Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (112)
No spoilers here for those of you who missed yesterday's action, fear not. You can watch the semi-final match between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk here (the report is here, for those who don't care about spoilers); while the second semi-final in Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, will start at 1 p.m. ET. (Viewing instructions here.)
Good news, Chicago Cubs fans: anything is possible! In round 1 of the Bilbao Final Masters Hikaru Nakamura finally did something he hadn't done in his entire career: defeat Magnus Carlsen in a game with a classical time control. The game didn't get off to an auspicious start, as Carlsen obtained a very pleasant advantage on the white side of a Fianchetto Dragon, but when Carlsen chose a badly flawed plan Nakamura seized the advantage, increased it, and - most importantly - kept it. Carlsen resigned shortly after the time control was made, and the impossible dream proved possible after all.
That puts Nakamura in first with three points on Bilbao's 3-1-0 scoring system, two points ahead of Sergey Karjakin, Wesley So, Anish Giri, and Wei Yi. The Karjakin-So game was a well-played game where White did most of the pressing but not to the point where Black was in serious trouble, while Giri did have a serious advantage for a while against Wei Yi, but didn't manage to convert.
The games, with reasonably substantive notes to Carlsen-Nakamura, are here. The round 2 pairings are:
- So - Nakamura
- Wei Yi - Carlsen
- Karjakin - Giri
The semi-final matches Magnus Carlsen vs. Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave have been set; they will take place on August 18 and August 24, respectively.
Is it possible to say "Poor Hikaru Nakamura" after he wins the rapid section, ties for first in the blitz, and takes first overall in the Paris leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour? Maybe so, in light of the ongoing tragedy that is his head-to-head rivalry with Magnus Carlsen, though I think he prefers the overall outcome to one where Carlsen won the event but Nakamura won the head-to-head.
When we left off in the previous post Nakamura and Carlsen were tied for first, but Nakamura won one more game than Carlsen on day two, finishing half a point ahead in normal scoring (7/9, to Carlsen's 6.5; Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave tied for third-fourth with 5.5 points apiece). As the rapid games count double compared to the blitz games, Nakamura led by a point, 14 to 13 heading into the blitz.
The blitz was a double-round robin, with one round robin per day. Nakamura got off to a hot start, an undefeated 6.5/8, which was half a point better than Carlsen and good enough for a point and a half lead overall. They were paired in the final game of the day, with Nakamura getting the white pieces. Carlsen was well-prepared, but 17...Qd5 seemed to be an inaccuracy. After Nakamura's 18.Bf1 Carlsen thought for almost three full minutes before reconciling himself to a pawn-down ending where only two results were possible. (At least outside of the Twilight Zone.) Nakamura failed to activate his king and allowed Black to create a passed e-pawn, and then he even allowed Carlsen's king to penetrate to the point where his own king was in a mating net. In the end, Carlsen even managed to win the game, taking the lead in the blitz, cutting Nakamura's overall lead to a mere half a point, and doubtlessly ruining Nakamura's mood.
On day two Nakamura came out shaky, losing to MVL in round 2 and drawing in rounds 1 and 3. Carlsen started by defeating So with Black in the first round, but when he lost to Fabiano Caruana - who had been having a terrible tournament up to that point - the wheels started to come off from him as well. That gave Nakamura time to clear his head, and with two rounds to go Nakamura led the blitz by a point and a half.
It didn't last - but fortunately for Nakamura, it didn't need to. Nakamura drew quickly with White in the penultimate round to clinch a tie for first in the blitz, and overall tournament victory. It should have clinched clear first in the blitz, as Carlsen was "dead" lost against Laurent Fressinet, but he received a near-miracle when Fressinet played 38.Rc8??? instead of the obvious 38.Bc8. (Actually, practically any other move maintains the win, and even after the terrible rook move White was still winning.) It kept going downhill after that, and one panicky move after another allowed Carlsen to win, closing to within a point of Nakamura going into their last-round matchup. Needless to say, unfortunately, Carlsen's hypnotic powers came through once again. White (Carlsen) was better after his 32nd move, but not winning until Nakamura's reply, which was a blunder. After 32...Ne4?? 33.Nh4 Black has no good answer to the threatened 34.Ng6 followed by 35.Rh8#.
So they split the blitz and Nakamura won overall first. MVL had a great performance on the second day of the blitz and finished just half a point behind them in that discipline, which also gave him third place overall.
In passing: The Veselin Topalov-Vladimir Kramnik grudge match was a bit of a push: Kramnik won their rapid game, while Topalov won the blitz match 1.5-.5. Since the rapid counted double, Kramnik outscored his foe, but Topalov's win in the second game of the second day of the blitz started Kramnik on an incredible tailspin. Kramnik drew his first game that day, with Black against Anish Giri: so far, so good. In round 2 he lost to Topalov, however, and finished the day with only one more draw, going a dismal 1-8. (His only other draw was against Levon Aronian in the penultimate round.) Also in passing: Carlsen did manage a win over Giri on the first day of the blitz, but their rapid game was a draw and Giri promptly beat Carlsen on day two of the blitz.
Next week they'll do it all over again in Leuven, Belgium, except with Viswanathan Anand taking Fressinet's place.
This was a very exciting event, and there were many games worth discussing. For now, however, the bare results and some brief impressions. Hikaru Nakamura had a strong second day and won with a score of 11/18, a point ahead of Wesley So and a point and a half ahead of Garry Kasparov. All three finished with plus scores, and since it was a four player tournament it meant that the remaining player served as the piñata. On this occasion it fell to Fabiano Caruana, the new U.S. Champion and world #2 player to fill that role. His play on day two was completely unsuccessful, and he wound up with just 5.5/18.
Nakamura's victory was the product of doggedness on day 1, hanging in there while he wasn't playing well, and on day two he got into a good rhythm and was the dominant player on the day.
So had his moments, especially against Kasparov, but couldn't keep up with Nakamura's pace on the second day. (That said, if he had beaten him in the final round rather than drawing, they would have gone to a playoff.) So's biggest success came against Kasparov. He lost badly to him in round 1, and was close to losing two more game to him on the first day as well. Sadly for Kasparov, a couple of masterpieces in the making were completely ruined by his blundering a knight (on both occasions) and losing. The highlight of their contests came on day 2, however, in the first game of the day, when So won an absolute blowout. The commentators, and then Kasparov himself found the game reminiscent of Paul Morphy's "Opera Game", and Kasparov remarked that he found himself in the role of the "amateur" in that game.
Kasparov came close, and on the first day he could and should have scored far more heavily than he did. He repeatedly achieved the sorts of positions he wanted, and displayed not only good preparation but tremendous and energetic play in the middlegame. Only his rust and several outright blunders left him in third at the end of day 1, though only half a point behind Nakamura and So. On day two he was the one having to scramble to stay alive, and he did a remarkable job of saving some terrible positions against Nakamura in particular. Still, he finished strongly with wins over Nakamura and Caruana in the last two rounds (the latter game was especially nice), and his day 2 score was half a point better than what he achieved on day 1. Surprisingly - and impressively - Kasparov won his mini-matches with Caruana and Nakamura, but suffered badly against So.
Finally, for Caruana just about everything went wrong starting with round 7 on the first day. After that, his main highlight was a nice victory over Kasparov on the black side of a Scotch in the penultimate cycle (in round 15). For him, it will be an event to forget, except for the privilege of being able to say that he played Kasparov in a public event on even terms.
Reminder: St. Louis Blitz Event With Caruana, Nakamura, So, and Kasparov Starts in About Five Minutes
That's just before 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis, 2 p.m. ET in the U.S. The event will take place over two days, a double round-robin between the top three finishers in the U.S. Championship - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - and Garry Kasparov. The games will be broadcast on all the usual websites (official site here), and I'll get in a quick prediction that Caruana will win, Nakamura will come in second, and Kasparov will take the bronze. (My hedge is that the top two might switch places, but I'm going to stick to Kasparov in third.)
Fabiano Caruana won the U.S. Championship with a fine score of 8.5/11, bouncing back from a disappointing finish at the Candidates to take first place, $50,000, and to regain the #2 spot in the world ratings. He defeated Akshat Chandra to seal the deal, finishing a full point ahead of Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, both of whom drew their final round games (against Aleks Lenderman and Ray Robson, respectively). A further boon for Caruana, and for So and Nakamura as well, is that they will play in a blitz event with Garry Kasparov on Thursday and Friday.
The women's championship finished dramatically. Going into the last round perennial bridesmaid Tatev Abrahamyan led Nazi Paikidze by a half a point, and had an easier pairing to boot. Abrahamyan had the black pieces against Ahritha Eswaran, while Paikidze had Black vs. Irina Krush. And yet...Abrahamyan was crushed by her much younger, much lower-rated opponent, while Paikidze completely outplayed Krush - enough to win the game twice. She was beating her brilliantly and beautifully early on, but missed several wins and lost almost all of her advantage. Nevertheless, Krush's position remained practically difficult, and soon Paikidze was winning again. Given another chance she finished strongly, and she was the deserving victor of the women's crown. Like Caruana, she finished with 8.5 points; Abrahamyan finished second with 8 and Anna Zatonskih took third with 7. Krush finished in a very disappointing 6th place after losing her last two games and scoring only a point and a half in the last five rounds.
It's not too surprising that the U.S. Championship is a race between the big three - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - with Ray Robson (mentioned by Nakamura at the start of the tournament as a potential fourth musketeer) also in the hunt. After 10 rounds, Caruana leads with 7.5 points, half a point in front of So and Nakamura, with Robson another half a point behind. In case of a tie for first, there will be a playoff the next day (Tuesday) to determine the winner. Here are the relevant last round pairings:
- Akshat Chandra (1.5) - Fabiano Caruana (7.5)
- Aleks Lenderman (4) - Wesley So (7)
- Ray Robson (6.5) - Hikaru Nakamura (7)
Caruana is certainly a favorite to win the title, both because he's starting out with the lead and also because he's playing the tournament's lowest-rated player and tailender. Still, one can't be too sure: he does have the black pieces, and Chandra did manage to draw with Nakamura earlier in the tournament - with Black.
In the women's championship, the terrible twosome of Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih have both been eliminated from the race for first after losing in the penultimate round. (Zatonskih also lost in the antepenultimate round as well, thanks to an outright blunder.) Both losses were to kids: Zatonskih lost to 14-year-old Jennifer Yu, while Krush lost to 12-year-old(!) Carissa Yip, who finished the game in style. (Have a look.)
The tournament leader is Tatev Abrahamyan, who has been getting closer to winning this event every year. She has 8/10, half a point ahead of Paikidze. Both women will have Black in the last round, but Abrahamyan will be playing one of the lower seeds (Ashrithan Eswaran) while Paikidze will face Krush. Abrahamyan's situation looks even better than Caruana's, but - again - there are no guarantees.
Finally, returning to the main event, the top three - which is at the moment the big three - qualify for a four-player blitz event running Thursday and Friday. The fourth player? Garry Kasparov.
At 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis (= 2 p.m. ET) the U.S. Championships get underway in St. Louis. Both the Championship and the Women's event are 12 player round robins finishing April 25 - April 26 in case of a playoff, and don't forget that after the event, on the 28th and 29th, there will be a blitz event that might include the big three (Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So) and definitely includes none other than Garry Kasparov. (I hope for his sake he has been training hard.)
The Championship is incredibly strong, with three players in the top 10 (the aforementioned Mssrs. Caruana, Nakamura, and So), and the second tier of Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk, Ray Robson, and Sam Shankland isn't exactly chopped liver. On the Women's side, it looks likely to be another battle to the death between Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, who between them have won the last 10 women's championships. Krush has won the last four, but they've almost always come down to the wire and Zatonskih is the very slightly higher-rated player.
Here are the first round pairings for the main event:
- Fabiano Caruana (2795) - Varuzhan Akobian (2615)
- Sam Shankland (2656) - Akshat Chandra (2477)
- Wesley So (2773) - Gata Kamsky (2678)
- Hikaru Nakamura (2787) - Aleksandr Lenderman (2618)
- Alexander Shabalov (2528) - Ray Robson (2663)
- Alexander Onischuk (2664) - Jeffery Xiong (2618)
It's a good time to be a fan of U.S. chess! Tournament predictions? Nakamura is the defending champion, and he and Gata Kamsky have won the last seven between them. So only started playing in the U.S. Championship last year and Caruana is a rookie, so the Nakamura-Kamsky streak isn't as relevant as it would otherwise be. My prediction is that Nakamura will win.