Superbet Classic: Hard-fought draws, Caruana and So miss chances

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/13/2023 – There was no lack of entertaiment in round 6 of the Superbet Chess Classic, despite all five games finishing drawn. Fabiano Caruana could have extended his lead, but failed to take down Alireza Firouzja from an advantageous position. Similarly, Wesley So got a clear edge against Ding Liren, but first missed a few tactical chances and then decided to force a threefold repetition from a still superior position. Thus, Caruana remains as the sole leader in Bucharest with three rounds to go. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“The [computer’s] evaluation is inhuman”

A befuddled Wesley So was interviewed by Cristian Chirila after signing a 40-move draw with Ding Liren. Before the cameras started rolling, Chirila had informed the US star that he had just agreed to enter a threefold repetition in a position which the engines evaluated as clearly favourable for him. So explained:

I just thought things went out of control. I mean, it doesn’t even make sense looking at the computer these days, because they’re just too strong, and the evaluation is inhuman, so totally unrealistic.

It had, indeed, been a wild struggle, which saw Ding playing aggressively with white and getting an edge before the tables turned in Black’s favour. So found a number of remarkable tactical resources — and missed a few others — before ending up with two rooks and two minor pieces against a queen and a rook in a double-edged yet advantageous position. 

Shortly after that game finished, Alireza Firouzja also joined Chirila and described So’s decision to accept the draw as “weird”. The youngster, like Ding, came from escaping with a half point from a patently inferior position.

Firouzja played black against sole leader Fabiano Caruana, against whom he has a negative score, and saw his opponent playing brilliantly before letting his advantage slip away in an endgame with rooks and knights. Firouzja thus remains in the chasing pack, a half point behind Caruana together with So and Richard Rapport.

All round-6 games ended drawn. Besides the two encounters mentioned above, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Rapport also played an entertaining game — an imbalanced French Defence which saw both sides getting passed pawns on opposite flanks of the board.

Fabiano Caruana

Sole leader Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ding ½ - ½ So

Out of an English opening, an optimistic Ding left his king in the centre. So seized the initiative in the middlegame and got to give a check from g3 with his queen. On the very next move, though, he declined to play a powerful exchange sacrifice.

25...Rxd5 26.exd5 Nf4 is a beautiful combination which leaves White struggling to defend his position. However, it is not a continuation that leads to a quick, forced mate — and, after all, it leaves White material down.

So calculated this line, but went for 25...Bd7 instead, which by no means gives away his advantage. In the ensuing sequence, So correctly gave up his queen, as 26.Qa5 Nd4 27.Rd1 Nxe2 28.Rh3 b6 29.Qa6 was followed by 29...Bxg4, leaving the queen en prise.

The idea is that after 30.Rxg3 Nxg3+ White cannot play 31.Kf2, attacking two pieces at once, due to 31...Nxe4+, and the knight cannot be captured due to the ...Bxd1.

Black thus emerged with a rook and two minor pieces for a queen and a pawn — and, what is more important, with the safer king. So, however, went for a threefold repetition in the following position.

A narrow escape for the new world champion.

Superbet Chess Classic 2023

The playing hall during round 6 | Photo: Bryan Adams

Caruana ½ - ½ Firouzja

An in-form Caruana played brilliantly in the opening and the middlegame, and eventually simplified into a superior — yet materially balanced — rook and knight endgame.

The pawn structures are symmetrical, but White’s pieces are vastly more active than their counterparts. Firouzja, who confessed to have been “a bit too optimistic” earlier on, had an out-of-place knight on the queenside almost throughout the entire game.

Caruana, however, made a decisive mistake on move 41.

Black is almost completely paralysed, while White can safely coordinate an attack against the weak pawn on b6 and slowly improve the position of his king. Notwithstanding these factors, Caruana’s 41.Nc4 allows Firouzja to force a draw by 41...Rf7 42.Rb8+ Rf8, etcetera.

As pointed out by Firouzja during his post-game interview, Caruana immediately noticed that he had made a mistake when he grabbed the knight on move 41, and in fact reacted by placing the knight back on d6 — but, of course, he had to play it due to the touch-move rule.

41.Rc7 would have been the correct continuation.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Bryan Adams

Results - Round 6

Standings - Round 6

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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.