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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (81)

    Sunday
    Apr122015

    U.S. Championships, Round 11: Nakamura and Krush are the Champions

    Congratulations to both Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush are in order. They won the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women's Championship, respectively, and pocketed some nice coin along the way as well - $45k for Nakamura and $20k for Krush.

    Nakamura entered the last round half a point ahead of Ray Robson, and that's how he ended it too. Robson's game finished after Nakamura's, but that Robson would win was clear early on. He faced Timur Gareev, who has been playing somewhat eccentric chess throughout the tournament; today, he went completely out of orbit and left the solar system. Gareev is a great player whose FIDE rating reached a high of 2682 a couple of years ago, so his managing to achieve a lost position with white in just nine moves should be chalked up his having too much talent rather than too little. The game lasted 31 moves, but the final result was seldom if ever in doubt.

    In the meantime, Alexander Onischuk managed to equalize against Nakamura pretty comfortably, and was probably just a few precise moves away from making a draw. Had he done so, Nakamura would have had a rapid playoff against Robson on Monday. Instead, Onischuk made a few little inaccuracies, got in trouble, and then was lost - all within a space of six or seven moves. The fatal moment came for Black when he played 27...Nxf2, which was a tactical blunder. Instead, 27...Rb6 would have led to a double rook ending where White's extra pawn would give him the ability to torture Black for many moves to come, but not probably not win against correct defense. After 27...Nxf2 28.Nd4 Nh3+ Onischuk probably missed Nakamura's 29.Kh1!, winning (at least) an exchange, and he resigned two moves later.

    Nakamura thus finished in clear first with 8/11, Robson in clear second with 7.5 points, and in clear third was Wesley So with 6.5 after another strong win, this time against Kayden Troff. It's to So's credit that he finished so well, and it's to his relief (I hope) that the final margin was such that even if So had defeated Akobian he still would have finished half a point behind Nakamura.

    In the remaining games, Shankland drew with Akobian, Naroditsky drew with Kamsky and, perplexingly, Sam Sevian beat Conrad Holt. It's difficult to be certain about this, in part because the live commentary ended shortly after Nakamura's win and most of what we have to go by is the very fallible result (probably) generated by the DGT boards. Here's the data I have: the tournament website's crosstable and the broadcast board on Chess24 both give the result as a win for Sevian. Moreover, the broadcast board shows Black (Holt) having no time, which offers a reasonable explanation. But look at the game itself: absolutely nothing happened from move 52 until move 99, when Holt finally decided to push his a-pawn up a square to avoid a coming 50-move rule claim, and a move later he lost on time in an absolutely safe position two pawns ahead. If they had been playing without an increment then sure, things like this can happen, but with 30 seconds added after every move Holt must have just lost track of the clock. This is possible, but it's also possible that he just decided that playing the position out was pointless and agreed to a draw, and they didn't bother to stop the clock afterward and/or the kings were put on the wrong squares in the center, at least momentarily.

    We're in rich tangent territory here, and I'll indulge a bit before turning briefly to the women's championship. If it turns out that this is just another DGT error, it might be time to hire some unemployed people to picket that company's headquarters until they make some sort of design fix. But rather than beat that dead horse, here's a new topic: why did the English-language commentators, who were on site, quit their broadcast so early? I'm not sure if the culprit is the St. Louis club or Yasser Seirawan, but this happened all tournament long. I'm sure the Sinquefields are paying him well; is it too much to ask that he (and Jennifer Shahade & Maurice Ashley) actually stay for the entire time? It is frankly incredible to me that the Spanish-language commentary coming from a Chess24 studio in Europe more than once outlasted the on site English-language commentary team based at the tournament site itself. Even if Yaz & crew didn't stick around for all 100 moves of Sevian-Holt, they didn't have to pack their bags when just two of the six games in the open section had finished. The St. Louis club is doing some great things for chess in the United States, but there are some things they could do better - and this is one of them.

    Turning back to the game itself, I should note one especially interesting moment, which would have preempted all of this discussion. Holt was better almost all the way, but a big slip on move 26 gave Sevian the chance to finish in style. 27.Nf5! would have won, threatening 28.Qh8+ followed by 29.Rh7#. The main variation runs 27...exf5 (creating a flight square on e6) 28.e6! (preventing the king from running, after 28...Qxe6 the flight square is gone) 28...Qg7 29.Kf2 (threatening Rh1 followed by Rh8+, mating) and wins. Black must play either 29...Nd8, when after 30.e7! he's going to lose practically everything (30...Qe7 31.Rh8+ followed by 32.Rh7+, 33.Rxe7(+) and 34.Qxb7), or he plays 29...Bf/d7 30.Rh1! Bxe6 31.Rh8+ Kf7 32.Qc7+! Ne7 33.R8h7, when one funny finale is 33...Rbe8 34.Qe5! with mate in three.

    As for the strange way Holt lost - if he lost - it reminds me of one of my luckiest wins ever. After making a huge error in a game where I was clearly better, I had to go into a bad ending a pawn down against a strong expert (approximately 2140 USCF). There were many further adventures in the game, but I somehow reached an ending with king and rook against my opponent's king and queen. This is a theoretical win for the queen, of course, but finishing off the rook isn't trivial against good defense. (Walter Browne initially failed to defeat a computer in that ending in a specially arranged challenge, and years later Peter Svidler once famously failed to win this ending against Boris Gelfand in a crucial FIDE knockout world championship match, in a rapid playoff.) Unfortunately for my opponent, he had only seven seconds to win it, but with a five second time delay every move. (That is, there was a five second grace period each move before the seven seconds would start ticking off.) He made most of his moves without losing any of his time, but at one point he burned five of his "real" seconds, and then around 25 moves into the endgame he spent his last two seconds, and lost. It was a difficult situation for my opponent: just making moves would have been easy, but to make progress against good defense one must concentrate. And once one really concentrates, how does one remember to move?

    So perhaps something like that happened to Holt. Another topic for discussion: should he have kept playing that ending against Sevian, after not making a shred of progress for 48 moves? Normally I'd say that he had carried out the appropriate desire to fight for a win a bit too far, but something important was at stake: a place in the World Cup this September. I'm not sure what the tiebreak situation was in case of a draw: Troff, Holt and Sevian would have all had 5 points and only one last spot was available. (Shankland also had 5 points, but had already qualified from another event.) If Holt had won, the spot would have been his; instead, it's the 14-year-old Sevian who has qualified, along with Nakamura and So (by rating), Shankland (from the American Continental Championship), and Robson, Onischuk, Akobian, and Kamsky from this event.

    Time for a few words about the women's championship. Irina Krush led her closest rivals by a full point entering the last round, and needed only a draw with white against one of them - Katerina Nemcova - to seal the deal. This she managed to do in an efficient and expeditious manner, and she has now won her 7th U.S. Women's crown and fourth in a row. Very impressive! - but it's not the record. Gisela Kahn Gresser (1904-2000) won it nine times from 1944 to 1969; an especially impressive feat considering that she didn't even learn how to play until she was in her 30s! Krush, by contrast, only turned 31 in December, so the odds are very good she will exceed Gresser's mark and then some before she decides to call it a career.

    Saturday
    Apr112015

    U.S. Championships, Round 10: Nakamura and Krush Lead Entering the Final Round

    The open and women's events aren't over and the favorites (Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush, respectively) - who are also the leaders - haven't yet clinched. They are both in fine shape entering the final round on Sunday and look likely to finish as champions.

    Nakamura had an extremely important game today, taking on Ray Robson with the black pieces. Robson was, and is, only half a point behind, so this was a major opportunity for him. Alas, there wasn't much excitement in the game. Robson played 1.e4 and Nakamura decided to play solidly with 1...e5. Feeling relatively empty-handed against the Berlin, Robson opted instead for the Scotch Four Knights. That was probably even less successful than a Berlin would have been--if anyone was better after the opening it was Nakamura, and while Robson may have obtained the tiniest of edges later on it was a pretty routine and easy hold for the leader.

    Still, some drama remains. Robson is still only half a point behind, and if he can win against Timur Gareev in the final round (albeit with the black pieces) while Alexander Onischuk manages to hold Nakamura to a draw, there will be a playoff. In fact, a three-person playoff is possible. Onischuk beat Sam Sevian convincingly, and with the win moved to within a point of the leader. Thus if he beats Nakamura (not likely, at least/especially because he'll have black) and Robson draws his game, all three will move on to playoffs on Monday.

    The situation could have been even more interesting had Wesley So not been forfeited in round 9. Today So bounced back marvelously, winning a very impressive game with black against none other than Gata Kamsky. Had he drawn with Varuzhan Akobian yesterday he would have been tied with Onischuk for third, and of course if he had won he'd be tied with Robson. As things stand, however, he's out of the running. (It should be mentioned that if Kamsky had won, he'd have been tied with Onischuk.)

    In the women's championship, Krush is suddenly leading by a full point entering the last round. She had been trailing Katerina Nemcova all event long, only catching up to her after round 9, but now she has jumped ahead. Krush won pretty easily against Jennifer Yu, while Nemcova lost to Paikidze (who also beat Krush!) - albeit somewhat unnecessarily. Nemcova was better most of the way - at times seriously better - but got careless about her king's safety and went from clearly better to simply lost in the space of about four moves.

    Krush has 8/10, and both Nemcova and Paikidze have 7 points apiece. Krush will have white against Nemcova in the last round, while Paikidze has white against Foisor. Thus the women's championship could also finish in a two- or even three-person playoff on Monday, but only if the slumping and lower-rated Nemcova can defeat the surging Krush. Not likely, but you never know.

    Finally, an addendum to yesterday's post about So's forfeit. I cited an article that included allegations that Paul Truong played some role in creating an emotionally disturbing atmosphere around So. Truong has responded on his Facebook page (HT: Allen Becker), to which I link in the interest of fairness.

    Friday
    Apr102015

    U.S. Championships, Round 8: Nakamura Again Alone in First

    Hikaru Nakamura again leads the U.S. Championship by himself, but it's not yet a breakaway. He leads with 6/8, good for a half-point lead over Ray Robson and a point and a half advantage over the trio consisting of Gata Kamsky, Wesley So and Alexander Onischuk.

    Nakamura's win came with Black at Kayden Troff's expense, in convincing style in a Modern Benoni. I haven't looked at the theory of the Fianchetto System against the Modern Benoni in a while, but I don't recall seeing this play with 10.Re1 followed by 12.e4. Maybe it's not bad, but White is usually concerned to keep Black's knight from reaching the g4 square. Whatever the merits of Troff's plan, nothing too serious happened until Troff's 24th move. Unfortunately for the youngster, the move he chose gave him a lost position; Nakamura's pieces had too many squares available for the attack. Instead, the feistier 24.Nc4 was called for, after which the chances would be roughly level.

    Robson started the round level with Nakamura, and with the white pieces against Sam Shankland would presumably have a decent chance to end the round the same way. Alas, it was not to be, and he was probably losing in the middlegame. Shankland seemed to let Robson off the hook when he played 27...axb3, as Robson was better able to use the c-file than his oppponent. Black's advantage was minimal after that, and the game was drawn soon after the time control.

    The other really major game of the day so Conrad Holt beat Wesley So. As usual in Holt's games, the opening preparation went pretty deep, and it looked like both players were well-prepared. The game really turned on one move: So's 20...b5? This just gave up a pawn (and harmed his position) while not giving him any more play than he had before the pawn sac. Instead, the natural 20...Re8 (preparing to double rooks and/or play ...f4) would have resulted in a tactically rich but objectively equal position (so says the engine, anyway).

    In other games, Akobian and Kamsky drew a short, clean game, while Timur Gareev won with great ease against Sam Sevian. Sevian offered a very naive defense, and Gareev made him pay pretty badly. Finally, Onischuk won a nice positional game (praised by Anish Giri) against Daniel Naroditsky, who has been suffering mightily in this tournament. The fate of Black's light-squared bishop in this game was especially brutal, and the game is worth replaying if only to have a look at the finale.

    In the women's section, Irina Krush won against Alisa Melekhina to close to within half a point of the leader, Katerina Nemcova, who only managed to draw against Sabina Foisor.

    Monday
    Apr062015

    U.S. Championships, Round 5: The Favorites Triumph

    The top seeds, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, regained their momentum today at the U.S. Championship, and occupy the two top places after five rounds, entering the first rest day.

    Nakamura essayed the Dragon against Daniel Naroditsky, and went for a surprising ...Rxc3 sacrifice. That kind of sac isn't so surprising, but as Nakamura's version involved a queen trade and didn't include the usual compensating pawn it was riskier than usual. The computer wasn't impressed by the sac, but then humans aren't computers. Naroditsky didn't maintain an advantage for very long, and when he decided to return the exchange in hopes of achieving a safe position he must have miscalculated something. 28.e5 was pretty much a blunder, and while it's hard to believe Naroditsky could have played it intending to follow up with 29.Bxe5, not seeing 29...Bh6 until it was too late, it's also hard to see what he thought he'd have after 29.Rxe5. Anyway, returning the exchange only exacerbated White's problems, and a flurry of tactics soon forced Naroditsky's resignation.

    So also won, defeating Timur Gareev on the white side of a Fort Knox French, with Gareev offering a funny twist with 9...h5. That didn't work out too badly, and Gareev was still only slightly worse by his 20th move. Unfortunately, the plan he chose with 20...Qb8 followed by 21...e5 wasn't so good, and while So didn't play perfectly he obtained the upper hand and never released it.

    So thereby reached 3.5/5, half a point less than Nakamura. With a draw, Ray Robson would tie with So, while a win would keep him in a tie for first. Instead, he lost to Gata Kamsky, leaving both players in a tie for third place. Robson outthought himself in the opening, and chose 2...d5 rather than his usual 2...g6, aiming for the Gruenfeld. His reasoning was that Kamsky always avoids mainstream theory, opting instead for lines like the London System. Robson felt that 2...d5 would be better there, only to be surprised when Kamsky played 3.c4 and headed for "normal" theory. Robson managed to keep a decent position until around move 30 or so, but that forced him to burn a lot of time. As the time control drew near and time pressure increased, Robson couldn't keep up with Kamsky's level of play, and the veteran obtained his first win of the tournament.

    The tie for third has a third player, Kayden Troff, who was unbelievably lucky against Conrad Holt, who is apparently one of his customers. Troff had a 4-0 score against Holt coming into the game, but he was totally outplayed in the opening and losing by move 13. Holt had his first chance to put Troff away on move 16 with 16.Qa3!, taking e3 away from Black's queen and preparing Bc7. Instead, he played 16.Bc7, which let Troff fight on with 16...Qe3! 19.Be6 was another error (19.Qc2!), after which the game was equal. It was only a few moves later that Holt again enjoyed a winning advantage, and he maintained it to and past the time control on move 40 as well. All Holt needed was to keep alert and make a few more accurate moves, and his two extra pawns and the terrible Black king would give him the full point.

    On move 43, Holt could have played 43.Kf3, 43.Kh1 or even the taunting moves 43.Kg1 and 43.Kf2. Instead, thinking to end the game by stopping the checks, he played 43.Kh3??? This succeeded in both aims: it did end the game, and it did stop the checks. Unfortunately for him, the way the game ended wasn't what he had in mind. Troff played 43...g5!, threatening 44...Qh6#, and to White's misfortune and Black's incredible good luck, there was no way for White to stop the mate that didn't walk into some fork or other. If White played 44.g4, Black would have 44...Qh6+ 45.Kg3 Nf1+, forking the king and queen. If instead 44.Qd6+, then 44...Qxd6 45.Rxd6 g4+ 46.Kh4 and then 46...Nf5+ picks up the rook on the fork. Holt tried 44.Rd6, but once again it was time for a fork: 44...g4+ 45.Kh4 Nf5+. Holt played three more moves and resigned in understandable disgust.

    The other two games (Akobian-Onischuk and Shankland-Sevian) were drawn, so let's turn to the women's championship. Here too, the key decisive game saw the winner enjoy a bit of spectacular luck on the way to victory. Irina Krush was falling prey to a great attack by Rusudan Goletiani, and had Goletiani played the naive and obvious 22...dxe5 she would have been well on the way to a victory. Instead, she got too clever by half with 22...Bxg2??, missing the neat rejoinder 23.Rh5! Qxh5 24.Qd4+!, forcing Black to either trade queens or play 24...Kg8, taking the g8 square from Black's rook. Either way, Black's attack was over and White enjoyed a non-trivial winning advantage. Krush slipped up and let Goletiani back into the game a few moves later, but near the time control Black returned the favor. Krush regained the advantage, this time for good. As a result Krush moved to 3.5/5, within half a point of Katerina Nemcova, who drew with Tatev Abrahamyan.

    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.