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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (77)

    Tuesday
    Mar312015

    The U.S. Championships Start Tomorrow (Wednesday)

    The semi-retired Gata Kamsky has won the last two U.S. Championships, but in neither event did he have to overcome U.S. #1 (and now world #3) Hikaru Nakamura. In this year's U.S. championship, he'll not only have to outperform Nakamura, but world #8 Wesley So as well. On the women's side, Irina Krush will be going for her 27th straight title (give or take...it'll be "just" her 7th title and fourth in a row, if she wins). For some reason her main rival, 4-time champ Anna Zatonskih, isn't playing, so her toughest opposition may come from Tatev Abrahamyan.

    Play begins each day at 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis = 2 p.m. ET. The pairings will be determined tonight, and both tournaments are 12-player round-robins. Sticking to the men's event, what do you think: Nakamura, So, or the field?

    Thursday
    Feb192015

    Zurich 2015: Nakamura Wins After An Armageddon Win Over Anand

    The Zurich Chess Challenge came to an unusual and controversial conclusion today, and in the end Hikaru Nakamura was the winner in an Armageddon game. We'll get back to this, but first, there was a rapid event.

    Viswanathan Anand entered the rapid round-robin with a one point lead over Nakamura, a two-point lead over Vladimir Kramnik and a massive three point lead over everyone else. Despite this, he was somewhat fortunate to reach an Armageddon match at all. Anand drew the first game against Kramnik and Nakamura beat Fabiano Caruana, cutting the lead to half a point. In round 2 Anand lost to Levon Aronian, but as Nakamura lost to Kramnik Anand kept his half-point lead over Nakamura while Kramnik closed to within a point. In round 3 Anand beat Caruana while Nakamura drew with Sergey Karjakin, so the gap between them went back to a full point. Kramnik stayed within striking range, catching up to Nakamura by defeating Aronian.

    The fourth round was huge for Nakamura. He defeated Anand in their head-to-head game, catching up to him in first place, while Kramnik lost what was at one point a winning position against Karjakin. Nakamura got a second bit of fantastic news after the round: it was suddenly decided that in the event of a first-place tie, the rules that had been agreed upon before the tournament would be thrown out the window. Rather than using Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaks, a tie would be settled by blitz games. As Anand would have won on tiebreaks, this was obviously a boon to Nakamura's chances.

    In the last round Kramnik bounced back with a win over Caruana, and he became the winner of the rapid portion of the tournament. That didn't help him win the overall event, however, as the leaders drew: Anand with Karjakin and Nakamura with Aronian.

    So it was on to blitz for Anand and Nakamura--or was it? Initially the clocks were set for a 4' + 3" blitz game, and Nakamura was sitting at the board waiting for Anand to show - but he didn't. Nakamura was called away from the board, and some time later he came back, as did Anand, with the clocks reset for an Armageddon game. Anand got five minutes, Nakamura four minutes plus draw odds. Anand probably should have told the organizers to take a flying leap, as his great predecessors Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik surely would have done. No doubt he would have done it in a very gracious way, but that is what he should have done. If it's necessary to declare a winner I'm all in favor of playoffs as a way of breaking ties, but this was ridiculous. You simply don't change rules - rules that weren't unfair to begin with - right at the very end of a tournament, especially without the players' prior consent.

    Instead, Anand played, and played badly. He chose the same line of the QGD he had used to defeat Magnus Carlsen in game 3 of the last world championship match and to defeat Nakamura in their classical game in the tournament, but the third time wasn't the charm. His plan with 9.g4 was simply bad, and Nakamura was winning while he was still in the opening. Whether his subpar play was due to the poor opening idea or a lack of emotional stability due to the rule change, Anand was mercilessly crushed in 29 moves.

    In conclusion, it was yet another very good event for Nakamura, who has gone from success to success the past several months. It was also a good event for Anand, at least as far as the classical portion is concerned, and a nice way to bounce back from the disaster in Baden-Baden. Kramnik also had a reasonable tournament: an undefeated 50% in the classical portion was par for the course, and a win in the rapid should boost his confidence a bit. For the other three players, it was a tournament to forget.

    Monday
    Feb162015

    Zurich 2015, Round 3: Nakamura Outprepares Karjakin, Wins, and Joins the 2800 Club

    Now there are ten lifetime members of the 2800 club, though the last two to make it - Anish Giri yesterday and Hikaru Nakamura today - have "only" achieved it on the Live List and not yet on an official FIDE list. Still, it's enormously impressive accomplishment, as was the preparation with which he achieved it.

    Facing Sergey Karjakin in round 3 of the Zurich Chess Challenge Nakamura went for a very sharp line of the English, where he was armed to the teeth with some great computer analysis. Karjakin claimed afterwards to have had the analysis as well:

    The worst way to lose a game is, when you know the line until a draw, but, can not remember how it goes and get a losing position immediately.

    I disagree. To my mind it's far, far worse to lose a game when you blow a winning position, especially with a lot of money or a title or a norm at stake. Or suppose you lose on time in a winning position because you lost track of the move number and went to get some orange juice, thinking the time control had been made. (That actually happened to Nakamura a few years ago - at least the losing on time part. He may not have been winning when that happened, but he certainly wasn't losing.) To blow a draw because you forget something in an incredibly complicated line you didn't expect and that you might have prepared somewhere between one to five years ago is hardly in the same category. What happened to Karjakin is annoying, sure, but there's a big difference between merely having the analysis somewhere and remembering that analysis. Here's an amusing parallel:

    With the win Nakamura is in clear first with 2.5/3 with just two rounds of classical chess to go - or rather, 5/6. Viswanathan Anand is a point (4/6) behind after drawing a tough game against Fabiano Caruana. First he was worse, bordering on seriously worse, until Caruana played 24.Nc2? That was a serious error that left Anand with a significant advantage, but he was unable to maintain it and the game was agreed drawn shortly after the time control. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik drew their game as well. Aronian had the upper hand throughout and won a pawn; it just wasn't enough to win the game. (The three games are here, including notes to Nakamura's win.)

    Here are the pairings for round 4:

    • Kramnik (3) - Karjakin (2)
    • Anand (4) - Nakamura (5)
    • Aronian (2) - Caruana (2)

    Saturday
    Feb142015

    Zurich 2015, Round 1: Caruana Self-Destructs Vs. Nakamura; Aronian Misses a Chance (UPDATED)

    Zurich 2015 opened with a battle between the champions, and it finished in a draw. Vladimir Kramnik held a relatively sedate Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation against Viswanathan Anand with patient defense, but the other two games were both livelier and more eventful.

    Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin contested a Meran, and the latter brought something new to the table. In a position that had arisen hundreds of times Karjakin produced a new move. It might be good one too, but as things transpired Aronian got the upper hand. The Armenian correctly offered a piece sac, and on move 24 had a choice: either take on f6 or give perpetual check. Aronian correctly assessed that the former was a draw and chose the second option; unfortunately for him there was a third choice: 24.Qg6+ Kh8 and now 25.Ng3! The best Black could do after that is an ending two pawns down and some drawing chances.

    The last game to finish was the first (and only) game with a winner. For most of the game that was likelier to be Fabiano Caruana, whose extra pawn counted for something. Caruana could have drawn at will, or even reached a pawn-up ending with no losing chances, albeit at the cost of reaching a position where his winning chances wouldn't be especially great either. As sometimes happens, the side who is better persuades himself to keep rejecting decent options that are drawish, and winds up pursuing paths that can lead to defeat. That's what happened here, as Caruana's position collapsed at the end of the time control. Caruana made it to move 41 just in time to realize that he was getting mated by force, and resigned a move later. Just to be clear, Nakamura did a very nice job of keeping things messy. Caruana's desire for more may have been what did him in, but he got a lot of help along the way from Nakamura. (All three games here, with my notes.) UPDATE: The games have been re-posted the usual way, here.)

    Because the classical stage will be followed by a rapid stage, these games are scored double. (The classical games are scored on a 2-1-0 system and the rapid will be scored in the traditional 1-.5-0 way.) Here, then, are the pairings for round 2, with the weighted scores in parentheses:

     

    • Kramnik (1) - Nakamura (2)
    • Karjakin (1) - Caruana (0)
    • Anand (1) - Aronian (1)

     

    Tuesday
    Feb102015

    Next Up: Zurich

    Despite its brevity, this year's Zurich Chess Challenge will still be a true super-tournament. There are only six players, but the "weakest" of them is rated 2760. Here's the lineup:

    • Fabiano Caruana 2810
    • Hikaru Nakamura 2792
    • Vladimir Kramnik 2783
    • Viswanathan Anand 2782
    • Levon Aronian 2774
    • Sergei Karjakin 2760

    If I understand the tournament website correctly, there will be a blitz tournament on Friday the 13th which will determine the pairings for the classical tournament. That will run from the 14th through the 18th, and then there will be a rapid event on the 19th. As I mentioned in an earlier post, octogenarians Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann will play also four rapid games with each other (two each on Sunday and Monday), so this should be a very entertaining event.

    Thursday
    Feb052015

    Gibraltar, Final Round: Nakamura First, Howell Second (Updated)

    Entering the final round of the Gibraltar Masters Open Hikaru Nakamura led with 8/9, half a point ahead of David Howell and a point ahead of Pentala Harikrishna, Hou Yifan, Nikita Vitiugov and Axel Bachmann. Nakamura had White against Harikrishna, Hou had White against Howell, and Vitiugov had White against Bachmann.

    The last pairing was the first to finish, a 30-move draw that put Vitiugov and Bachmann out of the running for first. The other two games went a long time, and for a while a playoff between Nakamura and Howell seemed a real possibility. Howell was definitely better against Hou, while Nakamura's edge against Harikrishna was relatively slight.

    The tables turned against Howell, who missed his chances and then tried too hard to avoid the looming draw. He nearly succeeded in avoiding that draw, too, but not the way he intended. Hou was winning, but 45.g5?? let Howell escape. Had Hou won, she would have taken clear second and won £16,000 prize; instead, she "only" won £15,000 for being the top female finisher. (You can replay that game, with my analysis of the ending, here.) Soon after they finished, Nakamura made a little slip in the drawn rook ending that allowed Harikrishna to achieve the draw instantly, and the American finished with a cool £20,000 payday.

    As of this writing, the size of the tie for third place remains undetermined. Behind Nakamura's 8.5 and Howell's 8 there's a large group of 7.5 pointers. So far, there's 

    • Pentala Harikrishna
    • Hou Yifan
    • Nikita Vitiugov
    • Axel Bachmann
    • Veselin Topalov (who crushed Mateusz Bartel with Black)
    • Maxim Matlakov (who very speedily defeated Stefan Kuijpers, likewise with the black pieces)
    • Baskaran Adhiban (another speedy winner with Black; his victim was Ivan Cheparinov)
    • Dennis Wagner (who won with White against Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli. Wagner is an IM, but surely not for long.) 

    One more player could join their ranks and that's Wei Yi, who is trying to squeeze out a win in a queen ending against Ruben Felgaer. Right now he is winning with best play, but after 10 straight days and six hours' play there are no guarantees. (You can follow the game here.)

    **UPDATE** Wei Yi did in fact win, joining the nine-way tie for 3rd-11th. He finished the tournament rated 2706.1, making him officially the youngest-ever 2700-rated player in chess history.

    Of U.S. interest: Daniel Naroditsky could have joined the big tie for third with a win, but a last round draw with Dmitry Jakovenko is hardly a bad result, and he gained some money and a pile of rating points with his score of 7/10. Aleks Lenderman and Kayden Troff both scored 6.5, and Irina Krush scored 6. Unfortunately, her last-round victory came at the expense of another American, John Watson. After seven round Watson was in great shape with 5 points, but he finished with a bit of a thump, losing his last three. Even so, he gained a few points with his final score of 5/10, which was not the case for the United States's Rip Van Winkle - Jim Tarjan - who also finished with five points. After 30 years off he's going to have to take a few lumps.

    Back to general interest: John Saunders just tweeted this list of players who achieved title norms in Gibraltar; congratulations to those players as well.

    Wednesday
    Feb042015

    Gibraltar, Round 9: Nakamura Leads by Half a Point Over Howell Entering the Final Round

    The Gibraltar Masters Open is winding up, and it's a two-horse race. Hikaru Nakamura was held to his second draw of the event, this time by Axel Bachmann (who had White and had whatever advantage there was in the game), while David Howell played a nice positional exchange sac against Daniel Naroditsky and slowly outplayed him to pick up the full point. Thus after nine rounds Nakamura has 8 and Howell 7.5, and after them there are several players with 7 points.

    In the last round Nakamura has White against Pentala Harikrishna (7 points), who won rather easily in round 9 against a lower-rated player. On board 2 Howell has Black against Hou Yifan (7 points), who defeated Richard Rapport in a game with a strange finish. (Incidentally, she now outrates her great predecessor by more than 10 points. Not bad!) Finally, Nikita Vitiugov (7 points) takes on Bachmann (the last 7 pointer) on board three. There are five 2700s in the next score group, all out of contention for first. It's a very strong tournament!

    Tuesday
    Feb032015

    Gibraltar, Round 8: Nakamura Extends His Lead

    Hikaru Nakamura put his little hiccup against David Howell behind him, and by defeating Yu Yangyi he has extended his lead in the Gibraltar Masters Open to a full point with two rounds to go. Yu Yangyi beat both Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik in the closing rounds of the Qatar Masters back in December, but this time he was stopped by the leader and favorite. Nakamura played a sideline of the 2.c3 Sicilian with White, and it worked very well. Yu surrendered the bishop pair without any clear justification, and a few moves later Black came under a permanent positional attack. It is very hard to defend a chronically weak position without letting something slip, and that's what finally happened. (The game, with my notes, can be replayed here.)

    Meanwhile, most of Nakamura's closest pursuers drew their games. Axel Bachmann drew with Howell, Daniel Naroditsky drew with Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler drew with Hou Yifan, and on it went. The top pairings for the penultimate round, round 9, are as follows:

    • Bachmann (6.5) - Nakamura (7.5)
    • Howell (6.5) - Naroditsky (6.5)

    There are 16 players with 6 points, including Veselin Topalov and Peter Svidler, but their fate is no longer in their own hands. If Nakamura wins tomorrow and the board two game is drawn, he will clinch clear first with a round to spare. And if he wins out, he will not only take first in the tournament; he'll also join the select but growing club of players to reach 2800. While we're on the subject of ratings, Wei Yi is still over 2700 (2700.8!) while Hou Yifan is putting a little distance between herself and Judit Polgar, as she's now 2680.1, 5.1 points clear of her great predecessor. (That's still a shade less than 55 points below Polgar's peak official rating, so there's still a ways to go before that record falls.)

    Monday
    Feb022015

    Gibraltar, Round 7: Howell Half-Halts Hikaru

    Hikaru Nakamura's winning streak in the tournament stopped at six, but he was very close to winning his seventh today and still leads the Gibraltar Masters Open by half a point. David Howell held him to a draw, but only after making a misstep on his way to constructing the Vancura Defense. Nakamura in turn missed his opportunity to exploit Howell's error, which only serves to confirm Siegbert Tarrasch's adage that all rook endings are drawn. (Ironically, though, the Vancura Defense discovered, among other things, that a particular rook ending position Tarrasch claimed was winning for the strong side really wasn't. Chess is hard!)

    Howell thus didn't manage to catch up to Nakamura, and neither did Yu Yangyi. He had a serious advantage against Hou Yifan at one point, but Hou defended extremely well to hold. Yu remains half a point behind Nakamura, along with Howell and two new contenders. One is Paraguayan GM Axel Bachmann*, who defeated the strong young German Dennis Wagner, and the other is young American star Daniel Naroditsky, who won with Black against Baskaran Adhiban.

    Some fine players are in the group with 5.5 points, including Hou Yifan and Wei Yi (now 2700+ again), and surprisingly Veselin Topalov has only 5 points after scraping out a draw with White against American GM Aleks Lenderman. His fellow American and Giorgi Kacheishvili student Irina Krush is also having a good tournament, with 4.5 points, while John Watson is having an even better tournament: he, like Lenderman, has five points after defeating Gawain Jones!

    In round 8 (there are ten rounds overall) Nakamura (6.5) will have White against Yu Yangyi (6), Bachmann (6) will have White against Howell (6), and Naroditsky (6) will have White against Nikita Vitiugov (5.5). While we're at it, a resurgent Peter Svidler (5.5) has White against Hou Yifan (5.5). No easy life for her, with back-to-back black games against 2700s!

    The Howell-Nakamura game can be replayed here, with some brief comments on the crucial stage of the endgame.

     

    * Alas, Scottish GM Matthew Turner is not playing in this event, so that's one punny pairing that won't be happening here.

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    Gibraltar, Round 6: Nakamura the Latest Player with a Six-Game Winning Streak

    Seems like everyone's going on a six-game streak these days: Fabiano Caruana (who made it to seven games), Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen, to name a few super-GMs to have accomplished the feat since last year's Sinquefield Cup. Hikaru Nakamura added his name to their ranks with a victory over Veselin Topalov in the Gibraltar Masters Open, thereby maintaining a half point lead over David Howell (who ground out a win in a very long game against the world's youngest-ever ex-2700, Wei Yi) and Yu Yangyi (who beat Renier Vazquez Igarza).

    Nakamura will have the black pieces against Howell in round 7, while Yu will have the first move against his countrywoman Hou Yifan, who is among the 5-pointers. Both games ought to be extremely interesting. Other prominent pairings are Wagner-Bachmann and Adhiban-Naroditsky. (These are the remaining players with five points.)

    Other U.S. notables: Aleks Lenderman drew with the 2551-rated Grigory Oparin, and as a reward he'll have Black against Topalov. (Both have 4.5.) Irina Krush and John Watson both won their games to get to 4/6, but rusty James Tarjan lost and remains at 3. Krush and Watson will face strong GMs next round (David Anton Guijarro and Gawain Jones, respectively).

    Top games can be replayed here or here (the latter links lets you access the games with computer analysis and the video commentary too).