Superbet Chess Classic 4: Caruana beats Nepomniachtchi

Superbet Chess Classic 4: Caruana beats Nepomniachtchi


Fabiano Caruana won his first ever classical game against Ian Nepomniachtchi to take the sole lead after Round 4 of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. Fabiano described it as “really satisfying” to outplay his opponent from a position where a draw looked inevitable. The day’s other winner was Alireza Firouzja, who scored his first classical win in 8 months after bamboozling Bogdan-Daniel Deac in a complicated clash.

Round 4 of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest, Romania saw world no. 7 Fabiano Caruana and no. 4 Alireza Firouzja pick up wins.

At one point it looked as though all five games in Round 4 might end in draws, with most of the interest concentrated in opening nuances. For instance, Ding Liren’s 6.a3!? felt like a leftover World Championship idea from the Richard Rapport laboratory.

The move discourages an early c5, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s novelty in reply, 6…b5, didn’t cause Ding to start thinking. Soon he’d played e4 and looked to have a small edge, but the game fizzled out fast into a totally locked position.

Duda’s bishop would usually be considered “good”, and Ding’s “bad”, but here it doesn’t make the slightest difference.

Like Ding, Anish Giri has also drawn all of his games so far. In Round 4 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played the Scotch and got in an early h4, an echo of the game he’d lost to Caruana the day before.

MVL appeared to have the advantage of a slightly better pawn structure, but was happy to take a draw by repetition when the opportunity arose.

The remaining draw, Rapport-So, was also nothing to write home about, with both players retaining their +1 score. That brings us to the day’s decisive action.

At first Caruana-Nepomniachtchi promised little, especially when Fabiano Caruana missed a chance after 16…Bc7!?

With the c-file blocked and the black bishop no longer on the a1-h8 diagonal, 17.Na4 was strong, but Fabiano took just a minute and a half to play 17.Ne2. He immediately regretted it.

I had nothing out of the opening. I thought he kind of got careless a little bit and then I got careless… Bc7 allows Na4, and right after I played Ne2 I was like, why didn’t I play Na4 and have a very pleasant position? For a long time, we were just playing instantly and nothing was happening.

No draw offers are allowed in Bucharest, but there’s nothing to stop draws by 3-fold repetition, and Fabiano admitted that if Nepomniachtchi had played 35…Kg8 he would have replied 36.Kg1 and a draw would almost certainly have followed.

Instead 35…Ke7 saw Fabiano become interested again, while after 37.Nc2! he could see that his queen could enter the black position.

Here Nepomniachtchi took a decision he would live to regret, playing 37…Ne4+!? 38.Bxe4 dxe4 39.Nd4, which was a change of scenery Fabiano welcomed.

I was happy, because I could never risk in this position. It’s of course a draw, but if I don’t trade queens then I have absolutely no risk.

Suddenly, and surprisingly, the position became very sharp, until Ian Nepomniachtchi made another f5-move that would end badly, 45…f5?!

The move was played after 12 seconds, but for once it would be unfair to consider it a rushed decision at a critical moment, since Ian had obviously planned it in the 23 minutes he spent on his previous move. Other options are also unappealing, involving the immediate surrender of a pawn, since 45…Qe7? 46.Qc7! is completely lost.

Fabiano described 45…f5 46.Qc7! in the game as “borderline winning”, since it turns out the black queenside pawns can’t be saved. It remained tricky, however, with Fabiano calling Nepomniachtchi’s waiting move 52…Kh8 an “absolutely brilliant resource”. After deep thought, Fabiano correctly decided to push his pawns.

That was allowing the scary 55…Bc4, but Fabiano had seen that 56.Qd8+ Kh7 57.Qd1 held everything together.

Fabiano was low on time, but the technical conversion of his advantage was close to flawless. Even a move the computer flags as an inaccuracy, 63.Qd2, looked to have been a good practical decision to untangle at the cost of one of the pawns.

Fabiano won the game by realising he could give away the second pawn as well, with a move he said he was lucky to have, 68.Qc1!

After 68…Bxb5 (Black has nothing better) 69.Qc7+! it turns out Black is losing the b5-bishop with checks. Nepomniachtchi didn’t delay the inevitable, and after 69…Kf8 70.Qc5+ he resigned, since the bishop will fall next move.

That was surprisingly Fabiano Caruana’s first ever classical win over Ian Nepomniachtchi, though that’s partly down to Nepomniachtchi having spent many years somewhat below the elite level, so that they’d played a relatively low 13 games (12 draws, one win for Nepo). Fabi was understandably happy.

This is a very, very important game. It’s really satisfying also because Ian just played a World Championship match and I didn’t achieve anything in the opening, but still I was outplaying him.

The day’s other win was also noteworthy, with Alireza Firouzja winning a classical game of chess for the first time since beating Wesley So in the penultimate round of the Sinquefield Cup eight months ago. Firouzja said after beating Bogdan-Daniel Deac:

As I said yesterday, my game throughout the tournament is a decent level, I think, just my results are not good, and now I’m happy that I got this win. He’s a very solid player with White and it’s kind of impossible to beat him with Black.

Alireza had essentially been lost after 10 moves against Deac a year ago at the same event, so this time he decided to take a quieter approach.

For me today my plan was to just play solid with Black. Last year I played the King’s Indian against him. This year for me a draw was ok.

It wouldn’t stay quiet for long, however, with Deac going for the correct 11.b4! (11…Bxb4 12.Nxd5!)

Alireza wasn’t sure that was a wise idea.

He got very aggressive with b4!? I think it’s a good move, but I think there is no need, just Rc1 or something.

Bogdan-Daniel followed up with what was in fact a pawn sacrifice, 11…Bc7 12.b5!? (Alireza pointed out 12.e4 was a more logical follow-up) 12…Nb6 13.bxc6 dxc4 14.Qc2 bxc6, but got into trouble, with Firouzja feeling that 19…c3! was the moment things “got out of hand” for White.

20.Qxc3 is met by 20…Qxa2, while after 20.Nd3 Black was also better.

“I like the fact that it’s complicated!” said Firouzja, though he also noted his opponent “played perfectly”, and it briefly seemed Deac might take over when he spotted a move Alireza had missed, 24.e4!

“Just brilliant!” said Alireza, but after 24…Qd8!? 25.Rfd1 exd4 he said he was confused that his opponent didn’t go for the strong 26.Bb2!, instead playing 26.Qxd4. Time was becoming more and more of a factor, and eventually the constant need to find tricky solutions took its toll. Deac lost the thread around move 32.

Firouzja noted 32.Kg2!, 33.Qf3 “is a solid plan”, but instead 32.Bc1?! Rb8 33.Qa4?! Rd1 left Deac needing to find clever hidden resources to survive. The moment of no return came after 34.Rd2 Rxf1+ 35.Kxf1 Nb6.

36.Qd1! and the damage is limited to losing the h-pawn, but after 36.Qxc6? Qxh2 there was no defence, as the black pieces suddenly began to coordinate perfectly for an attack. After 37.Nd3 Qh1+ 38.Ke2 Bd4! 39.Rd1 Qh5+ 40.Ke1 Rc8 41.Qb7 Qf3 Deac resigned.

White’s paralysed army has no defence against e.g. Re8-Rxe4+.

That win takes Alireza Firouzja back to 50% and sets up his clash with the white pieces against Ding Liren in Round 5 nicely. Fabiano Caruana, meanwhile, has taken the sole lead, and has Black against Duda.

Nepomniachtchi-MVL may be a chance for Ian to bounce back immediately, while Wesley So is likely to be out to score a win when he takes on Bogdan-Daniel Deac. Don’t miss the last round before the rest day.

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

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