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A Day Of Missed Opportunities: Caruana, So Spoil Nearly Winning Positions
With three rounds remaining, who will make a leap after Caruana's lead? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

A Day Of Missed Opportunities: Caruana, So Spoil Nearly Winning Positions

NM_Vanessa
| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

As the Superbet Classic Romania 2023 nears the home stretch, GM Fabiano Caruana continues to lead despite blundering away his winning chances at a critical moment vs. GM Alireza Firouzja in round six. With this stroke of luck, Firouzja remains in a tie for second, trailing Caruana by half a point, along with GM Wesley So and GM Richard Rapport.

So himself had excellent chances to catch the leader but underestimated his considerable advantage vs. GM Ding Liren and accepted a draw by repetition.  

The first leg of the Grand Chess Tour continues with round seven on Saturday, May 13, starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

How to watch?
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.

Round six featured two key matchups: Caruana faced Firouzja―one of the players close on his tail―while So, also in second place, encountered the newly-crowned world champion. Coincidentally, both American grandmasters let their opponents slip through their fingers with draws at the peak of their advantages. 

Caruana vs. Firouzja

Caruana gained a small, yet pleasant edge in the English with a clever move to spur his development. How would you solve White's opening problems?

Creating pressure on Firouzja's queenside with his rook on the seventh, the tournament leader kept a lingering advantage into the rook and knight ending. In a slow-grind type position usually well within his wheelhouse, Caruana looked to be on his way to increasing his lead to a full point over the field. As he attempted to make progress, the 30-year-old grandmaster overlooked his opponent's subtle yet forcing resource, allowing the youngest competitor to escape unscathed.

The 19-year-old grandmaster snuck out of a tough position on Friday, keeping him in the fight for first. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Firouzja shared his perspective on his opponent's pivotal mistake: “He wanted to finish the game quickly. He got to 40 moves, and he blundered in one move. Actually, he played Nc4, and he put it back…. It was a cold shower, this move.” 

Ding vs. So

The world champion played with fire this round, leaving his king uncastled for an ambitious setup in another English. So countered with a pawn sacrifice to rip open lines in the center as his queen and rook stared bullets down the e-file at the white monarch. 

With a four-move dance around the far stretches of the board, So's leading lady landed on g3―the soft spot on the white kingside―a breath away from the enemy king, now stranded on f1. In this critical position, So overlooked how to maximize his attack. Can you find it?

Despite this misstep, So gained a significant material advantage, obtaining a rook and two minor pieces vs. a queen and a pawn. Expecting the American grandmaster to press his edge infinitely in his risk-free position, viewers were shocked to see him soon repeat three times to draw as the players made the time control. 

After the game, So was unsettled about missing his chance to defeat the world champion but also took it in stride with consideration of his overall career: “Now that I see the evaluation, it’s very stupid for me to repeat. During the game, I wasn’t 100 percent sure who's better or how much better I really am.... I’ve been doing this for eight years. It’s just another day in the office for me.”

Still tied for second, So doesn't intend to let one missed opportunity spoil his tournament. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

New commentator GM Varuzhan Akobian felt that there was a major psychological component to So's decision: “I think it also had to do with who he was playing. If he was playing somebody like a 2600 grandmaster, I don’t see him repeating that position.… I don’t see any losing chances for him. He really has a draw in his pocket in that position. I think just the fact that he was playing Ding Liren, and he thought he lost control of the game and just decided to play it safe.”

This astonishing clash with its bewildering finish is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

Vachier-Lagrave vs. Rapport

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Rapport took part in a fascinating battle in the French Winawer. The French grandmaster essayed a novelty with 10.f4!? bolstering his center with ideas of f4-f5. On the other hand, this eager kingside thrust neglects development―making his eighth pawn move in just 10 moves―and loosens squares in the center and around his king. A thematic, double-edged middlegame ensued with a locked center and both sides trying to create play on the opposing flanks. 

Fast forward to a few moves before the time control, and the players are creating mutual destruction on opposite sides of the board: Vachier-Lagrave has disintegrated the white queenside while Rapport is ripping apart the black kingside. The bittersweet reality of such a thrilling position to human eyes in the computer-strength era is our silicon frenemy calmly evaluates the position as dead even: 0.00. 

Realizing that all attempts to play for glory backfire for both of them, Vachier-Lagrave and Rapport decided to resolve the impending mayhem with a repetition.

Nepomniachtchi vs. Duda

After two losses in a row in rounds four and five, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi played a solid game with white to steady himself, breaking his losing streak with a draw. Though GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda invested far more time and was a full hour behind on the clock at one point, the game was otherwise fairly balanced from its Petroff beginning to the mutual isolated-pawn middlegame. Both players set up a solid grip of the center with their doubled rooks and actively placed queens and knights, repeating the position after some subtle maneuvering.

Deac vs. Giri

GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac and GM Anish Giri engaged in a duel revolving around control of the d5-outpost in the Najdorf. Though Deac nursed an edge with the white pieces for most of the game, it was unclear how he could increase it. In his post-game interview, he showed a couple of alternate attempts that he considered but kept finding resources for Giri to fight back and neutralize his efforts. 

By the final position, the Romanian number-two explained: "Here, it's necessary to repeat. Because I played g4, I can easily become worse here with white."

With six straight draws, Giri still has his chance to make his mark in the last three rounds. He will face the world champion, the challenger, and the current tournament leader. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Results - Round 6

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

Standings - Round 6

Though the standings remain the same after this all-draw round, the psychological dynamics have changed. Will these missed opportunities affect Caruana's and So's confidence in themselves? Who will do a better job of shaking off the disappointment of this game and coming back strong in the next? We will see this answer directly as they face each other in round seven. With white, this game is So's big chance to surpass the tournament leader. 

On the other hand, sneaking out of a nearly lost position can inspire a burst of hope. Firouzja now has two chances with white in the last three rounds. Rapport, also trailing the leader by just half a point, has his chance to gain ground with the white pieces against the bottom seed on Saturday. 

Pairings - Round 7

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


All Games - Masters Round 6


Previous coverage:

NM_Vanessa
NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for Chess.com. In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow them on X: Vanessa__West

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