Superbet Classic: Caruana and Gukesh start off with wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/27/2024 – The Superbet Chess Classic saw two out of five games ending decisively on the first day of action. Fabiano Caruana and D Gukesh became the early co-leaders by beating Alireza Firouzja and Bogdan-Daniel Deac respectively. Both games featured considerable changes in evaluation, as the double-edged positions that appeared on the boards provoked mistakes by all involved parties. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Dodgy positions

The Grand Hotel Bucharest in the capital of Romania is hosting the second event of the 2024 Grand Chess Tour. Ten strong grandmasters are set to battle in a single round-robin with a revamped classical time control. This year, the participants of the GCT will receive 120 minutes for the whole game plus 30-second increments in the two classical events of the series, the Superbet Classic and the Sinquefield Cup.

Adding to the fact that the time control means that players will never get a respite if they find themselves in time trouble, two of the round-1 games saw the contenders entering sharp positions right out of the opening.

In fact, commentator Yasser Seirawan described Fabiano Caruana’s opening approach as “dodgy” — talking to Christian Chirila after the round, Caruana responded to Seirawan’s comment by evaluating his position as “much worse than dodgy”, even “close to lost”. The risky strategy worked wonders for the defending champion, though, as he ended up scoring a 59-move victory over Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces.

Tied for first with Caruana is D Gukesh, who played his first classical game since his victory at the Candidates Tournament in Toronto. Much like his US colleague, Gukesh prevailed by showing resourcefulness in a complex battle to outplay his opponent, Bogdan-Daniel Deac, in a position that saw the evaluation favouring either contender at different points of the game.

The remaining three games ended drawn, with Nodirbek Abdusattorov and R Praggnanandhaa playing the longest encounter that ended peacefully. In a technical struggle, Pragg gained a pawn in the late middlegame, but Abdusattorov had enough compensation and showed good technique to keep the balance.

Results - Round 1

Dommaraju Gukesh, Bogdan-Daniel Deac

Check out the times on the clock — incredibly, Bogdan-Daniel Deac often stood up from the board while “living on increments” in his game against Gukesh | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Nodirbek Abdusattorov | Photo: Lennart Ootes

After playing his “dodgy” opening, Caruana found himself dealing with a sort of King’s Indian Defence structure in which Black struggles to create counterplay. But, as the defending champion later noted, Firouzja missed his chance to create a one-sided battle on move 16.

Caruana noted that 16.a4 here would completely close off the queenside, which would allow White to safely look for attacking schemes on the kingside. Black would then be stuck defending his king without many chances to create counterplay.

Instead, Firouzja went for an immediate 16.g4, and the game continued 16...Rb8 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 b5, with pawn breaks on opposite flanks of the board.

Chaos ensued. Firouzja went for a number of tactical continuations as he tried to create a deadly attack on the kingside, while the ever-resourceful Caruana showcased his calculation abilities to successfully deal with the charge.

Eventually, the battle cooled off and Black emerged with an extra pawn in a position with a closed pawn structure in the centre. Firouzja decided to offer a queen trade on move 34.

It is understandable for Firouzja to enter the queenless endgame, as it is difficult to foresee a winning plan for Black — especially with Caruana having 5 minutes on the clock.

However, engines show that the position is winning for Black, and the US grandmaster patiently made progress until finding the perfect time to play the winning 53...f3

After 54.Nxf3 Kf7 55.Bg3 Black created a passer on the queenside with 55...Nxb3. Firouzja attempted desperately to muddy the waters, but Caruana continued to find good moves. The French representative resigned the game four moves later.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja smiling despite having just lost the game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after round 1

All games


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.
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