Nakamura Wins "Ultimate Blitz Challenge"; So Second, Kasparov Third
Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 2:47AM
Dennis Monokroussos in Fabiano Caruana, Garry Kasparov, Hikaru Nakamura, Ultimate Blitz Challenge, Wesley So, blitz chess

This was a very exciting event, and there were many games worth discussing. For now, however, the bare results and some brief impressions. Hikaru Nakamura had a strong second day and won with a score of 11/18, a point ahead of Wesley So and a point and a half ahead of Garry Kasparov. All three finished with plus scores, and since it was a four player tournament it meant that the remaining player served as the piñata. On this occasion it fell to Fabiano Caruana, the new U.S. Champion and world #2 player to fill that role. His play on day two was completely unsuccessful, and he wound up with just 5.5/18.

Nakamura's victory was the product of doggedness on day 1, hanging in there while he wasn't playing well, and on day two he got into a good rhythm and was the dominant player on the day.

So had his moments, especially against Kasparov, but couldn't keep up with Nakamura's pace on the second day. (That said, if he had beaten him in the final round rather than drawing, they would have gone to a playoff.) So's biggest success came against Kasparov. He lost badly to him in round 1, and was close to losing two more game to him on the first day as well. Sadly for Kasparov, a couple of masterpieces in the making were completely ruined by his blundering a knight (on both occasions) and losing. The highlight of their contests came on day 2, however, in the first game of the day, when So won an absolute blowout. The commentators, and then Kasparov himself found the game reminiscent of Paul Morphy's "Opera Game", and Kasparov remarked that he found himself in the role of the "amateur" in that game.

Kasparov came close, and on the first day he could and should have scored far more heavily than he did. He repeatedly achieved the sorts of positions he wanted, and displayed not only good preparation but tremendous and energetic play in the middlegame. Only his rust and several outright blunders left him in third at the end of day 1, though only half a point behind Nakamura and So. On day two he was the one having to scramble to stay alive, and he did a remarkable job of saving some terrible positions against Nakamura in particular. Still, he finished strongly with wins over Nakamura and Caruana in the last two rounds (the latter game was especially nice), and his day 2 score was half a point better than what he achieved on day 1. Surprisingly - and impressively - Kasparov won his mini-matches with Caruana and Nakamura, but suffered badly against So.

Finally, for Caruana just about everything went wrong starting with round 7 on the first day. After that, his main highlight was a nice victory over Kasparov on the black side of a Scotch in the penultimate cycle (in round 15). For him, it will be an event to forget, except for the privilege of being able to say that he played Kasparov in a public event on even terms.

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