Opening Understanding vs. Counterstrike Ability: Bluebaum Defeats Navara

Opening Understanding vs. Counterstrike Ability: Bluebaum Defeats Navara


GM Matthias Bluebaum overcame GM David Navara in the Qualifier 2 final of the 2022 Fischer Random World Championship on Wednesday. Navara displayed a high understanding of the opening stages of Fischer Random, often gaining an advantage with both colors. Yet, Bluebaum answered with exceptional counterattacking ability, seizing the initiative and saving challenging positions. 

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The final kicked off with a starting position considered closer to equal than the classic setup with a +0.13 evaluation. One feature to note is the less optimum placement of the bishops in the center of the board, meaning that they aim at the edge. 

With the white pieces, Navara’s opening strategy aimed for great center control while limiting his opponent’s pieces. He maintained this space advantage to the endgame when he pressed all his kingside pawns up the board, ripping open the position. Bluebaum reacted by counterattacking, and both players set off a storm of attacking play. 

As commentator GM Daniel Naroditsky stated, “I can’t believe this got so dangerous so quick.”

With his hand at white, Bluebaum opted for a more traditional opening setup, advancing his queen pawn, developing his knights, and castling quickly. Navara responded with a symmetrical setup. 

After a positional struggle in the center, Navara sacrificed a knight to gain two connected passed pawns. However, he overlooked that one of the passers would be lost, leaving him to fight down a bishop for a pawn for many moves. He displayed tenacious defensive technique in the face of this, eventually holding the game after 106 moves. 

The second Chess960 starting position is +0.25 in white’s favor, the first position in this knockout to be a little less balanced than the original setup (+0.22). 

Despite this, Navara managed to gain a slight advantage with black in the opening. As commentator GM Jon Hammer observed: “Navara has continuously managed to get good situations out of the opening… Once again, he’s showcasing himself as one of those players who manage to get at the essence of the position really, really well. That’s what it’s all about. When you get that new situation, you just have to try to figure out in a minute or two: how do I want this game to proceed? And the plan he has had, being aggressive with these pawns on the kingside, that plan has been incredibly effective.”

When you get that new situation, you just have to try to figure out in a minute or two: how do I want this game to proceed?


However, Navara spent significantly more time than his opponent, letting his clock run down to four minutes in the early middlegame, and offered Bluebaum a repetition draw. 

In game four, Bluebaum chose a symmetrical setup as black. This prompted Navara to fight for an advantage by trying to figure out how to break down a mirror of his own position, leading to a tense, dynamic battle. 

In the post-match interview, Bluebaum shared his thoughts on Fischer Random preparation and opening strategy: “To be very honest, I just didn’t prepare at all. There are no openings to prepare, so I just felt like should rest and sleep and that’s basically it… I’m never really sure what’s my plan with the pieces. Usually, you try to get the center at least and open the bishops, but it’s always a bit random.”

Bluebaum earned $500 and along with a spot in the 2022 FIDE Fischer Random World Championship in Reykjavic, Iceland, from October 25-30. He will compete alongside the reigning champion GM Wesley So, GM Magnus Carlsen, and more of the best in Chess960Navara earned $500 for the second-place finish. Semifinalists Naroditsky and Alexey Sarana each earned $350, while the quarterfinalists each earned $200.

Qualifier 2 Knockout Final

The Fischer Random World Championship, brought to you by the Government of Iceland and the City of Reykjavik, gathers top players worldwide to compete in a series of classical Fischer Random games for their share of the $400,000 prize fund and the title of FIDE Fischer Random World Champion. Fischer Random (also known as Chess960) is a chess variant where all standard chess rules are the same, except for the starting position of the pieces, which can be in one of 960 semi-random setups. Heavily endorsed by the 11th world champion GM Bobby Fischer, the variant sidesteps opening preparation to highlight players’ true understanding of chess.

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