The Grand Chess Tour kicked off with its first event of the tour – the 2022 Superbet Chess Classic – a 10-player classical round-robin event taking place in Bucharest, Romania. While most fans and the commentators were keeping their eyes on the game between GM Caruana (World Number 4) – GM Firouzja (World Number 3), it was GM Wesley So who became the early leader of the event after beating GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the 2021 Superbet Chess Classic Romania defending champion The rest of the games of the day were drawn.
Wesley So – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 1-0
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Leinier Dominguez Perez 1/2-1/2
Fabiano Caruana – Alireza Firouzja 1/2-1/2
Ian Nepomniachtchi – Bogdan-Daniel Deac 1/2-1/2
Levon Aronian – Richard Rapport 1/2-1/2
13th World Champion Garry Kasparov makes the first move 1. c4 of the game between Caruana – Firouzja | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Standings after Round 1
The first game to finish was coincidentally the game that chess fans were looking forward to the most. The two chess giants qualified for the candidates via the Grand Swiss last November, in which GM Caruana was the winner. Many were wondering what GM Firouzja had been up to given his chess hiatus from over-the-board events, but he jokingly responded in his interview that mostly “living the life and preparing for the Candidates”. Caruana seems to have surprised Firouzja on move one with 1. c4 to which he responded with the solid 1..e6. Soon there was a transposition QGD leading to a Carlsbad pawn structure. In the ensuing middlegame , it seemed that Caruana had the upper hand for a while, but he decided not to play f4 (around move 17 or 19) leading to a calm position. After a series of relatively accurate strategic maneuvers the players did not seem to find a way to improve their position, so they agreed to a draw by repetition on move 29.
Fabiano Caruana deep in thought | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
In a topical Petroff defense line, GM Nepomniachtchi, (“Nepo”) was on the White side of an opening he employed in his 2021 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. Nepo deviated from the more common 9. 0-0 in favor of 9. Qh5. GM Deac responded swiftly with 9..g6 and after dismissing White’s queen, he essayed a novelty with 11…Qe7 instead of 11…Be7. Black’s plan was to trade off queens on c5. While both players were making their moves relatively fast, nudging the idea of still being in well-known theoretical territories, Deac was the first to make things complicated for himself by playing 17…c5, which allowed White a slightly better endgame after Bd2. However, Nepo responded with the risky 18.h5, after which 18…c4 would have given Black excellent chances to even fight for an advantage. Instead, Deac played the safe 18….Qd4 after which the game simplified to a position where most of White’s advantage was symbolic. The game ended in a draw by repetition.
A very focused Ian Nepo | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
This game saw two great theoreticians following another topical line in the Petroff Defense, which was popularized by the Carlsen-Caruana World Championship Match in 2018. Soon the queens were traded off the board and a symmetrical pawn structure emerged. GM MVL managed to trade one his knights for Black’s light-square Bishop, but GM Dominguez’ position was too solid and after a few exchanges the game ended in a draw by repetition in 36 moves.
Focus-mode on for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
This game was not without surprises in the style of both GM Aronian and GM Rapport. Although they both followed their main repertoire: Aronian was back to 1.d4 after some recent games with 1.e4, while Rapport responded with his solid Slav. Rapport chose a dxc4 system in and recaptured on d7 with his Bishop on move 10, which seems to be the new fashionable trend. Modern engines seem to believe Black is fine after some more in depth analysis despite showing some advantage for White. Aronian simply developed his pieces and prepared to take advantage of his extra space in the center, while Rapport did the same and followed the only active response with Be8 and f5 after which his bishop comfortably landed on g6. Aronian did not manage to make a dent in Black’s position and the engines even claimed advantage for Black had Rapport played 19…h6. Although it is not clear what should Black’s plan should be. After some more moves, the game fizzled out into a drawn position.
Levon Aronian, looking calm at the office in Round 1 | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Last year, in the 2021 edition of the Superbet Chess Classic Romania, the two players faced one another in the first round as well, just then, it was Mamedyarov who had the White pieces and the game ended in a draw. This year, this was the only decisive game of the day and it also turned out to be the longest one. GM Wesley So chose an ambitious set up against GM Mamedyarov’s Nimzowich and soon achieved a position with the bishop pair. Later on, he traded his advantage leading to one with opposite-color bishops, where So’s dark-square bishop was superior to Black’s light-square bishop. Although the engines may show several inaccuracies on account of both players, it was So who maintained his advantage all the way to the endgame. At some point, it seemed that Mamedyarov had managed to build a fortress, but after defending for hours, he blundered a pawn push on move 52…Qxb5?? allowing White’s queen to infiltrate on e6 and following an inevitable mate. He resigned before Wesley was able to make his next move.
GM Wesley So was the only one to bring a full point in Round 1 | Photo: Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes