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Nakamura - Carlsen, Private Blitz Match [Video] Print E-mail
By Macauley Peterson   
December 8, 2010
Nakamura Twitter teased it. Carlsen merely mentioned it. Readers rumored about it. Here's how the post-World-Blitz match came to pass.

After the closing ceremony of the World Blitz Championship, in Moscow, Magnus Carlsen played a couple of tandem rapid games alongside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov. They faced Vladimir Kramnik and Arkady Dvorkovich, of Russian-Chess-Federation-coup fame. Carlsen (and Kramnik) had already played several hours of 3-minute (+2 second increment) blitz during the final ten rounds -- Day 3 -- of the Blitz Championship.

After the games, as Carlsen was on his way out, I casually asked him if he had any interesting plans for the evening -- now that the event was over -- before leaving Moscow the next day. He had none, and turned to leave, but then, after a moment's thought he spun back with an idea:

"Well, maybe ask Nakamura if he wants to play a hundred blitz games."

Now, to play a hundred games of blitz takes a seriously large chunk of time. Even if you could play them back-to-back with no breaks, ICC caffein-binge-marathon-style, it would take over eight hours. So, naturally I thought he was joking.

He wasn't.
"OK, I'll ask him."

It seemed like kind a lark, really. Fans of both players, but especially Nakamura partisans, have long since fantasized about such a match, barely satiated by Hikaru's "Smallville" blitz-fests on the Internet Chess Club, which have now grown few and far between.

As it turns out, arranging a blitz match at the eleventh hour, even in a chess Mecca like Moscow after one of the year's biggest chess tournaments, is easier said than done. Neither I, nor either of the players travels with a set or clock -- de rigueur for this kind of challenge. An iPhone chess clock app wasn't going to cut it, and the only set belonging to the Ritz-Carlton hotel was an antique, kept in a private lounge.

Fortunately, despite the fact that all the Tal Memorial equipment had been packed away, organizer Alexander Bakh was able to procure me one of the tournament's DGTs, so long as I A) promised to return it, and B) told him the final score.

Now for the set. After a couple of phone calls and help from the hotel staff, it emerged that there was a bookshop ten minutes walk from the hotel that sold chess sets, albeit expensive wooden ones.

Meanwhile, with me as go-between, the players had agreed on a time at least, 10:00 PM, with a place to be determined. We convened in the lobby: Hikaru, Magnus and Henrik Carlsen, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam from New In Chess -- who'd got word of the impending duel, and wanted to witness the start of it -- and I, with the clock and a weighty wooden board and pieces in hand.

The first thought was to stay there. The public setting could be amusing. But it was noisy, and the coffee-table style playing surface was too low. It may be no-stakes, casual blitz, but between Top Ten players, so there was still an inclination to take the match somewhat seriously.

After a brief deliberation, Henrik's suite was suggested. It was quiet, private, and with ample fruit juice on hand. At the elevator on the sixth floor we bumped into Vladimir Kramnik, who wondered what was up, and was promptly invited to join, but walked off mumbling something about our sanity.

In the suite, they settled on 3-minutes with a 1-second increment. The table was optimal. The light, adequate. The pieces were set up quickly. No toss for colors. Magnus started with white and played 1.d4. A Slav, from the American. They began play around 10:20 PM, with no set number of games, though presumably fewer than a hundred.

Magnus started well, winning several of the first few games. After number twenty, a Modern Defense, the score had changed little. The players took a short break and Henrik, returning from a late night market with extra juice and snacks, remarked, "too bad there's no door [to the bedroom] otherwise we could watch CNN." In fact he followed most of the games as closely as I did.

How many would they play I wondered?

"Thirty?" Magnus suggested.
"Forty," replied Hikaru, and Magnus instantly agreed, as he set up the pieces for the next game.

Forty blitz games! Two more than they had played over three whole days. By this point it was well after midnight.

There followed a Caro-Kann Advance, a Catalan, a Torre, a Chigorin, Najdorfs, Berlins, the English, the Dutch, Svheshnikovs and a King's Gambit for good measure. The players remained focused and serious -- there was no trash talking here, no petty disputes, or clock banging frenzy.

"We were both pretty tired and the quality of the games varied to put it mildly," reads Magnus' blog. Fair enough. At close to 4:30 AM, after over six hours of nearly non-stop blitz, we called it a night. Nakamura and I left with Peter Doggers of ChessVibes.com who had joined for the last few games. Magnus would return to his own suite upstairs.

The board, signed by both players, significantly tipped the airline scales on my flight to Munich, but no matter. It'll be auctioned off for charity (of the players' choosing) at a future date, perhaps including the game-by-game tally, which for now rests safely in my notebook.

The following game fragment was played at around 4:00 AM, the early morning of November 19th. It was Game 38, of 40.

Macauley is a freelance mediamaker, currently in London producing the live commentary show for the London Chess Classic. During his time with the Internet Chess Club and Chess.FM (2007-2010), he produced over 400 unique video shorts covering all aspects of the sport. His written work has appeared in New in Chess Magazine and Matten (The Netherlands), "64" (Russia)Chess (U.K.), Peon de Rey (Spain) and Schach (Germany). Like him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MacauleyPeterson.

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