Aronian Wins Miniature, Joins Lead: 2022 Superbet Chess Classic Romania, Day 6


Round six saw a shake-up of the standings after two crucial games ended decisively, with GM Levon Aronian swiftly beating GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in just 25 moves, and GM Leinier Dominguez winning a hair-raising and heart-breaking battle against the local hero GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac. 

The remaining games ended in draws, and although you could see them coming from afar, to the players’ credit they played the positions out, with the last game concluding shortly before the players reached move 100.

After six rounds, Aronian leads with GM Wesley So on 4/6, with a full point separating them from the group of pursuers, which consists of GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana alongside Deac, Dominguez, and Vachier-Lagrave.

Round seven will begin on Thursday, May 12, at 5 a.m. PT / 14:00 Central Europe.

The sixth round saw the clash between the two most recent challengers to World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s throne: Caruana and Nepomniachtchi. This could mean a complex battle until every last drop of blood had been expanded from both of the combatants’ bodies, or we could get what we got which kind of resembled a burb of a great-tasting meal from the day before. It had a flavor of something good but clearly it was not the real deal.

Caruana repeated his opening move from his game against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and like the Azeri grandmaster, Nepomniachtchi responded with a Petroff, which has served him well to equalize in most of his recent games against 1.e4. Equality is, of course, excellent at this level, unless, of course, you are Leinier Dominguez and then you play for the opening to win!

No win for Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

In the bout of the former challengers, Caruana did not get anything out of the opening, and after a couple of inaccurate moves, he even had to fight to equalize. Luckily, the Russian did not make the best of his chances and soon the players were chopping wood like lumberjacks. The resulting rook ending did not have enough woodchips left to avoid the impending draw, and before you knew it, the players were repeating moves, shaking hands, and making their way back to their respective hotel rooms.

Tournament leader So had the white pieces against Hungarian GM Richard Rapport, who has thus far had the kind of tournament he would rather forget. That, of course, does not mean that the game was a foregone conclusion. 

In a Semi-Slav, Rapport played a dubious novelty that allowed White some initiative, which he cashed in to win a pawn. Unfortunately for So, the compromise he had to make to win the pawn was to give Black the bishop pair and take on some structural weaknesses of his own. 

So won a pawn but not the game. Photo: Bryan Adams / Grand Chess Tour.

Interestingly, this meant that Black had almost full compensation for the pawn, while White’s actual winning chances amounted to almost nothing. Then first the queens were exchanged, and next went both sets of rooks off the board, leaving the players with an opposite-colored bishop ending with an extra pawn for White. Despite So playing on for nearly 20 moves, the draw was never in doubt.

When this tournament concludes, several memorable games will have been played but few of them will stand out as much as the next game.

Much by many has been made of Vachier-Lagrave’s principled opening choices, which have him rather predictable. For instance, as Black, he plays the Sicilian Najdorf and Grunfeld Indian, with White he plays 1.e4, and even the lines after 1.e4, he is extremely consistent, having repeated certain lines ad nauseum.

This consistency in choices made me feel fairly certain that we would see the so-called Berlin Wall (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8 Kxd8) on the board in the round six, but that was very much not to be. 

The first hint that it would be a different kind of day was when the French grandmaster opted for 1.d4 and then in response to Aronian’s choice of the Nimzo-Indian invited a transposition to the ultra-sharp Vienna Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, a line in which Aronian can be considered one of, if not the biggest expert in the world. Why would Vachier-Lagrave allow this? You would hope that the answer would be because he had prepared something, but that soon became clear that this was not the case.

Vachier-Lagrave strolled into Aronian’s specialty line without having prepared for it. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

The first indication that something was wrong was when White spent 15 minutes on 11.Bxf6 and then followed up with 12.Ke2 instead of the main line 12.Kf1.  Then on 12…Qb2+, White could have played 13.Ke3, inviting to a perpetual check, but instead White quickly played 13.Qfd2, entering a line where White would be a pawn for some positional compensation.

Was this preparation? Definitely not, because after a couple of very predictable replies for Black, Vachier-Lagrave went for 16.Rc7? which is definitely wrong, allowing Black an outright advantage with 16…Rd8!.

But it got quickly got much worse for White when he played a series of inaccuracies/mistakes that took his positional from slightly worse to clearly worse to decisively worse to getting checkmate within barely more than a handful of moves. Aronian to his credit played some brilliant moves and did so fast, ending the game with more than an hour left on the clock. 

It is unclear why Vachier-Lagrave willingly went into this line without proper preparation but he certainly paid the price for it with one of the worst games I have ever seen him play with the white pieces. 

The Iranian-French super talent, GM Alireza Firouzja has not had the kind of tournament he had dreamt about. Having crossed the 2800-barrier last year, this tournament was meant to be the tournament that showed that he was worth the rating but also that he would one of the favorites for to win the upcoming Candidates tournament in Madrid.

Instead, he has struggled. He lost as White to Nepomniachtchi and has been unable to get more than draws out of obviously better positions against Aronian and Deac. In round six, he was paired as Black against a similar unhappy camper, Mamedyarov who won last year’s event but who has struggled right from the first round this time around.

In Wednesday’s game, the players entered a subline of the very popular Capablanca Variation (4.Qc2) in the Nimzo-Indian which had been played in more than 1500 games. In this line, White gets the bishop pair but takes on a slightly inferior pawn structure, in other words, a typical situation for the Nimzo.

For some reason, Mamedyarov departed from best play with 15.Nb3 which allowed Black to equalize, but in return White got rid of his weak c-pawn. In the continuation, Firouzja did not play the best and allowed White an opportunity to gain a clear advantage, but after missing that the game remained fairly balanced.

Lots of disappointments for Firouzja in Bucharest. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

Eventually, the players traded down to an endgame where Firouzja several times made his own life more complicated than it needed to be, eventually entering a rook ending where Mamedyarov attempted to give Firouzja payback for their game in the European Team Championship last year, where Firouzja won a drawn rook ending and sent him over 2800.

Mamedyarov tried to win for a long time but to no avail. Photo: Bryan Adams / Grand Chess Tour.

But despite Mamedyarov trying for a really long time, the players eventually agreed upon a draw after White’s 96th move.

Our final game of the report features the local hero Deac who has had a bit of a dream tournament, arriving at the round in a shared second place. With the black pieces, he was facing Dominguez, who by contrast had struggled in this event. 

In a sharp variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, Dominguez went for a pawn sacrifice that has a good reputation for White but had previously been played against Deac, so clearly, he knew what was in store. Both players blitzed out the first 15 moves, but then both players really went in the tank on consecutive moves.

Deac spent more than an hour on his next four moves, and, not to be left behind, Dominguez soon spent even longer. By move 20, it was clear that both players would end up in serious time trouble because the complications on the board were just beginning.

Lots to think about for Dominguez. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

In the middlegame, Dominguez did not play correctly and his compensation for the sacrificed pawn evaporated, and soon Black had a clear advantage. But time trouble does things to decent folks, they get tense and start messing about and that also happened to Deac who got lured to playing into 28…Bxa3 which looked promising but gave White massive compensation for his two sacrificed pawns. After further mistakes before the time control, White gained an advantage.

Things were still within reach of equality but after a massive blunder by Deac right after the time control, White gained a material advantage in two bishops for a rook. This should have been a trivial win but soon Dominguez left himself in a situation, playing on increments. In doing so, he let Deac off the hook.

That was not the end of it because Deac too played wrong, possibly overlooking White’s 60th move, 60.Kb3!, after which the win was a matte of simple technique.

Deac realizes he has blown it and resigned shortly after. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

A clear disappointment for Deac who now is back on 50 percent after his brilliant start to the event. Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

Round 6 Standings

All Games Round 6

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