Caruana turns back time — literally — in Superbet chess win
Time can pass awfully slowly when you’re watching a chess game at classical time controls, but can it actually move in reverse?
That’s the Einsteinian time-space conundrum to ponder as we consider the recent game between American GM Fabiano Caruana and Dutch star GM Anish Giri from the recent Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest.
Clinging to a half-point in the tournament’s penultimate round, Caruana went deep into the theoretical vault with a prepared line in a trendy Giuoco Piano variation. While his opponent struggled to solve the problems of the position over the board, Caruana was so thoroughly “booked” in the line that — with the bonus time increments modern chess clocks give a player for each move — he managed to finish the game with seven more minutes of thinking time than when he began. That’s like starting the game at noon and finishing at 11:53 a.m.
Unfortunately, Giri passed the test and managed to work out an ingenious drawing line, albeit one Caruana said later he knew was there if Black was resourceful enough to find it.
In an increasingly popular line, the real game begins on 13. Ba3!? exd4 (not being tempted by 13…d5?! 14. Bxd5 exd5 15. c4!, anchoring the bishop’s dominating post) 14. Qb3!?, with White moving instantly and Black laboring to avoid the theoretical coils of Caruana’s preparation. The Dutch GM proves equal to the challenge on 14…d5 15. exd5 dxc3 16. Rxe8+ Qxe8 (Nxe8 is playable, but Caruana noted later Black would then be forced to play a dynamic position while an hour or more down on the clock; instead Black finds the line that White was hoping he would miss) 17. Re1 (see diagram) Qxe1+!!.
After 18. Nxe1 cxd2 19. Nf3 (Kf1? Bg4! 20. Nf3 Bxf3 21. gxf3 Re8, and Black is suddenly winning) Ne4! 20. d6 (Bb2? Bxf2+ 21. Kf1 Bf5, and again Black is much better) Nxf2 21. Bxf7+ Kh8 22. Nxd2, Black has a perpetual check with 22…Ne4+ 23. Kh1 (Kf1?? Nxd2+) Nf2+ 24. Kg1 Ne4+ 25. Kh1 Nf2+ 26. Kg1.
Told he had banked seven extra minutes with his quick play, a chagrined Caruana observed afterward, “You don’t, unfortunately, get extra points for the time you saved up during the tournament.” One nice consolation: The Giri draw, coupled with a loss by French GM Alireza Firouzja in the same round, helped the American to claim clear first with a score of 5½-3½ in the super-strong event.
While intriguing, games like Caruana-Giri show how much memorization and theoretical preparation are now mandatory in top-level chess. With massive databases, computer engines and sophisticated support teams, top GMs are typically a dozen or more moves into many games before the thinking even starts.
More enterprising, entertaining chess these days is often found farther down the ratings ladder. Take, for instance, the recent game at the Asian zonal tournament in Jakarta between Indonesian IM Anjas Novita and FM Prin Laohawirapap, the very promising Thai junior star. The play is far from perfect, but that’s usually the case when mate is delivered so smashingly in under 30 moves.
In this Accelerated Sicilian Dragon after 13. Bf2 Qg5, the Black queen looks like a lonely attacker out on the kingside, but she will prove highly effective once the Black rook and bishop join the fun.
Despite allowing a Black rook to his second rank, after 18. Rf2 Rae8 19. f4 Qf5, Novita will have a juicy target in the blocked and isolated Black d-pawn, if only he can consolidate his position. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for us), White lets things get out of hand on 20. Qxa7?! (Rxe2 Rxe2 21. Bxd5 Be6 22. Bxe6 Qxe6 23. Qxa7 Qd5 24. Rg1 Rxb2, and Black’s activity is good for equality at best) Bc6! (already with the threat of 21…d4! 22. Qxd4 Re1+ 23. Rf1 Bxg2+! Kxg2 [Kg1 Bxf1 is no better] Qg4+ 25. Kh1 Qf3+ 26. Kg1 Qxf1 mate) 21. Raf1? (understandable, but better was 21. Qd4 R8e4 22. Rxe2 Rxe2 23. Rd1 Qe4 24. Qxe4 dxe4 25. h3 and White can fight on) Qd3 22. f5? (Rxe2 Qxe2 23. Rg1 Qxb2 24. Qd4 Re4, and again White has chances to save the game), and the third inaccuracy proves too much for the defense.
Despite the stripped-down material, the Black attack can’t be stopped in the finale: 22…d4! 23. fxg6 (nothing works now — 23. Rxe2 Qxe2 24. Rg1 Qxg2+! 25. Rxg2 Re1 mate; or 23. Qxd4 Qxd4 24. cxd4 Rxf2 25. Rxf2 Re1+) Rxf2 24. gxf7+ Kg7 (and not 24…Rxf7?, ruining all Black’s fine work because of 25. Bxf7+ Kg7 26. Qxd4+ Qxd4 27. cxd4 Re2 28. d5 and White is better) 25. fxe8=N+ (cute, but it only delays the inevitable) Kh6 26. Rg1 Bxg2+! 27. Rxg2 Rf1+, and Novita resigns just ahead of 28. Rg1 Qe4 mate.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Caruana-Giri, Superbet Chess Classic, Bucharest, Romania, May 2023
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 d6 6. b4 Bb6 7. a4 a5 8. b5 Ne7 9. O-O O-O 10. Nbd2 Ng6 11. d4 h6 12. Re1 Re8 13. Ba3 exd4 14. Qb3 d5 15. exd5 dxc3 16. Rxe8+ Qxe8 17. Re1 Qxe1+ 18. Nxe1 cxd2 19. Nf3 Ne4 20. d6 Nxf2 21. Bxf7+ Kh8 22. Nxd2 Ne4+ 23. Kh1 Nf2+ 24. Kg1 Ne4+ 25. Kh1 Nf2+ 26. Kg1 Draw agreed.
Novita-Laohawirapap, Asian Zonal Tournament, Jakarta, Indonesia, May 2023
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 Re8 9. f3 e6 10. O-O d5 11. exd5 Nxd5 12. Nxd5 exd5 13. Bf2 Qg5 14. Kh1 Bd7 15. c3 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 Bxd4 17. Qxd4 Re2 18. Rf2 Rae8 19. f4 Qf5 20. Qxa7 Bc6 21. Raf1 Qd3 22. f5 d4 23. fxg6 Rxf2 24. gxf7+ Kg7 25. fxe8=N+ Kh6 26. Rg1 Bxg2+ 27. Rxg2 Rf1+ White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.