GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Richard Rapport were the two winners in the second round of the Superbet Classic Romania 2023 in Bucharest on Sunday. The round featured two contrasting decisive results as well as three draws that were all decided by threefold repetition.
Nepomniachtchi put on a masterclass against local hope GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac with the black pieces while Rapport ground out a technical opposite-colored bishop endgame against GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Both winners join GM Wesley So in the lead on 1.5/2.
The Superbet Classic will continue with round three on Monday, May 8, at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.
See what happened
Deac vs. Nepomniachtchi
One of the pertinent question marks hovering over both Nepomniachtchi and GM Ding Liren following their nearly month-long world championship match was whether or not they would be able to maintain their level of play with fatigue playing its part. While GM Garry Kasparov noted that “Ding still has to digest the world title,” Nepomniachtchi showed that he is still just as voracious as he was at the start of April.
Deac, who has spent much of the last two years pushing himself into the upper echelons of world chess, was dealt a stark reminder of how clinical the world’s second-highest-rated player can be. Playing on the white side of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Deac quickly lost an exchange for a pawn, courtesy of innovative play from Black, before being dominated by Nepomniachtchi’s pair of rooks.
Although he would claim he wasn’t “full of energy, like motivation and ideas,” he certainly showed up with a spark in round two.
The game was most certainly the Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Barely putting a foot wrong, Nepomniachtchi’s victory not only pushed him into equal first but has placed him just three points shy of a 2800 classical rating and 11 points ahead of the world number-three and world champion, Ding.
Nepomniachtchi eyes a return to 2800. Image: 2700chess.com.
Rapport vs. Duda
After exerting his influence on Ding’s openings in the world championship, Rapport finally had the chance to show off his imagination and flair with the white piece against Duda. He did not disappoint. Starting with 1.Nf3, the now-Romanian representative steered the game into obscurity with a King’s Indian Attack-Chigorin hybrid, leaving both players down a full hour on the clock after just 13 moves!
The resulting middlegame was akin to a classic pawn structure arising in the Trompowsky Attack, which would’ve struck a chord of familiarity with Rapport, the world’s highest-rated exponent of the opening.
Happy to play with a small advantage, Rapport encouraged Duda to swap both rooks off the board, leaving the players with opposite-colored bishops and an asymmetrical six-pawn-each setup. Though such endgames are often drawn, the consequence of entering this ending for Duda was that he was left with two sets of isolated pawns, a decision that Rapport would later brandish as his own “last trick.”
Although they entered the endgame on move 24, a long grind ensued and it took 17 more moves for Rapport to find a decisive breakthrough with 41. e5+! followed by 42.e6!.
Ding vs. Caruana
The clash between the new world champion and the former challenger GM Fabiano Caruana saw Ding return to his trusty Catalan Opening. Clearly prepared for the selected line, Caruana busted out his first 14 moves instantaneously, adding five minutes to his clock in a show of confidence.
Diverting from known theory and a 13th move that has garnered a 63% draw rate, Caruana opted for 13.Qd7 and prepared a subtle trick that Ding never saw coming. Several moves later, the reigning U.S. champion played 17.Nc5!!, a brilliant move that cut off White’s supply line to the c6-knight and all but forced a repetition of moves by move 21.
Citing potential exhaustion from the world championship, Caruana would say of Ding: “He’s not really, like, trying very hard at the start of this tournament. Maybe he’s still trying to recover some energy. Like yesterday, he didn’t really try very hard against Maxime.” For these reasons, the world number-eight was not surprised that Ding was content with a round two draw.
Vachier-Lagrave vs. So
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave-So was a similar tale to Ding-Caruana, ending in just 22 moves after little attempt was made by either player to create a battle. So created sufficient imbalance on the black side of the London System after playing the principled 6.Nh5, and managed to swap into a queenless middlegame where his pieces had every chance to activate. Vachier-Lagrave later admitted that he was “not completely happy with the opening stage.”
In a show of respect to the 2022 winner Vachier-Lagrave, So instead decided to initiate a repetition and split the point. While the Frenchman was unwilling to suggest that So’s position was better, he did indicate that Black could have played on, stating: “The game finished maybe a bit untimely.”
Giri vs. Firouzja
Looking to exploit GM Alireza Firouzja‘s mood after a first-round loss at the hands of So, GM Anish Giri tried his best to apply pressure on the white side of the Slav Defense: Exchange Variation.
Living up to its ultra-solid reputation, the opening fizzled out and Firouzja was able to use a c-file pin to trade into a completely drawn rook and five pawn vs. rook and five pawn ending.
Results – Round 2
With three players, Nepomniachtchi, Rapport, and So leading on 1.5 after two rounds, all eyes turn to the round three pairings. Nepomniachtchi-Ding will provide the most intrigue on Monday as the players clash for the first time since their fateful world championship tiebreak. Caruana proposed that Ding was “out of ideas” after the match and it will certainly be interesting to see what kind of game transpires after their 18-game match.
Meanwhile, Firouzja will face Rapport in what is expected to be a creative game, while So will look to extend his lead with the white pieces against Giri.
Pairings – Round 3
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.