Caruana Wins Superbet Chess Classic Romania In Playoff After Dramatic Final Day


GM Fabiano Caruana ended up winning the $68,750 first prize at the Superbet Chess Classic Romania after a dramatic final day in Bucharest. Although he lost his classical game to a strong-playing GM Anish Giri, the American GM won all three games in the playoff to retain last year’s title.

The grapes were sour for GM Alireza Firouzja, who was on the brink of beating GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and finishing in clear first place without needing a playoff but then failed to win an exchange-up position.

The games GM Wesley So vs. GM Gukesh Dommaraju, GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac vs. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov ended in draws.

Superbet Chess Classic Romania Round 9 Results

Superbet Chess Classic Romania 2024 Round 9 Results
Image courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club/Grand Chess Tour.

Superbet Chess Classic Romania Final Standings

Superbet Chess Classic Romania 2024 Final Standings
Image courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club/Grand Chess Tour.

“Maybe we were making it a bit boring, but on the final day at least we added some excitement,” Caruana noted after receiving the trophy for winning another Superbet Chess Classic. Indeed, after what was not the most exciting classical tournament in the history of the game, the final day made up for it with dramatic results in the classical portion and an exciting playoff to produce the tournament winner.

A big part of all this comes from the fact that Caruana suffered his first loss of the tournament on the last day. “I feel good at the moment but, overall, of course it was a pretty bad day,” the tournament winner also said, but with a big smile on his face. “I played terribly. Anish punished me; I played a poor game but he played well and then I wasn’t even thinking about winning the tournament anymore.”

I played terribly. Anish punished me; I played a poor game but he played well and then I wasn’t even thinking about winning the tournament anymore.
—Fabiano Caruana

So let’s look at that key game from the final round first.

Giri 1-0 Caruana

Giri and Caruana played a Catalan, which transposed into a Queen’s Indian. After some trades in the center, Caruana ended up with an isolated queen’s pawn, but his activity provided ample compensation. Then, on move 20, he made a big mistake that cost him a pawn, and from that moment, Giri was in the driver’s seat. The Dutchman was up to the technical task and left his opponent without a chance.

Here’s the game annotated by GM Rafael Leitao:

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

Giri Caruana Bucharest 2024
Giri saved his best for last and almost played a spoiler for Caruana. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Praggnanandhaa ½-½ Firouzja

In this dramatic final round game, Firouzja was winning for many moves but eventually failed to beat an incredibly resilient Praggnanandhaa. The 18-year-old player from Chennai wasn’t feeling very much at home in a Sicilian Najdorf, played several inaccuracies, and got a terrible position out of the opening. Sacrificing an exchange was an excellent practical decision, though, after which he delivered a fantastic defensive play that left Firouzja with the huge disappointment of missing out on a direct tournament victory.

Praggnanandhaa Firouzja Bucharest 2024
Praggnanandhaa vs. Firouzja with Caruana looking. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Playoff: Caruana wins all three

Before we wrap up the classical games, let’s first discuss that tournament-deciding playoff. Because Gukesh had drawn his game, he had also qualified, together with Firouzja and Praggnanandhaa. With four players in first place, an all-play-all was contested with a 10+5 time control.

Whereas 38 out of 45 games in the main tournament ended in draws, the playoff didn’t see a single draw but rather six decisive games (all for replay here). Firouzja beat Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa but lost to Caruana, who ended up winning all three rapid games. Those times when the American GM was supposed to be bad in faster time controls are far behind us!

In hindsight, the key playoff game was the following, where Caruana could use a nice tactic:

Caruana Firouzja Bucharest playoff 2024
Firouzja resigns. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Abdusattorov

Nepomniachtchi was one of the six players who could theoretically qualify for a playoff, and for that, he needed a win against Abdusattorov. Nepomniachtchi was not without chances, it seemed.

The game saw a theoretical line of the 5.Bf4 Queen’s Gambit Declined that was very topical a decade ago. What we get is a blocked pawn formation on the queenside where Black usually controls the a-file while White, in the meantime, tries to create possibilities for an attack on the kingside.

Nepomniachtchi might be surprised to see the engine’s promising evaluation for White around move 25. When it’s more than a pawn, that’s quite something! He might have traded a pair of rooks a bit too late, after which Black’s a-pawn guaranteed enough counterplay.

Nepomniachtchi Abdusattorov Bucharest 2024
Nepomniachtchi was not without chances vs. Abdusattorov. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Deac ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave

We have seen quite a few exciting games ending in draws (with So vs. Abdusattorov as the absolute highlight), but some draws are just as boring as watching paint dry. All we saw in the game between Deac and Vachier-Lagrave was pawn and piece trades, while the pawn structure remained symmetrical.

This way, the Frenchman finished his tournament with nine draws–not bad, but not great either. Deac lost twice and drew seven games, with a performance rating identical to his actual rating: 2680.

Vachier-Lagrave Bucharest 2024 nine draws
Nine draws for Vachier-Lagrave in Bucharest. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So ½-½ Gukesh

This was the quickest draw, lasting under two hours. Gukesh played somewhat strangely in the opening (a Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian) as he first played his queen to e7 and two moves later switched it to c7. So wasn’t particularly interested in trying to refute it and instead went for some exchanges, after which Gukesh also didn’t mind the early move repetition that followed.

“I apologize today for the quick draw. It’s not what I wanted, but I wasn’t feeling very well the last few days. I was feeling a bit sick,” So commented. I just wanted to finish the tournament. It’s not exactly what I hoped for; usually, I play much better in Romania, but this year has not been very good. I think I could start much better if we could do the tournament all over again.”

So is one of the players who will be playing the next event of the Grand Chess Tour, starting in just five days: the SuperUnited Croatia Rapid & Blitz. Seven of the 10 players will travel from Bucharest to Zagreb, where GMs Magnus Carlsen, Vidit Gujrathi, and Ivan Saric will be the wildcards replacing Abdusattorov, Deac, and Praggnanandhaa. (This event starts Wednesday, July 10, at 9 a.m. ET / 15:00 CEST / 18:30 p.m. IST and will be covered daily here on Chess.com.)

After a disappointing event in Bucharest, So showed resilience in his attitude toward this next tournament as he quoted Vivien Leigh (playing Scarlett O’Hara) in the final scene of that classic 1939 movie: “Tomorrow is another day with new hope, as they say in the very famous movie Gone with the Wind. Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow will be better and as long as I have life I have hope.”

The 2024 Superbet Chess Classic Romania was the second leg of the 2024 Grand Chess Tour. The event was a 10-player round-robin with classical time control (120 minutes for the entire game, plus a 30-second increment per move). The tournament ran June 26-July 5 and featured a $350,000 prize fund.


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