Middling in Moscow
By Macauley Peterson   
June 18, 2012
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It has been a difficult ten days for Hikaru Nakamura in Moscow at the annual Tal Memorial. On Monday, he drew his last round game with Teimour Radjabov to finish with a score of 4 out of 9. Magnus Carlsen won the tournament scoring 5.5/9, after a clutch last round win with the black pieces over Luke McShane.

The field was quite bunched, with just two points separating first from last place. Nakamura edged out McShane on tiebreak to take the 8th spot on the cross table.

Even before the start of the Tal Memorial, Nakamura’s result in the preliminary blitz tournament, which was used in place of a random drawing of lots, gave him the disadvantage of five blacks. That meant black in the first round against world number two, Levon Aronian. Nakamura worked up a very nice position but spoiled it with 21...g5:

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He overlooked Aronian’s 22.Bd7! when the bishop is taboo on account of the black’s loose bishop on f6.

22...Re6, 23.Bxe6 Bxe6, 24.Nxf6 Qxf6 25.Rxc6! bxc6 26.Qa1 and Aronian simplified into a winning endgame.

Sitting in the cafe at the elegant tournament venue, the Pashkov House, after the ninth round, Nakamura reflected on his tournament. “Pretty much from the get-go once I lost the first round I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, and it was just a matter of trying to find a way to win a game here or there,” he said. “I did manage to win that game against Morozevich which got me back into the hunt.”

Morozevich was leading by a full point, but with white against Hikaru, he played too aggressively and allowed a strong counter-attack as the players approached move forty.

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38...c3! With this breakthrough, Nakamura re-routes his knight to d5 with tempo.
39.bxc3 Ne3
40.Qe2 Nd5
41.Qd4 a4

With the b3 square secured, Hikaru invaded with his major pieces and soon won the c3-pawn and with it, the game. This moved him back to an even score and within one point of first, at the time shared by Morozevich and Kramnik. The lead changed hands several times throughout this tensely close contest.

“You know in some ways it kind of was my downfall that everything started bunching up because I decided to take some unnecessary risks yesterday against Grishchuk, whereas I probably, if I wasn't in the running for first place I probably would have played something a bit more solid.”

Instead he tried the Sicilian Dragon, and Grischuk went for a quick 9.g4, with the thematic h4, h5, and hxg6, opening the h-file forcefully for his rooks. Nakamura never had a chance gain counter-play on the queenside.


“I just wanted to play something sharp, something that my opponent was unfamiliar with, and it didn't work out, but you know it's one game, and considering all the other shaky or bad positions that I had throughout the tournament, it's kind of fitting in a way that I ended with the result that I had,” he explained.

With just over two weeks between the U.S. Championship and his departure for Moscow, Nakamura didn’t have quite as much time to prepare for his opponents as he might have liked, but he said his problems generally came in the middlegame, when he felt that he was not calculating precisely.

His eighth round draw with Magnus Carlsen, who is 5-0 (with 9 draws) against Hikaru, was his best game overall, “but I’m not sure that’s saying much because it was so simple to play,” he was quick to add.

Nakamura obtained a theoretically better combination of Q+N versus Carlsen’s Q+B, but the game never strayed from equality, and was drawn just after time control. “I still have to beat him, that's the bottom line,” said Nakamura, “getting an advantage is nice, but you have to convert, and I'm still searching for that first one."

Today, with Fabiano Caruana in the clear lead, Nakamura tried an unorthodox version of the Rossolimo anti-Sicilian against Radjabov with 4.b3, allowing black to keep his queenside pawn structure intact with 4.Nge7.

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The experiment yielded white nothing, and the game was the first to be finished, ending peacefully in the first time control.

These days, Nakamura splits time between St. Louis, his native New York, and his favorite city, Vancouver, British Columbia. Moscow in the Spring is a vastly nicer environment than the Tal Memorial’s previous home on the calendar in mid-November, but Hikaru will no-doubt be glad to switch off his Chessbase and enjoy a bit of a summer break before his next event in Biel Switzerland just over a month from now.