Reports Jun 7, 2021 | 8:19 AMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Chess Classic 2: Deac shocks MVL

19-year-old Bogdan-Daniel Deac leads two rounds into the Superbet Chess Classic after surviving a difficult opening to turn the tables and defeat French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Deac is joined in the lead by the more familiar figure of world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, who smoothly outplayed Constantin Lupulescu, while the remaining three games in Bucharest were instantly forgettable draws.

MVL knew Deac was dangerous after what happened to Giri in Round 1, but he still couldn't avert disaster | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

If you’d said before Round 2 that the decisive games would be Caruana-Lupulescu and MVL-Deac no-one would have been surprised, but few would have guessed both winners! Replay all the Superbet Chess Classic games using the selector below.

Three draws

So-Aronian was one of three draws that felt more about the players easing their way back into over-the-board chess | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The quiet start to the Superbet Chess Classic continued in what on paper were the heavyweight clashes of the day, with So-Aronian, Giri-Radjabov and Mamedyarov-Grischuk all ending drawn in 30 or 31 moves. You might assume Sofia Rules specify no draw offers before move 30, but in fact draw offers are completely banned by the Grand Chess Tour regulations.

8. Competitive Play

To promote competitive play during all GCT events, it will not be permitted for players to offer or agree to a draw in any game of a 2021 GCT event, including playoff games. In the event of a claim for a draw under Article 9.2 of the Laws (three-fold repetition) or under Article 9.3 of the Laws (50 move rule), one of the Event Arbiters must be asked by the players to verify the claim.

That doesn’t stop draws by 3-fold repetition of the position, however, which is how all the games were drawn in Round 2. In the post-game interviews the players talked about the nuances of the struggles, but it felt a little like going through the motions, best summed up by Teimour Radjabov ending a mass of detailed variations with:

Let’s be fair, it was just a pretty equal game with no direct mistakes and not really any blunders, which is normal on the high level, and then it finished in a draw. 

Teimour Radjabov says he's already thinking about the 2022 Candidates | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Of more interest were the general comments. Levon Aronian talked about coming back to classical over-the-board chess (he last played in Norway Chess in October 2020):

It’s a great feeling, because this has been part of my life since I was 9 years old, and to have such a long break… of course you have this anxiety, because you stop dreaming about chess and at some point you don’t even understand how you should train, because if you analyse a lot of openings, very solid openings, you’re not going to succeed in a rapid format, but a year and a half we only have rapid chess, so now I’m working like crazy during this tournament!

Teimour Radjabov commented:

First I just try to find out where the king is and the queen and so on! After so many games online with the 2D board, just coming and seeing the lights, audience, all this kind of stuff, especially for me as an introverted person, it was a huge break, but I’m happy to be back.

Teimour also talked about the tournament just being a way for him to get in shape as his thoughts are now turning to the 2022 Candidates Tournament, for which he’s been given one of the eight spots by FIDE as compensation for being replaced by MVL when he refused to play the 2020 Candidates over pandemic concerns. He’ll be joined by the loser of the Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi match, while the other six spots will be fought over in incredibly competitive qualifying events such as next month’s World Cup.

But now let’s get to the real action of the day.

Caruana 1-0 Lupulescu

In Carlsen's absence Caruana is the top seed, and he's looking the part so far | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana outrates Romanian no. 1 Constantin Lupulescu by 164 rating points, and was simply obliged to play for a win. There was also an element of revenge, since in their one previous meeting in the 2008 European Championship Constantin had beaten an already higher-rated Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces. Back then Lupulescu played the Sicilian, as he did in qualifying for the World Cup from the recent European Hybrid Qualifier, but Fabi wasn’t too surprised to see his opponent switch to the French Defence:

Somehow I didn’t expect the Sicilian, because the line he plays with the Rauzer is extremely dangerous, and he was probably worried that he might run into preparation or get a bad position, and the French is a much safer opening. And I think he was well-prepared.

Fabi was very well-prepared himself, and went for long castles on move 13.

The one previous game in this position, Beerdsen-Pijpers from the 2020 Tata Steel Qualifier (it was a qualifier for the 2021 Challengers, which didn’t happen due to the pandemic), saw Arthur Pijpers grab the a-pawn with 13…Qxa2? and live to regret it after 14.Qb5+ Bd7 15.Qxb7 Rc8 16.g3! - six moves later he’d resigned.

Constantin instead quickly played 13…0-0, but after 14.Kb1 Rd8 15.Bc2 he sank into deep thought. That was understandable, since as Fabi explained:

My moves are kind of simple, because I only have one idea in this position, which is to mate him with Bc2 Qe4 and try to get Qh7!

The critical moment came after 15…Bd7 16.Qe4 g6 17.h4.

The computer suggests 18…h5 for Black, though encouraging 19.g4 looks foolhardy. Fabiano was instead expecting 17…e5!, when he felt Constantin was probably worried about 18.h5 exd4 19.hxg6, though in fact 19…Qg5! solves Black’s problems. Fabi, who’d worked it out over the board, explained that play would continue 20.f4 Qxg6 21.Qxe7 and now Black has 21…Bf5! and everything holds.

It was understandable if Lupulescu hadn’t seen or believed in such resources, but his “pragmatic” 17…Ba4?! just gave up a pawn: 18.Bxa4 Qxa4 19.h5 g5 20.Qxb7. Although he later won the pawn back it was only at the cost of giving Fabiano total control in the endgame, with the black king immobilised while the white king and pawns could win the game at will. Lupulescu resigned on move 28.

“So far so good - the first two rounds I couldn’t have really hoped for more,” said Fabi, who mentioned that it was good to be back playing over the board with less pressure than in the Candidates.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0-1 Bogdan-Daniel Deac

Handshakes have become less natural during the pandemic | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

19-year-old Bogdan-Daniel Deac had Anish Giri on the ropes in Round 1, but at first it looked as though order would be restored to the universe in Round 2. Although Deac playing the Open Ruy Lopez for the first time in his career had to have surprised Maxime, the Romanian admitted he only remembered his preparation to move 13. He was already in difficult before Maxime’s 25.g4!, rejecting a draw by repetition, looked like being the star move of the game!

The move was being suggested as the only way to avoid a draw by Stockfish, but it was still impressive, and exactly the same goes for the defensive resource Deac now found. For the second day in a row he played a brilliant b3, this time 25…b3!.

The point is best illustrated by seeing what happens if you don’t distract the bishop from the c2-square and play 25…Kh8 26.g5 Ng8 27.Qh3! a5? (for illustrative purposes - after 27…h6 28.Qh5! White is much better, but the game goes on) 28.Qxh7+! Kxh7 29.Rh3# A nice double check and mate.

In the game Maxime kept an edge with 26.Bxb3+ Kh8 27.g5 Ng8 28.Qd5 Bd6 29.Rh3 g6, but now spent 13 minutes to play the unfortunate 30.Qd3?

30…Rf5! not only solved all of Deac’s problems, but meant he was simply winning the g5-pawn. Although there was no clear win for White in the previous position, moves like 30.Qe6 (30…Rf5?? 31.Qxg6!) or 30.Qe4 (30…Rf5?? 31.Qxa8) would have maintained an advantage.

Maxime decided to trade down immediately into a pawn-down ending with 31.Qc3+ Qxc3 32.Rxc3 Rxg5+, which looked a reasonable decision, but after that he simply collapsed. Maxime can be one of the most tenacious defenders in world chess, and it seemed as though we would be in for an hours-long session of what Magnus Carlsen has previously called, “The French School of Suffering”.

But even by this position Maxime had been a little careless, and after 36…Rc5 he spent just a minute on 37.Rcc2?, losing another pawn to 37…Ra5! (after the rook moved from c3, White can no longer defend the a-pawn with Bb3). The h-pawn was at least sacrificed rather than blundered, but by that stage it was all gone.

The second handshake of the game | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

On the one hand, it was a brilliant defensive and counter-attacking performance by Deac, but it felt like a totally unnecessary collapse from Maxime, whose drawing chances would have been good if he’d dug in and calculated his way out of trouble.

Deac is suddenly the centre of attention | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Bodgan-Daniel Deac, a very late replacement for Richard Rapport, is therefore co-leader with Fabiano Caruana, and could easily have been the sole leader on 2/2.

In Round 3 he has White against Mamedyarov, while Lupulescu is White against Giri, with the world stars forced to decide how hard to push for wins with the black pieces. Aronian-Caruana, Grischuk-So and Radjabov-MVL are the three all-star clashes.

Levon vs. Fabi looks like the best chance for decisive action in those games, though Teimour did beat Maxime with White in a crucial 2019 World Cup semi-final game. That was Candidates heartbreak for Maxime, though there were twists ahead that none of us could have predicted back then!

Tune in to all the action live from 14:00 CEST here on chess24.

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