Last-minute substitute Bogdan-Daniel Deac is throughly enjoying his moment in the limelight with his sudden and metamorphic rise to being an unlikely hometown hero, with the Romanian teenager having a breath-taking and ballsy start to the Superbet Chess Classic Romania in Bucharest, the opening leg to the returning $1.25m Grand Chess Tour following its year-long Covid-enforced hiatus.
Deac was the last-minute local substitute for an ill Richard Rapport, with the young Hungarian grandmaster himself being a late tour replacement for the Covid travel-restricted Ding Liren of China. But the 19-year-old hometown hero almost caused a sensation in the opening round by coming close to beating Anish Giri – and he then followed that by beating the French falling former Top 10 star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, to share the early lead with US world #2 Fabiano Caruana, with both tied on 1.5/2.
We can only speculate now if Deac can hold his nerve to emulate the unique feat achieved thirty-five years ago by the English IM Glenn Flear, who is universally regarded as being the most famous last-minute substitution in the modern game, having his greatest career success at the super-strong GLC Chess Challenge in London back in 1986.
In that elite-level tournament, a flu-stricken former world champion Anatoly Karpov had to call off, and Flear was drafted in as his last-minute substitute. Filling Karpov’s estimable shoes would be regarded as a dream come true for any player, albeit suddenly finding yourself being outrageously out-rated in an illustrious field which included Boris Spassky and Nigel Short et al.
But Flear shocked everyone – himself included! – by going on to defy the overwhelming odds to win first prize outright. It was one of the all-time great tournament upsets, and not only that, but as the dates coincided with his planned wedding, he and his wife-to-be Christine Leroy – the five-time French Women’s Champion – were married on the tournament’s mid-event rest day!
1-2. Bogdan-Daniel Deac (Romania), Fabiano Caruana (USA), 1.5/2; 3-8. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wesley So (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), 1; 9-10. Constantin Lupulescu (Romania), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 0.5.
Photo: Can Bogdan-Daniel Deac emulate the last-minute replacement feat of England’s Glenn Flear? | © Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac
Superbet Classic Romania, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Open Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 It was Bent Larsen, I believe, who maintained that the Open Variation was Black’s best way to defend against the Ruy Lopez. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 There was a time when the “usual” move here was 9.c3 but that risks the “Dangerous Dilworth” after 9…Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 Nxf2 12.Rxf2 f6 13.exf6 Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 Qxf6 with complications that tend to favour Black. Hence the reason for MVL sidestepping the Dilworth. 9…Be7 10.c3 0-0 11.Bc2 f5 12.exf6 Forced, otherwise Black’s …Ne4 becomes a rock. 12…Nxf6 13.a4 b4 14.Re1 Bg4 15.Nf1N A novelty, by all accounts, as more usual here is 15.h3 Bh5 16.Bf5 Bd6 17.Qc2 Re8 with a dynamic struggle ahead for both sides. 15…Bc5 Looks can be deceptive in chess. Black seems to have a lot of activity for his pieces, but underneath lurks weaknesses in the Black camp that MVL soon hits on. 16.Be3 d4 Black can also try consolidating with 16…Qd6 17.h3 Bxf3 18.Qxf3 Rae8 and equality – but you always have to be wary of that Lopez bishop lurking with intent on c2. 17.cxd4 Nxd4 18.Bxd4 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 Qxd4 20.Rad1 Qxb2 A brave choice, putting all hopes on the b-pawn being Black’s salvation. 21.Re2 So why not the obvious “Greek gift” sacrifice with 21.Bxh7+!?, you may well ask? The trouble is, that after 21…Kxh7 22.Qf5+ Kh8 23.Qxc5 a5 24.Rd3 Qa2 25.Re7 Rae8 there’s no White attack and he has to be wary of Black’s b-pawn becoming an endgame problem. So rather than the forced trades, MVL wants to try and keep his options open by keeping his pieces on the board and his opponent thinking. 21…Qc3! By this stage, I would imagine that Deac was only too happy to get a repetition – but MVL has a cunning plan. 22.Rd3 Qa1 23.Rd1 Qc3 24.Rd3 Qa1 25.g4!! [see diagram] The only logical way to attack; Black’s knight is the key to his defence against an all-out attack, and shunting it will open the floodgates. 25…b3!! This is a bold and brave move that shows true “cojones” – as the Spanish would say – from Deac, as diverting the Lopez bishop from the long b1-h7 diagonal is his only chance for survival. 26.Bxb3+ Kh8 27.g5 Ng8 The attack being delayed by a tempo proves crucial for Deac’s survival – so kudos to the teenager for finding 25…b3!! 28.Qd5 Bd6 29.Rh3 The storm clouds are gathering – but can Deac survive? 29…g6 30.Qd3? Totally bizarre, and I can only assume that MVL missed something here, because at one stroke, he relieves all the pressure being heaped on his inexperienced opponent by trading queens. Of course, first off, MVL threatens Qxg6, but here he is doing so from the wrong side! The move MVL had to find that still threatened Qxg6, and kept the pressure firmly on his young opponent, was the clearly better 30.Qe6! Now Black really does have to defend very accurately, with 30…Qg7 31.Ng3 Bf4 32.Ne4 Rae8 33.Qg4 and then finding the key engine move – only the unbeating heart of an engine finds such defensive resources! – of 33…h5! 34.gxh6 the clever defensive point is that White can’t sacrifice his way through his own pawn to the Black king! 34…Qa1+ 35.Kg2 Nf6! 36.Nxf6 (White can’t capture on g6 as 36.Qxg6 Rg8! 37.Bxg8 Rxg8 38.Qxg8+ Nxg8 39.Nc3 Qa3 40.h7 Nh6! and Black has a winning material advantage.) 36…Rxe2 37.Qxe2 Qxf6 and despite being a pawn down, crucially the storm has cleared, and Black should have no difficulties holding for the draw with the opposite coloured bishops coupled with the stranded h-pawn being too far up the board. 30…Rf5! Deac probably couldn’t believe his luck here, with an easy move that not only defends against Qxg6, but highlights the fact that White’s g5-pawn is soon going to fall. And faced with the sudden reality that he’s erred badly, and now no attack, MVL is forced into a humiliating trade of queens to try to save the game. 31.Qc3+ Qxc3 32.Rxc3 Rxg5+ 33.Ng3 Nf6 34.Kf1 Rb8 35.h3 Re5 Deac’s pieces are just too mobilised – but it takes another error from MVL to dramatically swing the game the Romanian last-minute substitute’s way. 36.Bc4 The pin is awkward, as MVL’s pieces just get worse and worse – and with it the Frenchman goes into total meltdown. More resilient was 36.Bc2 that at least avoids Deac’s next move. 36…Rc5! 37.Rcc2? As ugly as it looked, White’s last hope of trying to hang on was with 37.Rec2 Rb1+ 38.Kg2 a5 39.Be6 Re5 40.Rb3! Any exchange of rooks now will only help White save the game, thanks to the opposite-coloured bishops. 40…Ra1 41.Rb8+ Kg7 42.Ra2 Rae1 43.Bc4 and while Black is clearly better and has winning chances, it’s no gimme and there’s going to be a lot of work needed to convert for the full point. 37…Ra5 Now the a-pawn falls, and the two pawn advantage becomes an easy win for Deac. 38.Ne4 Nxe4 39.Rxe4 Rxa4 40.h4 Kg7 41.h5 Better was 41.Ra2!? that at least forces off a set of rooks after 41…Rxa2 42.Bxa2 a5 43.Kg2 but White is going to be drinking at the last gasp saloon – but anything is possible, if you can somehow get an ending of opposite-coloured bishops. 41…gxh5 42.Re1 Rbb4 43.Be2 Rh4 Even stronger was 43…h4! as you can’t stop the h-pawn. 44.Bf3 a5 0-1 MVL resigns, the reality of the situation being that Black will play …Rad4 and have two protected passed pawns on opposite sides of the board coming down the board.