A Swiss Swing for Nakamura
By Macauley Peterson   
July 25, 2012
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After exactly one month off, Hikaru Nakamura returned to the chess board last Friday in Zürich. Seventeen boards to be precise -- he was invited to Switzerland's largest city as a guest of the Zürich Chess Club, and gave a lecture and simultaneous exhibition at the Savoy Hotel on Zürich's famous Bahnhofstrasse (literally, "Station Street" -- the main train station lies at one end of it).

En route to the 45th Biel Chess Festival, the event gave Hikaru a couple of extra days to recover from the nine hour time difference, after his trip from Vancouver which has become both a second home, and favored vacation spot.

The Zürich Chess Club -- the oldest continuous chess club in the world -- partnered with Biel to bring the American star to town, and he overcame a sleepless night to finish the clock simul (players had 75 minutes on the clock plus a 10 second increment) with sixteen wins and only one loss.

On Sunday in Biel, the players in the Grandmaster Tournament (with the exception of Giri who was still traveling) all took part in an Exhibition Blitz Tournament, joined by GMs  Pentala Harikrishna, Yannick Pelletier and Alexandra Kosteniuk. Nakamura won the event, defeating Harikrishna, Alexander Morozevich and finally Etienne Bacrot, who had previously knocked out top see Magnus Carlsen. Hikaru downplayed the result, saying that he got lucky in several games, and generally considers his blitz skills to have declined in recent years as he has moved up the elite grandmaster ranks.

Monday saw the start of the classical tournament, a six player double-round robin, which uses both the "football" scoring system (three points for a win, one point for a draw), and forbids agreed draws before move thirty.

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Nakamura's first round pairing of black against Carlsen, is a perennially challenging one, as Hikaru has lost five and won none.
 
Carlsen obtained an advantage in the middle game by forcing 19...f6 which, he noted, killed Nakamura's dark-squared Bishop and gave white targets to attack. It's the sort of grinding position in which Magnus feels right at home, and he was visibly irritated after the game to have let the advantage slip.



Nakamura defended accurately when he needed to, despite mounting time pressure as the players approached move 40, and the game was agreed drawn.

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With white in round two, it was Nakamura who squandered a middlegame edge against Anish Giri. Fresh off a crushing win in the Dutch Championship last weekend, Giri started in Biel by beating Morozevich with black in round one. In the first critical position, Nakamura was maneuvering to create threats on the kingside.
 
Nakamura-Giri
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Position after 17.Nc4
17...Nb8
A critical position.
18.Ne3

"I thought I was just slightly better through the middle game, then I really lost the thread around move 17 when I really didn't trust my instincts," Nakamura said. Giri suggested 18.Qg4 Kh8 planning to play Nd7 next, but was concerned about 19.h4 Nd7 when white is slightly better.
18...Nxe3 19.fxe3 c5 20.Qg4 Bxe4 21.Bxe4 Rc8 22.Rcd1
Nakamura aims to keep material on board for attack. "In a perfect world I want to go Bb1, Qe4, h4, but I need to have both rooks to have any chance."
22...Nd7 23.Bb1 b5 24.Qe4 f5 25.Qb7
Giri thought this was an effective distraction by Nakamura, with the idea of provoking the rook to an inferior square.
25...Rb8 26.Qa7

After 26.Qg2 Nb6 the players considered this position to be quite double-edged.
26...Ra8 27.Qb7 Rab8 28.Qa7 Ra8 29.Qc7
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Nakamura decides to deviate. "The problem is that I repeated twice, and because I repeated twice, psychologically speaking I had resigned myself to the game being a draw, and then I sort of switched again, and decided to play on, and when you start doing that it really messes around with your mind because your calculation starts going off a little bit," he elaborated. "You go from where, 'I'm just going to repeat and take the draw,' to suddenly you're trying to play for a win again in a very sharp position."
29...c4 30.Rf1 Rfc8 31.Qd6

Giri was overtly surprised by this move, began making faces of bewilderment, glancing repeatedly at Nakamura for any hints of his frame of mind. None were forthcoming, and in fact Hikaru remained uncharacteristically stoic at the board. "It was a terribly shocking move," Giri recounted. "I was all the time thinking, 'how can I change queens? How can I trap his queen to be exchanged?' Trying so hard, and suddenly he just goes Qd6. And also he ruins his pawn structure I thought." Alternatively, white could maintain an active position by retrieving his queen via 31.Qb7 Rab8 32.Qg2
31...Qxd6 32.exd6 Nf6
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"At this point I just started losing my mind and playing some really, really bad moves," Nakamura said.
33.g4

He had initially planned 33.d5 "I thought he had to play 33...Nxd5 34.Bxf5 exf5 35.Rxd5 or something very similar to this and it's probably still a draw, but I have some minor chances to maybe get something and try to press. But I simply forgot he could take with the pawn, and after [34.] Bxf5 he goes Re8, and it's probably still enough for a draw."
33...g6 34.gxf5 exf5 35.e4 Nxe4 36.Bxe4 fxe4 37.Rf6 Kg7 38.Re6 Rf8 39.Rxe4 Rad8 40.Re7+ Rf7 41.Rf1 ½–½
Draw agreed.

"At least I didn't blow it," was Nakamura's glass half full assessment. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his third round game with Wang Hao.

Wang,Hao - Nakamura,Hikaru

45th Biel Chess Festival (3), 25.07.2012
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Position after 25...Ba5

26.Bg4
Black must be vigilant, but is solidly better after the pawn-grabbing 26...Nxb2, with or without first exchanging on e4. Instead Hikaru played
26...Nd6
Missing the dastardly double-destructive sacrifice.
27.Rxd5! Qxd5 28.Bxe6! fxe6 29.f7+
With such devastating blows, it's easy to have the urge to run for the hills.
29...Kd8
However, 29...Ke7 offered more chances. In fact, black would be winning after all moves, except the stunning 30.Qxh6! and would have to find the clever retreat 30...Rdd8 31.f8Q+ Rdxf8 32.Qg7+ Kd8 33.Rxf8+ Rxf8 34.Qxf8+ Kc7 35.Rxd6+ Rxd6 36.Bxd6 Kxd6 By navigating some exceedingly difficult tactical waters, black retains hopes of a draw.
30.Bxe6+ Kc8 31.f8Q+ Rxf8 32.Rxf8+ Bd8 33.Nxd6+ Kb8 34.Rf1 Rxd6 35.Bxd8 Qc4 36.Rg1 Rxd8 37.Qg3+ Kb7 38.Qxg6
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Black's practical chances are minimal, but Hikaru fought on.
38...Rd2 39.Qxh6 Rxc2 40.Qg7+ Kb6 41.b4 Qd3
White needs only to unbox his rook, to be able to force an exchange of major pieces that will allow his pawns to advance.
42.Re1 Qe3 43.Qf6+ Kc7 44.Qf1 Rf2 45.Qg1 Qf4 46.h3 Qg3?!

Easing white's task, since
47.Qh2
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Forces off the queens. Nakamura gave up. 1–0

A disappointing start for the U.S. Champion, but stranger things have happened in this exciting tournament so far.

After consecutive losses in the first two rounds, Alexander Morozevich suddenly withdrew on Wednesday, citing health issues. While the 35 year old Russian was outwardly without any symptoms after Tuesday's tense loss to Etienne Bacrot (well worth a look!), sources tell CLO that he did visit a hospital in Biel where he was examined in connection with an ongoing illness.

Morozevich will fly back to Moscow Thursday morning, and is to be replaced by Victor Bologan, who will play the scheduled third round game with Carlsen on Sunday the 29th, the scheduled rest day.

Biel hosts a number of events as part of its annual festival, including a "Master Tournament," which includes many strong grandmasters, among them, several alumni of past Grandmaster Tournaments. After three rounds, GMs Boris Avrukh, Ivan Saric and Yang Wen, are the only perfect scores.

Also playing are three players from the USA. GM Sam Shankland is the leading scorer with 2.5, and IMs David Pruess and Robert Hungaski each have 2 points.

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Visit www.bielchessfestival.ch to review all the games and results. Live commentary from the playing venue is available only in German, but ICC Chess.FM provides English commentary at www.Chess.FM.

Macauley Peterson is a freelance chess professional specializing in online media, and audio/video production. A regular contributor to Chess Life, as well as several European chess magazines, he lives in Karlsruhe, Germany and can be reached at www.MacauleyPeterson.com.