Superbet Chess Classic 6: So & Caruana miss wins

Superbet Chess Classic 6: So & Caruana miss wins


‌Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So missed gilt-edged chances as all games were drawn in Round 6 of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. World Champion Ding Liren was fighting hard but might still have suffered a 2nd loss in a row if not for Wesley taking a draw by repetition. Caruana leads but would be much closer to overall victory if he’d beaten Alireza Firouzja. Instead a careless 41st move spoilt all his efforts.

For the first time in the 2023 Superbet Chess Classic all games ended in draws in Round 6.

Despite the draws, there were no quick peace agreements in Round 6. Nepomniachtchi-Duda was the kind of sharp clash you’d expect between such combative players, with Jan-Krzysztof finding a nice way to hold a draw. 28…Qd5! was not a mouse-slip.

After 29.Rxd5? cxd5 the white queen and rook would be forked, and with the d-pawn also falling, and White’s back rank weak, it’s Black who would have winning chances. Ian instead retreated his queen and the game was soon drawn by a repetition of moves.

Deac-Giri was a Najdorf, but if Anish was playing for a win after five draws it came closer to backfiring. Bogdan-Daniel manoeuvred nicely to get his best winning chances of the tournament so far, but the game fizzled out into another draw by repetition, on move 34.

The longest game of the day saw Maxime Vachier-Lagrave make a bold new move against Richard Rapport’s French.

It was a game that always seemed on the verge of an explosion, but it never came, and Richard forced a draw by perpetual check on move 49.

The greatest action came in the two games where the most was at stake. Alireza Firouzja commented, “when Fabi’s on form it’s very difficult to play against him”, and found himself outplayed in the opening by leader Fabiano Caruana.

Alireza then felt he’d been “too optimistic” as he got into more trouble, with the clock also his enemy. He played 35…e6?! with under 30 seconds to spare.

“Of course it should be lost,” said Alireza, who had struggled with knights on the rim all game, first on a5 and now on a4.

Play continued 36.Rb7 Rc8 37.Ng4 Rf8 38.Nh6+ Kh8 39.Nf7+ Kg8 40.Nd6 f5 and, with the time control reached, Fabiano got another 30 minutes to ponder his options.

Instead he took just five minutes to play 41.Nc4?, which gave up all winning chances on the spot. 41…Rf7! left Fabiano no way to avoid an exchange of rooks, when the knight endgame would be a trivial draw. The game soon ended 42.Rb8+ Rf8 43.Rb7 Rf7 and moves were repeated for a draw.

“It was a cold shower,” said Alireza, who saw Fabiano slump back in his chair when he realised 41.Nc4? was a blunder. Alireza pointed out:

If he plays 41.Rc7! I will lose the game, slowly, slowly… It was just luck that he missed Nc4 when he got the time, 30 minutes.

That wasn’t the most surprising end to a game of the day, however, with Ding Liren-So ending when it was seemingly still in the heat of battle. Alireza commented:

This is typical Wesley. He wins one game in the tournament and makes draws, but this is weird!

Ding Liren had a day to recover from his loss to Firouzja, but the way he started his game with the white pieces against Wesley So was anything but convincing. Already on move 14 he was choosing between difficult options.

The problem is that 14.0-0 runs into 14…d5! and Black is better, but that was the best option available.

Instead, after half an hour, Ding went for 14.Nh3!? d5! 15.Bf4 Qe7 16.cxd5 cxd5 and then didn’t castle long, which might have been some justification for his aggressive approach, but tried to hold things together with 17.Nf2!? Ne6 18.Be3.

Wesley continued his strong, natural play with 18…d4! 19.Bxd4 Rd8! and suddenly only tactical measures were keeping Ding above water. First attacking the black queen with 20.Bxf6 Qxf6 and then again with 21.Ng4!

After 21…Qg5, Wesley correctly felt 22.h4!? was a mistake. He thought for 20 minutes, telling Cristian Chirila:

I felt his position was very close to collapsing, but I just couldn’t find a knockout blow.

After 22…Qa5 23.Qb5 Qc7 24.Nd5 Qg3+! 29.Kf1 there was a chance.

25…Rxd5! was the best move, and Wesley said that following 26.exd5 Nf4! 27.Ne3 Wesley he’d seen the essential move 27…a6!, but after 28.Qa5 Bd7 29.Qe1 he missed how powerful it is simply to retreat the queen with 29…Qg6!

Wesley was understandably cautious about going for a position where he was down an exchange and a pawn, but the threats of moves such as Bc5, Re8 are lethal.

25…Bd7!? retained an advantage for Black, but Ding was beginning to show the kind of tactical defence that had so often saved him against Ian Nepomniachtchi in their match. Wesley was surprised after 26.Qa5 Nd4.

Here Ding decided to pick up Wesley’s queen with 27.Rd1!? Nxe2 28.Rh3! b6! 29.Qa6 Bxg4! 30.Rxg3 Nxg3 31.Ke1! Be6 and we had a new and interesting position.

It was still good for Black, but 32.Qb7!? proved to be, if not the best move in the position, then an excellent practical decision by Ding Liren. After 32…Rdb8 33.Qc7 Nh5 34.g4 Nf6 35.Ne7+ Bxe7 36.Qxe7 Re8 37.Qb7 Wesley decided to make a draw by chasing Ding’s queen back and forth between b7 and e7.

Wesley had a clear material advantage, a rook and two pieces for a queen and pawn, and could have played on by, for instance, pushing his h or b-pawns at the right moment. He could in any case have made the time control at little risk and got an extra 30 minutes to ponder his options.

Initially, when confronted by the computer evaluation that he was close to winning, he commented:

I just thought things went out of control. It doesn’t even make sense looking at the computer these days, because they’re just too strong and the evaluation is inhuman, so totally unrealistic, but I thought the position was very complicated at that stage. I was also disappointed that I missed a very good winning chance against Deac the other day, so I wasn’t especially hoping for much today.

As the post-game interview went on Wesley became harder on himself.

Now that I see the evaluation it was very stupid for me to repeat, but during the game I wasn’t 100% sure who’s better, or how much better I really am.

How would he get over his miss?

I’ve been doing this for 8.5 years, so it’s just another day in the office for me.

That peaceful outcome means that with three rounds to go Fabiano Caruana still leads by half a point ahead of Alireza Firouzja, Wesley So and Richard Rapport, while the World Championship players Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi are on a minus score.

So has a chance to leapfrog into the lead when he has White against Caruana in Saturday’s Round 7, while Firouzja-Nepomniachtchi and Rapport-Deac are the other games that are likely to affect the lead. Of course Duda-MVL and Giri-Ding also have the potential for fireworks.

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

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