Reports May 15, 2023 | 11:27 PMby Colin McGourty

Fabiano Caruana triumphs in Superbet Chess Classic

Fabiano Caruana drew a sharp game against Richard Rapport to finish in clear first place in the Superbet Chess Classic, taking the $100,000 top prize and the maximum 13 Grand Chess Tour points. His pursuers could all only draw, though that was a good result for Anish Giri after he stumbled into a lost position against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Ding Liren regained the world no. 3 spot after ending with a fine win over Bogdan-Daniel Deac.

Fabiano Caruana with the Superbet Chess Classic trophy | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Five players went into the final round of the Superbet Chess Classic with a chance of catching or overtaking leader Fabiano Caruana with a win, but in the end none of them managed.

That left the final standings as follows, with Fabiano Caruana picking up $100,000 while the four players in second place took home $42,750 each.

Let’s take a look at how the event went for each of the players.

Fabiano Caruana: 5.5/9 (2 wins, 7 draws), 1st place, $100,000

This was vintage Fabiano Caruana, who, as in the glory days of 2018, combined stellar opening preparation and sharp calculation (the win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave), with patience and determination (the win over Ian Nepomniachtchi) to come close to a model of a perfect chess player.

He was never in danger in a single game and could have scored more. He missed a chance against Bogdan-Daniel Deac in the first round, and his one real regret was a failure to turn a huge advantage against Alireza Firouzja into a full point. He commented:

It was a bit of an anti-climax, because I should have maybe converted against Alireza to really feel like I deserved victory fully.

The final round was noteworthy for Fabiano willingly stepping into the World Championship match preparation of the Ding/Rapport team.

Fabi commented:

Richie played the line that Ding played. 10…Bc5 is the top line if you leave a really powerful engine running for a while, it’s a forced draw, but I was just curious what they had prepared against 10…Ba5, so I decided to play it.

There was also nostalgia, as Fabiano had been the first to face 10…Ba5 10.Bf4 0-0 11.0-0-0!, in a game against Magnus Carlsen. Rapport varied from that game with 13.Qe3 and an interesting battle ensued, but there was no opening bomb. When Richie missed a chance to ask more questions with 19.f3! the game soon fizzled out into a draw.

"Everything went perfectly today!" was how Caruana summed up his final day | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Fabiano had to wait to see if anyone would catch him and force a playoff, but no-one did.

Alireza Firouzja, 5/9 (3 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses), 2nd-5th place, $42,750, world no. 2

It says a lot about the excitement Alireza Firouzja generates that fans of the 19-year-old could feel some disappointment about a tournament in which he regained the world no. 2 spot and beat both the World Champion and the World Championship challenger.

Alireza Firouzja provided a lot of the tournament's entertainment | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

It was as if Alireza was out to demonstrate why Magnus Carlsen had said a match against the Iranian-born Frenchman would be enough motivation for him not to give up his title without a fight.

Alireza would have had every chance of 1st place if not for a loss in the penultimate round. He commented:

I’m very disappointed with yesterday’s game. It felt like the tournament was going my way, but suddenly Duda played a brilliant game… Overall I’m very happy after the loss with Wesley. To finish with +1 is pretty good. Last year I got -1 here, so it’s a good start to the year.

Alireza made just four draws, less than any other player.

The final round was also a sign of his maturity. Back in 2022 he’d lost to the same opponent, his French colleague Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, after overpressing, while this year he calmly shut down a game that had gone against him.

Wesley So, 5/9 (1 win, 8 draws), 2nd-5th place, $42,750

For one round, this looked like Wesley So’s tournament. After getting into a difficult position against Alireza Firouzja in Round 1 he snatched the chance to take over the initiative and win a pawn, and then instead of being tempted to take a draw by repetition he went on to convert the advantage.

From then on, however, it was a familiar story, as Wesley remained content with his +1 score through the next eight rounds.

The one which stood out was taking a draw by repetition in a close to winning position against Ding Liren, while there were instant draws towards the end of the event. Once again it’s hard to avoid the thought of just how dominant a player Wesley might have become with a little more ambition.

In his defence, however, Wesley was just one of three players who had the same one win and eight draws tournament.

Richard Rapport, 5/9 (1 win, 8 draws), 2nd-5th place, $42,750

Richard Rapport applied some pressure before taking a draw against Fabiano Caruana in the final round | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Richard Rapport managed to do what his boss Ding Liren didn’t and play a quietly successful tournament after the strain of the World Championship match in Astana. He returned to the Top 10 after an event where he was rarely troubled, with a win in what looked like an unwinnable position against Jan-Krzysztof Duda the icing on the cake.

Anish Giri, 5/9 (1 win, 8 draws), 2nd-5th place, $42,750

Six draws in a row at the start of the event were swiftly forgotten when Anish Giri scored a stylish win against the new World Champion Ding Liren. In under half a year Giri has beaten Ding twice, and also beaten another World Champion, Magnus Carlsen.

The win against Magnus in Wijk aan Zee had seen Anish win his home supertournament for the first time, and another victory wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility going into the final round. He even got an edge against Ian Nepomniachtchi’s Sicilian.

In the end Anish was on the verge of a mood-spoiling loss, but disaster was averted and he could look back on a good if unspectacular event.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 4.5/9 (1 win, 7 draws, 1 loss), 6-7th place, $19,750

Jan-Krzysztof Duda was one of two players to finish on 50%, which was a good outcome after the Polish no. 1 slipped to a totally unnecessary loss to Richard Rapport in Round 2. The question, “so Duda is the World Champion now?” was asked online after Duda beat the man who had beaten Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, for a first classical win in over 9 months.

It doesn’t quite work like that, but it was a fine game by Duda after Firouzja misplayed the opening.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 4.5/9 (1 win, 7 draws, 1 loss), 6-7th place, $19,750

Maxime came into the event as the defending champion, but kept a low profile except for two defining moments. In Round 3 he got into dire trouble against Fabiano Caruana’s 3.h4 Grünfeld and resigned on move 23 with his queen about to be trapped. In Round 5, however, he redeemed himself by holding on in a difficult position against Ian Nepomniachtchi before taking over and winning in style.

Ding Liren, 4/9 (1 win, 6 draws, 2 losses), 8th place, $16,000

Ding Liren now has a chance to get used to being the 17th World Chess Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Ding Liren was the man we all wanted to see in action, but the fears that the new World Champion would be drained physically and emotionally after the match in Astana proved justified. He was running on empty in the early rounds and only barely survived another test against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

In Round 5 he lost what was briefly a winning position against Firouzja, before suffering another heavy loss with the black pieces in Round 7, to Anish Giri. It could have been a bitter aftermath to the greatest success of his career, but the final round provided some relief, as Ding comprehensively outplayed Bogdan-Daniel Deac with the black pieces.

The win saw him return to the world no. 3 spot where he’d started the event, even if with a different player above him, and you might joke that Ding had failed to get out of his Astana mindset i.e. you don’t need to play chess brilliantly, just a little bit better than Ian Nepomniachtchi!

Ian Nepomniachtchi, 3.5/9 (1 win, 5 draws, 3 losses), 9th place, $13,000

It was doubly tough for Nepomniachtchi, since he didn’t have the positive emotions of winning the World Championship to compensate for his exhaustion. A bright start quickly soured, until most things that could go wrong did go wrong for him in Bucharest.

The familiar flaw of rushed moves in critical positions was on display, and it felt as though Ian was on an extended tilt. The last game was perhaps the most bitter, since Nepomniachtchi had applied heavy pressure to Anish Giri and managed to reach a winning position, only to let it slip.

This was the key moment:

48…Qg3+! 49.Kh1 Qf4! 50.Qc2 Ng3+! and it’s all over.

51.Kg1 Qe3+ 52.Kh2 Qe1 and that checkmate Ian talked about can’t be stopped. The only alternative is 51.Kh2, but then simply 51…Nf5+ wins the knight on d6, and with it the game.

Instead after 48…Ng3? Anish survived, and Ian had dropped from 2nd at the start of the event to 4th on the live rating list after losing 15 points.

The slim consolation was that he didn’t finish rock bottom.

Bogdan-Daniel Deac, 3/9 (6 draws, 3 losses), 10th place, $10,500

Local star Bogdan-Daniel Deac has tended to over-perform in Bucharest. In 2021 he beat and finished above Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while in 2022 he ended up tied for 4th place after beating Richard Rapport and finishing on 50%.

For once Deac failed to land a blow against his illustrious rivals | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

This time, however, there was little to celebrate, with Bogdan-Daniel losing three games, all with the white pieces, and becoming the only player to win none. It wasn’t a disaster for the lowest-rated player in the event, but must still have been disappointing.

The next event on the Grand Chess Tour, the Superbet Warsaw Rapid & Blitz, starts in just six days, with six of the same players competing. We won’t get to see Ding Liren vs. Magnus Carlsen just yet, however, since Ding has been granted a much needed break!

Stay tuned for all the action here on chess24.

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