Superbet Chess Classic 1: Giri’s gamble almost backfires

“Nobody else wanted to play chess!” said Anish Giri after flirting with disaster against Bogdan-Daniel Deac on a day when the Superbet Chess Classic began with four completely uneventful draws. His game was also ultimately a draw, but only after 19-year-old Deac, a very late replacement for Richard Rapport, came within a move or two of victory. Instead it was a peaceful start to the first classical over-the-board tournament some of the players had played in a year and a half.

You can replay all the games from the Superbet Chess Classic using the selector below.

Romanian wildcards step in for first event on the 2021 Grand Chess Tour

The 2020 Grand Chess Tour had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but the same 5-event structure with no final has now been carried forward to 2021, with the action starting in Bucharest.

  1. Superbet Chess Classic, Bucharest, Romania, June 5-14
  2. Paris Rapid & Blitz, Paris, France, June 18-22
  3. Croatia Rapid & Blitz, Zagreb, Croatia, July 7-11
  4. Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, Saint Louis, USA, August 11-15
  5. Sinquefield Cup, Saint Louis, USA, August 17-26

The original plan was to have 10 full tour participants who would play in both classical events and two of the three rapid events, but after qualifying for the World Championship match Ian Nepomniachtchi decided to play only as a wild card (he’s confirmed for Paris) while Ding Liren decided not to take part due to the situation with international travel.

Ding was replaced by Richard Rapport as a full tour player, but on the eve of the Superbet Chess Classic the Hungarian star pulled out due to illness. He was replaced by 19-year-old Bogdan-Daniel Deac, who joins another wildcard, 37-year-old Romanian no. 1 Constantin Lupulescu, in playing in Bucharest. There will be more wild cards in the rapid and blitz events, with Vladimir Kramnik set to play only the blitz portion in Paris, while Garry Kasparov plays the blitz in Croatia.

First, however, we have the classical opener of the tour, a 10-player single round-robin taking place in the Sheraton Hotel in Bucharest with a prize fund of $325,000.

Four slow-motion instant draws

There’s been criticism of non-games in online chess, most recently last Sunday when Ian Nepomniachtchi and Teimour Radjabov played out four instant draws on Day 1 of their FTX Crypto Cup 3rd place match. Nothing quite like that had happened before, and the final day showed just how thrilling online chess can be, with the raw emotions of the players visible for all to see.

Nevertheless, some critics, going as high up as FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky, have used online draws to make an unfavourable comparison with classical chess.

Of course it’s already dubious to compare a round of the Candidates Tournament, where there’s arguably more at stake than in any other chess event, with individual games from the qualifying stages of a private tournament. The point is more general, however, that in so far as draws are a problem, they’re no less a problem “in real life” or in classical events – it’s just that we’ve had almost a year and a half to forget about it given the near total lack of tournaments!

Four of the five games on Day 1 of the Superbet Chess Classic might have taken under a minute if they were played online, but the process was slowed down considerably over-the-board. Teimour Radjabov, who hadn’t played a classical game since November 2019, spent over 50 minutes on his 18-move draw against Fabiano Caruana, but he didn’t deviate from a very well-known line that experienced observers could see coming a mile off.

“There is nothing to discuss – it’s just a forced draw, more or less!” said Alexander Grischuk after the first 22 moves of his Grünfeld draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave followed So-MVL and So-Svidler from the Skilling Open Prelims. The first new moves came in an already clearly drawn position, and while the players continued until bare kings that was for once not synonymous with fighting chess. 

Alexander explained:

I did research: in my last 10 first round games I think I maybe made four draws and lost six, so I thought a draw is better than losing!

Maxime wasn’t going to say no to an easy draw with Black, but vows to fight:

Of course I prefer to have fighting games and of course it’s a pity that for the first day we already had three draws, but let’s hope that in the next days we fight more and I’ll definitely try to play my part in that.

What are the French no. 1’s ambitions?

I want to play well, I want to come back into the Top 10, because for the first time in five years I’m not in there because of my tournament in Wijk aan Zee. I’m definitely hoping to play well, win some games and that’s generally the strategy you have when you want to win a tournament, so I am also hopeful with that, if all goes well.

Grischuk hadn’t had any trouble predicting that there might be a Grünfeld Defence.

It’s a bit funny that there are two players at the very top with completely similar repertoires – Maxime and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Both play exclusively Grünfeld and Najdorf for their whole lives – it’s a bit of a strange coincidence… Also both of them try to play fast, both are very good tacticians.

The main hope for regular decisive action in Bucharest is that the Romanian players are rated over 100 points below their opponents, which all but ensures the world’s top players will be out to crush them, but in Round 1, with Black against the solid Constantin Lupulescu, Levon Aronian decided not to burn any bridges. He acquiesced to a 29-move draw by repetition in a game where experts could again predict the peaceful outcome immediately after the first moves.

The one quiet draw where the players used up most of their time was Mamedyarov-So, but although Shakhriyar had a small edge when queens were exchanged on move 8, the chances that Wesley would be ground down in such a position looked close to zero. In fact it was Wesley who had any chances of doing the grinding after he “over-equalised”.

That brings us to the one game that lit up Day 1 of the Superbet Chess Classic.

Deac 1/2-1/2 Giri: “I had to carry this tournament forward!”

After the last couple of years no-one is surprised anymore to see Anish Giri as the disturber of the peace – he’s become a monster in online events and had five decisive games in seven in the resumed Candidates Tournament. In Round 1 in Bucharest he had to step in for the sake of the tournament:

As we had seen very early on in the round, the weight was on my shoulders, I had to carry this tournament forward, because nobody else wanted to play chess! I made sure there is some excitement.

Anish had reasoned that he had to target the lowest-rated player:

It was hard for me to assess. Of course he’s not bad anyway, but I didn’t know. I was preparing, and so many games are from some online tournaments, not even the big ones, so from some small blitz tournaments, so it’s very hard to make a good picture, because if you see these blitz games he plays quite poorly, but then I see my blitz games, I also play poorly! There was not enough data to go through. I know he’s talented, but I didn’t know how good he is, what kind of risk I should take, so I thought I should take some risk, because you never know, maybe later he’ll collapse and I’ll be the stupid one who didn’t take the opportunity! 

So I tried to play, but from what I saw today he played well, so I don’t think I deserved to win at all, and at some point I was even worried, so I think a draw is good. As long as I do my best, I enjoy life, I play chess, I’m happy, so the result, of course I want to win, but I can’t always!

Anish played the notoriously complicated Anti-Moscow Variation of the Semi-Slav, and with his choice of 11…Nxg3 and 12…Na6 said he was going for a playable variation instead of forcing a draw. When he sacrificed the exchange to remove a knight on d6 he seemed to be in complete control.

In the moves that followed, however, Anish allowed files to be opened up, and from being at least equal was potentially worse. He admitted afterwards that his evaluation had been off for most of the game, tainted by his will to win.

Very often when you have an ambitious mindset you start to overestimate every single imbalance that is in your favour. As long as there is some imbalance you always think that you’re on the good side of things.

The risk was kept within acceptable limits, however, until move 23.

23…Nc5!, with Nb3 or more likely Nd3 to follow, would give Black a healthy position, but this is where Anish admitted to making “a huge mistake”. Instead of playing Nc5 immediately he decided to “include” 23…h4 24.g4 first, but after 23…h4? Deac hit him with 24.b3!

The point is that now 24…Nc5? runs into 25.bxc4 and Black’s position collapses on the spot. After 14 minutes’ thought Giri instead opted for 24…cxb3 25.Qxb3 hxg3 26.fxg3 Qg7 (“such a sad move!” – Giri) 27.Qd3 Nc7 28.Qd6 and here he made a move that drew him the game, but had a fatal flaw, 28…c5?

Giri rightly reasoned that if he could exchange off his bad bishop on b7 his task would be much easier, but what he’d missed, and was surprised to be shown after the game, was 29.Re5!, or rather the follow-up after 29…Qxg3.

30.Rh5! is a killer, forcing 30…Qxd6 31.Rxh8+ Kd7 32.Rxd6+ Kxd6 33.Bxb7 and White is a rook up. Giri could fight on with three pawns for the rook, but survival would be unlikely.

Bogdan-Daniel might have stumbled on that line if he’d been tempted by the also strong 30.Rc5, but instead, after 12 minutes, he went for 29.Qd7+. That included a trick of its own – 29…Kb8 30.Bxb7 Kxb7 31.Rxe6!, but when an endgame was reached Deac’s advantage had objectively gone, and although he was also objectively in no trouble you could imagine scenarios in which Giri’s passed pawns won the day. 

Instead Anish forced a draw by repetition, so that the Round 1 action was over in just under four hours.

The Dutch no. 1 was philosophical about how the day had gone:

It’s not always as you think, life! Sometimes you think one thing will happen, but then unpredictable things – she says no, and so on.

For Sunday’s Round 2 it seems absolutely safe to predict that Fabiano Caruana (White against Lupulescu) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (White against Deac) will be out for blood, while no-one would be surprised by draws in the heavyweight clashes on the other boards.

Tune in to all the action live from 14:00 CEST here on chess24.

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