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Firouzja Catches Caruana
Firouzja has joined Caruana in the lead with two rounds to go. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Firouzja Catches Caruana

NM_Vanessa
| 53 | Chess Event Coverage

In round seven of the Superbet Classic Romania 2023, GM Alireza Firouzja caught GM Fabiano Caruana, the tournament leader for most of the event, by defeating GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and breaking down his attempt at a fortress. The two are now tied for first with 4.5 points each and two crucial rounds remaining.

GM Anish Giri scored his first victory, slaying GM Ding Liren in an Italian game that turned violent when the Dutch number-one sacrificed a knight to open the world champion's kingside. 

The first leg of the Grand Chess Tour continues with round eight on Sunday, May 14, 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.

This round featured a few major matchups. The leader faced one of his closest rivals, GM Wesley So. Also just a half point behind, Firouzja opposed the recent world championship challenger. Additionally, the top two grandmasters in Romania were matched up for bragging rights at the country's strongest event. 

Firouzja vs. Nepomniachtchi

Nepomniachtchi equalized with ease against Firouzja’s innocuous choice of the Colle System. After 16...Ng5, many of the minor pieces were exchanged, and White's kingside pawn structure was opened in the process. The challenger sacrificed a pawn on the queenside to create pressure against his opponent's weakened kingside but chose an inaccurate way to do so, overlooking a key resource for Firouzja.  Can you find how the 19-year-old elegantly shut down Black's attacking chances while his own play raged on the queenside?

Adapting to the circumstances, Nepomniachtchi switched gears and gave up his queen for a rook in the hopes of setting up a fortress in the ending. In a highly technical position, the 32-year-old grandmaster made one inaccurate pawn move that made the task easier for Firouzja. The youngest 2800 in history soon broke through the fortress by giving back the queen for the rook to reach a winning king and pawn ending.  

Can Firouzja finish at the top despite his recent hiatus from the game? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Giri vs. Ding

Despite starting out with a quiet Italian game, fireworks exploded when Ding played 10…g5, opening up his kingside to block his opponent's pin on the h4-d8 diagonal. Giri rose to the occasion and sacrificed a knight to shatter the pawn cover of the black monarch. The world champion remained ahead a piece for 10 more moves as the Dutch grandmaster relied on his dynamic compensation, readying his forces for the onslaught and breaking through in the center. 

After regaining his material, Giri soon sacrificed again, giving up the exchange to open lines to the uncastled black king. As the position ripped open, a fervent battle for the initiative took place, and Giri came out on top in the tactical slugfest.

This attacking gem is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Dejan Bojkov


This critical victory brings Giri within half a point of first as we near the finish line. After the game, Giri mentioned his phenomenal record vs. world champions this year: “I’m, of course, very happy to beat a world champion. This year I’ve beaten a world champion, you could say thrice. It’s hard to say because I beat Magnus when he was world champion and then I beat Ding before he was world champion and now I beat him again. So, I’m really happy with that.”

 
Giri was in high spirits after his first win. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Rapport vs. Deac

GM Richard Rapport and GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac, the Romanian numbers-one and two, produced a fascinating duel in the Trompowsky Attack. When sitting across from each other, the two have a noticeable rivalry brewing between them. 

After trading his bishop to wreck Deac's kingside structure, Rapport may have regretted 23.b4?!, a seemingly harmless expansion on the queenside, that left him with a permanently weak pawn on c3 and gave Deac a key target for the rest of the game.  Recognizing this, Deac immediately reorganized his pieces to create massive pressure against the backward pawn by tripling on the half-open c-file. 

With both his rooks tied down to the defense of his backward pawn, Rapport created some pressure on his opponent's loosened kingside but lacked enough resources. Clearly coming to the game with hopes of fighting for a win, the creative 27-year-old kept pressing on, searching for any minor improvements possible. But Deac kept reminding Rapport of the pressure vs. the white c3-pawn, often keeping all of his major pieces tied down to it and not allowing Rapport enough resources or spare time to build up substantial improvements or pawn breaks. As he started to get into time trouble, the Romanian number-one finally agreed to the three-time repetition with his rival on move 63.

So vs. Caruana

Perhaps affected by his error in the previous round, So seemed to be aiming for a peaceful result with the white pieces vs. Caruana. Unfortunately for him, this decision gives up a lot of his chances to fight for first. So played a peaceful Catalan and, after a pair of minor pieces were traded, offered a draw by repetition on move 24. 

After the game, Caruana shared his perspective on his opponent's approach to the opening: “I thought either he was going to play e4 and go for a sharp fight. I thought e4 would be a sign that he’s going for it. And d4 would be a sign that he wants to rock up and keep it solid, which he sometimes tends to do. It really depends on his mood, I think. 

"I thought it was 50/50. Sometimes he goes for a win, and he’s very dangerous. And sometimes he plays very solid, and you don’t really have any chances to win because he plays super accurate chess in general.”

His overall classical score vs. the fellow American supports this, which includes 29 draws and is 5-4 in So's favor. 

Duda vs. Vachier-Lagrave

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave countered the Reti Opening with an expansion on the queenside: ...c5, ...a6, and ...b5. GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda pressed the b5-pawn to force it to advance, gaining an outpost on c4. In the resulting middlegame, both sides entrenched their minor pieces on their respective central outposts: c4 and e4 for White and d4 for Black. Soon the tension was released with many exchanges in the center, leading to an even opposite-color bishop ending. As the pawns dwindled away for both sides, the players drew. 

Results - Round 7

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

Standings - Round 7

In the penultimate round, we will see two especially pivotal matchups. Caruana faces one of the players at his heels, Giri. Meanwhile, teammates will become rivals as the world champion faces Rapport―a grandmaster who played a crucial role as his second in the match―still vying for a spot at the top of this tournament. 

Pairings - Round 8

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


All Games - Masters Round 7


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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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