GMs Alireza Firouzja and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov both won their first games in round seven of the 2022 Superbet Chess Classic Romania. The third winner was GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was gifted a full point as his opponent blundered.
In a round where both leaders had to accept bloodless draws, the remainder of the field battled at delivered three decisive games in total. After seven rounds, GMs Levon Aronian and Wesley So share the lead with 4.5/7 but are now only half a point ahead of the resurgent Vachier-Lagrave. The main peloton is a further half point behind.
Round eight will begin on Friday, May 13, at 5 a.m. PT / 14:00 Central Europe.
Sometimes chess can be fun. Other times chess can be dull. But then there are times when chess is just bizarre. Thursday’s round, the seventh of the event, was such a day.
Co-loader Aronian had announced that he was out for revenge against GM Fabiano Caruana for the loss in the final of The American Cup that took place a few weeks ago.
For that purpose, he wheeled out the Bishop’s Opening, more as a surprise than because he had any specific idea in mind. However, both Aronian and Caruana have considerable experience with this line, Aronian even with both colors.
It quickly became clear that White had very little and after 13.Ng3?!, he had nothing. With his 14th move, Aronian essentially invited Caruana to enter a sequence that would vacuum most of the pieces off the board and then repeat moves. Caruana saw no reason to avoid this and soon a draw was agreed upon.
Romanian GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac suffered a punch to the gut when he lost a promising position in round six. Now facing co-leader So, he was clearly not in the mood to take any chances against the ultra-solid American.
So accepted his opponent’s Queen’s Gambit and an interesting fact is that both players had been involved in games with the Queen’s Gambit Accepted in the second round, Deac against Aronian and So, also with White, against Vachier-Lagrave, and both played 7.b3. Deac repeated his choice of 7.b3 and then went on to follow So’s game until the American deviated from that game by playing 13…Qd7.
Deac could have played for an edge, but after 15.Rc1 it became clear that a draw was all that he wanted. So acquiesced, exchanging both sets of rooks, and shortly after the players found a way to repeat moves.
When you have been on fire for a while, such as has been the case for GM Richard Rapport, you do not expect to have an event develop as this one has. He has played creatively and well but thus far that has amounted to any wins on the tournament table.
After Vachier-Lagrave’s performance against Aronian in round six, Rapport possibly hoped to find a way to re-catch that lightning in a bottle he managed in their semi-final encounter from the Belgrade leg of the FIDE Grand Prix earlier this year. In that game, the Frenchman had played shockingly bad in his favorite Grunfeld Defense.
Evidently, Vachier-Lagrave saw the wisdom in avoiding this opening, instead opting for another Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the opening the French grandmaster had used against So, as mentioned earlier in this report.
Via transposition, the players ended up in a heavily explored line from the Semi-Slav Defense. They continued at a very slow pace through established main line theory through to move 23, when Vachier-Lagrave chose a slightly surprising move.
Shortly after, Rapport played the aggressive 27.Re5?!, setting up the blunder that decided the game, and then following up with the blunder 28.Nd5?? that costs a rook, having forgotten that the bishop on a5 protects the d8-square and therefore prevents the mate that Rapport had in mind.
Our next game saw so many ups and downs that the players must have questioned their ability to play proper chess afterward, and perhaps instead book the game as an entry for the popular “Guess the Elo” segment on the GothamChess YouTube channel.
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi had undoubtedly hoped for a better rehearsal for the Candidates tournament than he has had here where things have not really worked out the way he had hoped, especially in the light of his good start to the event. His round-seven opponent was last year’s winner Mamedyarov, whose post-game interviews have gotten progressively more entertaining as his tournament has skidded off course.
In a line in the Italian Game that both players had played before, Nepomniachtchi decided to depart from an online game he had played against Aronian a couple of years back. Whether his novelty with 13.Ng3 actually improves over that game remains to be seen, but it did indeed look promising. However, after a couple of inaccurate moves, White felt compelled to sacrifice a pawn.
This sacrifice was accepted by Mamedyarov who seemed reasonably pleased with his position, despite his open king which always allowed White some counterplay as compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
In the continuation, Mamedyarov did not find the right way to organize his pieces and in the phase up the time control at move 40, things got completely out of hand.
First, Mamedyarov went pawn hunting with 28…Rd3 and 29…Rxc3?, which allowed some nasty chances for White along the a1-h8 diagonal. White, however, missed his first opportunity to do something about it. Then, after a massive blunder by Black on move 35, Nepomniachtchi had 20 minutes left on the clock to find the knock-out punch 36.Qf2, which wins promptly. Instead, he spent just over two minutes and played 36.Rf6, throwing all of his advantage away.
After that, even after the time control, the mistakes continued on both sides, until 43.Qa3? after which, Mamedyarov found 43…c5!, shutting down White’s counterplay and starting the play that would eventually decide the game.
In the concluding phase, Mamedyarov converted with a steady hand, allowing him to get himself away from last place on the tournament table.
Firouzja has reached several good positions but had been unable to capitalize on any of them. His opponent, GM Leinier Dominguez, picked up his first win in round six against Deac and was clearly feeling confident.
Against Firouzja’s 1.d4, Dominguez entered a topical and quite double-edged line of the Nimzo-Indian, where the French-Iranian grandmaster clearly was well-prepared, after the game, he mentioned that he had prepared everything up to move 17. Not that he had a specific advantage as such but rather having a playable position where he could play for a win.
In a complex middlegame, Dominguez made the first mistake when playing 27…Nf5?!, giving White an extra tempo because after 28.Qh3, he had nothing better than to pull the knight right back to e7. That gave White’s kingside initiative a little extra wind in the sails, nothing decisive but enough to make Black’s life a little uncomfortable.
However, when Dominguez once more decided to move the knight from e7, by playing 35…Nc6?, he allowed the stunningly brilliant 36.Rh7! rook sacrifice from Firouzja which almost decided the game on the spot, as Dominguez nearly lost on time trying to find an answer.
With only a second left on the clock, Dominguez found the only move to keep the game going, and once more the next move he repeated the feat with only two seconds on the clock, but then, unfortunately for Dominguez, Firouzja had an easy path into a won endgame that was converted convincingly.
“My confidence is going back,” said a visibly relieved Firouzja after the game. “It feels good to win a game.”
He seemed to be feeling optimistic, despite having to face So with the black pieces in round eight. So, on the other hand, also has to keep in mind that this game may also be his last chance to win because he has Dominguez with the black pieces in the last round.
Round 7 Standings
All Games Round 7