Superbet Classic: Caruana bamboozles Vachier-Lagrave

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/8/2023 – Four players are sharing the lead on 2/3 points at the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. The latest addition to the leading pack is Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the only decisive game of round 3. In the marquee encounter of the round, Ian Nepomniachtchi could not make the most of his advantage in his game with white against Ding Liren. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Four co-leaders

Find expert commentary - video and game annotations - by well-known coach and author IM Robert Ris at the end of the article.

As often happens in tournaments with all-elite lineups, a very close race for the top has emerged after a few rounds at the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. Four players are sharing the lead with +1 scores, while no player has lost more than once in the first three rounds of the competition. On Monday, Fabiano Caruana joined the leading pack by beating Maxime Vachie-Lagrave with the white pieces.

Only Ding Liren and Anish Giri have drawn all their games so far. After getting two whites in the first rounds, Ding faced Ian Nepomniachtchi eight days after beating him in the World Championship match. Nepo got the upper hand with white but, following a trend from the match in Astana, he failed to convert his advantage into a win.

A draw was signed after 54 moves in what was their fifteenth confrontation in classical chess in a bit over four weeks.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren meet again | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the one decisive game of the day, Caruana and MVL played an entertaining 23-move game. Caruana pushed his h-pawn early on with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4 *, to which Vachier-Lagrave replied by setting up a Benko structure. Plenty of calculation was required in the highly imbalanced resulting position, when Caruana did not have much trouble getting the upper hand and scoring a quick win. The US grandmaster later explained:

He was playing far from his best today. [...] I did what I had to do, so overall it’s good.

Caruana will face co-leader Nepomniachtchi in Tuesday’s fourth round, while MVL, who is the defending champion in Romania, will try to bounce right back in his game against Giri.

* Check out Spike Ernst’s FritzTrainer 3.h4 against the King's Indian and Grünfeld - now available with a 25% discount!

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja drew with Richard Rapport in round 3, and then told Cristian Chirila: “I just take more risks, and that’s why I lose more points” | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1 - 0 Vachier-Lagrave

An ambidextrous player, Caruana went for 1.d4, surely prepared to face MVL’s pet defence, the Grünfeld. His early 3.h4, however, prompted the Frenchman to enter the Benko, giving up a pawn to get play on the queenside. Theory was followed until move 12, when MVL was the first to deviate from explored territories.

12...Qd7 was followed by 13.0-0 Qg4, as Black showed his intentions to use the weakness created by h2-h4 on White’s camp.

Boldly, Black gave up two central pawns in order to infiltrate his opponent’s position with his knight (the one that started its journey from g8). Once the ‘horse’ had reached the d3-square, White’s position already looked more than promising, though.

After 18...Nfd3 19.Re3 Nxb2 Caruana found the precise 20.Qb3. Curiously, following Black’s knight journeys, it was two knight moves by White which provoked MVL’s resignation.

There followed 20...N2d3 21.e5 f5 (Black’s best practical chance) 22.Nh2 Qh3 23.Ne2

White is two pawns up and has a more compact, coordinated army. Moreover, Black will need to find tactical recourses to survive in the short term — only to later find himself dealing with two strong central passers on the d and e-files. 1-0

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.