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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (126)

    Sunday
    Oct012017

    Isle of Man, Final Round: Carlsen Draws Quickly to Clinch Clear First; Nakamura, Anand Tie for Second

    As at least one chess blogger suggested yesterday, a draw between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura was very likely, and it would quite possibly be a short draw. Sure enough, it took just 18 moves and less than half an hour for them to repeat moves and call it a tournament. Carlsen thus clinched clear first with 7.5/9, while Nakamura guaranteed himself at worst part of a four-way tie for second.

    Viswanathan Anand joined the tie by beating Hou Yifan with surprising ease. It's not so surprising that Anand would beat Hou, especially with the white pieces, but it is surprising given the insipid line he chose against her Petroff. He was able to build from a tiny initiative, and after a brief flurry of complications won a pawn, which he converted in a queen and rook ending.

    The other players who could have caught Nakamura drew their games. This was not so surprising in the all-2700 clash between Richard Rapport and S.G. Vidit, but it was much more surprising that Pavel Eljanov couldn't defeat the hitherto little-known and much lower-rated Indian GM S.D. Swapnil. He was close for a while, but couldn't put him away. So all four players finished with 6.5 points, and were caught by five others, including Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Mickey Adams, Emil Sutovsky, and Alexei Shirov.

    It was a good comeback for Kramnik, who repaired some of the damage done earlier in the tournament, but still lost 8.4 rating points overall. On the other hand, it was a great event for his surprise conquerer, James Tarjan, who demonstrated his fine eye for cheapos once again in defeating Alexandra Kosteniuk today. He finished with 5.5 points, gained 30 rating points, and had an excellent TPR of 2671 - which was 11 points higher than Kramnik's.

    The top TPR of the tournament belonged to Carlsen, of course, who achieved an outstanding 2903 TPR. (Caruana and Nakamura were tied for second, with 2831 TPRs, and Anand was next at 2806. Then Swapnil and Aleks Lenderman finished with 2768 TPRs - big congrats to both of them.) Carlsen added 11.4 points to his rating, and what was recently a tenuous gap between him and his closest pursuers has expanded again, and he is 36.4 points ahead of world #2 Levon Aronian.

    The full results are here, and a final selection of games from this tournament is here.

    Saturday
    Sep302017

    Isle of Man, Round 8: Carlsen Crushes Caruana, Leads Nakamura by Half a Point Entering the Last Round

    And since they haven't played so far, that means that they're paired for the last round. If Hikaru Nakamura can defeat Magnus Carlsen, he takes clear first; if not, Carlsen takes clear first. Nakamura's career record against Carlsen is extremely bad, as just about everyone knows, but it hasn't been that bad the last couple of years. However, he'll have the black pieces tomorrow, and I suspect he'll be satisfied with a draw, even a quick draw, unless he gets a really promising position out of the opening. The young Nakamura would try to win at all costs, but these days he's less willing to burn his bridges against anyone and everyone. With a draw, the worst he would do is share 2nd-5th places, in which case he makes a little less than £12,000, and a maximum of £25,000. If he wins, he makes £50,000, but if he loses, it'll be in the low four figures - not exactly cab fare, but it will feel like it. It's possible that Carlsen will feel ambitious, but I doubt it: better to pocket the money and clinch the victory - his first victory in a classical tournament this year.

    Enough speculation; time for a recap. Fabiano Caruana had White against Carlsen today, and surprised the champ with 15.g4. After a long thought Carlsen played 15...Qe7, which was apparently a surprise for Caruana. White was better for a while, but starting with 22.Bc2 he lost the thread, and Carlsen was all over him. Caruana was already lost when he played 35.Qe3??, which lost on the spot to 35...Bf4. A very convincing victory by Carlsen, and a game Caruana would like to forget.

    Nakamura had an easier time of it with White against Emil Sutovsky. Sutovsky played the Queen's Gambit Accepted, which isn't his normal repertoire choice (that would be the Gruenfeld). Nakamura was surprised by 8...c5, but not impressed by it. Once Nakamura spotted 16.d5 he understood that Black was busted, and he went on to win comfortably.

    The remaining game featuring players who could have kept pace with Nakamura was S.G. Vidit-Pavel Eljanov, which finished in a short, probably correct draw. Maybe White could have kept a pull with 29.Qc6, but after 29.Qxf7+ Kxf7 30.Rd5 Rc8 they called it a day.

    Vidit and Eljanov has 6/8; here's how the other six-pointers got there. Viswanathan Anand defeated Laurent Fressinet with Black in a Giuoco, Richard Rapport beat Ivan Sokolov when the latter blundered in an equal position, S.D. Swapnil defeated Nigel Short in one long game while Hou Yifan beat Sebastian Bogner in another. Hou is now one win away from surpassing her previous career best rating of 2687. Unfortunately for her, this will be difficult, as she'll have Black against Anand in the last round.

    Leading last round pairings:

    Carlsen (7) - Caruana (6.5)
    Anand (6) - Hou (6)
    Eljanov (6) - Swapnil (6)
    Rapport (6) - Vidit (6)

    Lower boards of interest: Vladimir Kramnik overcame S.P. Sethuraman with great difficulty, but overcome he did to reach 5.5 points. He'll have Black against Gawain Jones in the final round. Varuzhan Akobian and Aleks Lenderman had a spectacular draw that Akobian should have won. Both players are also on 5.5 points, and will face Caruana and Peter Leko, respectively. Jan Timman finally lost a game, to David Howell, blundering horribly in a slightly worse position. Alexei Shirov showed a little of his trademark "fire on board" style, outfoxing Alexandra Kosteniuk in a complicated middlegame. He too is at 5.5 and will have White against Howell in the last round. Finally, Tarjan rides again, drawing Vishnu Prasanna (2543) with Black. He'll finish the tournament with the white pieces against Kosteniuk (2552).

    Some games (with varying degrees of commentary) here; tournament site here.

    Sunday
    Aug202017

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, Finale: Aronian Wins; Karjakin and Nakamura Tie for Second

    The St. Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament is now history, and a bit of chess history that will likely be remembered on account of Garry Kasparov's participation. He was the star of the show coming into the event (though not the favorite), and he played very well on the event's final day. But the hero of the event was Levon Aronian, who won by a healthy three point margin and played the best chess throughout the tournament.

    Aronian won the rapid portion by half a point (a point on the 2-1-0 scoring system used for that portion of the event; the rapid games counted double compared to the blitz games) over Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, and took second in the blitz a point behind Sergey Karjakin. Nakamura took third in the blitz, while Karjakin did poorly in the rapid, finishing two points behind Aronian (in normal scoring; four points behind on 2-1-0 scoring). Karjakin was great in the blitz, especially on the first day when he went undefeated with a monstrous score of eight out of nine. He won his last five games, and started the final day with two more wins, closing to within a point of Aronian.

    Round 12 proved critical. Karjakin had White against the tailender, David Navara, while Aronian had White against Le Quang Liem. Karjakin was outplayed by Navara (who had defeated Aronian in the previous round!) and lost, while Aronian was worse in his game but won on time (and in a position where the Bronstein delay should have sufficed for Le to make reasonable moves). In the next round Karjakin had White again, against Aronian, but got nothing; in fact, he had to play accurately to hold the balance and draw. Karjakin lost again in round 16, to Nakamura, and that put paid to his hopes of winning first. In any case, Aronian finished strongly, finishing the tournament with 3.5/4, including wins in the last two rounds.

    Nakamura also finished with 3.5/4 to catch Karjakin (including the win noted in the previous paragraph), but losses in rounds 13 and 14 likewise put an end to any of his dreams of taking first. Still, it was a good tournament overall for the first three finishers, and Ian Nepomniachtchi's fourth place was a good result for him as well, especially after his poor finish in the Sinquefield Cup the week before, where he tied for last.

    As for Kasparov, his performance on the first day of the blitz wasn't anything to write home about, but day two was another story. He lost a strange game to Karjakin in round 1, and it was strange for two reasons. First, 21...Qf6 was a mistake, and it seemed during the video that he realized it was a mistake because of 22.Bxh5. It may be that he thought he let go of the queen before returning the queen to e7 (a la his game vs. Nakamura last year and, much, much earlier, against Judit Polgar), and so he decided to just be done with it and make the move. It seems clear from the video that he didn't let go, but perhaps he wasn't sure. Good sportsmanship on his part, if that's what happened, but a shame (if that was his reason) since he didn't actually let go. The second strange thing is that while he was worse from start to finish, there was one momentarily exception, and it was a biggie: 31...e4 would have won, or at least have given him a winning advantage. It's surprising that two superstars missed the move, but that's blitz. (And part of the problem was that the move wasn't there the move before; it was only Karjakin's 31.Re1-f1 that made it possible.)

    Anyway, after that loss, Kasparov went undefeated the rest of the event, and won against Caruana in round 12 (with Black), Nakamura in round 13 (with White), and Leinier Dominguez in round 17 (with Black in a Najdorf). The last game was especially good, and left me pining for Kasparov's return and wishing that Friday had been the start of the tournament and not its finish. If Kasparov had won against Navara in the last round he would have made it a four-way tie for fifth-eighth, but because he drew he finished half a point behind Dominguez, Caruana, and Le. Anand finished a couple of points behind Kasparov, and Navara finished another point back.

    Final Blitz Standings:

    1. Karjakin 13.5 (out of 18)
    2. Aronian 12.5
    3. Nakamura 10.5
    4. Nepomniachtchi 10
    5. Kasparov 9
    6. Le Quang Liem 8.5
    7. Dominguez 7.5
    8. Anand 7
    9. Navara 6
    10. Caruana 5.5

    Final Overall Standings:

    1. Aronian 24.5 (out of 36)
    2-3. Karjakin, Nakamura 21.5
    4. Nepomniachtchi 20
    5-7. Dominguez, Caruana, Le Quang Liem 16.5
    8. Kasparov 16
    9. Anand 14
    10. Navara 13

    The day 4 video can be watched here, day 5 here. And here are all the games (unannotated). And the video for yesterday's "Ultimate Moves" competition is here.

    Sunday
    Jun252017

    Carlsen Wins the Paris leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour

    The 2017 Grand Chess Tour (GCT) kicked off this past week with a rapid & blitz event in Paris. (The second leg kicks off this Wednesday in Leuven, Belgium, with the same format but a slightly different cast of characters.) On Wednesday (the 21st) the ten players began three days of rapid play (three rounds per day), and on Saturday they played a blitz round robin, followed by another blitz round robin (with colors reversed) on Sunday. Rapid games were counted double, so a maximum of 18 points was available from each format, and the totals were combined to determine players' overall placement and the number of GCT points they received.

    The winners were Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who both finished with 24 points. Carlsen went undefeated in the rapid stage, scoring 14/18, while MVL dominated the blitz with 13/18. A two-game rapid playoff ensued, won by Carlsen 1.5-.5 (he won the first game with White and gave a charity draw in game two in a near-winning position to clinch the match). He thus received 12 tour points, while MVL got 10. (Tour standings can be found here.)

    Back to the event. Magnus Carlsen started out in beast mode, going undefeated through the rapid portion and winning his first four blitz games as well. It wasn't just his results that were good - he wasn't just fortunate or opportunistic - he played the kind of excellent chess that led him to be a triple world champion in 2014, winning everything in sight and enjoying a huge gap between his closest challengers on the classical rating list.

    In the rest of the field, someone else would star too - but it generally wasn't the same person two days in a row. For instance, on day 1 both Carlsen and Wesley So finished with 2.5/3, but So's fine score wasn't achieved so impressively, and indeed he quickly fell back. He lost to Carlsen in round 4, drew his next four games, and lost to Karjakin in the last round. On day 2 Nakamura impressed with 2.5/3, drawing in round 6 with Carlsen, and having gone 2/3 on day 1 his total was good enough to leave him...half a point behind Carlsen, who also went 2.5/3 on day 2. (Technically a point behind, on the 2-1-0 scoring, but let's bracket that for now.) Like So the previous day, however, Nakamura started day three with a loss and was out of the race for first in the rapid section. The hero of day 3 was Alexander Grischuk, who went 3-0. Carlsen only went 2-1, so Grischuk even managed to gain some ground. It was a fine result, but not quite enough to catch up. The final standings of the rapid competition look like this (here the doubling will be included):

    1. Carlsen 14
    2. Grischuk 13
    3. Nakamura 12
    4-5. Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov 11
    6. So 9
    7. Karjakin 8
    8. Topalov 5
    9. Bacrot 4
    10. Caruana 3

    That's correct: Caruana scored three points, or 1.5/9. He lost his first three games - from two winning positions and one that was vastly superior - drew in round 4, and then lost his next three games as well. (Almost an Inverse-Sinquefield Cup.) He drew the last two games but still finished the rapid in last place - but this sad state of affairs would not carry over to the blitz.

    Caruana was one of the heroes of the blitz, except for the first game, which he lost to Carlsen. Carlsen started off on fire, as noted above, winning his first four games. But then things started going a bit screwy. He lost on time in round 5 to Grischuk from a position that was just about impossible to lose, but he spent a second or two too long trying to figure out how to maintain some small practical winning chances. After this he failed to convert a serious advantage against Sergey Karjakin, and then lost very unnecessarily to Vachier-Lagrave. Carlsen drew his next two games, and only a win over his new customer So in round 9 let him finish the day still in the overall lead.

    Carlsen scored 6/9 in the blitz for 20 points overall; Nakamura was in second with 19 after scoring 7/9 in the blitz. Grischuk had slipped to third after a poor first day; the three-time world blitz champion only scored 4.5 points to wind up with 17.5 overall. But two other players had a strong first day, both scoring 6/9. One was Vachier-Lagrave, who was now up to fourth with 17 points overall, and the other was Caruana. After the loss to Carlsen he went 6/8 to reach a more respectable total, though he remained in the bottom half of the table. Etienne Bacrot continued to struggle, which wasn't surprising for the lowest-rated player in the field (by far), but he didn't have the worst score. That unfortunate distinction went to So, who duplicated Caruana's result in the rapid: three draws and six losses. It's a tough field.

    On day two of the blitz, the pattern noted above recurred: Nakamura faltered. He went =2, -3 in the first five games, losing to MVL, but then also to So and Bacrot. While Carlsen too started out with a loss (to the resurgent Caruana), he then righted the ship with two wins. After a further two draws the event seemed to be over, but then things got interesting. First and foremost, Carlsen fell apart, losing in consecutive rounds to Karjakin, MVL, and Nakamura. Nakamura finished strongly with wins in rounds 15, 17, and 18 (the last round), but his loss to Mamedyarov in round 16 put him out of the running for first. Nevertheless, while Carlsen entered the last round a point ahead of Nakamura, he had not only been caught, but even surpassed, by Vachier-Lagrave.

    Vachier-Lagrave beat Nakamura in round 10, So in round 11, Bacrot in round 13, Mamedyarov in round 15, and Carlsen in round 16. When he drew in round 17 with Karjakin, he entered the last round half a point ahead of Carlsen. MVL had Black against Grischuk, and played well enough to draw; he never came within sniffing distance of a win. To force a tiebreak, Carlsen had to win with White; fortunately, his opponent was Wesley So. That's a crazy thing to say, given So's results in pretty much every event the past year prior to this one, but So had a terrible time in Paris, and this year it seems like Nakamura has transferred his old curse against Carlsen to his countryman. So was badly outplayed from the beginning, and then blundered a piece on move 24 and resigned immediately.

    Thus Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave finished tied for first overall, and as noted above, Carlsen won the playoff. Here are the final standings in the blitz:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 13
    2-3. Nakamura, Caruana 11
    4-5. Karjakin, Carlsen 10
    6-7. Grischuk, Mamedyarov 9
    8. Topalov 6.5
    9. So 6
    10. Bacrot 4.5

    Overall:

     

    1-2. Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave 24 (of 36)
    3. Nakamura 23
    4. Grischuk 22
    5. Mamedyarov 20
    6. Karjakin 18
    7. So 15
    8. Caruana 14
    9. Topalov 11.5
    10. Bacrot 8.5

     

    Friday
    Jun162017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 9: Aronian Wins the Tournament

    It's shaping up to be a good year for Levon Aronian. First Wijk aan Zee, now Norway Chess! It looks like his slump is over, and he's once again going to be a contender for the world championship - as he should be. By holding a draw with Black against Wesley So he finished the tournament with an undefeated 6-3 score, with wins against the world's #1 and #2 players - Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, respectively - plus Sergey Karjakin, the "vice champion". (This is not to be confused with a champion of vice rather than virtue.) He also crushed the 2800 barrier after some time below that bar, and is now the world's #4, 1.3 points behind Wesley So.

    Hikaru Nakamura was the runner up - or rather, the co-runner-up. Had he defeated Fabiano Caruana today he could have caught Aronian (and rejoined the 2800 club). Another effect would have been Caruana's ouster from the same club, but it didn't happen. Caruana prepared a new idea with White against the Poisoned Pawn Variation in the Najdorf, and while the computer finds a variety of equalizers for Black, human beings finding them over the board is another matter entirely. Nakamura was unable to negotiate all the complications, and lost a game that was as good as over long before the clocks were stopped.

    Sharing second with Nakamura, with 5/9, was the up-and-down Vladimir Kramnik. For the fourth round in a row, White won, and since he had the white pieces this time it was good news for him. His victim was Anish Giri, who also enjoyed and suffered a roller coaster of a tournament. Kramnik played an extremely provocative version of the Colle (a statement that sounds as funny as "an exciting London System" used to, but the richness of the royal game never cease to amaze), and it worked better than Kramnik could have dreamed. Giri is always - or now we should say, almost always - extremely well-prepared, but having sown the wind he wasn't ready for the whirlwind, and lost in just 20 moves.

    The other two games were short but not perfunctory draws. Sergey Karjakin was in trouble on the white side of a Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and had MVL played 24...f5 followed by 25...e4 he would have been a favorite to win with his extra pawn. Instead, he blundered with 24...Rxd5, allowing Karjakin to bail out with a draw by repetition. The world champion, Magnus Carlsen, was also in trouble against his most recent predecessor, Viswanathan Anand. Had Anand played 23.e5 he would have had good winning chances. The opportunity was missed, and in the end it was Anand who was more forced to play for the draw than Carlsen.

    The games, with my annotations, can be replayed here. Here are the final standings:

    1. Aronian 6 (of 9)
    2-3. Nakamura, Kramnik 5
    4-6. Caruana, So, Giri 4.5
    7-9. Vachier-Lagrave, Anand, Carlsen 4
    10. Karjakin 3.5

     

    Saturday
    Jun102017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 4: Three Winners, and it Could Have Been Five

    Today's was the best round yet from an entertainment perspective, with three wins from five games. Hikaru Nakamura's win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave makes him the clear leader with 3 out of 4, while Levon Aronian is the hero of the round after defeating Magnus Carlsen in a great game with sacrifices. Anish Giri also won, and quickly against Viswanathan Anand, while Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana should have defeated Sergey Karjakin and Vladimir Kramnik, respectively.

    Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave was a Najdorf, and White went for one of the unusual sidelines that has cropped in recent years, playing 6.Bd3 e5 7.Nde2. While that's unusual, the race between White's queenside expansion and Black's counterplay on the kingside is one sort of typical Najdorf middlegame. On this occasion Black's kingside play wasn't dangerous - at least when one defends as accurately as Nakamura did in this game. (Your mileage may vary.)

    Aronian found an interesting new idea against the Semi-Slav in 10.Bc2, which is aimed against Black's ...e5-e4 ideas. After 24 minutes, Carlsen played 10...Rd8, and after spending 24 minutes on his next two moves, Aronian sacrificed the exchange and a pawn with 11.a3 Bxa3 12.Rxa3. After 12...Qxa3 13.c5 Black's queen is shut out of the game, both to its detriment and the rest of Black's army as well. This became evident when Aronian went for the Greek gift sacrifice 17.Bxh7+, resulting in a large advantage. Aronian's next dozen moves or so were the best ones, and while he made an inaccuracy on move 29 Black's position was extremely difficult to hold, and Carlsen failed to take advantage of his one chance.

    The first two games ended before the first time control, and so did Giri-Anand. Anand has reputedly had some difficulties against the English in recent years, and he had some troubles in this game as well. Giri was outplaying Anand in the middlegame and had a won position until he chose 29.g5 rather than 29.Rh5. The error was more than compensated by an even bigger mistake by Anand on move 31. The former champion had to play 31...Qxh4, giving up a piece but getting enough pawns and positional compensation to save the game. Instead, 31...Nc5 lost on the spot: 32.g6 Qd7 33.Bb4, and Black has no good defense against d4.

    As for the draws, So was crushing Karjakin until his careless 34.Qxc4??; instead, any move defending the rook (e.g. 34.Re2) would have won easily. The problem was that 34.Qxc4 allowed 34...Nf6, giving Black enough activity to survive. After this both sides played great chess, with So setting Karjakin a series of very difficult problems to solve, and Karjakin rose to the occasion every time. Caruana too was winning against Kramnik, and from early on. Kramnik's 15th and 16th moves were errors, but after that he went into Tal mode, blew a thick fog over the board, and Caruana couldn't manage to put him away.

    The games are here, with annotations to Aronian-Carlsen. Here's what's on tap for round 5:

    • Karjakin (2) - Caruana (2)
    • Anand (1) - So (2)
    • Carlsen (1.5) - Giri (2)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (1.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Nakamura (3)

    Tuesday
    Jun062017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 1: Nakamura Wins; All Other Games Drawn

    Magnus Carlsen dominated the blitz tournament, but at least in round 1 of the main, classical event, was unable to convert his momentum from the first event into the second. He had White against Wesley So, and while the latter had to work to get his draw he was never in much trouble. In fact all four draws were reasonably correct affairs. Vladimir Kramnik had an advantage against Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian likewise had a plus against Fabiano Caruana, but in neither case was the second player (in both cases playing Black) at or particularly near death's door. And the fourth draw, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Viswanathan Anand, was almost completely equal from start to finish.

    The remaining game was between Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri, and if anyone's "momentum" continued from the blitz it was Giri. Not all that long ago, Giri's name was used as a joking synonym for a draw, but between the blitz and round 1 of the main event he has lost six games in a row. In this game he was under pressure for a long time, but still holding an objectively drawn position after the first time control. The critical moment came on move 47, and Giri rightly spent a good chunk of time thinking there - around 14 minutes. Should he go into the rook endgame - all rook endings are drawn, as the cliche has it - or not? He chose the first option, and this time around the rule of thumb was wrong. White's bishop was better than Black's knight, but by exchanging it off the resulting ending left White's king and rook absolutely dominating their counterparts. Nakamura smoothly converted his advantage, and became the sole leader after round 1.

    Here are the pairings for round 2:

    • Giri (0) - Karjakin (.5)
    • Nakamura (1) - Aronian (.5)
    • Anand (.5) - Kramnik (.5)
    • Caruana (.5) - Carlsen (.5)
    • So (.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (.5)

    Tuesday
    May232017

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship

    Props to Chess.com for putting on another very strong knockout speed tournament this year. Who's playing? Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura, Sergey Karjakin, Anish Giri, Alexander Grischuk, etc. - the full bracket is here. (Other info, including the schedule and prize money breakdown, is here.)

    The 16-player field has been whittled down to 15, as the first match has already taken place, between Nakamura and Sergey Grigoriants. (You can watch a replay of the games and coverage here.) It won't be much of a spoiler to learn that Nakamura won a very one-sided match, but his opponent put up a very creditable fight until several games into the bullet portion.

    Two matches are coming up this week: Karjakin against Georg Meier tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CET, and 24 hours later it's time for a heavyweight battle between So and Giri. After that, nothing happens in the event until June 22, when another superstar event between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Aronian is in the offing.

    Friday
    Apr212017

    Catching Up: Zurich, Grenke

    The Korchnoi memorial event in Zurich finished a few days ago, and Hikaru Nakamura won this combined rapid & rapid event. (The first stage was a slow rapid: 45' + 30", and the second was 10' + 5" - a rapid rapid.) The slower portion finished with Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi tied in first with 10/14 (5/7 in normal scoring, but as the slower games counted for twice as much as the blitz, the scoring was doubled), a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.

    At the shorter time control Nakamura again went 5/7, winning the second portion of the event outright and thereby taking overall first as well. It came down to the wire though, as Nepomniachtchi had White against Grigoriy Oparin. Oparin is young, strong, and talented, but for now he was badly outrated by everyone except for local player Yannick Pelletier. He and Pelletier were the tailenders, so things looked good for Nepo. Had he won he'd have tied for first, and presumably would have had a playoff against Nakamura. Instead, Oparin won, giving Nakamura his third consecutive victory in Zurich.

    Final Combined Standings:

    • 1. Nakamura 15/21
    • 2. Nepomniachtchi 14
    • 3. Anand 13.5
    • 4. Svidler 12
    • 5. Kramnik 11
    • 6. Gelfand 9
    • 7. Oparin 5.5
    • 8. Pelletier 4

    Grenke: This tournament got off to a bang when Hou Yifan won her first two games, over Fabiano Caruana and Georg Meier, to take a full point lead over a field that also included Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian as well. Incredibly, she was close to winning in round three against Carlsen as well, but psyched herself out and let him escape his bad position rather easily with a draw.

    Her punishment was deserved and came in the very next round. Vachier-Lagrave had a much smaller advantage against her than she had against Carlsen, but he kept prodding and testing until she finally cracked. It took 68 moves, but he got the full point, pushing her out of first. The next day she gave up a draw to one of the two players in the event who are lower-rated than she is, so she has fallen out of contention for tournament victory.

    And yet...she is still tied for second, with Carlsen and Caruana, with 3/5, a point behind Levon Aronian. Aronian drew with Meier and Carlsen in the first two rounds, and then went on a tear, winning three in a row. He has defeated MVL, Mathias Bluebaum, and Arkadij Naiditsch. In the next round he plays Hou Yifan, with White. Will he make it four in a row, or will she bounce back and turn this into the tournament of her life?

    Carlsen also has an interesting pairing, with Black against Naiditsch. Carlsen is a favorite, of course, but in the last few years Naiditsch has given him trouble. Naiditsch upset the world champion in the 2014 Olympiad, with Black, and took a couple of games off of him in the same tournament two years ago. As for Caruana, he'll have Black in the next round against Bluebaum.

    Friday
    Apr142017

    Zurich: Four Lead After Three Rounds

    The slow rapid/pseudo classical (G/45 minutes + 30 second increments per move) tournament in Zurich has been very entertaining so far, and after three of seven rounds four players are tied for first place with 2/3 (or rather, 4/6, as the tournament prefers 2-1-0 scoring; perhaps they're boycotting fractions and/or decimal points in Switzerland).

    Vladimir Kramnik has a win and two draws, and was completely winning against Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 2, up a piece for two very inadequate pawns in an endgame. Nepo kept trying and Kramnik either switched off mentally or chose a poor plan, and the game finished in a draw.

    Despite that bit of good luck, Nepomniachtchi was completely winning against Peter Svidler in round 1 and botched it, so two draws instead of a win and a loss came to the same thing. In round 3 he confessed that he would have offered Viswanathan Anand a draw at a certain point, but due to the Sofia rules he had to keep playing, and it paid off when Anand blundered on move 37. (It turns out that he also blundered on move 36, but got away with that one.)

    The third amigo is Svidler, who came back from a somewhat precarious opening position against Hikaru Nakamura in round 3 to win. In a promising position Nakamura switched from plan to plan, and after one switch too many found himself under uncomfortable pressure along the c-file. Breaking it cost him a pawn, and in the resulting heavy piece ending Svidler won a second pawn and the game.

    Nakamura is the fourth player with two out of three, or four out of six, or 754/1508. He defeated tournament underdog Yannick Pelletier and Grigoriy Oparin in rounds 1 and 2, respectively.

    Boris Gelfand has 1.5 points (out of 3), Oparin and Anand have a point apiece, and Pelletier has but a single draw to his credit thus far.

    Before the main event began, the players contested a blitz event to determine pairing numbers. Nakamura and Gelfand tied for first with 4.5/7, Kramnik was third with 4 points, and Nepomniachtchi took fourth on tiebreaks over Anand; both had 3.5 points. The importance of this is that it means he - Nepo - gets an extra game with the white pieces in the main event. Oparin was sixth with 3, and Svidler and Pelletier tied for last with 2.5 points apiece. (You can watch the opening ceremony and the blitz tournament here.)

    Even before that there was another event - but stay tuned for the next post.