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    Sunday
    Dec152013

    Nakamura Wins London Chess Classic

    It wasn't pretty, but when you win, who cares? Hikaru Nakamura won the rapid event that was this year's London Chess Classic, defeating Boris Gelfand 1.5-.5 in the final after defeating Vladimir Kramnik by the same score in the semis.

    Starting with the semi-finals, Nakamura drew his first game with Kramnik pretty easily with the black pieces, but in game two Kramnik had what was probably some excellent preparation and obtained an advantage. Kramnik's strategy of meeting the 7.a3 line against the Tarrasch with 7...g6, heading for a Gruenfeld, was pretty sensible, and 16...Nb4! was an excellent trick that got White into some trouble. Nakamura sacrificed the exchange for a pawn and began a long and unpleasant defense. After 41...h6, with the idea of ...f5, it looked like Kramnik was finally going to win the d-pawn and convert his advantage into a full point. Nakamura played the tricky 42.d7, and now Kramnik avoided one trick but fell into another.

    The obvious error is 42...Kxd7?, which allows 43.Bxh6! If Black doesn't take the bishop White will probably draw anyway, and if he does then 44.Nxf6+ Ke6 45.Nxd5 Kxd5 46.Kf3 followed by 47.Kg4, 48.f4 and 49.h5 swaps off Black's last pawn to force the draw. The right move was 42...Bf8!, whose point becomes obvious after Kramnik's choice, which was 42...Kf7?: 43.Nc5! The pawn is protected and the knight is immune, and that's why the bishop needed to be on f8. Kramnik played 43...Bf8 now, but it's too late: 44.Ba5! Be7 45.Bb6! and Nakamura probably had a fortress.

    Kramnik tried to break through in a mostly non-committal way for a while, but after 59...Kg6 60.Bb6 Bxg5 61.Ne6! (with the simple but important point that 61...Rxd7?? allows the winning fork 62.Nf8+) the position was messy and White was no longer worse. Kramnik quickly - and wrongly - played 61...Rd3+, and after 62.Ke4 was clearly upset by what had happened. He had to sac his bishop for Nakamura's d-pawn, and though Nakamura now had the upper hand the position was still drawish. As anyone who has played much tournament chess knows, however, a slightly worse position after one has been better for a long time feels like a disaster, and it's very hard to stop sliding. Sure enough, Kramnik's 64...Re7+ was poor, and after 65.Ne5+ he uncorked 65...Kf6??, only to resign after a few moments of horror when Nakamura played 66.Bd8. Ouch.

    Gelfand's semi-final win against Michael Adams came with considerably less drama. Gelfand had White in their first game, but was if anything slightly worse until Adams blundered an exchange with 24...Nd7, missing the surprising double attack resulting from 25.0-0-0! Black had to surrender the exchange, and while the subsequent play was by no means perfect Gelfand's win was the normal result. In the rematch Gelfand wound up with a big advantage in a 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf, but for simplicity's sake returned first one and then the second of his extra pawns to achieve a trivially drawn endgame.

    In the final Nakamura had White in game 1 and played the very risky but semi-sound 11.Nxf7 in a Russian System Gruenfeld. Black was forced to surrender the exchange, but obtained a massive initiative in return. The key moment came on move 17, when Gelfand played 17...Ne4. While perhaps not a mistake, it allowed Nakamura to swap a pair of knights and then play f3, making his king a good deal safer than it had been. Perhaps the position was still objectively equal, but the resulting position was one where it would be more challenging for Black to keep proving sufficient compensation. Instead, 17...Nce6 would have kept the tension and some advantage for Black.

    The next important moment was on move 22, when Gelfand played 22...Qf6, apparently under the assumption that his c-pawn was indigestible. This was a mistake, and he should have played something like 22...Rd7 instead, covering it. With a pawn for the exchange and very active pieces Black would have maintained equal chances. After 22...Qf6 23.Rxc7 Ne6 (possibly another inaccuracy) 24.Rd7 White was a clean exchange ahead, and with accurate defense Nakamura neutralized Gelfand's initiative and won the game.

    Game two was a good fight in an Averbakh King's Indian. Gelfand was close to getting something substantial for a while, but Nakamura maintained enough activity to avoid serious trouble. The need to avoid a logical draw forced Gelfand to overpress a bit, and then he wound up in some trouble of his own. To his credit, he stayed mentally tough and held the draw in a worse rook endgame, but of course that wasn't enough to save the match.

    Another very good result for Gelfand, but the best result was obviously the champion's. Nakamura went through the entire event undefeated, going +5 =7 overall. He's #3 in the world for a reason!

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    Reader Comments (1)

    I love the great coverage, as always. Thanks, Dennis! One phrase really made my day:

    "Very risky but semi-sound"

    This phrase should be printed on every license plate in America.

    December 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Falter

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