Reports May 8, 2022 | 9:56 AMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Classic 3: Aronian’s great escape, Deac beats Rapport

Levon Aronian blundered a pawn in the opening and spent more than one hour on a single move against Alireza Firouzja, but in the end he pulled off a great escape on a day when four games once again ended drawn in Bucharest. The one win was a wild game in which both Richard Rapport and Bogdan-Daniel Deac had impressed before Richard blundered on move 40 and there was no road back.

Levon Aronian had the last laugh | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

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

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

There were three relatively quiet games in Round 3 of the Superbet Chess Classic, with MVL-Mamedyarov the first to finish. In the past it might have been different!

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov commented:

A few years ago if I played this game, maybe 13…0-0-0 I would try to play… Every time if I have to choose long or normal castles, I try to think which one is better. Every time short castles is better, but I do many times long!

This time, however, he played 13…0-0 and, shortly afterwards, the game ended in what looked like a logical draw by repetition of moves.

No-one said it was going to be easy | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

As usual after a game, Wesley So talked up his opponent, in this case Fabiano Caruana.

I was a bit nervous, of course. Fabi is the no. 1 American player, and he just won the American Cup. He seems to be in very good form. I think he’s working very seriously for the Candidates Tournament. Last year he lost a lot of rating and it seemed he wasn’t working as much, but this year is a Candidates year, and I think he’s really serious about his chess at the moment, so very excited to see how he will do.

Wesley was also downplaying his opening preparation.

I tried to come as well-prepared to this game as possible, but for some reason I just hoped that he wouldn’t play the Catalan.

In the end Wesley had no reason to complain as he went on to win a pawn, and although he noted that Fabiano “sometimes plays for a win even in a worse position”, this wasn’t one of those occasions.

It seemed Black had excellent winning chances, but in fact it proved surprisingly difficult to convert the advantage. Wesley commented:

My best way to win the game was if he lost on time — he had 6 seconds at some point!

Fabiano Caruana survived with surprising ease | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Fabiano didn’t help out, however, and, without Wesley making any clear mistakes, the game fizzled out into a draw by repetition.

Nepomniachtchi-Dominguez was a theoretical discussion in the Petroff where the players all but blitzed out their first 22 moves, before Leinier Dominguez slowed down dramatically. He spent 26 minutes on his 22nd move, then almost 40 on his next.

It was a fundamental choice — whether to play 23…Qxc2 24.Qxc4 and keep playing with queens on the board against Ian Nepomniachtchi, who Magnus Carlsen has noted as being perhaps the best in the world at playing such “heavy-piece endings”. Or, as Leinier eventually did, to go for the rook ending after 23…Qxg4.

Ian Nepomniachtchi had plenty of time to check out what was happening elsewhere | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Whatever the objective assessment, it worked out in practice, since despite being over an hour behind on the clock, Leinier made it to move 40 with an equal position.

The players continued until bare kings, with Ian, not for the first time, ending with more time on his clock than he began.

Alireza Firouzja is having an eventful tournament as he plays chess for the first time in 5 months | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

There would be more extraordinary clock goings on in the big game of the day, Aronian-Firouzja, which began by giving a partial answer to the question of what Alireza Firouzja had been doing for the last five months. He’d been booking up on some old theory!

This position had been played in four high-level games in 2011-2, including in Wang Hao-Nakamura from the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul. They’d all continued 19.Nc3! and White has a small edge.

Levon, however, spent just 19 seconds to play 19.Ke2?, condemning himself to a world of hurt. Alireza spent 22 minutes making sure he hadn’t missed anything before playing 19…Qa6! and after the forced 20.Kf3 Alireza took the a4-pawn with 20…Qxa4!

And here, Levon sank into an incredible one hour and two minutes think. He said afterwards:

I spent an hour contemplating “why am I so stupid?” I thought probably I’m going to lose and go back and think about my behaviour for the rest of the evening.

Levon explained he’d misremembered some very old analysis and had just thought 19.Ke2 was the move he’d prepared. The problem was that after 21.Qxa4 Nxa4 White doesn’t have 22.b3.

Black escapes the fork with a check, 22…Nd2+, and if 23.Ke2 he can just take the b3-pawn with the knight.

Levon instead explained that he thought Black couldn’t take the pawn on a4 due to 21.Qc3, hitting the h8-rook, and then after 21…Rg8 responding 22.Qf6. It soon dawned on him, however, that “then just 22…Ne6 and bye bye, because 23.Qxf7 Ng5+”. 

After 23.Qxf7 Black wins with 23...Ng5+, but 23...Ne5+! is even quicker

That was a variation with more holes than a Swiss cheese, however — at the end 23…Ne5+! Is even quicker (mate-in-4), but also Black has various winning alternatives to 22…Ne6.

Despite the epic think, Levon seemed to go astray immediately in his attempts to hold a draw, since 22.Nd4!, actually threatening b3, seems to put up much more resistance than his 22.Ke2. After that he began to refocus, however, commenting, “at least I started trying to play some logical moves.” A case in point came after 37…Kc7.

The computer’s preferred move here is 38.Nxe4, and Levon realised it was probably the best move, but he noted that then Alireza had a very simple plan — safeguard the bishop with 38…Bf8 and then push the queenside pawns.

So Levon instead went for 38.Nxh7!?, giving himself an outside passed pawn and some hopes in a pawn race. It worked to perfection, as just a few moves later Alireza’s advantage slipped away.

41…Kb6! was the winning move, but just how difficult it was to calculate was clear when Levon said he didn’t see it, adding:

I’m extremely surprised that this Kb6 is winning. I don’t think it’s a kind of thing for a practical game.

After 41…c5 42.Nc3! Bxc3 43.Kxc3 we got a remarkable pawn endgame, that led to a mutual zugzwang, a position where neither player wants to be the one to have to make a move.

Levon appreciated it himself.

That wasn’t the end of the game, however, as both players went on to queen new pawns. Levon suspected that Alireza thought he was still winning, which is something you might well feel since Black got to queen with check.

After 54.Kxa4! b2 55.Qh7+! (an only move) 55…Kxe3 56.Qh3+ there was no shelter from checks for the black king, however, and Levon even got to showboat a little by finishing the game by sacrificing his queen to force stalemate!

“Today I think something very, very wrong happened with my brain, so I have to work on it,” noted a relieved Levon Aronian. Alireza Firouzja, rather than bouncing straight back from the loss to Nepomniachtchi, showed that he still has some things to learn, though at 18 years old there’s plenty of time!

If Alireza Firouzja has an Achilles' heel, it still appears to be endings | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

For more on that game check out French FM Yosha Iglesias’ video.

That meant that, for a 3rd day in a row, we got just one decisive game in Bucharest, but it was another spectacular clash.

20-year-old local star Bogdan-Daniel Deac has had a great start | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Richard Rapport was taking on Bogdan-Daniel Deac and couldn’t resist going for a wild double-edged position where he grabbed a pawn on f7. There were potential refutations, but they were very hard to see, and it was clear Richard had the initiative.

Here the knight can’t be taken as Qxf6 would be checkmate. Deac responded correctly with 20…Qd6! but after 21.Nfh5 his 21…Qh6+?! was a mistake (21…Qf8! was holding). It was tough for both players, however, and 26.Re1? by Richard returned the favour.

White would be clearly winning if not for what Bogdan described as “a very hard move to see”, 26…Kg8! Suddenly, with no back-rank mate to worry about anymore, the threat of Rxe8 is real, and there’s no escape square for the bishop.

Fortunately for Rapport, he did have solutions, and after 27.Nf5! Bxf5 28.Bf7+ Kxf7 29.Qxf5+ the position was equal. The situation on the clock meant it still felt as though White was pressing, but Deac showed no nerves, despite playing on seconds.

Allowing discovered checks looks extremely risky, but Deac knew exactly what he was doing, pointing out, “with Kh8 he can make some blunders!”

A crucial blunder did in fact follow, with Richard throwing away the game with the final move before 30 minutes were added to his clock. With 4 seconds to spare he went for 40.Ng5? (Deac had seen 40.Nf6+! Rxf6 41.Qxf6 Qb5+! was just a draw).

40…Qxf4!, hitting the undefended d2-rook, was a killer. Deac assumed that Rapport had forgotten that after 41.Nxf7, seemingly a clever move that captures a piece and defends the queen, the reply 41…Qxd2+ comes with check, and White is lost.

Richard exchanged queens and played on, but Deac was ruthless in the ending, finding a nice finish.

If Black played 51…Rd3 now White could calmly reply 52.Nxc6 since 52…Rd1 is met by 53.Rb1, but Deac spotted 51…Ra3+! 52.Rb1 Rd3! and now the pawn can’t be captured due to 54.Nxc6? Rd1 checkmate. To stop checkmate White would have to play e.g. 53.Nb3, but after 53...Rd1+ 54.Nc1 Black has 54...Rgg1, picking up the pinned knight.

Local fans wait for Bogdan's autograph | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

That meant Deac had already matched his one win in the 2021 Superbet Chess Classic and has joined Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So in the 2022 lead, with a different player grabbing the sole win in each of the first three rounds.

Two of the leaders meet in So-Nepomniachtchi in Round 4, Deac has Black against Mamedyarov, while Firouzja-Rapport and MVL-Caruana are both potential classics. Dominguez-Aronian is also a chance for Levon to take revenge for his loss to Leinier in the American Cup.

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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