American youngster Jeffery Xiong had a dream debut on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour today as he grabbed the sole lead of the FTX Road to Miami online super-tournament. The 21-year-old Texan kicked off the $150,000 esports event with three back-to-back wins in the prelim stage. One point behind and still unbeaten is another rookie American Sam Sevian, also 21. Both are now on course to cruise into the knockouts.
Sevian is joined in a four-way tie for second with three of the most exciting players in the tournament in Shakrhiyar Mamedyarov, Wei Yi and Poland’s No.1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Xiong opened up by beating Dutch No.1 Anish Giri and then another American Hans Niemann with the black pieces before polishing off Aryan Tari. Norway’s No.2 resigned in the endgame two pawns down in a hopeless position. Only a round 4 loss to Sevian blotted his copybook. It lifted Sevian, playing from Massachusetts, into joint-second with 8/12. Xiong goes into day 2 top of the leaderboard with 9/12. Xiong said: “Obviously it was a great day, I couldn’t have asked for better.”
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Another youngster to catch the eye was India’s 18-year-old hotshot Arjun Erigaisi, the youngest player in the event. His win over top seed Levon Aronian was simply stunning. Erigaisi finished off a thrilling Round 2 game with Aronian by boldly marching his king across the board in the endgame to trap his opponent’s monarch in a mating net. Erigaisi had beaten the world No.5 and oldest player in the line-up. Grandmaster Peter Leko called Erigaisi’s finish: “One of the most spectacular sequences of moves with a few seconds on the clock that I’ve ever seen!”
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The following round it was Mamedyarov who turned on the style with an equally artistic finish to see off Richard Rapport in 27 moves. “Shak” sacrificed his queen to crash through and Rapport, sportingly, allowed his opponent to execute a rare “David and Goliath” pawn checkmate at the end.
Tomorrow Xiong stars round 5 with an all-American clash against Aronian. There are three big days to come in the prelim stage before eight are eliminated and the knockout starts. The FTX Road to Miami is the fifth leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and the qualifier for the Tour’s next Major, the FTX Crypto Cup. The line-up of top players is competing for places in the Major and a prize fund of up to $150,000. Those who make it through to the FTX Crypto Cup can vie for the Tour’s largest prize fund so far this year: $210K plus an additional $100K tied to the price of bitcoin provided by leading cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
FTX is the Official Cryptocurrency Exchange Partner of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and was the title partner of the first FTX Crypto Cup in the inaugural season of the Tour. Every move will be streamed live and for free on chess24.com/tour with commentary for all.