“I wake up and I think I need to take some risk,” said Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after playing an offbeat opening and crashing though in Constantin Lupulescu’s time trouble to join Wesley So and Alexander Grischuk in the lead going into the rest day in Bucharest. The other games in Round 5 of the Superbet Chess Classic were all drawn, with Fabiano Caruana’s 8.Qe2!? against the Berlin Defence the only one that’s likely to be remembered.
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Let’s start with the four draws in Round 5, and take them in order of interest.
4. Deac 1/2-1/2 So
“First I’d like to apologise for a quick draw – no-one likes a quick draw!” said Wesley So, with the conviction of someone who’s converted to a new religion, or at least seen the pressure his colleague Teimour Radjabov was coming under. Wesley did something he last did in 2012 and played the Vienna, noting, “I already studied it, so I thought I might as well play it.”
He’d studied it for his game against Grischuk a couple of days earlier, but admitted it wasn’t the ideal choice to get winning chances against Bogdan-Daniel Deac. The 19-year-old local hero played the pawn sacrifice line with 6.Bxc4, which Jan Gustafsson calls, “the main threat to the Vienna’s very existence” in his chess24 Vienna video series. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t kill the Vienna, and in fact Jan had shown the whole line played out in Bucharest until it ended in a completely drawn rook endgame.
Deac took an 8-minute pause before playing 23.h4, but after 23…Rxc3 the players wrapped things up quickly for a result that both could be happy with.
3. Radjabov 1/2-1/2 Grischuk
Compared to his previous draws with the white pieces, this wasn’t a particularly egregious case, but it said something about the excitement we witnessed that Alexander Grischuk suggested to Cristian Chirila that they continued their interrupted post-mortem about Grischuk 1-0 Deac from the previous day rather than talk about this game.
The first new move came on move 20, and it diverged from a game both players must have been aware of – Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Radjabov from the Online Nations Cup. That win for Nepo came in the middle of a streak of five losses that cost Russia any chance of medals.
There Nepo played 20.Ne2, but now Radjabov played the computer approved 20.f5, only for the game to instantly liquidate into a drawn ending with a series of exchanges starting 20…Qxd4 21.Qd7 Nd2 22.Qxe7 Nxf1 23.fxe6.
There was indeed little to say about the game, but that didn’t hold Grischuk back!
2. Aronian 1/2-1/2 MVL
Again here there was a precedent, Adams-Salem from the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix in Sharjah, with MVL’s 16…Qg4! an improvement on Salem’s 16…Qf5. The game was lively, as clashes between Levon and Maxime tend to be, but neither player thought long over any of the moves and it quickly fizzled out into a draw.
1. Caruana 1/2-1/2 Giri
Anish Giri had in the previous round explained that his Chessable course on the Sicilian Dragon had come about through some desperate brainstorming over how to win on demand with the black pieces in the Candidates Tournament. Perhaps some similar logic had gone into a way to surprise someone in that most solid of all variations, the Berlin Defence. Just when queens were about to leave the board for the infamous ending, Fabi veered off course with 8.Qe2!?, a move almost 30 times less popular.
It was a quintessentially modern opening choice, where the objective strength of the move mattered much less than catching your opponent off-guard after booking up on the nuances yourself. Fabi explained:
It’s supposed to not be a very accurate move because Black trades the knight, which is awkward on f5, but I thought it’s a fresh position. Black has many good ways to play this, but it’s very likely that people haven’t checked it so thoroughly, and that’s the main advantage of this line, because once you’ve checked it you’ll find many, many good ways to play.
It actually worked, with Fabiano noting that he soon got, “a tiny bit of an advantage, the most I could really hope for from this position”. At some point it even looked significant, but in the end an undefended knight on c3 allowed Anish Giri, who had beaten Caruana with Black in the Candidates, to liquidate.
29…Qf6! 30.gxf5 Qxc3 31.Qe5 Qxe5 32.fxe5. Fabi noted he’d have had chances in the endgame if his king was a few squares more advanced, but it wasn’t, and the game fizzled out into the fourth draw of the day.
It looked a real possibility that all five games would end peacefully, but finally we got a dramatic conclusion to Lupulescu-Mamedyarov.
Mamedyarov joins the leaders
As we already noted, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov woke up and chose violence, with his early 3…Be7, 4…Bf6, an idea once played (unsuccessfully) by Vasyl Ivanchuk, causing Constantin Lupulescu to burn up over half an hour on his first 8 moves. The way the Romanian no. 1 handled the opening wasn’t entirely convincing, but he got a playable middlegame where the biggest issue was his clock. Shakh decided to play on time with tricky moves such as 24…Nce7.
Mamedyarov noted that 25.Ne5? here would run into 25…Nxe3! 26.dxe3 Rd2!, giving mate on h2 or winning the queen. These were the kind of tactics Constantin had to calculate on each move, though 25.Rf2! instead of 25.Rfd1!? might have saved him a lot of pain.
The moment of truth came after 33.Bf1?!
Shakh pounced with 33…e5! 34.fxe5? (already the losing move! 34.Nh4! would have retained chances) 34…Rg6! 35.Nh4 Rxg3!
When going for this line Constantin probably thought he was winning with 36.Nxf5, only to realise too late that 36…Rf3! turns the tables and wins for Black. 37.Qxf3 loses instantly to 37…Qg1 mate, while 37.Nxg7 Rxf2+ 38.Kg1 doesn’t help, since when the rook moves the pinned knight on g7 will fall.
Constantin desperately picked “any other move”, 36.d4, but it was a hopeless position. The game ended 36…Qg5! 37.Ng2 cxd4 38.exd4 Nxd4!
“I just wanted to play chess, good interesting chess,” said Shakhriyar, and it was mission accomplished!
That win took Mamedyarov level with Grischuk and So in 1st place, though as Grischuk noted:
Leader is a joke with +1. It’s like in basketball at half time you lead by one point – it doesn’t matter.
That’s perhaps not quite true, but it is true that anything can still happen in the remaining four rounds, with 1st place and last place separated by just one point.
Thursday is a rest day before in Round 6 we have Mamedyarov-Aronian, So-Giri, Grischuk-Lupulescu, MVL-Caruana and Deac-Radjabov. Before that, however, the Gelfand Challenge starts on the rest day, with 20 of the world’s best young players competing for a place on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
Then on Friday both events will be live at the same time, so that there’s definitely not going to be any lack of action! Tune in to the games live from 14:00 CEST here on chess24.