time, how much you can earn per game back then will be the same now.

Granted that it is much easier to accumulate ratings in today’s world due to the sheer amount of players, it still means that players of today are in a more competitive environment.

So I took all of the best player’s ratings when they were 16 years old and compared it with Alireza’s rating when he was at 16 so we could map a good idea of his strength:

PlayerPeak rating at age 16
Magnus Carlsen2698
Fabiano Caruana2640
Alireza Firouzja2607
Hikaru Nakamura2504
Maxime-Vachier Lagrave2539
Ding Liren2446

Alireza Firouzja ranked third in this list of very strong players only coming behind the number 1 and number 2 best players in the world right now.

Of course this is not a direct sign that Alireza will dominate at a high level in any of his future years, but it is pretty interesting that he can be compared side-by-side with these kinds of competitors.

How does Alireza Firouzja compare against elites at his age?

Alireza Firouzja has entered the top 20 chess players in the world at such a young age and has a swift road to the top going from 2607 in 2018 to 2749 in 2021 for example proving his credibility in being an elite chess player.

As of the time of this writing, he currently belongs in the top 13 of the world at around the same age Magnus Carlsen has gotten a grasp of the top rankings (age 17-18).

Magnus is a pretty high standard to set a bar on, so we can at least say that he can surpass most of the players if he keeps this trajectory.

This however does not guarantee that Alireza will have these great things in the future as has been demonstrated by the case of Wei Yi who at the age of 18 peaked his rating at 2721 even greater than Magnus Carlsen at age 16.

However Wei Yi has never been in the conversation to take over the elite world in contemporary news, he has deteriorated since and didn’t get to a higher level.

Alireza is much more consistent than Wei Yi

Unlike Wei Yi who has risen to the top even faster than the genius Magnus Carlsen then has stagnated, Alireza continued the pace and didn’t let down.

For example he went from 2607 in 2018 to 2749 in 2021 being at a steady pace and slowly climbing to the top 10 without showing any signs of a plateau.

I think this thread will remain since he is improving slowly but surely in every tournament he participates in, he has yet to reach his peak.

Don’t get me wrong I could be mistaken but it is just an impression that I can observe as a player who has been keeping up with the news a lot, I think he has a long way to go.

What separates Alireza Firouzja from other elite players?

Alireza Firouzja unlike other elite players has a very flexible skill set regarding diverse time controls, he can excel in most of them. He also displays a fierce desire for victories comparable to Kasparov and Carlsen when it comes to the criticality of his plays.

One component that separates a dominator from a very good player is their adaptability to separate time controls, a specialty is good but you need everything to take on everyone.

Firouzja is incredibly flexible when it comes to the time control that he excels in, he can play classical, rapid, blitz, and bullet on about the same level unlike other grandmasters.

Some would be proud of their blitz skills for example but will find it difficult to maintain the same level in a classical, most likely because those are the things that they master in.

However when someone like Firouzja comes that can compete at any of the time formats, the ceiling is pretty much hard to see, nobody could predict his growth in future years.

Alireza Firouzja hates losing

If you look at the best players of all time you can see a lot of tenacity that they put in the results, nobody can be at the top after all if they constantly lose.

I see a lot of fierceness in Alireza Firouzja, similar to Magnus Carlsen who would never like to lose a game, or Garry Kasparov who just goes into an outburst when making mistakes, this separates them from other players.

The more someone is outcome-centric in chess the more likely that they are going to obtain the desired results, which is another sign of potential.

This will make the player desire improvement at all cost, putting in the extra work to actually make a step towards their specified goal (making Firouzja determined).

Do you now know why Firouzja is not overrated?

I personally had a nice overview of the career of this young guy, I have been watching him since he is a nobody. The amount of improvement he has made for himself is just incredible, and I’m really set to disprove anyone who thinks otherwise.

But I am aware that the future can change very abruptly, so he might decline if he loses some of the fire that he carries now (which I think is unlikely).

There have been cases after all like that of Wei Yi showing promise only to get that promise not fulfilled in the end, it is saddening.

But I hope a good trajectory of his career in the end, let’s watch him together, sleep well and play chess.

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