Superbet Chess Classic 4: So & Grischuk snatch lead

Wesley So cited divine intervention after beating Fabiano Caruana in Round 4 of the Superbet Chess Classic to leapfrog his opponent into the lead. That was the first win not involving the Romanian players, but there could easily have been another, since Anish Giri had Levon Aronian on the ropes. Instead the day’s other winner and new leader was Alexander Grischuk, who ground down Bogdan-Daniel Deac in five hours. Mamedyarov-Radjabov was the only game with no action, with Teimour afterwards putting his peaceful approach down to a lack of time for opening preparation.

Round 4 of the Superbet Chess Classic was the first time we saw a real fight on most of the boards as well as a game stretching into the 5th hour of play. You can replay all the action using the selector below.

Wesley So 1-0 Fabiano Caruana

When Wesley So said after Round 3 that he was surprised his colleagues weren’t fighting with the white pieces some eyebrows were probably raised, since his own draw in Round 2 with White against Levon Aronian hadn’t exactly been an all-guns blazing battle. Wesley lived up to his words in Round 4, however, with a fantastic game against Fabiano Caruana.

He opened with 1.c4, and his explanation for why he’d played it came as part of a remarkable and overly humble start to his post-game interview with Cristian Chirila:

First I’d like to apologise to Fabiano! The game was very interesting, he got very ambitious, and also again I’d like to thank the Lord Jesus because I don’t think I’m capable of beating guys like Fabiano. Personally I’m a big fan of Fabiano, I’ve been studying his games the last couple of years, also the World Championship match. Actually I was rooting for him to win the Candidates as well, but after the first half it was nearly impossible for him to do it.

I’m definitely a big fan of Fabiano, I’ve looked at all his classical games in the last few years, I think he’s been playing very well this year. Not as well as he hoped, because he didn’t win the Candidates, but I think he’s playing as best as he could and also his game against Lupulescu the other day was just brilliant, it was just a perfect game, so today I wasn’t really sure what to do. Of course with White I want to try, I have to try, I think everyone has to try, but the problem is Fabiano is a very good theoretician in the openings, he plays all openings, he plays like five defences against 1.e4 and then he plays another five defences against 1.d4, so I thought I’d try 1.c4 this time.

Our regular chess24 producer Sotiris Logothetis (who Peter and Tania often mention!) felt Wesley had stumbled into a line Fabiano had probably prepared to deal with Magnus Carlsen’s approach in the 2018 World Championship match. Fabi blitzed out his first ten moves and then, as Wesley mentioned, was clearly feeling ambitious when he went for 16…Qd3!?

Wesley wasn’t too concerned about the position.

The only thing that was worrying me at this point was I only had 36 minutes, so on move 15 I only had like 40 minutes, so I had to speed it up.

Here he blitzed out a powerful sequence: 17.Nf4! (there’s no way to defend the c-pawn as Rd8 and Ne4! are threatened) 17…Qxc4 18.b3! axb3 19.axb3 Qb5.

Black’s last move is a sad necessity, leaving the queen stuck on the wrong side of the board as Wesley was now able to open up lines to the black king with 20.e4! Bg6 21.Bc3! He felt 21…Na6?! by Fabiano was a mistake (21…Nbd7), and after 22.h4 h5 23.Qc1 was optimistic.

I was quite confident in my chances, because the bishop on c3 is a monster and Bg6 and Nf6 are very passively placed.

The queen coming to c1 was a nice multi-purpose move, threatening both Qb2 and the queen going to g5 or h6 in some lines. Fabiano tried to defend with 23…Kh7 24.Rd1 Rad8 25.Qb2 and the pawn sacrifice 25…c4.

It was a good try, but with 26.Bxf6! gxf6 27.Qxf6 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Qc5+ 29.Kh2 Qe7 (Black has no time to grab a pawn on the queenside as Nxg6 would demolish his king position) 30.Qxe7 Rxe7 31.bxc4 Wesley was a pawn up in an overwhelming endgame.

Wesley was utterly ruthless as he brought home the full point.

A very impressive performance that saw Wesley leapfrog Fabiano into the lead, where he was joined by Alexander Grischuk.

Alexander Grischuk 1-0 Bogdan-Daniel Deac

The opening of this game was remarkable for Alexander Grischuk spending 31 minutes on move 8, before playing the absolutely main line 8.e3, which had been played 155 times before.

I had some idea against this line but I spent 40 minutes and could not remember… actually here I had like 34 minutes and I could have 1 hour 34, because this position I had in my notes, but it just was not something I was really fond of for White, so I had another idea in mind, but I could not remember, so finally I went for it.

Just another day for Grischuk, but the Russian noted he was lucky that his opponent also then sank into deep thought despite the game continuing to follow one of the most popular lines, so that mutual time trouble was assured for later in the game.

The major turning point came on move 14.

After 15 minutes Deac here played 14…Ne4!?, which Grischuk described as, “also an ok move, but now Black tries to just hold the draw”. He thought Deac could have played a more or less equal position with 14…Rac8, while the computer spits out 14…d4! 15.Nxd4 Nxd4 16.exd4 Rac8! as solving all Black’s problems.

Instead we got a thriller, with Grischuk winning a pawn in the run-up to move 40, but Deac playing impressively to contain the damage. In the 5th hour of play Deac was still going strong with extreme precision, until a draw seemed within touching distance.

52…Qd5!, with the threat of Rd1-h1+, seems to force a rook ending that Black should hold. Instead Deac blitzed out 52…Rxa4?, and after 53.Qxb6 he was on the ropes again.

In what followed there were still some chances for Deac, but 58…Kh7? (58…Kg7!) 59.Qf8! really was the end of the road, with resignation coming a few moves later.

What did it mean to Grischuk to win the game? “It means a lot. I don’t win games often!”

Three draws, but just one non-game

Anish Giri has a shocking 7 losses and 0 wins classical record against Levon Aronian. Most of those decisive games date from the early years of the previous decade, and Levon hasn’t won since 2017, but there’s no doubt Anish would like to restore some balance. He came very close in Bucharest, with what he described as the “little move a4”. He said he wasn’t aiming to take big risks in the game, but then elaborated:

Very often it looks like somebody’s taking a risk. For example, you might think that someone going for the Bg5 Najdorf, maybe that’s risky? But then the idea is that both players know it’s a forced line, and in fact you’re just testing your opponent’s memory. In this day and age, with people knowing so much theory, the definition of risk is changing to an extent.

There are no more risky lines that no-one has studied. The Trompowsky everybody knows. 1.b3 people also know what they’re supposed to do, and if you play the King’s Gambit it is a risk, but it’s like an insane risk, because everybody’s supposed to have that covered as well, especially with Magnus playing in all these rapid tournaments non-stop, he’s also playing b3, b4, everybody’s preparing all these moves against him now. So even if you want to take the risk, it’s very hard, so in my case today I had this small idea, of course it’s one of the least risky ones. I would rather have an idea in some other line where his king is in big danger and he has to make 10 only moves to defend from checkmate, but I couldn’t find such a position in his repertoire, so I had to make my little move a4!

The new move worked to perfection, since Levon replied with what Giri called the “horrible, horrible move” 13…Rad8? and the “disastrous plan” of combining that with 14…Bc8. Anish explained that the correct setup was to have rooks on c8 and d8 and aim to play Bc6 in future, a setup 13…Rad8 made impossible – or almost impossible. It’s noteworthy the computer agrees and after its suggested 14.a5 gives the best move as 14…Rc8, correcting the mistake. 

Instead we saw 14.Bb2 Bc8 (it took Levon 33 minutes to decide to press on with a plan he must have realised was deeply flawed) and soon White had an overwhelming position, one Giri felt he wouldn’t be able to spoil easily – until he did, in the space of a couple of moves.

Aronian pointed out 19.Be3! to Giri after the game, and it gets the computer stamp of approval. After exchanges Black is likely to end up struggling to defend an endgame a pawn down. Giri was instead tempted by the bishop transfer 19.Bc6!? Bf6 20.Bb5 and thought he was on the verge of victory, only to get hit by a move he felt he should have seen coming, 20…g5!

Giri only gradually realised the power of the move, and after 21.f4!? gxf4 22.gxf4 Bxd4+ 23.Rxd4 Nf6 24.Ra7 Levon was suddenly able to equalise completely.

24…e5! and after 25.fxe5 Ng4! 26.Ra8 Rxd4! 27.Nxd4 Nxe5 the game fizzled out into a draw.

The MVL-Lupulescu game saw Constantin Lupulescu prove himself up to the challenge of a theoretical clash in the French Defence, with Maxime pushing but the balance never seriously disturbed. The French no. 1, who had previously lost to Deac, responded to a question on how much risk he was willing to take with, “Well, not to the point of losing by force, basically!”

Maxime also revealed why he’d been the one player to wear a mask in the earlier games:

I think I more or less recovered physically from my little illness, or whatever that was, so I’m glad already not to be playing with a mask and today I’m starting to get back to full shape, and I definitely hope to be able to strike at some point.

That brings us to Mamedyarov-Radjabov, which no-one doubted would be the latest draw between the two Azerbaijan stars. “I’ve said numerous times that it’s very hard to play against him,” Teimour later commented, admitting that it was only in knockout tournaments that there would be a decisive result.

The game saw Teimour correct a mistake he’d made in a loss to Magnus in the recent FTX Crypto Cup semi-final, but frankly the position on the board never felt like it mattered. If there was a surprise it was that the players didn’t repeat on move 12 with Nd4 Qb6 and so on. In fact Teimour got a clearly better position in the play that followed, but soon the inevitable repetition came anyway.

While the draw in that game with Black against a compatriot wasn’t a major talking point, the fact that Teimour had made four contentless draws in Bucharest, two with the white pieces, was. It had been suggested previously that Teimour was unwell, but he didn’t use that as an excuse and addressed the issue head-on:

Well, to be honest, I certainly didn’t think much about the schedule, for me, I wouldn’t say for my age, but generally for me, this kind of schedule is very unusual. I really have a lot of tournaments to play, and I was used in the years before the pandemic to play maybe a few tournaments in a year, and this time it was like, as I said, every month there was a tournament, and exhausting tournaments in a row, the Champions Tour stuff, and sometimes I just kind of think it’s better if you don’t have any specific ideas to play against the world’s top players and get in some type of trouble, it’s just better to make draws and wait for your chance to come. Or maybe, probably they will also push as White and so on, so I don’t really think about the critics and all these guys. I have played many times beautiful and nice games, the public was entertained and then they said, there’s no point in inviting him because he’s not rated there in the top.

So I know it’s just the professional thing that I’m doing, from time to time, because I just think that if I don’t have an idea I will not push. Against the top players in the world it’s very risky, and here, to be honest, I’m generally quite exhausted, and we’ll see if I can recover my energy before the next rounds and try to push in some games, of course. Usually my style really allows it, because I’m mostly a tactical player, let’s be objective, like the King’s Indian is in my style and so on. I certainly do not enjoy these kind of draws, but chess is a game where you should really work on your repertoire, have ideas, especially at the top level, and I know that it ends pretty badly when you’re without ideas and just telling yourself that, I want to play chess, I want to play something playable, I just want to fight and so on, you go for some b3 stuff, that I did against Giri in the Champions Tour, and it just backfired. In 15 moves I was almost lost and so on, so this kind of stuff. I’m not enjoying it certainly, but I don’t care at all about what the critics say.

Teimour received more criticism afterwards, but was standing by what he said.

He added:

That also came in for criticism, including from FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky.

What’s frustrating for chess fans is that we all know what Teimour is capable of – it’s just over a week since he hit back to beat Magnus Carlsen on demand in their semi-final match.

In terms of the table, Radjabov is still ahead of MVL and Giri, while Wesley So and Alexander Grischuk are the new leaders.

Round 5, the last before the rest day, sees So with Black against Deac, while Grischuk is Black against Radjabov.

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

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