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So Gets His Revenge Vs. Firouzja, Takes Clear Lead
After just one round, Wesley So has taken over the sole lead. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

So Gets His Revenge Vs. Firouzja, Takes Clear Lead

NM_Vanessa
| 42 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Wesley So scored the first victory at the Superbet Classic Romania 2023, defeating the 2022 Grand Chess Tour champion, GM Alireza Firouzja, in round one on Saturday.

The kickoff event of the 2023 Grand Chess Tour promises an array of explosive duels, featuring the newly crowned world champion, GM Ding Liren, his rival, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, and many more of the world's best. 

This action continues in round two on Sunday, May 7, at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

See what happened
You can watch live games of the Superbet Chess Classic on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

The competitors are excited to return to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, hosting a major event of the Grand Chess Tour for the fourth time in a row. 

The 13th world champion and mastermind behind the Grand Chess Tour, GM Garry Kasparov, gave a speech at the opening ceremony, played a simul, and made the ceremonial first move for Ding in round one. 

With both challengers from the recent world championship competing, Nepomniachtchi will get his rematch vs. Ding in a matter of days. These fierce rivals will face off in round three on Monday. 

Ding is adjusting to his stunning world championship victory less than a week ago. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the defending Superbet Classic champion, is a player to watch as he will be vying for not just top honors in this tournament but the overall tour. Year after year, he's come incredibly close. He finished third in the 2022 Grand Chess Tour and was the runner-up in three out of the last four editions. 

Will Vachier-Lagrave claim his first Grand Chess Tour victory? Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The reigning Grand Chess Tour Champion Firouzja returns to classical chess after an eight-month hiatus. His last over-the-board tournament was the 2022 Sinquefield Cup in September where he went out with a bang, clinching both that event and the entire tour. 

Nepomniachtchi vs. Rapport

Nepomniachtchi vs. GM Richard Rapport was a game loaded with tension. As Ding's second, Rapport was a major part of the team that wrestled the chance to win the world championship from Nepomniachtchi. Further, the score between them personally is completely tied 1-1 with nine draws. 

A jubilant Rapport and Ding after the latter's first victory vs. Nepomniachtchi at the 2023 world championship. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Rapport countered Nepomniachtchi's 1.e4 with the French Defense―a reminder of game seven in Astana when Ding left his rival visibly stunned by his choice of opening, which hadn't seen the light of day in a world championship match since Karpov vs. Korchnoi in 1987. 

Nepomniachtchi managed to gain a small edge heading into a queenless middlegame where he ventured his king to d4 as the unexpected blockader of Rapport's isolated queen pawn. Ultimately, however, the two-time challenger didn't generate enough pressure to create winning chances. Rapport himself felt fairly confident in his chances to hold the game:

“If I wanted to be really mean, I would say that following the match, I wasn’t worried. No, but of course Black is clearly worse. I think if you play these positions extremely precisely, you shouldn’t lose them. I was thinking it’s kind of up to me if he’ll be able to put up maximum pressure, which I don’t feel like he did. He kind of let me off the hook very easily. ”

Duda vs. Giri

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. GM Anish Giri was a theoretical duel in the Queen's Gambit Accepted. Duda played the ambitious 3.e4, and Giri countered with a very rare 5...Nf6 line, offering his e-pawn for the chance to accelerate his development. Giri was clearly within his preparation for much of the extremely sharp game, gaining a significant 30-minute time edge over his opponent. 

Two pawns up but under significant pressure, Duda steered the game into fascinating, double-edged waters with a burst of energy on move 14. After the game, Giri admitted that despite his extensive prior analysis, he felt uncertain: "This position, I think I looked at it as well, but I felt that actually, over the board, I'm a little bit worse."

Can you find the move that left Giri second-guessing his home prep?

In the end, Giri generated some counterplay on the kingside, and the players drew. After the game, Giri shared an insightful perspective on how the ever-increasing strength of chess computers has changed the competitive aspect: 

"Nowadays it's very hard to control the game. It was the case before: a well-prepared player could control the game. But the nature of the game is such nowadays that you've got to get out there and fight. You no longer have the advantage of being better prepared because it's too easy to prepare now. Anybody without any understanding or skills just looks at the engine."

The nature of the game is such nowadays that you've got to get out there and fight. 

—GM Anish Giri

"Before, the engine would give you, let's say five options. And if you had some better understanding, you would see that: the first option is not good. The second option is not good. But the third option is the most sound one. But now the engines are much superior. The one that was third, now they put that one first with a margin. So anybody just looks and writes down the same lines. So now you don't have that edge anymore that people used to have back in the day. And that means that you've got to fight it out on the board."

Firouzja vs. So

Firouzja played ambitiously in the opening, gaining an advantage in the Giuoco Piano. So steadily activated his pieces, neutralizing White's edge. At the critical moment, So began to play for the win with 37...g5!, opening up his own kingside to loosen White’s defense of the d4-pawn. This sharp duel is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Dejan Bojkov.

In his post-game interview, So revealed that he was: "very happy to get revenge for that important game in the Sinquefield Cup."

Ding vs. Vachier-Lagrave

Despite Kasparov's suggestion of 1.e4 as the ceremonial first move, the 17th world champion had his own ideas, switching to 1.d4. Vachier-Lagrave replied with the Queen's Gambit Accepted―quite change of style for a longtime Grunfeld aficionado. Finding his opponent well-prepared for his opening choice, Ding decided to simplify down to a peaceful result with 17.b4, forcing several exchanges on the queenside. 


Caruana vs. Deac

GM Fabiano Caruana came close to starting off with a victory, creating pressure in the endgame vs. GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac. The American grandmaster missed a pivotal opportunity when the youngest competitor retreated his bishop to the edge of the board. Given a second chance, Deac didn't hesitate to remedy his mistake, re-routing his bishop and soon sacrificing a pawn to reach a drawn rook ending.

Results - Round 1

White Black
Nepomniachtchi 1/2 - 1/2 Rapport
Duda 1/2 - 1/2 Giri
Firouzja 0 - 1  So
Ding 1/2 - 1/2 Vachier-Lagrave
Caruana 1/2 - 1/2 Deac

Pairings - Round 2

White Black
Vachier-Lagrave - So
Giri - Firouzja
Rapport - Duda
Deac - Nepomniachtchi
Ding - Caruana

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