Reports May 7, 2022 | 7:37 AMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Classic 2: Nepo knocks Firouzja out of 2800 club

Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Alireza FIrouzja with the black pieces in Round 2 of the Superbet Chess Classic after an enthralling battle that could have gone either way. That knocked Alireza out of the 2800 club, while Ian both moved up to world no. 5 and joined Wesley So in the lead in Bucharest. The remaining games were drawn, but not without some sharp battles, most notably Mamedyarov-Rapport ,where Shakhriyar struggled to believe he wasn’t winning.

Ian Nepomniachtchi won his 1st classical game since September 2021 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler, Alejandro Ramirez, Cristian Chirila and Anastasia Karlovich.

For a second day in a row there were four draws in Bucharest, but they all contained something memorable… even if it was only the first move! Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a notoriously limited opening repertoire, so that when he met Wesley So’s 1.Nf3 with 1…d5 it was enough to send the US star into a 5-minute think.

MVL, Aronian and Caruana behind the scenes | photo: Bryan Adams, Grand Chess Tour

After 2.d4 Maxime went on to play the Queen’s Gambit Accepted for what appears to have been the first time in his career in a classical game of chess, but when Wesley recovered from the shock he got a comfortable game and could have played on at the end instead of taking a draw by repetition.

Fabiano Caruana auditions as a Bond villain | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

There were also interesting opening choices elsewhere. Fabiano Caruana described his decision to play the Sveshnikov against Leinier Dominguez:

I thought it was a super interesting game, it was really tough. I chose an opening which was risky, but also quite ambitious, and I think we were playing reasonably well. I was quite happy with my position out of the opening, but at some point it got quite dangerous, and at the end I was rather worried about the endgame, but I didn’t see anything for him.

Peter Svidler admired 18…Nc8 from Fabi, leaving White with a somewhat awkward “superfluous” knight on d5 (or b4).

Fabi was relieved by the end, however, that Leinier’s Rd6+ and then Nd5+ was nothing more than a way to force a draw.

Levon Aronian noted he’s trying to get over jetlag, but it was his opponent Bogdan-Daniel Deac who had all the problems on the clock after encountering a new opening idea from Levon. By move 28, Bogdan was down to under 10 seconds while Levon still had over an hour.

A huge advantage on the clock ultimately wasn't enough for Levon Aronian | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

As so often in such cases, however, the player with plenty of time rushed, and it seems Levon missed a chance to exchange off one rook and get real pressure. He said he’d realised too late that 37…g6 (he eventually opted for 37…Nf6) would run into a “crazy” tactic.

38.Ne6! and after 38…fxe6 39.Rd8+ Kh7 40.R1d7+ Bg7 Black is a piece up...

...but White has time to play e.g. 41.Rb7, 42.Rdd7 and capture the bishop on g7, so it’s Black who has to scramble to survive.

“Then I started trying to catch fish in muddy water,” said Levon, but there was no avoiding a draw in 53 moves.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was left shaken by his game against Richard Rapport.

Today I think all game it’s a winning position, but it was not winning. Yesterday I think I have all game a good position, but it was a losing position. Every day I improve!

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was left very puzzled by his game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The entertainment began on move 1, since as Shakh pointed out he almost never plays 1.e4 in classical chess. Richard picked an offbeat opening, but what Shakh was clearly unaware of was that his opponent had done it all before, with the position up to 7…Qxc6 having been seen in Hansen-Rapport from the 2014 Gibraltar Masters.  

Mamedyarov played 8.0-0 only to realise afterwards that he could instead have played 8.exf6 gxf6 9.Ne5! when he felt a human being would struggle to survive after 9…fxe5 10.Qh5+. That looks a fair assessment, but in the earlier game Richard met 8.exf6 with what seems the much safer 8…Nxf6 and, with some adventures, went on to make a draw.

Richard Rapport knew what he was doing | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Shakh’s move in Bucharest, however, and he felt he must be on the verge of winning before Richard came up with 17…f5!, a move of which Peter Svidler said the difficulty is even thinking of it as a possibility!

It turned out that after 18.f3 Bxd4+ 19.Kh1 f4! 20.Qxf4 Raf8! Black was doing just fine, with Shakh lamenting, “Every move was a surprise to me — how is it possible to play chess like this?”

The game kept being spectacular until the end.

26…Bxh3! 27.gxh3 Bd4! was a stylish idea, with Shakh having nothing better than allowing simplifications with 28.Qd1 Rg1+, after which the game was soon drawn.

Let the battle begin | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The game of the day, however, was Firouzja-Nepomniachtchi, a clash between the 2021 World Championship challenger and the youngster who is, at least on paper, currently the favourite to become the challenger in 2023.

Alireza Firouzja opened with the Bishop’s Opening, 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4, which Ian Nepomniachtchi described as “the only sensible way to avoid the Petroff [1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6], unless not playing e4 at all”. Alireza went for an interesting plan of delaying castling to use the f1-square for his knight, and things really began to heat up after 18.g4!?

Ian commented:

At first glance it looks like White is going to lose by force, but the more time I spent, the harder it was to understand what’s my plan.

After 18…Nf8 19.Ne3 Ng6 Alireza decided to grab a pawn with 20.Bxf6!? Qxf6 21.Bxd5.

Ian afterwards explained that he’d seen the spectacular sacrificial line 21…Nf4! 22.Bxb7 Nd3+ 23.Kd2 but, while he clearly had “very nice compensation”, he wasn’t sure of the exact follow-up.

Instead he went for the “more understandable” 21…Bxd5 and we got an extremely tense battle (“given the time factor I didn’t think we played too badly” — Nepo) in which, for a while, Alireza was better. He missed a couple of chances where Qe2 would have consolidated an advantage, however, and then lost his balance just before the time control.

39.Nd5! Re6 40.Ndc3 and Firouzja would have reached the time control, with Nepomniachtchi faced with the decision of whether to continue the game or not. He said afterwards he was thinking of 40…Rh6!?, but in that case White seems to be clearly better.

“I was obviously shocked!” said Nepo of Firouzja’s 39.Nd1?!, which allowed Black to win an exchange with 39…Ref4 (Ian noted 39…Rxh3! might be even better) 40.Qe3 Nf3.

41.Re2 here loses to 41…Qxh3, when the rook on f1 has nowhere good to go.

Alireza instead went for counterplay with 41.d5 and the struggle went on. After 41…Be5 42.c5 the computer claims it was stronger to play 42…Rh6! rather than take the exchange immediately with 42…Nxe1+, and it seemed Alireza got some more chances until he gave up his queen with 45.Nxe4!? — in fact 45.Qxe4! was possible, though Ian was surprised to learn that after the game.

Ian commented of the ensuing position:

I can say I became an expert in this Queen vs. Rook + Knight. I dedicated quite some time to playing, and then quite some time studying.

Ian partly of course had in mind the most significant game of his chess career, losing with Q vs. R+K to Magnus Carlsen in Game 6 of their match in Dubai, the longest game in World Championship history.

This time things went much better for Nepo, with 51.Kd2?! the moment at which it became clear any hopes of resistance had gone. Peter Svidler pointed out what he assumed Alireza had missed was that after 51…f3 52.d6 Qg2+! 53.Ke3 f2 54.d7, when 54…f1=Q would lose, Black has 54…f1=N+, promoting with check and winning.

We didn’t see that full variation on the board, since Alireza varied with 53.Ne2, but that was easily parried by 53…f2! and, after a couple of spite checks, an incredible game was over.

Ian Nepomniachtchi was “thrilled” at the end…

He summed up:

It feels good to finally win some game in classical chess, because the last one I guess was in September… It’s nice to play a game with a good result, but I don’t think it means anything special. I’m not so happy about the quality once again, but it was a big mess, so it was fun!   

Alireza Firouzja won 4 games in a row after losing a fighting game to Magnus Carlsen in Norway Chess last year — will we see a similar comeback? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The result means Ian Nepomniachtchi joins Wesley So in the early lead.

It also saw Ian climb to world no. 5, while Alireza dropped out of the now two-man 2800 club on the live rating list.

Alireza will be looking to hit back fast, but Black against Levon Aronian in Round 3 is not a pairing that’s likely to make it easy. Ian Nepomniachtchi has White against Leinier Dominguez, while co-leader Wesley So is Black against his compatriot Fabiano Caruana.

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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