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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (148)

    Tuesday
    Sep112018

    PRO Chess League All Stars (Updated: Link Fixed)

    If you're interested in reading all about the event, which took place last Saturday, have a look here. My aim is more modest, to show you a couple of nice games that caught my eye. Enjoy!

    Friday
    Aug242018

    More St. Louis Action Coming Up: Chess960 Matches Starring Kasparov

    Here's the quick summary: five 20-game matches, with six rapid and 14 blitz games taking place from September 11-14 of this year. All the games are Chess960 (aka Fischerrandom), and the positions will be unknown to the players until the start of the round. Here are the pairings:

    • Garry Kasparov - Veselin Topalov
    • Hikaru Nakamura - Peter Svidler
    • Wesley So - Anish Giri
    • Sam Shankland - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Levon Aronian - Leinier Dominguez

    Wednesday
    Aug152018

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Nakamura Wins, Mamedyarov Trips, Vachier-Lagrave Comes up Just Short

    The last day of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz was a thriller, almost coming down to the wire. As yesterday - in fact, as it was all tournament long - Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov went back and forth, neck and neck all day long. Only today, almost at the very end, did one player emerge as the clear leader.

    Nakamura and Mamedyarov started the day tied for first, with Fabiano Caruana a point and a half behind and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave two points back. MVL was the star yesterday, halving his deficit with a stellar 7-2 score. Caruana also had his moments yesterday, starting well and finishing with two wins after a rough middle patch. He started strong today, and when both Nakamura and Mamedyarov each went -1 in their first two rounds it looked like anyone's race. Both Caruana and MVL went +1 in those rounds, closing the gap to half a point and a full point, respectively.

    The key game for Caruana - at least the first key game - took place in today's third round. Caruana had White against Nakamura and started well, but 34.Rxc2 brought him from better to precariously equal. A difficult draw was still available on move 46 with 46.Qc3!!, but without much time it wasn't surprising that he failed to find it, and lost. Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave both won, leaving Nakamura and Mamedyarov a point ahead of MVL and a point and a half in front of Caruana.

    Mamedyarov beat Caruana in the next round, essentially putting an end to Caruana's hopes for first; Nakamura drew with Viswanathan Anand and, in a shocker, Vachier-Lagrave suffered his first (and only) blitz loss of the tournament, misplaying an attack against Levon Aronian on the black side of a Byrne Attack Najdorf. Mamedyarov took the clear lead, Nakamura was half a point back, MVL went two points down and Caruana down two and a half points.

    The race immediately tightened, however, as Mamedyarov lost in round 5 to none other than Vachier-Lagrave. Meanwhile, Nakamura leapfrogged into first by defeating Alexander Grischuk and Caruana kept his very slim chances alive by defeating Anand. Now Nakamura was in first, half a point ahead of Mamedyarov, a point and a half in front of Vachier-Lagrave and two points ahead of Caruana.

    In round 6 MVL kept in striking range by defeating Caruana, while Mamedyarov caught up to Nakamura by defeating Sergey Karjakin while Nakamura only drew against Leinier Dominguez. Mamedyarov and Nakamura shared the lead, with MVL a point back and Caruana out of the picture two and a half points behind.

    In round 7 Nakamura took a full point lead by defeating Aronian, while Mamedyarov shockingly lost to Wesley So, a tailender throughout the event. Vachier-Lagrave fell off the pace after a draw with Karjakin, leaving him a point and a half behind Nakamura. But things were not as grim for the chase pack as it might seem, because Nakamura would have to face Mamedyarov in round 8 and MVL in the final round, round 9.

    In round 8 MVL drew again, with So again playing the spoiler role. Still, not all would be lost in the race for first if Mamedyarov could defeat Nakamura, and he enjoyed an advantage at various times in what was a crazy and very hard-fought game. With 42.Be5 Mamedyarov would have had Nakamura under serious pressure, and a few moves later 45.Kc3 would have maintained equal chances in a sharp ending. Instead, he played 46.Kd3, a fatal error that gave Black's rook the b3 square. Nakamura won a few moves later, taking advantage of (and winning) White's stuck bishop on c1. With a two point lead over both Mamedyarov and MVL with only one round to go, Nakamura clinched clear first.

    Nevertheless, Vachier-Lagrave kept fighting and played a very good game, outplaying Nakamura with Black in the last round to close the gap to a single point. Mamedyarov only managed a draw with Anand, which meant that he took a disappointing third place a point and a half behind Nakamura and half a point behind MVL.

    The games (without notes) are here, and these are the final overall standings:

    1. Nakamura 22.5/36
    2. Vachier-Lagrave 21.5
    3. Mamedyarov 21
    4. Caruana 20
    5. Aronian 18
    6. Karjakin 17
    7. Dominguez 16
    8. Grischuk 15.5
    9. So 15
    10. Anand 13.5

    Had the blitz portion been a tournament in its own right, Vachier-Lagrave would have been the clear winner. He scored a very impressive 13.5/18, gained 59 rating points, and is only two points behind Magnus Carlsen in the blitz ratings. And speaking of Magnus Carlsen, he will replace Leinier Dominguez as the wildcard in the next Grand Chess Tour event, happening in the same place and starting on Saturday. That is of course the Sinquefield Cup, a classical event that will mark the close of two different things: the qualification stage of the Grand Chess Tour (the top four overall in the Tour will fight it out in London in December) and the pre-world championship match battles between Carlsen and Caruana. (They will play in round 7, on Saturday, August 25; Carlsen has the white pieces. Full pairings here.)

    Incidentally, tomorrow (Thursday) there will be the informal "Ultimate Moves" "competition" at the St. Louis club, a series of fun chess events featuring the Tour participants along with the founder of the club, Rex Sinquefield, and his son Randy Sinquefield. The fun and games will start tomorrow at the usual hour: 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis/2 p.m. ET.

    Finally, you can see the Grand Chess Tour's overall standings here (remember, the top four overall qualify for London, and do so on an equal footing - their qualifying scores play no role once they're there) and the Tour points available in the Sinquefield Cup (which are greater than those given for all the previous GCT events) can be found in this PDF.

    Monday
    Aug132018

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, Day 3: Mamedyarov & Nakamura Lead Heading Into the Blitz

    There were more interesting games today as the rapid portion of the tournament came to a close. Both Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura scored 2.5/3 today (or rather, 5/6 on the 2-1-0 scoring in effect for the rapid games) while day 2 leader Fabiano Caruana finished the day a point (half a point on traditional scoring) behind after a loss in round 7 and draws in rounds 8 and 9. Round 7 was critical, as Caruana gave away a won game - and certainly one that would normally be unloseable - after committing an anthologizable hallucination-style blunder against Leinier Dominguez.

    All the day's games, with my comments, are here. And here are the standings going into the blitz. (Remember, the rapid games count double, while the blitz games will be scored and counted in the conventional way. Tomorrow they'll have their first blitz round-robin, and on Wednesday the second round-robin with colors reversed.)

    1-2. Mamedyarov, Nakamura 12/18
    3. Caruana 11
    4-6. Karjakin, Aronian, Dominguez 9
    7-8. So, Vachier-Lagrave 8
    9-10. Anand, Grischuk 6

    Sunday
    Jun242018

    Nakamura Wins Paris Grand Chess Tour Event

    Hikaru Nakamura had a very good last day at the 2018 Paris Grand Chess Tour tournament, and Sergey Karjakin did not. That made the difference, as Nakamura not only erased Karjakin's one-point lead but finished a point and a half ahead of him. Wesley So had a good day as well, and like Nakamura he went undefeated on day two of the blitz. Had he played this well yesterday he might have won the event; as it was, he finished in third, half a point behind Karjakin. That also keeps him (barely) in first place overall in the Grand Chess Tour standings.

    The U.S. has done very well, winning the first two events and enjoying the top two spots in the overall standings. However...this success does not include Fabiano Caruana, who once again finished next-to-last, only ahead of the wildcard. (That was Anish Giri in Leuven, and this time it was Vladimir Kramnik.) It might be bad form, but it may also be that he's a much weaker player - relatively speaking - at short time controls. If so, he's in effect giving Magnus Carlsen draw odds for their world championship match this coming November, as Caruana will be a heavy underdog in a rapid (& potentially blitz) playoff.

    Saturday
    Jun232018

    Grand Chess Tour in Paris: So Wins the Rapid (Again), But Karjakin Leads Overall after the First Day of Blitz

    Wesley So's rapid play has been outstanding in this year's Grand Chess Tour, but in Paris he wasn't as successful as in Leuven. He finished the rapid portion with a one point lead (a half point lead on traditional scoring, which comes to a full point here as the rapid games are weighted double compared to blitz games). He went 6-3 in the rapid round-robin for a score of 12 points, with Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura a point behind.

    In the blitz he started out well with a couple of draws and a win, but consecutive losses to Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk pushed him into third place. Karjakin got off to a fantastic start, drawing with Nakamura in the first round and then reeling off five straight wins. He cooled off a bit, losing in rounds 7 and 9 (sandwiching another win in round 8), but it was still good enough to finish the day with 17.5/27, a point in front of Nakamura and a further half a point ahead of So. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is another point behind So (he has 15 points), and Levon Aronian rounds out the top 5 with the only other plus score; he has 14 points.

    The action concludes tomorrow, and starts two hours earlier than usual, at 12 noon local time in Paris (6 a.m. ET).

    Wednesday
    Jun062018

    Norway Chess, Round 8: Four Leaders Entering the Last Round

    It wasn't impossible a round or two ago that there could have been a nine-way tie for first, but it's still pretty impressive that four or even five of the tournament's nine players could win up sharing first.

    Entering the eighth round three players led with +1 scores: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, and Viswanathan Anand. All three had White, and not one of them won. Carlsen had an extra pawn in an endgame against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but couldn't make anything of it, and the game was eventually drawn. So didn't manage to get anything against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's Najdorf, and in fact had to hold a pawn-down rook ending to get the draw. And for Anand it was even worse. He chose an especially insipid line against Fabiano Caruana's Petroff, and Caruana used the time allowed by White's slow approach to build a kingside attack. It bore fruit, as Anand had to cough up material to break the attack, and though his technique was imperfect the American managed to convert.

    Speaking of Americans, all three are tied for first with Carlsen, as Hikaru Nakamura defeated Sergey Karjakin very convincingly on the white side of a classic English line favored by Garry Kasparov in the 1980s.

    There are thus four players tied for first, and if they draw their games and Anand beats Karjakin we could have a five-way tie for first. It's not exactly Lake Wobegon, but more than half of the "children" would be above average, which is pretty good.

    The last round pairings follow. All of the paired players have played seven games; only Mamedyarov who will have the bye, has played all eight games. (Tournament website here, games - unannotated today, sorry - are here.)

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

     

    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?