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Reports Jun 15, 2021 | 1:00 PMby Colin McGourty

Mamedyarov cruises to Superbet Chess Classic triumph

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov took a quick draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final round to clinch first place in the Superbet Chess Classic along with the $90,000 top prize. The Azerbaijan no. 1 finished a full point ahead of Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So in 2nd place. Caruana-Deac was by far the longest game of the day, but Fabiano Caruana couldn’t improve a disappointing tournament, while MVL finished last before heading to his home city this weekend for the Paris Rapid & Blitz.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with the Superbet Chess Classic trophy | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The Superbet Chess Classic ended as it began, with all five games drawn, which left the final table looking as follows — click on any game to open it with computer analysis, or hover over a name to see all of a player’s results.

Let’s take a look at each of the games, but more as a starting point for looking at how the tournament went for the players.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1/2-1/2 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Maxime didn't stand in Shakh's way & will be hoping for better in Paris this weekend | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

To no-one’s great surprise, this game was a short draw, with a drawish line of the Scotch Four Knights ending in a repetition on move 25.

It’s at least a curiosity that the computer gave Maxime a healthy advantage in the final position, but firstly, it would be very hard to make progress, and secondly, it felt that a draw suited the French no. 1 just as much as Mamedyarov. It brought to an end a very disappointing event for the Frenchman, who collapsed in a good position against Bogdan-Daniel Deac and lost an ending he looked a heavy favourite to hold against Anish Giri.

Maxime had spoken earlier in the tournament about wanting to get back into the Top 10 after the rating damage done by finishing 2nd last in the Tata Steel Masters earlier this year, but instead he finished last and dropped 11 Elo points. He’s down to world no. 16 on the live rating list and on July 1st his official rating will have dipped below 2750 for the first time in six years.

It’s a very different story for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is now up to world no. 5. The Azerbaijan no. 1’s tournament went like a dream when, after a slow start, he decided to play an offbeat opening against Romanian no. 1 Constantin Lupulescu. He broke through in style at the end, and his 9…g5!? against Fabiano Caruana would later be the move of the tournament.

Objectively it may not have been great, but to dare to play it against the world no. 2 and then go on to score a crushing win with the black pieces makes an impression. The icing on the cake for Mamedyarov was that Levon Aronian gifted him a third win with an opening blunder, meaning Shakh could cruise home in the final two games.

The victory earned him $90,000 and a maximum 13 Grand Chess Tour points.

Levon Aronian 1/2-1/2 Teimour Radjabov

The online & over-the-board worlds have merged & we now get this miniature in 3D | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

That wasn’t the first game of the day to be over, since this clash was the instant 14-move Berlin draw that we’ve become used to seeing in online events — the idea that online and over-the-board are different forms of chess and that short draws were an exclusively online problem has been well and truly disproven. What’s changed, perhaps, is the lack of disguise - instead of slow-playing and pretending to think, we’re moving towards the players simply getting things over and done with fast when they don’t want to play - which is arguably progress!

The onus to fight is on the player with the white pieces, so that here it was Levon who explained his reasoning:

I considered my odds. I felt most likely Maxime is going to be playing peacefully too, because he’s having a bad tournament. When I play for a win I normally play with taking a lot of risks, so I felt… from a mathematical point the gain is less than the loss.

It had been a fine end to the tournament for Levon, who hit back with two wins after his unnecessary loss to Mamedyarov. For Radjabov, meanwhile, it completed a perfect nine draws. In itself that might mean nothing - Anish Giri drew all 14 games in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, but that was a statistical anomaly after he had winning and losing positions in many of those games. This time, however, the stats told the whole story.

Teimour’s performance was one of the least fighting we’ve seen from a top player in recent years, with only the game against Constantin Lupulescu featuring any drama - and then it was Constantin who rejected an offer to make a draw by repetition.

Teimour had earlier noted that due to his heavy schedule - before Bucharest he’d reached the Final 4 of the FTX Crypto Cup and he travels straight to Paris for the Rapid & Blitz - he had little time to prepare and didn’t want just to play without any opening ideas. Securing quick draws against the top players is an option for Teimour, since he remains a fearsome opponent and few want to “poke the dragon”, but it feels he took things too far, just as he did when drawing all four games instantly with Ian Nepomniachtchi on Day 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup 3rd place match. 

Let's hope that in Paris, with no classical rating points at stake, Teimour can play some chess! 

Anish Giri 1/2-1/2 Alexander Grischuk

This was one of the day’s most interesting encounters, with Grischuk’s 20…Rae8?! 21.Rfe1 d5 coming close to backfiring.

“Somehow he missed it!” Alexander said of 22.Nxb6!, when 22…dxe4? loses to 23.Nxd7!. Giri would be forced to capture on b6, but however he did it, White would play e5 and could then bring the knight from h4 to f5 with a very pleasant position.

GG | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

Instead after 22.exd5?! the position was equal, and with precise play Grischuk was able to steer the game to a draw. The Russian was the one player to beat both Romanians, though a loss to Aronian curtailed his tournament winning chances. He commented:

I’m very happy with the result, not happy with my play, but the result is fine! In the end it could have gone both ways, because for example yesterday [against Caruana] I was both losing and winning, but today I was suffering the whole game, so of course a draw is a very good result.

Anish said, “it was mostly getting back on track after an unfortunate start”, referring to how he lost to Constantin Lupulescu in Round 3 after a game in which it seemed his attack would be the one crashing through. On the way home to the Netherlands he gave some chess drama updates, for instance commenting on the decision to allow Magnus Carlsen to play the FIDE World Cup.

And on the computer cheating in a celebrity simul against Vishy Anand:

Constantin Lupulescu 1/2-1/2 Wesley So

This game was a smooth draw in a theoretical line that crowned a successful tournament for Wesley So. The US Champion was never troubled in a single game, and though he won just one game it was a brilliant victory over world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana. If he could have ground out a win against Anish Giri perhaps we’d have seen him motivated to take more risks against Constantin Lupulescu, but as it was he was happy with joint 2nd, a decent payday and moving on to Paris with no wounds to lick.

Not bad, but Constantin preferred 1.d4 | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

The Romanian no. 1, meanwhile, had been a great addition to the event, playing the most decisive games, fighting hard (rejecting a draw offer from Radjabov shows confidence!), speaking excellent English and never cracking, despite back-to-back losses to Mamedyarov and Grischuk in Rounds 5 and 6. Constantin himself commented:

It was just great! I will be having the World Cup in July and I cannot think of better preparation for such a tournament. It was a great opportunity to be here, to see the guys at work, especially for me the way they’re preparing against you. That’s very important, because when you’re looking from home with a coffee and sitting and just chilling the engine says this, the engine says that — it’s totally different than when you have to play against the guys.

Fabiano Caruana 1/2-1/2 Bogdan-Daniel Deac

An intense game saw Caruana and Deac both finish on 4/9 | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

That brings us to the last game to finish in the tournament, and the clash between arguably the two biggest fighters. For Fabiano, the event had gone off the rails. Coming in to it, it looked like an opportunity for the world no. 2 to shine in the absence of Magnus Carlsen, especially as we knew he’d be armed to the teeth with Candidates Tournament level preparation. Things went well when he put Lupulescu to the sword in Round 2, but after that he sank to heavy defeats against Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and didn't win a game.

Going into the last round Fabi was on -1 and of course wanted to end on at least 50%, but although he had real chances in an offbeat King’s Indian Attack, he also found himself playing with fire in mutual time trouble. 38.Qc1? (38.Re1 Qxg3 39.e5!), played with 43 seconds on his clock, was a bad move.

Deac could have taken advantage of the pinned rook on e3 to play 38…Rf7!, when 39.Rxf7? loses to 39…Ne2+!. Instead 39.Re1 has to be played, but after 39…Qxg3 40.Rxf7 (forced, as other moves lose) 40…Kxf7 only Black can be better. Instead, down to seconds himself, Deac played 38…Kg7?!, and despite Fabi taking over again, the game eventually ended in a draw.

It summed up Fabi’s tournament, in that there was absolutely no problem with a will to fight, but for once his form just wasn’t there and he kept making uncharacteristic mistakes.

19-year-old Bogdan-Daniel Deac, meanwhile, enhanced his reputation by showing he’s very capable of living with these guys. Despite being thrown in at the deep end at the very last moment when Richard Rapport withdrew for health reasons, Bogdan’s preparation was impressive. He took down a giant in MVL, and in both losses to Grischuk and Aronian he was within a move of a draw in the ending. Let’s hope he gets more chances in future events!

That’s all for the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest, but the focus now moves to Paris, where the Rapid & Blitz starts on Friday at 2pm. Caruana, Aronian, So, MVL and Radjabov are heading there straight after playing in Bucharest, while the rest of the field promises much more aggression than we saw in Romania - tour regular Richard Rapport is back in the line-up, while wildcards Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vladimir Kramnik, Etienne Bacrot, Alireza Firouzja and Peter Svidler join the fun! 

6 tour regulars and 5 wild cards play in Paris | image: Grand Chess Tour

If you’re wondering why there are 11 players for a 10-player event, it’s because 14th World Champion Kramnik plays only the blitz on the last two days, while Bacrot will play the rapid on the first three.

If you’re hungry for more classical over-the-board action then the Prague Masters has just begun, with Jan-Krzysztof Duda getting off to a great start.

Sam Shankland, Radek Wojtaszek, Jorden van Foreest and Nils Grandelius are some other stars in action.

See also:

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