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General May 5, 2022 | 10:21 AMby Colin McGourty

Caruana-Firouzja as Superbet Chess Classic begins

World no. 3 Alireza Firouzja will take on world no. 4 Fabiano Caruana as the Superbet Chess Classic begins today in Bucharest, Romania. The 10-player, $350,000 all-play-all event will be a Candidates Tournament warm-up for four of the players, with Richard Rapport taking on Levon Aronian, while Ian Nepomniachtchi has White against 20-year-old local star Bogdan-Daniel Deac.   

The 10 Superbet Chess Classic at the Romanian Parliament | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The 2022 Grand Chess Tour is a series of five events, two classical and three rapid and blitz, that starts off with the classical Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. The top prize is $100,000 and 7 of the Top 10 are in action. Here are the pairings for all 9 rounds.

The 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament starts in Madrid on June 17th, so in a little over five weeks’ time. That means the four players involved will be finalising their preparations.

Alireza Firouzja is in Bucharest with his second Ivan Cheparinov | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Two of them, Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana, meet in Round 1 in Bucharest, and it should be a fascinating encounter. Fabiano Caruana of course qualified to play Magnus Carlsen from the 2018 Candidates and will be one of the hot favourites in Madrid. He had a bad Tata Steel Masters, losing three games with White and finishing 8th, but was his recognisable self recently when he beat Levon Aronian to win the American Cup.

Fabiano Caruana took part in a simul | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Alireza Firouzja, meanwhile, hasn’t played a classical game since November, when he beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the final round of the European Team Championship to end in the 2800 club and as world no. 2 at the age of just 18.

Alireza Firouzja beat Magnus Carlsen to 2800 | photo: official website

Since then he played the World Rapid and Blitz but no other official events, so that it will be intriguing to see what kind of form he’ll show in Bucharest. There’s no question that he’s been working hard — though from some exotic locations!

Richard Rapport is another player who will be making his Candidates Tournament debut after a hugely impressive showing in the Grand Prix series. He comes into the Superbet Chess Classic at a career best world no. 5, though Black against Levon Aronian in Round 1 is a tricky start.

Richard Rapport is in Bucharest with his wife Jovana | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Ian Nepomniachtchi completes the Candidates quartet and will be playing his first classical chess since the Dubai World Championship match. It’s also the Russian no. 1’s first classical chess since Russia invaded Ukraine, which took place while Ian was playing the Airthings Masters Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event.

Ian made his condemnation of the war clear there, on social media, and by signing an open letter.

Ian Nepomniachtchi is accompanied by GM Ildar Khairullin | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The Candidates preoccupation of the four top seeds might be a good opportunity for the remainder of the field, who can be 100% focused on Bucharest. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is the defending champion and, apart from a stumble against Nihal Sarin in the recent Chess Bundesliga weekend, looks in the kind of form to challenge again.

Garry Kasparov attended the opening ceremony | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Shakh has managed to combine his fighting chess with being very hard to beat. He lost only to Alireza Firouzja in the European Team Championship, then only to Magnus in 13 rounds of the Tata Steel Masters, where he finished 2nd, while he had a remarkable 13 draws and one win across two Grand Prix events.

There’s tough competition, however. Wesley So finished joint 2nd in 2021 and only just missed out on Candidates qualification from the Grand Prix. He suffered a setback when he lost to Sam Sevian in the American Cup, but the earlier knockout will have given him more time to prepare.

Wesley So is in Bucharest with his mother | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Levon Aronian got to the final of the American Cup, but he’s had a shaky time at classical chess lately, losing games to Oparin, Nakamura, Robson, Dominguez and Caruana as he dropped 20 rating points. No-one doubts his capacity to hit back, however!

Leinier Dominguez, one of those players to defeat Aronian, has been consistent near the top of world chess since switching to the USA, and he may have some added incentive in Bucharest since he’s currently world no. 12, behind world no. 11 Hikaru Nakamura, so that a place in the incredibly competitive US Olympiad team may be at stake.

Garry was towering over proceedings | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s semi-final loss to Richard Rapport in the Belgrade Grand Prix gave him no margin for error in the last event, so that when he lost to Alexandr Predke in the first game in Berlin it was a heavy blow. In the end another loss, to Wesley So, ended his hopes of the Candidates. MVL has dipped below 2750 on the live rating list, but he’s another player who it would also be no surprise to see challenging for 1st place in Bucharest.

The trophy at stake in Bucharest, as well as a $100,000 top prize | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The one clear underdog is Bogdan-Daniel Deac, but the 20-year-old local hero has climbed from 2627 to 2671 on the rating list since he impressed in the 2021 Superbet Chess Classic — most notably by beating MVL. Bogdan was very unlucky to miss out on Grand Prix qualification after finishing on an unbeaten +3 in the FIDE Grand Swiss, and then beat Alexander Donchenko, Michael Adams and Ivan Saric in the European Team Championship. No-one will be taking him lightly, though Black vs. Nepomniachtchi in Round 1 is a baptism of fire!

Follow all the games live here on chess24 from 15:00 local time (08:00 ET, 14:00 CEST, 17:30 IST).

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