Superbet Classic: Caruana outplays Nepo, takes the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/10/2023 – Fabiano Caruana became the sole leader at the Superbet Chess Classic after beating Ian Nepomniachtchi in Tuesday’s fourth round. Caruana outplayed Nepo from a mostly balanced position and thus grabbed his second consecutive win with the white pieces. In the other decisive game of the day, Alireza Firouzja got the better of Bogdan-Daniel Deac. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


A first for Caruana

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

Surprisingly, as expressed by the webcast’s commentators, Fabiano Caruana’s victory over Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 4 of the Superbet Chess Classic was the first in his career (in a classical game). The elite grandmasters, aged 30 and 32, have played numerous confrontations, including four at all-important Candidates Tournaments. As noted by Caruana, all four of their games in the Candidates were hard-fought, sharp draws.

Despite being two of the best-prepared players in the world, the decisive game on Tuesday had little to do with the opening. A materially balanced position with queen and knight against queen and bishop appeared on the board. It all indicated that a routine draw would follow, as described by Caruana:

For a long time, we were just playing instantly — nothing was happening.

But chess positions often contain hidden resources. Caruana felt he had a small chance to win and began to pose problems to his opponent. Nepo eventually felt the danger and his discomfort began to show in his demeanour. Caruana confessed that converting the advantage was never easy with the queens still on the board, but in the end managed to collect the full point against his famed opponent.

This unorthodox game (for the elite level) follows a trend of players obtaining wins from positions that are often regarded as lifeless or inevitably-leading-to-a-draw. On Monday, Jorden van Foreest defeated Arjun Erigaisi from a drawn rook endgame in Malmö, while Richard Rapport demonstrated a day prior that not all opposite-coloured bishops (with an equal number of pawns) are drawn.

In the other decisive game of the day, Alireza Firouzja got the better of Bogdan-Daniel Deac with the black pieces. Firouzja thus returned to a fifty-percent score — he lost to Wesley So in the first round — while Deac is now in the cellar of the standings.

Anish Giri

Anish Giri held Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to a draw with black | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1 - 0 Nepomniachtchi

The following position was reached on move 38, right after the contenders had traded minor pieces on e4. By that point, only four times had the players spent more than ten minutes on a single decision. A draw was certainly regarded as the most probable result.

Seven moves later, the white knight reached the strong outpost on d4 and the white queen stood strong on the open c-file. Caruana had reason to be hopeful.

Nepo’s 39...f5, played almost instantly, further deteriorated Black’s drawing chances.

What followed was a manoeuvring masterclass by Caruana, who never let go of his advantage while preventing his opponent from getting counterchances (by, for example, threatening a perpetual check). 

Only on move 70 did Black completely run out of tricks.

70.Qc5+ and Nepo resigned. The bishop will fall and there is no perpetual in sight. 

Superbet Chess Classic 2023

A great shot of the playing hall in Bucharest | Photo: Bryan Adams

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Results - Round 4

Standings - Round 4

All games

Middlegame Secrets Vol.1 + Vol.2

Let us learn together how to find the best spot for the queen in the early middlegame, how to navigate this piece around the board, how to time the queen attack, how to decide whether to exchange it or not, and much more!


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.