Luke McShane

Rock, paper, scissors

Rock, paper, scissors
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The Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest concluded last weekend in a dramatic tiebreak between Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian, who all took wildly different paths to finish the main event on 5.5/9.

Wesley So was the tournament rock. He won two controlled games against Nepomniachtchi and Mamedyarov and otherwise never looked in danger. The other two certainly weren’t rocks, but they couldn’t decide whether to be paper or scissors. Vachier-Lagrave won two sharp battles, against Caruana and Firouzja. But when he met Aronian in round 6, it was Vachier-Lagrave who volunteered for a shredding.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave-Levon Aronian

Superbet Chess Classic, Bucharest, May 2022

The previous move, 25 Kc3-d4, placed the king on the worst possible square. Aronian cut him off with 25…Na4! This controls the flight squares on c3 and c5, so there is no proper defence to Rc8-d8 mate. White resigned. But the very next day, the Frenchman capitalised on an equally egregious blunder from Richard Rapport.

Aronian spoke frankly about his tournament: ‘I think I was playing rather terribly, but so was everybody else!’ Despite this, he constantly frustrated his opponents, defending stubbornly to beat Dominguez, and rescuing very dubious positions against Firouzja and Nepomniachtchi.

In the first game of the three-way rapidplay tiebreak, Aronian was abraded by So, and no amount of thrashing could save him. The next, So-Vachier-Lagrave, reached this position:

Wesley So-Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Superbet Chess Classic, Bucharest, May 2022

The Bd4 is attacked, and Nf5-h4+ is in the air. But ‘MVL’ wrested the initiative, at least psychologically, with the cheeky 28 h3. Now 28…Qxg3+ 29 Kf1 looks winning for White, since Qg3 and Re2 are both under attack. In fact, 29…Re7!, is an unexpected rejoinder and after 30 fxg3 Rxb7 Black keeps an edge. Instead So backed down with 28…Qg6 and lost after an exchange of blunders in time trouble. 29 Kf1 Re4 30 Qd5 Re6 31 Bc5 Qh5 32 h4 Qg4 33 b4 axb4 34 axb4 Rf6 35 Ke1 Re6+ 36 Kd2 Qg6 37 Re1 Ra6 38 Re5 Nd6 39 h5 Qf6 40 f4 Nf5 41 g4 Nh4 42 Qe4+ g6 43 b5 Ra5 44 b6 Qd8+ 45 Kc3 Qd1 46 Qc2 Qa1+ 47 Kb4 Nf3 48 Qb3 Nxe5 49 fxe5 Qe1+ 50 Kc4 Qe2+ 51 Kd5 Qxg4 52 Kd6 Qc8 Black resigns

In the third tiebreak game, a win for Aronian would complete the circle of victories (A beats B beats C beats A), but – surprise! – this time Vachier-Lagrave threw the scissors. Aronian was left in ribbons (after another near-escape), so Vachier-Lagrave was the tiebreak winner.

Written byLuke McShane

Luke McShane is chess columnist for The Spectator.

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