Superbet Chess Classic 2: Nepo and Rapport strike

Superbet Chess Classic 2: Nepo and Rapport strike


Ian Nepomniachtchi and Richard Rapport picked up wins in Round 2 of the Superbet Chess Classic to join Wesley So in the lead. Nepomniachtchi took down Bogdan-Daniel Deac and will go into the Round 3 clash against Ding Liren with a chance to cross 2800 for the first time with a win. Rapport ground down Jan-Krzysztof Duda in what had at first looked sure to be a drawn ending.

The decisive games doubled to two in Round 2 of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest.

The most anticipated clash was perhaps between the new World Chess Champion Ding Liren and the 2018 challenger Fabiano Caruana.

Fabi made the game an echo of the match when he adopted the same system as used by Ian Nepomniachtchi in the quiet Game 3 of the tiebreaks, but Ding steered towards mainline Catalan positions with 6.d4 instead of the 6.b3 he used back then.

Fabi commented:

I’m not sure if he actually has anything from the match. My impression is that he had no ideas at the end of the match. At some point they ran out, and he’s not really trying very hard at the start of this tournament. Maybe he’s still trying to recover some energy, but yesterday he didn’t really try very hard against Maxime.

Until move 13 Fabiano was following an idea played by Alireza Firouzja against Ding in the 2019 FIDE World Cup. As he commented, “Alireza likes it, the computers don’t like it, but it’s not bad at all”. Then 13…Qd7 was a novelty, with all previous games having witnessed 13…Qe8.

Ding spent 16 seconds to reply 14.Rd1 and after 14…Rfc8 went for what Fabiano called “the safest move” with 15.Bg5. After 15…h6 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Ra3 it might have seemed that the game had just begun.

This, however, is where it ended. Fabiano played his key idea to deal with the knight on c6, 17…Nc5! and after 18.Nb4 Nb7 Ding returned the knight with 19.Nc6 and the players repeated moves for a draw. It was a good decision by Ding, since Fabiano said he’d been hoping Ding would try for something more after Nb7. Rook swings are tempting, but it seems Black would then be better.

There was also an early draw by repetition in MVL-So, where it felt as though Wesley might have pushed for more if he hadn’t been very satisfied to already be on +1 in the tournament.

Giri-Firouzja developed into a struggle to attack and defend the c3-pawn.

Alireza might have retained a microscopic edge but, licking his wounds from the day before, decided to liquidate everything with 27…b4. When the queenside disappeared, the game was soon over.

Both winning players gave more credit to their opponent than themselves for the result, with Richard Rapport particularly self-deprecating after beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda. For instance, he commented, “in the opening I forgot to play a4”.

4.a4 did eventually give Richard victory over Peter Svidler in the 2021 Sinquefield Cup, though 4.Nc3 did no harm in Bucharest. Ian Nepomniachtchi mentioned that Richard is good for coming up with creative ideas with White, but not the top chess player you’d rely on to develop a solid black repertoire.

To call a spade a spade, basically he has the worst opening preparation, but on the other hand, he’s very creative with White.

Rapport’s game with Duda seemed sure to end peacefully, but Richard commented, “he got careless, obviously, because he thought everything is a draw”. Richard felt Jan-Krzysztof had missed that 24.Bxd1! was an option instead of 24.Kxd1, and when 25.b4! appeared on the board the endgame was already critical.

Opposite-coloured bishops are drawish in endgames, but this move fixed the weak pawn on b5, while there would soon be an identical weakness on the other side of the board after 25…g5?! 26.f4! gxf4 27.gxf4. All Richard needed to do was attack both pawns on b5 and f5 with Bd3, capture one of them, and go on to win. That’s just what he did, with Jan-Krzysztof failing to put up much resistance.

Ian Nepomniachtchi scored a win over 2700-rated wildcard Bogdan-Daniel Deac, who is as close as we get to an underdog in Bucharest. Bogdan-Daniel had almost lost to Fabiano Caruana the day before, and was living dangerously when he went for the bold decision to capture a knight on c3 with 14.Qxc3!? instead of 14.bxc3.

That allowed Nepomniachtchi to win the exchange with 14…Bb4! 15.axb4 Qxd5. Ian commented:

I wouldn’t say it was me winning, it was more about him. I’m not sure if it was a blunder or an exchange sac… When he started thinking, I felt maybe he was going to play Qc3, and I wasn’t quite sure if it would be a blunder or it would be some preparation.

It was a very reasonable question, since after 16.b5!, as played, the computer thinks White is no worse, though forceful play is required.

The next moment Ian pointed to was the critical one, after 30…Rdd2. A crucial factor here was that Deac had played his previous move with just 10 seconds left on his clock, and was living on the 30-second increment added each move.

After 31.Qa7! and then e.g. 32…Kg6 32.Qa8! it turns out the black king is too weak for Black to have time to do any more on the kingside than force a draw. Instead Nepo called Deac’s rushed 31.Bg3?, “such a gift”, and after the quickly played 31…Nf5! Black had taken over.

32.Bc6?! Ra2! just confirmed the worst for White, and when the time control had passed Black had a completely winning endgame. Deac resigned on move 44.

Ian talked about his mood after the World Championship match:

I wouldn’t say I’m full of energy, motivation, ideas, but ok, it’s my job.

He’s now a co-leader in Bucharest and has every reason to feel motivated for Round 3.

Ian has the white pieces against Ding Liren and, if he wins, will cross 2800 for the first time in his career. There would, of course, also be the matter of some small revenge for events in Astana.

If Nepomniachtchi-Ding were to disappoint, we’ve still got the clashes Caruana-MVL and Firouzja-Rapport to look forward to.

Tune into all the Superbet Chess Classic games from 14:30 CEST!

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