Reports May 8, 2022 | 9:49 PMby Colin McGourty

Superbet Classic 4: So leads as MVL & Aronian also strike

Wesley So is the sole leader of the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest after Ian Nepomniachtchi finally cracked under the pressure of being a pawn down for most of their Round 4 game. Levon Aronian also converted an extra pawn, against Leinier Dominguez, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave refuted Fabiano Caruana’s exchange sacrifice to grab the 3rd win of the day. There were eventful draws in Firouzja-Rapport and Mamedyarov-Deac.

MVL and Caruana fully focused before their battle! | 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.

After three rounds with a single win, the floodgates opened in Round 3. The quickest win of the day came in the clash between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana, which lived up to their past record. As Maxime commented:

As always when I play with Fabi we end up in big fights, mainly because Fabiano is a huge fighter, always looks for sharp positions, and I generally do not back away from a fight as well. So this was one of those fights.

At first everything seemed to be going Caruana’s way, with the US no. 1 (now only by 3.7 rating points!) moving almost instantly in an Open Ruy Lopez while Maxime used up 40 minutes and, with 18.Ng3!?, stepped off the computer-approved path.

18…h6! was the most challenging move, but after 19.Bh4 Fabiano was clearly out of his prep as he spent 32 minutes on the correct 19…dxc3! (after 19…g5 MVL could likely force a draw with 20.Nxg5!). After 20.Qxc3 we got the turning point of the whole game.

Maxime was expecting either 20…Nd4 or the move he really feared, 20…b4! (21.Qc5 Nd4!), which both get the computer’s stamp of approval. Instead Fabiano went for the exchange sacrifice 20…Rxf3?!, perhaps having overlooked that after 21.gxf3 Nd4 White was holding everything together with the awkward-looking 22.Bd1! (22.Be4 Bd5! and it seems Fabi’s idea would have been justified).

Caruana was suddenly playing for tricks, and one of them would have been exquisite if it had appeared on the board. 24…Rf4!? was a move of which Maxime said, “I saw it was strong… it turns out it’s bad, but it looks very strong!”

The trap is that the most natural-looking move 25.Bg3? would run into the shocking 25…Qh3+!, and there’s a sudden mate with 26.Kxh3 Bf1# (26.Kf2 avoids the immediate mate, but after 26…Qf1+ it doesn’t end well for White). 

Even more treacherously, however, 25.Bf2? also loses to the same 25…Qh3+! White would be winning after 26.Kxh3 Bf1+ 27.Kg3 if not for another checkmate, 27…Nf5#

Maxime isn’t the kind of guy to fall into such things, however, and, by process of elimination he went for 25.Be1! “What’s lucky is that Fabi doesn’t have a move here”, said the Frenchman, and later one precise move, 28.Kf2!, thwarted all Caruana’s attempts to whip up an attack. Fabi resigned after the super-solid 39.Bc3! left absolutely nothing to hope for. 

Job done for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Elsewhere there were long battles, with So-Nepomniachtchi following a Giri-Nepomniachtchi clash from the World Blitz Championship, where Black achieved a fairly effortless draw.

“Obviously Ian prepared this variation for the match and he’s very well-prepared”, said Wesley, while also noting, “I thought this is not according to Ian’s style, very aggressive, to defend a pawn down”.

Wesley So's long grind once again paid off | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

After 21…h6, Wesley’s 22.e3 (not 22.h4) was the first new move, while after 24.Qg4 there was the first clear evidence that Ian was uncomfortable.

He started shaking his head and then took on f3. He thought for like 30 minutes. Without the queens on the board it’s a draw, but with the queens it’s some chances.

24…Bxf3!? wasn’t an obvious decision and Wesley also thought 44…g6!? was played after Ian “saw some ghosts”, but it was only 56…Bd4? that was a clear mistake, allowing 57.e5! and the bishop was blocked off from the kingside. There was barely time to reflect on the new situation, however, before Nepomniachtchi compounded that mistake with the final mistake 57…Qg6?

Wesley took just a couple of minutes to execute 58.Bxf7+! and Ian resigned. After either 58…Qxf7 59.Qg4+ or 58…Kxf7 59.Qc4+ White wins the bishop on d4 and, with two extra pawns, the win would be trivial.

Levon Aronian said he originally didn't wear the shark-themed shirt his girlfriend had gifted him as he didn't want to distract his opponents, but desperate times... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The 3rd and final win of the day was for Levon Aronian, who played a novelty (8…a5) early on in a Giuoco Piano. Objectively Leinier Dominguez was doing at least fine, but in time trouble he stumbled with 26.Qe6?!

Levon explained that he’d seen 26.Qf3!, but gambled that it would be easy to overlook lines such as 26…Nxd5 27.Rd1! Kg7 28.Rxd5!

I was very tempted to provoke him. I saw this Qf3 that is making a draw, these Rd1 ideas, but then I was telling myself this is so difficult to see… A rook on the open file, it seems you should be striking there instead of bringing it back on the d-file. This was my hope, and I think my hope paid off!

It was noteworthy that Leinier, for a 3rd day in a row, managed to navigate playing on increment for a dozen moves without making any blunders.

It was a heroic effort, but as even Garry Kasparov noted, “a pawn is a pawn”, and a couple of inaccuracies in the play that followed were enough for Levon to go on to grind out an important win.

Not for the first time in Bucharest this year, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was puzzled | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Even the draws were spectacular in Round 4, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov stumbling into a much more speculative attack than he’d planned against Bogdan-Daniel Deac.

Here he’d meant to play 18.Bxe6!, a move Gukesh played against Wesley So in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event. Shakh pointed out one of the ideas, 18…Qb6 19.Bf5 g6 20.Rd3!, saying, “it’s my point to sacrifice this bishop and play a very beautiful position”.

At the board, however, he doubted his prep, not seeing how to reply to 18…Qb8 instead of 18…Qb6. In fact the solution there was 19.Bxf7+!, and White is crushing.

In the game we got 18.Ng3?! Qb8! 19.h4!? Nf8 20.Bd3!?, when Shakh regretted not playing 20.g5 immediately.

It’s very strange. My mistake is sometimes I sacrifice a pawn and after two moves I try to play very solid. It is too late to play very solid!

20…b6! from Deac was a cold shower.

Shakh knew his attack was now too slow: “I missed this idea b6. After this I think how to play not to lose the game!” To Shakh’s credit, however, he managed, and it was a good result for both players — 20-year-old Bogdan remains on an unbeaten +1.

Firouzja-Rapport lived up to expectations | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The “do whatever 15-year-old Gukesh” does approach was also followed by Alireza Firouzja, who went for the rare 17.Be2 in a weird and wonderful Sicilian line full of heavy theory.  

Richard Rapport’s 17…Rd8 was already a new move, but the first long think of the game for the Hungarian came after Firouzja’s 21.Qe5!

Black could easily panic as everything seems to be falling apart, with c5 threatened as well as capturing on e6. Richard, however, found the only solution 21…c5!, when it turns out that after 22.Qxe6+?! Kf8 it’s Black who’s better.

Alireza instead chose 22.Qxc5, when 22...Rc8 forced an exchange of queens. You might say things fizzled out after that, but the ensuing rook endgame felt balanced on a knife-edge before Rapport held a draw with precise and resourceful play.

No wins yet for Alireza Firouzja, so it's clear he'll be out to try and beat Deac in Round 5, regardless of having the black pieces | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

That leaves the standings looking as follows after Round 4, with Wesley So taking the sole lead.

In Round 5, the last before the rest day, Wesley has Black against Aronian, while Deac faces Firouzja and MVL is Black against Nepomniachtchi.  

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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