As the Covid-19 worldwide vaccination rates continue to climb, things can get back to some sort of normality with over-the-board chess once again springing back to life, and not a moment too soon. The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group has proved a big online hit for the game throughout the pandemic, and now the big elite-level live tournament getting underway this week is the Grand Chess Tour’s Superbet Chess Classic Romania in Bucharest.
The slightly shortened, five-tournament Grand Chess Tour season concludes in the US through August with the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz (9-16 August) immediately followed by the premier tour event, the season-ending Sinquefield Cup (16-28 August) — but before that, in July the Saint Louis Chess Club will also be holding the US Junior, Girls’ and Senior Championships (15-26 July), with the title-winners going forward to the U.S. & U.S. Women’s Championship (5-19 October).
Reigning U.S. Champion Wesley So is currently on a roll both online in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour (second behind tour leader Magnus Carlsen in the overall standings) and now over-the-board in the Grand Chess Tour. So turned in a scintillating round 4 win to outplay the U.S. world #2, Fabiano Caruana, and he now shares the joint lead on 3/5 with Alexander Grischuk of Russia and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan.
The natural order of things has thus now been restored in the Superbet Chess Classic following the excitement of early upset wins from local wildcards Bogdan-Daniel Deac and Constantin Lupulescu, with the former losing to Grischuk in round 4, and the latter – after losing to Caruana in round 2 – a second loss of the tournament to Mamedyarov in round 5.
1-3. Wesley So (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 3/5; 4-7. Bogdan-Daniel Deac (Romania), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 2½; 8-10. Constantin Lupulescu (Romania), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 1½.
GM Wesley So – GM Fabiano Caruana
Superbet Chess Classic Romania, (4)
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Bc5 4.d3 c6 5.Nf3 d6 6.0-0 0-0 7.Nc3 a5 8.d4 exd4 9.Nxd4 a4 10.Rb1 Re8 11.e3 Qa5 12.Bd2 Bg4!? A brave choice, as Caruana just gets on with the job of developing his pieces on their best squares, and not worrying in the least about the possibility of the queen coming under attack from the Bd2. That said, there was also a lot of merit in 12…Qa7 and following up later with …Bg4. 13.f3 Bh5 14.Ne4 Qd8 15.Nxc5 dxc5 16.Ne2?! A move that slightly puzzles me – I thought So’s plan would be the more obvious knight hop with 16.Nf5 Bg6 17.Bh3!? following up Bc3. 16…Qd3! Not only a natural move now, but from d3 Caruana’s queen begins to cause a little mayhem in So’s position. And from this dominant position, I find it hard to believe that Caruana was outplayed and lost. 17.Nf4 Qxc4 18.b3 axb3 19.axb3 Qb5 20.e4 On the plus side for So, for his pawn, he has good compensation with Caruana’s bishop effectively locked out of the game on the kingside. 20…Bg6 21.Bc3 Na6? Better and more solid was 21…Nbd7! and following up with …Rad8 and …Qb6 – and if 22.h4 as in the game, then 22…Ne5 23.g4 Rad8 24.Qc2 h6 and Black has a more solid set-up. The move also took So by surprise, who commented after the game: “I was expecting 21…Nbd7 but after 21…Na6 I was quite confident in my chances because the bishop on c3 is a monster.” 22.h4 h5?! It’s now a series of errors from Caruana, and they all begin to add up as the game firmly swings in So’s direction. As ever in such difficult positions, the engine comes up with an ingenious solution to Black’s difficulties on the kingside, and specifically that “monster bishop”: 22…Rad8! 23.Qe1 (If 23.Qc1 as in the game, then Black has the little tactical relief valve of 23…Nd5!? 24.exd5 Bxb1 25.Qxb1 cxd5 26.Bxg7! Forced, otherwise …d4 is good and strong. 26…Kxg7 27.Nh5+ Kf8 28.Qxh7 Ke7 29.Qf5 Kd6 and the king runs to safety; but at the same time, leaving a dynamic tussle ahead for both sides.) 23…Nd5!? 24.h5! Nxf4 25.gxf4 Bxh5 26.Qg3 g6 27.Qh4 Qe2 28.Qf6 Qe3+ 29.Kh2 Rd4! and the sort of position where genuinely all three results could be possible! 23.Qc1! [see diagram] Such a nice little quiet move, but with deadly intent, as So plans Qb2 to make the monster on c3 an even bigger monster. And from here in, the rest of the game is nothing short of a positional masterpiece from So. 23…Kh7 24.Rd1 Rad8 25.Qb2 It’s amazing how badly placed all of Caruana’s minor pieces have become – all very unusual for Caruana, who normally finds natural and good squares for his pieces. 25…c4 A desperate attempt by Caruana to try to avoid his kingside from imploding. 26.Bxf6 gxf6 27.Qxf6 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Qc5+ 29.Kh2 Qe7 30.Qxe7 Rxe7 31.bxc4 Caruana has at the very least found a way to prevent his kingside from crashing – but it comes at a cost, with So now being a pawn ahead, another to target on h5, and Black’s bishop still locked out of the game. 31…Kg7 32.Bh3 Threatening Rd7 – and if the rooks are traded, then Black’s queenside pawns will now become a sitting target. 32…Nc5 33.Rd6 f6 34.Ne6+ Nxe6 35.Bxe6 Be8 36.c5! Just adding to Caruana’s agony by fixing the queenside pawns. 36…Bf7 37.Bc8 Re5 Black can’t even “pass” with 37…Be8 as 38.Re6 forces the trade of rooks and all of Black’s pawns easy targets. 38.Bxb7 Rxc5 39.Rxc6 Rb5 If it were opposite-coloured bishops, then the trade of rooks would probably lead to a draw – but not here. 40.Ba6 Rb2+ 41.Kg1 Be8 42.Rc5 Kh6 43.Kf1 Bd7 44.Be2 A strategic retreat, paving the way to shielding the king escaping via Kf1-f2-e3-f4. 44…Be8 45.Kf2 Rb3 46.Rd5 Ra3 47.Bd3 Again shielding the king’s winning path via f2-e3-f4. 47…Kg7 48.Ke3 Rb3 49.Kf4 Rb4 There’s just no defence. If 49…Ra3 50.Bb5! Bf7 51.Rd7 Kf8 52.Bc6 Ra1 53.Bd5 Be8 54.Rb7 and eventually Black will run out of moves. 50.Rc5 Bf7 51.Rc7 Kg6 52.g4 1-0 Caruana resigns, as after 52…hxg4 53.h5+! wins quickly.