Reports May 14, 2023 | 11:07 AMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Chess Classic 7: Firouzja catches Caruana

Anish Giri has become the latest player to beat Ding Liren after the World Champion allowed a powerful piece sacrifice on move 11 in Round 7 of the Superbet Chess Classic. Ding has dropped to last place, but he has the company of his World Championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, who was put to the sword by Alireza Firouzja. The young star now co-leads with Fabiano Caruana going into the final two rounds.

Anish Giri is making a habit of beating World Champions this year | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Round 7 of the Superbet Chess Challenge was a repeat of Round 5, with both of the 2023 World Championship participants crashing to heavy defeats.

There was no distraction from those two games, since the remaining three games were relatively uneventful draws. Wesley So showed zero ambition against Fabiano Caruana and took a 24-move draw, Duda-MVL featured an offbeat opening but never flared into life, while it felt as though the drama in the longest game of the day, Rapport-Deac, wasn’t really on the chessboard.

Since switching to the Romanian Chess Federation, Richard Rapport has taken over Bogdan-Daniel Deac’s no. 1 spot, and the relationship looks strained. There was a curious start, as Richard decided to leave the ceremonial opening move on the board, while Bogdan-Daniel wanted him to take the move back and then make it again himself.

After that, commentator Cristian Chirila revealed that his father, working as an arbiter at the event, had been approached by Richard with a complaint about Bogdan-Daniel hitting the clock too hard after his moves. We never got open conflict on the board, however, with just one pair of pawns swapped off before a draw on move 63.

The ordeal is almost over for Ding Liren, but he's also slated to play the Superbet Warsaw Rapid & Blitz, featuring Magnus Carlsen, less than a week after Bucharest ends | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

In his Round 7 post-game interview, Fabiano Caruana commented of Ding Liren’s near loss to Wesley So the day before:

The way he played just showed a lack of feeling of danger. Something’s very off.

That would apply even more to Round 7, where, despite Anish Giri playing his moves instantly, Ding Liren decided to go for 10…g5?, inviting a piece sacrifice on g5.

It was the worst possible scenario for Ding, since Anish, with Jan Gustafsson as his second, knew the position.

I remembered that this move order is not very good, because the sac here is strong… I was fortunate that I’d looked at this.

For the remainder of the game Ding was on the ropes, constantly trying to find ways to avoid immediate disaster. There were opportunities as well, for instance on move 16.

The computer claims 16…Bxe3+! as 0.00, with the follow-up 17.fxe3 Nb8! and the knight coming to d7 to relieve its pinned colleague on f6.

That was a theme that would return later, but in a much trickier situation, after Anish Giri found the essential 22.Qe2! to keep an advantage.

What to do about the attacked bishop on e6? The best option was again to give up the dark-squared bishop with 22…Bxe3+! 23.fxe3 and then play 23…Bg4!, when after 24.hxg4 Ne4! Black has real counterplay.

Instead Ding picked the simpler way to get something for the bishop with 22…Bxh3!? 23.gxh3 Kf8 24.h4 Bd4.

Here Anish Giri’s 25.Rxd4!? exd4 26.Nf5 was an echo of Ding Liren’s first win in the match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, though in this case it was only the computer’s third choice in the position. Anish explained, however, that he dreaded the ridicule if he’d missed a chance to beat the World Champion by not playing such a move.

Anish Giri had earned the attention he got after the game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

He needn’t have worried, as in the following sequence he played the computer’s first choice for eight moves in a row, by which stage he was totally winning. For instance, he found the most clinical finish of exchanging off one of the knights with 30.Nh6+! and after 30…Nxh6 he didn’t recapture.

31.Qxe5! was more powerful, and Giri would later force resignation with another queen move, 36.Qc3+!.

The black knight on g4 can’t be saved, and the endgame is completely hopeless for Black.

That means that despite a very slow start, Anish Giri is suddenly right back in the hunt for 1st place in another supertournament. He also holds the bragging rights of having beaten both World Champion Magnus Carlsen, in Wijk aan Zee, and now World Champion Ding Liren. In fact, he also beat Ding in Wijk, so Anish could claim even more.

Of course, I’m happy to defeat the World Champion. This year I’ve beaten a World Champion you could say thrice. It’s hard to say, because I beat Magnus when he was a champion, then I beat Ding before he was a champion, and now I’ve beaten him again, so I’m really happy with that.

There’s serious competition for bragging rights, however, since 19-year-old Alireza Firouzja can now say he’s beaten both the World Champion and the runner-up, Ian Nepomniachtchi, in the same tournament. There’s clear water between him as world no. 2 and the chasing pack, though of course there’s an even bigger gap to Magnus Carlsen as world no. 1.

Firouzja-Nepomniachtchi in many ways followed a similar scenario to the Giri-Ding game. Alireza commented of winning with a quiet opening setup:

It feels great. Ian has a very solid repertoire with Black, so it’s really difficult to get a game against him… It’s not anything special, but it’s interesting, to get a game at least.

We didn’t get a dramatic sacrifice the way we did in the Giri game, but with 23.Qxa7 Alireza had won a pawn.

“It’s not easy for Black because he’s down a pawn”, said the youngster, and Nepomniachtchi needed to play accurately to hold the balance. 23…Ng6! was the correct move here, not 23…Nf5!?, and on move 26 Ian missed another chance to equalise with 26…Nh4!

Alireza, meanwhile, was able to win the game by playing absolutely logical moves. After grabbing the a7-pawn he pushed his queenside pawns to create a passed pawn, with the situation critical after 28.a5. Once more, Ian’s Achilles’ heel of playing too fast in such positions returned, and he went for the losing 28…Qe2?

At a glance the move looks powerful. There’s no time to defend the f3-pawn with 29.Kg2? due to 29…Nxe3+, but there was a crucial detail in the position. After 29.a6! Qxf3 Alireza had 30.Qg4!

After 30…Qxg4+ 31.hxg4 Nd6 32.Be5 Black has to give up the knight to stop the pawn. Ian’s 30…Qd5 31.e4 Qxb5 32.Ba1!? Qxa6 33.exf5 featured the same trade of a piece to stop the pawn, but here Nepomniachtchi got a glimmer of hope, since he was able to sacrifice his queen for a position with some chances to hold.

Alireza said he wasn’t a believer in the fortress, but there might have been a tough fight ahead if after 37.h4 Ian hadn’t immediately weakened his king position with 37…g6? but instead gone for 37…Rg6+.

As it was, Alireza was able to manoeuvre until the perfect opportunity arose to give up his queen for Black’s rook. 57.Qxf7+! ended the game.

After the heavy pieces are traded the pawn endgame is an easy win for White.

That means that with just two rounds to go Alireza Firouzja has caught Fabiano Caruana in the lead, while Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren join Bogdan-Daniel Deac in last place.

They really need a win, but Ding faces his second Richard Rapport in Round 8, while Nepomniachtchi is up against the rock solid Wesley So. For the leaders, meanwhile, there are also interesting battles ahead, with Caruana White against Anish Giri, while Firouzja is Black against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Tune into all the Superbet Chess Classic games from 14:30 CEST!

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