Reports May 15, 2023 | 3:03 AMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Chess Classic 8: Duda shocks Firouzja

Jan-Krzysztof Duda won his first classical game of chess in 9.5 months after Alireza Firouzja’s decision to dodge an early draw backfired spectacularly. That means Fabiano Caruana goes into the final round of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest as the sole leader after he managed to draw against Anish Giri with 7 minutes more on his clock than he’d started with. The remaining three games were uneventful draws.

Firouzja's fighting spirit ensured the audience had a game to watch | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The Superbet Chess Classic has been a long, tough tournament, and it was only Alireza Firouzja’s youth energy that prevented all five games ending in draws in Round 8.

If there was one result that seemed certain going into Round 8 it was that Ding Liren and Richard Rapport would make a quick draw after their months of working together on World Championship preparation.

We all knew how this was going to end | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

They did, but it wasn’t quite as quick as Ian Nepomniachtchi’s draw against Wesley So.

The infamous 14-move Berlin draw was the product of Ian just wanting things to be over and Wesley having nothing against an easy draw with the black pieces against a man Anish Giri would describe as, “probably the best prepared player in the world right now”.

On paper Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would be expected to push hard against underdog Bogdan-Daniel Deac, but after getting nothing much out of the opening Maxime made a draw by repetition in just 21 moves.

Caruana-Giri was another draw in which the balance was never upset, but it was a different beast entirely. Anish summed up afterwards:

What can I say? Great prep by Fabiano! Everything went according to his plan, but yeah, I was very lucky. I told him after the game, I’m very sorry, normally I lose today… I just found all the moves and I didn’t know any of this. Normally I find such sequences only if I’ve seen them before.

In an Italian Game, Fabiano pushed d4 at a moment few players had tried before, and then went for the tricky 13.Ba3.

13.Qb3, when Black’s play in reply is forced, was the standard approach, but now Caruana was giving Giri options, which took the Dutchman 28 minutes to ponder.

13…d5?! is a move you want to play, but Anish spotted the trick that Fabiano explained afterwards: 14.Bxd5 exd4 15.c4! cements the bishop on d5.

Fabiano Caruana in the role of the Grand Inquisitor | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

There were many options, but Anish ultimately correctly went for the most forcing, 13…exd4!, and play continued 14.Qb3 d5! 15.exd5 dxc3 16.Rxe8+ Qxe8 17.Re1

Anish could have moved his queen and the game would continue, but he’d spotted something better — a solution Fabiano had known all along.

17…Qxe1+! 18.Nxe1 cxd2 19.Nf3 Ne4! 20.d6! Nxf2! 21.Bxf7+ Kh8 22.Nxd2 Ne4+! 23.Kh1 Nf2+ 24.Kg1 and the players repeated moves for a draw.

Giri joked about spotting the draw by perpetual check:

I think it’s all the mocking over the years! I’ve become very good at spotting perpetual checks, and all sorts of different drawing patterns, from all the memes. So all the mocking is rubbing off and eventually it helps, it helps actually.

It was a bittersweet feeling for Fabiano.

I played a game with more time on my clock when I finished! You don’t, unfortunately, get extra points for the time you saved up during the tournament.

By the end of the day, however, sweetness would prevail, since Fabiano’s co-leader Alireza Firouzja was punished for his ambition. In hindsight, Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s approach of absolute solidity proved inspired, but he admitted he'd only wanted to get the tournament over and done with.

It’s of course a very nice feeling to win the first game in like a year in classical chess. It’s kind of unexpected, because before the round I was feeling quite bad and actually decided to wrap it up, but my opponent got ambitious after the opening and I got a better position.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda beat the man who had beaten Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The Polish no. 1 had last won a game of classical chess 9.5 months ago in Round 3 of the Chennai Olympiad, and it was a memorable one.

Beating Alireza Firouzja, live no. 2 on the world rating list, is at least as memorable, though it looked unlikely when Duda went for the notoriously solid Exchange Slav, and then a drawish line within it.

Duda pointed out, before the audio failed completely from Bucharest, that the main move here, 14…Rc8, is “known since the Stone Age”. 12.Ne5 Ng4 13.Nxg4 Bxg4 14.Qb4 Rxc6 15.Qxb7 and a draw is the overwhelmingly likely outcome — though Velimir Ivic managed to lose with Black in the final round of the Tata Steel Challengers this year, when Alexander Donchenko had only been trying to force the draw he needed to clinch 1st place

Instead, however, Alireza thought for 18 minutes before deciding to keep the game alive with 11…Ne4!?, and that wasn't the end of his ambition.

It very soon became clear that Alireza was only creating trouble for himself, however, since Duda methodically went about winning the a7-pawn, an echo of what Firouzja himself had done to Ian Nepomniachtchi the day before.

Firouzja had some hopes on the kingside, and also the hopes connected to his sheer talent. As Anish Giri noted:

He’s one of those players who’s always lucky, to the point that you start wondering, ‘maybe it’s not just luck?’

Largely, however, things just went from bad to worse for Alireza, who found himself two pawns down, but was given one last lifeline when, with under a minute on his clock, Duda played 40.g4?! That allowed 40…c5! in a version that would come very close to equalising fully.

40…Ra1+ would also have reached the time control while spoiling nothing, but instead, with just two seconds to spare, Alireza went for another check, 40…Re2+?, which spoilt everything.

The problem after 41.Kd1 is that 41…c5 no longer works, with 42.Rxd5+! the flashiest reply. If the bishop captures, the rook on e2 is undefended, but 42…Kxd5 runs into 43.Nf4+, with the same outcome of the black rook being lost.

Firouzja needed to move the rook with 41..Ra2 but that allowed 42.g5 and now after 42…c5 the g-pawn could run further with 43.g6! The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt, and Alireza resigned on move 48.

That meant that Alireza Firouzja dropped back to the 4-way tie for 2nd place, with Fabiano Caruana going into Monday’s final round as the sole leader.

If Fabiano Caruana beats Richard Rapport with the black pieces, he wins the tournament outright. If he draws he’ll at least tie for 1st place, but can be caught by Firouzja (White vs. MVL), So (White vs. Duda) or Giri (White vs. Nepomniachtchi), when we’ll get a rapid playoff. If Fabi loses, Richard Rapport will leapfrog him into 1st place on 5.5, but could again be caught by Firouzja, So and Giri.

Tune into all the Superbet Chess Classic games from ONE HOUR EARLIER, 13:30 CEST!

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