Caruana scores 3/3 in rapid playoff, wins Superbet Chess Classic

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/6/2024 – An exciting final day of action at the Superbet Chess Classic saw Fabiano Caruana first losing his round-9 classical game against Anish Giri and then convincingly prevailing in a 4-way rapid playoff. Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa and Alireza Firouzja finished the classical section tied for first with Caruana after Firouzja failed to make the most of a considerable advantage in his game against Pragg. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“I played terribly”

After winning 3 out of 5 events in the 2023 Grand Chess Tour, including the 2 classical tournaments, Fabiano Caruana again showed his class at the Superbet Classic in Bucharest. The US grandmaster was the long-time sole leader before losing his round-9 encounter against Anish Giri. In the 4-way rapid playoff that ensued, however, Caruana prevailed in style, scoring 3 wins in as many games to defend his title.

Caruana was the sole leader going into the final round, after scoring 2 wins and 6 draws in the event. Playing black against Giri, he needed a draw to at least secure a playoff, but a mistake in the early middlegame left him a pawn down against an inspired opponent, who went on to score a 56-move win, his first of the event. Caruana later confessed that he had “played terribly”, while acknowledging that Giri had proficiently taken advantage of the situation.

Three players had entered the round at a half-point distance from the leader. By the time Caruana resigned against Giri, one of the chasers had already signed a draw, while the other two were playing a tense middlegame — i.e. Gukesh had signed a quick draw with Wesley So, while Alireza Firouzja kept trying to convert his advantage into a win against Praggnanandhaa.

Firouzja had two rooks against Pragg’s rook and knight in an endgame that engines evaluated as winning for the Frenchman until move 45. In the end, Pragg’s resilience allowed him to escape with a draw and reach the deciding playoff. A win for Firouzja would have granted him outright victory.

Our in-house expert, GM Karsten Müller, analysed the Pragg v. Firouzja endgame.

Praggnanandhaa, Alireza Firouzja

Fabiano Caruana having a look at the crucial game between Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anish Giri

Anish Giri convincingly beat Fabiano Caruana in round 9 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Results - Round 9

Final standings

The playoffs

As per the tour’s regulations, if more than two players finish a classical event tied for first place, the tournament winner must be decided in a single round-robin with a 10+5 time control. Arbiter Chris Bird remarked on X that a tweak in the regulations for this year’s series rewarded fighting spirit in the distribution of colours for the playoff:

The players in the tie shall initially contest a Rapid Round Robin, with the pairing numbers determined in the following tie-break order, with player 1 having the best tie-breaks: Most wins, most blacks, direct encounter, drawing of lots.

While Gukesh and Pragg finished the classical tournament undefeated (with 1 win and 8 draws), Caruana and Firouzja both won 2 and lost 1 throughout the 9 rounds of play. Thus, the latter duo got to play twice with the white pieces in the playoff.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja was inches away from claiming outright victory | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Coincidentally, both Caruana and Firouzja started the rapid playoffs with wins over their Indian opponents. In the second round of the rapid round-robin, Caruana got the white pieces against Firouzja and scored what would turn out to be the deciding victory of the tiebreaker (see analysis of the game below).

Going into the third and final round of the playoffs, Caruana had 2 points, Firouzja and Gukesh had 1 point each, while Pragg was out of contention with 0 points. In the third round, Caruana beat Pragg with black to secure tournament victory with a perfect 3/3 in the tiebreaker.

Final standings - Tiebreaks

So far this year, Caruana has played the American Cup, the Candidates and the Norway Chess tournament. While he had an underwhelming performance in Stavanger, his showings in the American Cup and the Candidates were remarkable — importantly, he fell just short of reaching a playoff against Gukesh in Toronto.

Now, the US star had a great start at the Grand Chess Tour (he did not play in Kraków) as he intends to defend the title he superbly obtained in last year’s series!

Caruana 1 - 0 Firouzja

Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja resigns the rapid game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fabiano Caruana, Cristian Chirila

Fabiano Caruana receiving the tournament trophy next to second, friend and podcast co-host Cristian Chirila | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All games - Classical

All games - Tiebreaks


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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