The penultimate round of the Superbet Classic Romania 2023 ended on Sunday with one win and four draws, leaving GM Fabiano Caruana as the sole leader on 5/8 after GM Alireza Firouzja was defeated by GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Threefold repetitions, some as few as 14 moves, dominated the round. However, the game between Caruana and GM Anish Giri, which featured a spectacular queen sacrifice, provided plenty of excitement.
The Superbet Classic will conclude with round nine on Monday, May 15, at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.
See what happened
Duda vs. Firouzja
Firouzja’s run of good form was brought to a screaming halt in round eight as Duda outplayed him on the white side of the Slav Defense: Exchange Variation. By his own admission, the Polish GM was ready to “wrap up” what had been a winless event for him thus far and even felt “bus sick” on the way to the round.
As it happened though, Duda managed to procure a dynamic middlegame where he was able to create an isolated and backward pawn respectively on Firouzja’s queenside. Forced to give up a pawn in order to maintain a playable position, Firouzja kept his drawing chances alive with active play but erred in the endgame with 29…Ra7?. The move created the berth that Duda needed and he captured the initiative once more.
With a rook, a knight, and four connected pawns against Black’s rook, bishop, and three pawns, Duda didn’t need to grind for long. Even after the inaccurate 40.g4?, the world number 19 had no problem scooping up his first win of the event.
Game annotations for our Game of the Day have been provided by GM Dejan Bojkov below. They will be added soon.
Although Duda’s victory has not given him the opportunity to contest for first place in the tournament, the result did have major repercussions for Firouzja, who lost his lead and sits in equal second with three other players on 4.5/8.
Caruana vs. Giri
The showdown between Caruana and Giri was always going to be a theoretical duel and it was Caruana who showed off “great prep,” with his opponent stating that “everything went according to his [Caruana’s] plan.”
The Giuco Piano Game: Main Line, Giuco Pianissimo Variation has seen a steady increase in popularity since the turn of the century, owing to the flexibility of the setups White can select from, and was the battleground for the day’s game. Caruana appeared to be well-versed in the line and opted to steer things off the beaten track with 13.Ba3.
Giri would later confess that he “didn’t know any of this,” but still managed to refute each idea that Caruana threw at him with the utmost precision. The critical moment of the game arose on move 17, where it seemed as if Giri was about to gift the initiative to White. Facing this adversity, Giri found the breathtaking 17…Qxe1!!, a queen sacrifice that gave him all the initiative and power to his minor pieces required to force a draw several moves later.
Extraordinarily, Caruana would finish the game with six minutes more than he started, a testament to the quality of his preparation. On the other hand, Giri had soaked up more than one hour on his clock.
Ding vs. Rapport
For the past two months, fans of chess have relished in the budding friendship between the newly crowned World Champion Ding Liren and GM Richard Rapport. However, in round eight, they were forced to play against each other in Bucharest.
The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense was the first sign that the pair was more than happy to agree to a peaceful draw and following 20 moves played at the speed of a blitz game, this theory began to come to fruition. The master database provided a damning statistic: by move 19, the near-symmetrical and obviously balanced positions had been reached over a dozen times. Every single time the line had ended in a draw.
Ding did produce a novelty with 25.h4, but it was clear that Rapport had seen the line before, responding with 25…Ng7 after thinking for less than a minute. The pair would repeat a mere five moves later in what was still the second-longest game of the round.
Nepomniachtchi vs. So
The “Berlin draw” epidemic reared its ugly head in round eight. After just 14 moves and 10 minutes, GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So had left the playing hall with an extra half-point added to their tallies. The common line in the Ruy Lopez Opening: Berlin Defense, L’Hermet Variation has now occurred over 150 times in master-level play.
Both players appeared happy to split the point for different reasons; Nepomniachtchi likely looked to cut his losses after a disappointing tournament, while a draw for So with Black meant that he could use the quick round as an opportunity to prepare for his final game with the White pieces against Duda.
Exhaustion was almost certainly a factor in Nepomniachtchi’s decision not to press with White and Legendary GM Maurice Ashley came to the defense of both of the recent world championship challengers, stating: “Extreme fatigue from their extraordinary and exhausting world championship match has affected their play.”
Ding and Nepo being tied for last place at the #GrandChessTour in Romania shows that extreme fatigue from their extraordinary and exhausting world championship match has affected their play. Those making fun of them should show some respect.
— Maurice Ashley (@MauriceAshley) May 14, 2023
Vachier-Lagrave vs. Deac
Last year’s winner GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has had a mediocre performance in Bucharest so far but would have been bullish about his chances against the tournament’s lowest seed, GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac. Playing with the white pieces, Vachier-Lagrave played a quiet variation in the Giuco Piano and after the d-file was opened, he decided to trade the queens.
Any advantage for the Frenchman hinged on Black’s queenside structure breaking down, which can often happen in the Giuco Piano if the bishop on a7 is not treated correctly. Deac was more than up to the task of defending though and developed his pieces rapidly, leaving Vachier-Lagrave with no choice but to repeat moves or alternatively, create imbalances that may have proven risky.
Results – Round 8
Standings – Round 8
Following a round in which just 139 moves were played across five games (sometimes individual chess games go for more moves than this), the biggest question will be whether the frontrunning players will find the energy to press in round nine.
The most important clash will be Rapport-Caruana, which will go a long way to deciding the winner, while the other players tied in second place, So, Giri, and Firouzja, will all play with the white pieces in the final round in their bid to catch Caruana.
Pairings – Round 9
The Superbet Chess Classic Romania 2023 is the first leg of this year’s Grand Chess Tour (GCT) featuring 10 of the best players in the world. Players including the world champion GM Ding Liren, as well as GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Fabiano Caruana, will battle it out for their share of the $350,000 prize fund.