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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (141)

    Wednesday
    Feb142018

    Carlsen Wins Fischerrandom Match vs. Nakamura, 14-10

    Considering how dominant Magnus Carlsen has been in rapid & blitz chess against even his peers, Hikaru Nakamura did well to lose by only a 14-10 margin. Still, it's clear that Carlsen was the stronger player in the match, and barring the bizarre end to the last of the slower games the final margin could have been less flattering to the American. Let's recap the last day's action, which comprised eight 10'+5" games. As before, the players would both get a shot with White at the same starting position, and the player who had White in the first game of one pair would have Black in the first game of the next pair. Carlsen entered the last day with a 9-7 lead, and here's how it went:

    Carlsen had White first, and got on the scoreboard with a quick win. Nakamura was generally a little worse but very much in the fight for equality until move 22. Nakamura should have defended his e-pawn with 22...Rd6 instead of 22...Re7, as the rook would also safeguard the knight on c6. After 23.e4! dxe4? 24.Qxg5 Kb7? 25.d5! exd5 26.Rxc6! White had won a piece, and Black resigned a few moves later.

    Nakamura had trouble in the slower games with the white pieces, and didn't get off to a good start in the faster games. His 10th move was a serious error that left him clearly worse, and Carlsen soon reached a position where only he could win. His advantage increased and was winning until he played 45...Bxe5+?? He must have thought it didn't matter very much how he won White's h-pawn, but it did. (Or putting it differently, it mattered that he wound up with a pair of h-pawns rather than a g-pawn and an h-pawn, as it gave White the ability to play for a bishop and wrong-colored rook pawn draw.) A narrow, slightly lucky escape for Nakamura.

    In the third game it was Carlsen's turn to play Houdini (referring metaphorically to the person, not the engine). After 59 moves Nakamura, with White, had a queen against Black's rook, d- and a-pawns, and the d-pawn perished on move 68. At that point it was a theoretical win, though not an easy one. That was still the case until move 85 (which doesn't mean that either player's technique was perfect), when 85.Kc4 rather than 85.Qe2+ rendered a tablebase draw. Carlsen didn't reply with the tablebase-approved move, but two moves later Nakamura's 87.Qd2+ made it a tablebase draw again. From here through the end of the game on move 138, Carlsen made no mistakes, and the game was drawn. To be fair, there weren't too many tricks he had to dodge, but even so it's hard to play so many correct moves in a row without goofing up somewhere.

    Game four was also drawn. Nakamura sacrificed an exchange in the opening for no pawns and dubious compensation, but Carlsen's 12.e5 and 14.Nd4 surrendered a pawn and the advantage. Very strange. Nakamura even had the advantage at one moment, and it went back and forth before petering out to a drawn ending.

    The string of draws came to an end in game five, another convincing and short victory by Carlsen. Nakamura got into some trouble in the early middlegame, but if he had found 23...a5 with the idea of ...Ba6 not all would be lost. After 23...e6?? 24.Ra3 all was lost. Black had to give up a bunch of material, and then the game - and with it, the match, as Carlsen led 12.5-8.5 with three games to go.

    Carlsen won game six as well. It helped having a big headstart, as he was clearly better - with Black - after just five moves. Then again, the position was equal a couple of moves later, which just goes to show how reliant even the world's greatest chess players are on pattern recognition. We may think that all the beloved opening patterns and principles we've discovered over the centuries are obvious, natural, and intuitive. In fact they're not; they've been earned by the sweat of our collective brows, the inheritance of many generations of deep thought and hard work. This is also true of our tactical skill: Carlsen missed a nice opportunity on move 29, when 29...Re2+! won straight away. White would either give up the queen for the rook, or get mated after 30.Nxe2 Qd2+ 31.Kb1 Be4#. Although I'd normally expect Carlsen to spot that even in Chess960 without all that much time on the clock, the unusual position probably made it more difficult for Carlsen to sense that there could be a tactical opportunity. Back to the game summary: Nakamura overextended in the center, and this left a slew of weak light squares on the kingside. Carlsen took advantage and was soon winning everywhere, until he missed the opportunity mentioned above. Nakamura somehow scrambled back to equality, then got outplayed again, and yet had one last opportunity to save the game that also went by the wayside.

    Nakamura did have the pleasure of winning the last decisive game, however. In the day's seventh game, he went for broke, sacrificing a couple of pawns in the opening for attacking chances. It was unsound, but Carlsen's strange decision to play 10...Kc8, forsaking the right to castle, immediately justified Nakamura's concept. (Also on castling: Nakamura castled kingside on move 20, but here the expression that's synonymous in normal chess - "castling short" - was wildly inapplicable, as his king went from b1 to g1! Another funny Chess960 castling moment came in game 3, the marathon draw mentioned above. The kings were on the f-file and the king's rooks were on the g-file, and the game began 1.0-0 0-0.) There were some further ups and downs over the next several moves, but soon it was clear that Nakamura had a serious attack and no risk, and that at a minimum he would recoup his sacrificed material. Nakamura obtained a completely winning position, but Carlsen being Carlsen, he managed to fight his way all the way back to a drawn rook ending. But not an easily drawn ending, even with time to think. (And had both players had more time, Nakamura almost certainly wouldn't have let his advantage slip.) Anyway, Nakamura dominated most of the game, so the result was fitting rather than accidental.

    Finally, the last game was well played by both sides on the way to the draw, but there was a brief moment where Carlsen may have been winning. Nakamura should have taken on c4 when Carlsen played 39.c4. After 39...Kc7 40.cxd5 cxd5 White could have won a pawn, and apparently the game, by setting up a nice zugzwang: 41.b4!, and now as an example let's say 41...a5 42.b5 Kd6 43.Bh7 Ke7 44.Bg8 Kd6 45.a4, and if the king retreats White wins the d-pawn and brings his king to e4, while if the knight moves then 46.Kf3 will quickly win the f-pawn. Carlsen missed this subtle idea (it's a 10'+5" game, after all, and the 16th game over a five-day period) and the game quickly worked out to a draw. (To replay the games, scroll down from the home page of the official site.)

    Magnus Carlsen is thus the unofficial king of Chess960/Fischerrandom as well as the official world champion at blitz and classical chess, and if this helps boost the variant's popularity it's possible that he'll have the chance to become the official Fischerrandom world champion someday.

    Tuesday
    Feb132018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Fischerrandom Match: Carlsen Leads 9-7 After the "Slow Rapid" Games

    Add "slow rapid" to the list of putative oxymorons that includes "jumbo shrimp", "act naturally", and "living dead". It's a funny phrase, but as the paradigmatic rapid time control is 25'+10", the 45-minute games Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have contested the past four days count as slow rapids.

    Whatever you want to call it, the score in this Fischerrandom (aka Chess960) match is in Carlsen's favor, 9-7, though it would have been 10-6 had he not lost his marbles in the final game. First, a quick summary of the rules and scoring, and then a recap of the scoring on a day-by-day basis. Each day they play a pair of games with each color from the same starting position, chosen at random 15 minutes before the start of play. On days 1 and 3 Carlsen had white in the first game, and on days 2 and 4 it went the other way around. The slow rapid games are scored on a 2-1-0 basis, as opposed to the eight quick rapid games (10'+5") they'll play tomorrow (Tuesday). Those will be scored on the traditional 1-.5-0 system.

    On day 1, both games were drawn. Game 1 was very clean and roughly equal throughout, but in game 2 first Nakamura and then Carlsen enjoyed a serious (but not winning) advantage before peace was declared.

    On day 2, the first game was drawn. It was a bit like game 2: Nakamura had White in both games, and in both cases first Nakamura and then Carlsen had the advantage. In game 3, however, Nakamura's advantage wasn't so big, while Carlsen's was enough to win. Nevertheless, it too finished in a draw - the last one of all the slow rapid games! Carlsen won game 4 with white - the last white win of the slow rapid games. He was pressing throughout, but after 50.Qb6? Nakamura should have escaped with a draw. It wasn't automatic though, and 67...Kg6?? lost the game straightaway. After 68.Qg8+ Black cannot avoid getting mated (68...Kh6 69.g5#) or losing the queen (68...Kf6 69.Qh8+), so that was that. Carlsen thus led 5-3.

    On day 3 the parade of black wins began. Nakamura won in good style in game 5 to equalize the scores, but overextended with white in game 6. His pawn sac with 13.d5 followed by 14.d4 was too optimistic; Carlsen grabbed White's h-pawn and wound up with both the material and the attack. Had Nakamura played 13.dxc4 Nxc4 14.f5 instead, he'd have had a pleasant edge, and then who knows how the match would have continued. Carlsen led 7-5.

    On day 4 Carlsen won once again with the black pieces, this time without any trouble after Nakamura's laggardly development allowed Carlsen to take over the center. He now led 9-5 and it seemed that the rout would be on, especially when he obtained a huge opening advantage in game 8. His decision to liquidate everything to win the b7-pawn was questionable, but it was still a two-result position: either Carlsen would win or Nakamura would eke out a draw. With gritty defense Nakamura managed to reach an ending with rook vs. rook and bishop. This is a theoretical draw, as most of you know, but it's also possible to lose it - again, as most of you know. Of course, when we say that, we mean that the side facing the rook and bishop can lose it. We don't mean that about the player with the extra piece! But here's the issue: Carlsen was down to 77 seconds left at the start of that ending, on move 69, and they were playing without an increment.

    But here's the thing: Carlsen had four opportunities to trade the rook immediately, and once to force the trade; in either case with an instant draw. Even more to the point, he could have claimed the draw at any moment. (I don't like that rule at all, but that's irrelevant; what counts is that it is the rule, and he could and should have taken advantage of it.) Ironically, Carlsen had still a third way to get the draw; namely, by claiming the 50-move rule at the last instant before his flag fell after Nakamura's 119th move.

    Instead, he kept on playing, and by the end he was willing to let Nakamura trade the rooks; Nakamura, absolutely rightly, refused all such offers. If Carlsen wants to play forever for a win, that's fine, but then when he's out of time there's absolutely no reason why Nakamura should give him amnesty. I've never been in that situation in a tournament game, but I find it hilarious in online blitz when someone tries to win a drawn - sometimes dead drawn - ending against me and then begs for a draw when his efforts have failed and he's about to lose on time. To be clear, Carlsen did not do that. He didn't ask for a draw, and he didn't protest or criticize anyone after the game. That's fair: he tried hard to win and overstepped; that happens to all of us. My only criticism of Carlsen is that he should have known, or realized, that he could have claimed the draw; he didn't have to hope he could somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat at the board. Rather, I'm defending Nakamura's choice to go for the win when Carlsen waited too long to call off the dogs.

    So kudos to Nakamura for his fine defense, which earned one point on the board and another point on the clock; his two-point deficit is much more manageable than the four-point hole he should have faced or the catastrophic six-point deficit that seemed very possible much of the way. Of course he'll be an underdog tomorrow, but who knows? Maybe the psychological impact of the last game will give Nakamura some extra wind in his sails. We'll see!

    I wanted to post the games, but apparently ChessBase's publication tool can't handle Chess960 games - or maybe I just don't know how to tweak it so it can. So here's the Live Games page on the tournament website; scroll down to access previous games.

    Wednesday
    Feb072018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Chess960 Match

    Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura will play a 16-game rapid and blitz match in Chess960 (or Fischerrandom, if you prefer) from the 9th (this Friday) through the 13th (next Tuesday), in Bearum, Norway. They'll play a pair of rapid games each of the first four days, and then eight blitz games the last day.

    Is this Nakamura's chance to break Carlsen's stranglehold over him, or will Sauron win again?

    Wednesday
    Jan032018

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship: The Winner Is..

    ...to be announced in the comments. The video, for those who didn't see it live but want to watch the video, should be available at twitch.tv/chess.

    Tuesday
    Jan022018

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship Finale, Carlsen vs. Nakamura Starts Tomorrow/Today (Wednesday)

    The grand finale of the 2017 event begins Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. PT, which is 1 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. CET. Magnus Carlsen is the favorite, of course, but if anyone can stop him in online blitz and bullet it's Hikaru Nakamura. For those who haven't followed any of the Chess.com events, it will transpire in three stages: 90 minutes of 5'+2", 60 minutes of 3'+2", and 30 minutes of 1'+1", with each segment punctuated by a Chess960 game at that time control.

    More info here.

    Saturday
    Dec162017

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship: The Finalists are Set

    The second semi-final of Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship is over, and we now know who will face Magnus Carlsen in the final, set for January 3 at 1 p.m. ET. It was a close match, and for those who didn't see it live but want to watch the replay (go to twitch.tv/chess and look up the Nakamura-Karjakin match) without any spoilers I'll put the recap in the comments section.

    Friday
    Dec152017

    2017 Speed Chess Championship: Karjakin vs. Nakamura

    The second semi-final of Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship starts tomorrow (Saturday) and features a battle of the #2 and #3 seeds, Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura, respectively. The format is the same as always: 90 minutes of 5'+2" chess followed by 60 minutes of 3'+2" and 30 minutes of 1'+1". After each segment finishes there's a Chess960 game at that time control, and all the games count equally - it's the standard 1-.5-0 scoring system.

    The action begins at noon ET (= 6 p.m. CET), and the winner will face Magnus Carlsen, who defeated Wesley So in the other semi-final in November. More info here.

    Friday
    Dec082017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 6: Five Interesting Games, and a Tale of Two Endings

    Round 6 of the London Chess Classic maintained its usual allotment of draws - there were four more today out of the five games - but all five were interesting in their own way.

    The outwardly least interesting game was arguably the most important one going into the round: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Fabiano Caruana. For Vachier-Lagrave, a win was important if he hoped to overtake Magnus Carlsen in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, and a win would also have put him into a first-place tie with Caruana in the tournament itself. Unfortunately for MVL, Caruana's preparation was superlative: everything through move 22 was prepared by Caruana, and White's 23rd move was a less-dangerous version of the idea he was ready for. Caruana held with ease, and even entertained some slight hopes of obtaining an advantage. Those hopes weren't realized, as Vachier-Lagrave correctly played it safe and steered the game to a draw.

    The shortest game by number of moves was Viswanathan Anand's game with Sergey Karjakin. Like Caruana, Karjakin was well-prepared. His 12...Qa6! is an important new idea in the Flohr-Mikenas system of the English that may mark the end of the line for White's approach. That said, Karjakin was imprecise on moves 15 and/or 16, and Anand missed a chance to play on, as he confessed during the post-game interview.

    Wesley So and Levon Aronian drew their game as well, but unlike the two games mentioned above this one was wild. Aronian took a serious risk with his plan of 14...Ng4 followed by 15...Bxf2+, and neither side proved fully able to handle the complications. First So could have been clearly better, and later Aronian was as well - and maybe even winning. Missing his chance, So finished the game very accurately and drew by repetition.

    The two remaining games were marathons. Michael Adams' game with Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed headed for a routine endgame draw, but then he decided to repeat his policy from round 3 against Vachier-Lagrave. In both games he sacrificed a pawn to reach an objectively drawn ending with a rook and three pawns against his opponent's rook and four pawns, with all the pawns on the kingside. Against MVL he succeeded in holding the ending; against Nepo, he didn't. (The pawn structure was different in the two games, but both were objectively drawn.) Nepomniachtchi blamed Adams' plan of putting the rook on the h-file, and while he could have gotten away with it, there's no doubt that it made it very easy for Adams to lose. While I agree with Nepomniachtchi's diagnosis, I'd offer another one: Adams' failure to play g4.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen had a war, and it followed the sad Murphy's Law script that has characterized so many of Nakamura's heartbreaks against the Norwegian. Nakamura played a fascinating opening, outplayed Carlsen, and achieved a winning ending. And yet, somehow, Carlsen held the game. He shouldn't have, and Nakamura had loads of time to work everything out, but somehow...he just couldn't manage it. Two highligh two general suggestions about the ending: allowing Black's pawn to c2 was dubious, and the move that gave away the win for good was 59.Rxf5. The game was full of content, but I'll leave it to all of you (and other sites) to analyze it.

    I have analyzed the other four games, however, and all five can be replayed here. Meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 7; I would be very surprised if Carlsen doesn't parlay his good fortune today and the white pieces tomorrow into a win over Adams, who is both the lowest-rated player in the event and probably the most discouraged, along with Nakamura, after his unnecessary loss to Nepo.

    • Nepomniachtchi (3.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • Caruana (4) - So (3)
    • Aronian (3) - Nakamura (3)
    • Carlsen (3) - Adams (2.5)

    Monday
    Nov132017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 4: Americans Sweep; Carlsen Crushing

    It was a great day for the American players, who rolled on to victory. Hikaru Nakamura was always going to win against Veselin Topalov, entering the final day with a big lead and an overwhelming favorite in the blitz. To no one's surprise - including Topalov's - he finished like a hammer, winning nine games and drawing three. The scoring in the blitz was 2-1-0, so he won the session 21-3 and won overall by a ridiculous 61.5-30.5 margin. All the matches have a $100,000 prize fund split 60-40, so Nakamura won $60,000 to Topalov's $40,000.

    In the other two matches, the Americans continued the comebacks they had started at the end of day 3. Fabiano Caruana had won three games followed by a draw at the end of the previous day to close to within four points, and on day 4 he won, drew, and won again to equalize the scores. Having done so, Grischuk enjoyed his one bright spot when he won the fourth game - and even that took a lot of help: Caruana made a fingerfehler in the opening to lose a pawn, and when Caruana fought back to a drawn position he made two further errors to lose the game. But that was the end of his good news: in the last eight games the pattern kept repeating: a draw followed by a Caruana win. In all, Caruana won six games, lost just one, and drew five. He won the session 17-7 and the match 49-43.

    Wesley So likewise continued his great comeback. He had won the last three games on day 3, and although he was still down seven points he too overcame his deficit. He won his first two games, drew, and won two more games to take the lead. The rest of the way the play was closer, but So never surrendered his lead. Overall he went +7-2=3, winning the section 17-7 and the match 47.5-44.5.

    Finally, the world champion proved his greatness yet again. Magnus Carlsen dominated Ding Liren in the g/20 portion of the match, winning three games and drawing three. As you may recall, Carlsen led 12.5-7.5 after the first day, and with each of the 20-minute games weighted on a 4-2-0 basis he took day 2 18-6 and leads the match 30.5-13.5 going into the 10-minute games, which will start momentarily.

    Congratulations to the Americans...and probably to Carlsen too, barring a quasi-miracle.

    Saturday
    Nov112017

    2017 Champions Showdown, Day 3

    It was a good day for the underdogs/those who were trailing, as none of them lost ground on their opponents - though in every case they started off on the wrong foot.

    Thus Veselin Topalov started off with a loss as Black against Hikaru Nakamura, but struck back in the next game. The same pattern happened in the next two games, with first Nakamura and then Topalov again winning with Black. The last two games were drawn, and so while they split the 10-minute games 4-4 (or rather, 12-12 on the 3-1.5-0 scoring used for the 10-minute portion of the match) Nakamura keeps his hefty overall lead, 40.5-27.5 going into the last day.

    Fabiano Caruana came into the day four points behind Alexander Grischuk - the difference provided by the latter's win in the final game in the g/20 portion of the match. It looked like it was about to become a blowout in the g/10 after Grischuk scored 3.5 points in their first four games, thanks in part to his own successful play but also due to some egregious blunders by Caruana. But Caruana righted the ship, winning three games in a row before drawing the last game, so Grischuk maintains his 4-point lead (36-32) heading into the finale.

    Wesley So came into the day with a significant deficit against Leinier Dominguez, and after four draws and a loss in the game/10 portion it looked like the match was as good as over. But not yet! So won the last three games of the day, and trails 37.5-30.5.

    Sunday's action comprises 12 five-minute games, each worth two points (2-1-0 scoring), so none of the matches have been clinched yet (though Topalov's chances of coming back are extremely low).

    The fourth match started today, and will continue through Tuesday: Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren. They played four 30-minute games, drawing the first three before Carlsen won and took the lead in game four. Carlsen had White in games 1 and 3, but should have lost that first game. He was bailed out, and then Ding was bailed out in game 3 when he too was entirely lost. Carlsen's win in game 4 was impressive, pressuring his opponent in a nominally equal ending until he broke. Following the pattern of the earlier matches, they will play six 20-minute games tomorrow.