Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (41)
Magnus Carlsen had a very bad time of things in the (quick) rapid games on Tuesday, and came close to losing his lead at the Zurich Chess Challenge. Close, but not close enough for Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana to catch him. All three players won their first game - Carlsen over Boris Gelfand, Aronian over Viswanathan Anand and Caruana over Hikaru Nakamura - and it looked like the deal was done. Carlsen enjoyed a two point lead over Aronian and a three point lead on Caruana, with just four games to go.
But then it got interesting. Aronian outplayed Carlsen and won handily to close to within a point. Caruana only drew with Gelfand, so he only closed his gap to two and a half points. In round 3 Carlsen drew with Nakamura, and while Aronian remained a point behind after a draw with Gelfand, Caruana got another half a point closer by defeating Anand. (That was three losses in a row for Anand, incidentally.)
Round 4 was the big chance. Caruana outplayed Carlsen, coming to within a single point of the leader. Had Aronian managed to defeat Nakamura, he would have caught Carlsen in first. Nakamura has been a regular "customer" of his for some time now, but not today. Nakamura won a good game, and so Aronian remained a point behind.
Round 5 was a mere formality. Carlsen had White against Anand, and cynically (but understandably) repeated game 8 of their match pretty much move for move. The players conducted the whole game at blitz tempo, called it a draw, and Carlsen clinched. (I enjoyed Nakamura's disdainful expression as he looked up at the electronic display as this was going on.) Caruana and Aronian played a real game, which also ended in a draw, and thus they finished tied for second, a point behind Carlsen. (Caruana took second on tiebreak.) Here are the full final standings:
1. Carlsen 10 (out of 15 - the classical games were scored double)
2. Caruana 9
3. Aronian 9
4. Nakamura 7.5 (he finished the rapid with a very strong 3.5/4)
5. Anand 5
6. Gelfand 4.5
Here are two interesting quotations from Hikaru Nakamura. First, from his Twitter account last year, after Magnus Carlsen won the title:
Starting to realize that I am the only person who is going to be able to stop Sauron in the context of chess history.
Second, there's this from the cover of the latest issue of New In Chess Magazine. [N.B. I haven't received my copy yet, and perhaps all is clearly explained therein.]
I do feel that at the moment I am the biggest threat to Carlsen.
I think this may be an example of what psychologists call precommitment: one removes possible paths of escape so that he has no choice but to face a particular challenge. Given this lack of choice, moreover, one is likelier to muster one's full effort - the only way out is through, as the saying goes.
Objectively, these remarks are doubly dubious. First, he has never beaten Carlsen in a classical game, so it's hard to see why Middle Earth should put its ("preciousssss"?) resources behind H.N. Baggins. Second, while Levon Aronian perhaps showed a little psychological weakness in his final round game with Carlsen in last year's Sinquefield Cup, why not go for him? He's the world's clear #2 at the moment, and there's no obvious reason why he couldn't beat Carlsen in a match; likewise Vladimir Kramnik when he is on song. I don't mean that either would be a favorite against Carlsen, but if we're discussing "best chances" they look like the best options at the moment. One might also wonder why Nakamura is a better option for the next cycle than some of the younger players coming up, like Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri. None of this is to deny that Nakamura could have his chances as well, only the plausibility of his statements.
As a practical matter though, it's quite interesting. By making such a bold statement he is putting pressure on himself to deliver results, and if that's what he needs to train his best it may be a good strategy. I get the feeling too that Nakamura's remarks about Carlsen get under the latter's skin a little. More than once - including after their game today - I've seen Carlsen rankle a bit when any suggestion arises that Nakamura is an especially difficult opponent for him. Maybe irritating cool customer Carlsen is also part of the plan.
Are Nakamura's comments exemplars of the best kind of sportsmanship? Perhaps not, but they're not really rude, either. I think they're primarily his attempt to psych himself up, and they're a little amusing too - at least the one calling Carlsen "Sauron". So let's end this post on appropriately absurd and light note:
After defeating Viswanathan Anand yesterday in round 2 of the Zurich Chess Challenge, Hikaru Nakamura tweeted this:
Form is temporary but class, class is permanent.
Assuming this is a statement recognizing Anand's enduring greatness as a player despite his hitherto poor play in the tournament (and going back a year or two), it's a good and gracious thing for Nakamura to say. Well done.
It wasn't pretty, but when you win, who cares? Hikaru Nakamura won the rapid event that was this year's London Chess Classic, defeating Boris Gelfand 1.5-.5 in the final after defeating Vladimir Kramnik by the same score in the semis.
Starting with the semi-finals, Nakamura drew his first game with Kramnik pretty easily with the black pieces, but in game two Kramnik had what was probably some excellent preparation and obtained an advantage. Kramnik's strategy of meeting the 7.a3 line against the Tarrasch with 7...g6, heading for a Gruenfeld, was pretty sensible, and 16...Nb4! was an excellent trick that got White into some trouble. Nakamura sacrificed the exchange for a pawn and began a long and unpleasant defense. After 41...h6, with the idea of ...f5, it looked like Kramnik was finally going to win the d-pawn and convert his advantage into a full point. Nakamura played the tricky 42.d7, and now Kramnik avoided one trick but fell into another.
The obvious error is 42...Kxd7?, which allows 43.Bxh6! If Black doesn't take the bishop White will probably draw anyway, and if he does then 44.Nxf6+ Ke6 45.Nxd5 Kxd5 46.Kf3 followed by 47.Kg4, 48.f4 and 49.h5 swaps off Black's last pawn to force the draw. The right move was 42...Bf8!, whose point becomes obvious after Kramnik's choice, which was 42...Kf7?: 43.Nc5! The pawn is protected and the knight is immune, and that's why the bishop needed to be on f8. Kramnik played 43...Bf8 now, but it's too late: 44.Ba5! Be7 45.Bb6! and Nakamura probably had a fortress.
Kramnik tried to break through in a mostly non-committal way for a while, but after 59...Kg6 60.Bb6 Bxg5 61.Ne6! (with the simple but important point that 61...Rxd7?? allows the winning fork 62.Nf8+) the position was messy and White was no longer worse. Kramnik quickly - and wrongly - played 61...Rd3+, and after 62.Ke4 was clearly upset by what had happened. He had to sac his bishop for Nakamura's d-pawn, and though Nakamura now had the upper hand the position was still drawish. As anyone who has played much tournament chess knows, however, a slightly worse position after one has been better for a long time feels like a disaster, and it's very hard to stop sliding. Sure enough, Kramnik's 64...Re7+ was poor, and after 65.Ne5+ he uncorked 65...Kf6??, only to resign after a few moments of horror when Nakamura played 66.Bd8. Ouch.
Gelfand's semi-final win against Michael Adams came with considerably less drama. Gelfand had White in their first game, but was if anything slightly worse until Adams blundered an exchange with 24...Nd7, missing the surprising double attack resulting from 25.0-0-0! Black had to surrender the exchange, and while the subsequent play was by no means perfect Gelfand's win was the normal result. In the rematch Gelfand wound up with a big advantage in a 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf, but for simplicity's sake returned first one and then the second of his extra pawns to achieve a trivially drawn endgame.
In the final Nakamura had White in game 1 and played the very risky but semi-sound 11.Nxf7 in a Russian System Gruenfeld. Black was forced to surrender the exchange, but obtained a massive initiative in return. The key moment came on move 17, when Gelfand played 17...Ne4. While perhaps not a mistake, it allowed Nakamura to swap a pair of knights and then play f3, making his king a good deal safer than it had been. Perhaps the position was still objectively equal, but the resulting position was one where it would be more challenging for Black to keep proving sufficient compensation. Instead, 17...Nce6 would have kept the tension and some advantage for Black.
The next important moment was on move 22, when Gelfand played 22...Qf6, apparently under the assumption that his c-pawn was indigestible. This was a mistake, and he should have played something like 22...Rd7 instead, covering it. With a pawn for the exchange and very active pieces Black would have maintained equal chances. After 22...Qf6 23.Rxc7 Ne6 (possibly another inaccuracy) 24.Rd7 White was a clean exchange ahead, and with accurate defense Nakamura neutralized Gelfand's initiative and won the game.
Game two was a good fight in an Averbakh King's Indian. Gelfand was close to getting something substantial for a while, but Nakamura maintained enough activity to avoid serious trouble. The need to avoid a logical draw forced Gelfand to overpress a bit, and then he wound up in some trouble of his own. To his credit, he stayed mentally tough and held the draw in a worse rook endgame, but of course that wasn't enough to save the match.
Another very good result for Gelfand, but the best result was obviously the champion's. Nakamura went through the entire event undefeated, going +5 =7 overall. He's #3 in the world for a reason!
It seems that there are three things you can count on in life: death, taxes, and the Russians underperforming in team events. The Russians drew with Armenia in round 1, which was only a mild upset (and admittedly a better result than the U.S.'s 2.5-1.5 loss to Ukraine), but they were dispatched by the Americans 3-1 in round 2. Hikaru Nakamura defeated Vladimir Kramnik in what one would normally think of as a Kramnik-like performance, and for dessert leapfrogged Kramnik into third place on the live rating list. The other victory came from Ray Robson, who took advantage of Nikita Vitiugov's losing the thread in a very sharp Slav Marshall Gambit. Here's a quick look at both games.
Overall, Germany and Azerbaijan lead the World Team Championship with 4 match points (i.e. 2-0 scores in their matches) and 5.5 board points; Ukraine has 4 match points and 5 board points to sit in third. It's a ten team round-robin though, so the current standings aren't too important just yet.
Or at least that's what Hikaru Nakamura thought when this interview was made, which seems to be after game 3 (HT: Ross Hytnen). Given the way Nakamura closes the interview, it's possible that he would no longer subscribe to the conclusion in the title:
I think if Carlsen does not win tomorrow or at least show some sort of advantage, then the rest of the match will be in Anand's favour. While it is hard to pick a winner, I think that at the moment, Anand is a small favourite.
It seems that there are a number of other interesting match-related articles on that website, so while you're there check out the links to the right and below the article too.
After nine rounds of 11 of the Paris leg of the Grand Prix, Hikaru Nakamura is the sole leader with 6 points, half a point more than Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand. Gelfand led after seven rounds, but lost to Caruana in round 8. Gelfand's 12...e5 was an inaccurate move he singled out after the game; instead, he should have played 12...Nf4 and only after the bishop retreated from c2 played 13...e5. That way his knight could retreat (as needed) to e6, keeping very good control over the dark squares. After that slip, Caruana played very well. He took over the queenside and won a pawn, and then put out the flames of Gelfand's desperate attack.
That let him catch Gelfand, but Nakamura's win over Vassily Ivanchuk put him in clear first. It was a very strange game, as Ivanchuk played extremely well before the first time control, achieving a big, possibly decisive advantage, and then let it slip. In the final position, however, chances were event when Ivanchuk let his flag fall. (Again, couldn't he have done this against Kramnik in London??) It wasn't even a particularly complicated position and there was an increment...incredible.
As you may recall, the larger importance of this tournament is that if either Caruana or Alexander Grischuk can manage to take clear first, then that player will obtain the second automatic qualification from the Grand Prix cycle to the next Candidates' tournament. (Veselin Topalov has the first spot wrapped up, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will qualify if Caruana or Grischuk fail in their quests.) So about Grischuk: he was in dire straits entering the round, trailing Gelfand by two points and Nakamura by a point and a half. As he won his game (and Gelfand lost his), he finished the eighth round a point and a half out of a tie for first and two points away from the sole first place that he needs.
In round 9...everyone drew. There were some key moments in the top games though. First, Nakamura pressed a bit in the late opening, and wound up lost as a result. Had Ruslan Ponomariov played 17...Rac8, the pin would have been White's undoing. Caruana, in the meantime, was under serious pressure by Anish Giri, but defended well and saved half a point. As for Gelfand, Ivanchuk found a nice idea with 14...Ke7, and he was able to keep Gelfand's forces at bay. Finally, Grischuk had some advantage in the opening against Tomashevsky, but seems to have let it slip with the natural 15...Nd3. (He missed Tomashevsky's great 18.e5!) Instead, 15...Nfd7 would have kept the initiative, cutting out all the e5 ideas.
At this point Grischuk may not be mathematically eliminated, but it's close enough. Caruana still has a decent chance, however. Here are the key pairings for the last two rounds:
- Nakamura (6) - Gelfand (5.5)
- Caruana (5.5) - Tomashevsky
- Giri (currently in last place) - Nakamura
- Dominguez - Caruana
- Gelfand - Ponomariov