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GM Rogers on London: Nakamura's Greatest Test Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
December 12, 2009
Hikaru Nakamura in London, Photo Cathy Rogers
What do you give a 2700 rated chessplayer for his 22nd birthday?

An invitation to a super-tournament, of course!

And so it was that the US Champion celebrated his 22nd birthday last Wednesday in London at the strongest tournament to be held in England for a quarter of a century - the inaugural London Classic.

"This is the strongest event of my life," Nakamura said, "it's good to play an event in London. It feels familiar, people speak English. I can see Big Ben."

The London Classic must have seemed like a culture shock for Nakamura; playing in a theatre within the conference centre at London Olympia in front of a crowd of up to 500, with post-mortems in a VIP room followed by a press conference for the public -each of whom had paid £10 to enter - in the commentary room.

The one part of the experience that Nakamura could probably have done without were the pre-game introductions before the players were brought on stage by MC and organiser Malcolm Pein. Every day the US Champion was referred to as "The H-Bomb, due to his explosive style of play", while no other player was given a nickname. Top seed Magnus Carlsen was referred to simply as the current world number one, while Vladimir Kramnik was announced merely as the former World Champion.

Before the first round, Nakamura was realistic about his chances - "Plus 1 or plus 2 would be a pretty decent result."

Nakamura was paired first-up against Chinese GM Ni Hua - not yet known as ‘The Ni who says "Knights!"'. After outplaying Ni for much of the game, Nakamura reached a rook endgame, which seemed winning but was trickier than it looked.

Position after 39...Rc2

The diagrammed position sees the critical moment in the game, with Ni down to less than two minutes to reach move 40 and Nakamura cruising with more than half an hour on the clock. Here Nakamura fell into deep thought. He ruled out 40.Rb8 as after 40...Kf5! 41.Rxb4 Rc3+ 42.Kh4 Rf3 White's pawns form a perfect shrubbery around the Black king and White cannot make progress. He also analysed 40.e6 Rc7 41.f5 Ke5 42.Rf7 Rc8 43.e7 Re8 44.f6 b3 45.Rf8 b2 46.f7 b1Q 47.fxe8Q Qg1+ 48.Kh3 Qg4 checkmate, hallucinating that the Black pawn was on h5, not h6! Of course, with 48...Qg4 impossible, White would be winning rather than losing. After using up most of his remaining time, Nakamura eventually concluded that he had nothing better than laying a small trap with:
but after Ni's accurate reply
the game petered out to a draw after a few moves:
41.e6 b3 42.Rb8 Rg7+ 43.Kh5 Re7 44.Kg4 Rg7+ 45.Kh5 Re7 46.Kg4 Draw.
Yet, incredibly, the diagrammed position may not be winning after all. In Nakamura's preferred variation 40.e6 Rc7 41.f5 Ke5 42.Rf7, it turns out that Black can hang on with 42...Kd6!! when the White pawns are not so scary after all.

After that disappointment, Nakamura had to face the Sorcerer of Somerset, Michael Adams, with the Black pieces in the second round.  Nakamura was defending passively but adequately against Adams' famed positional style, until the following critical position was reached:

Position after 29.Nb5

Here Nakamura could have sat tight with 29...Qc6 when he is only slightly worse, but instead he decided to provoke a firestorm.
29...Qf8?! 30.Nc7 Re7 31.Nxd5! Rd7!

Position after 31...Nd7

This was Nakamura's idea, but Adams also has his own tricks...
32.b4! axb4 33.cxb4 Rd8!? 34.Nxf6+ gxf6 35.Qc2! fxe5 36.bxc5 Qxc5+ 37.Qxc5 bxc5 38.Rxe5
and now Nakamura discovered when counting the pawns that his g pawn had disappeared as if by magic.
Undaunted, Nakamura knuckled down to defending the endgame after
38...Ra8 39.Rxe6 Rxa4 40.Rc6 Rc4 41.Kf2 h5
and when Adams missed his chance for 42.Rh6! h4 43.g3 Rh2+ 44.Ke3!, Nakamura fought his way to a draw.
42.Kg3 Kg7 43.Rd6 h4+ 44.Kh3 Rf4 45.Ra6 c4 46.Ra3 Kf6 47.g3 hxg3 48.hxg3 Rf5 49.Rc3 Rc5 50.Kg4 Ke5 51.f4+ Ke4 52.f5 Rc8 53.f6 Ke5 54.f7 Kf6 55.Kf4 Kxf7 56.Ke4 Kg6 57.Kd4 Kg5 58.Rxc4 Rxc4+ 59.Kxc4 Kg4 60.Kd4 Kxg3 Draw

Round 3 saw Nakamura face up to Nigel Short, whose anagrammatic nick-name Nosher L. Git is both hated by Short and yet known around the world. (Once at border control in the Philippines, Short was asked for his passport with the cheery greeting "Hello Nosher!")

The Nakamura-Short game was the most peaceful to date, with the only exciting moment being in the diagrammed position when Nakamura had the option of playing 22.d6!? After the game Nakamura was quite keen on this idea for a while, until Short found the defence 22...Nf5 23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.Nb5 Ra4! 25.Rc7 Qa6 26.Nd4 Nxd6 when White can regain the pawn but nothing more.
Position after 21...Qa8

So Hikaru tried
22.Rcd1 h6 23.Qd4
but after
23...Nxd5 24.Nxd5 Bxd5 25.Bxd5 Qxd5 26.Qxd5 exd5 27.Rxd5 Ra7 28.Rd6 Rb7
the rook ending was a clear draw, which was agreed 15 moves later.

After a day of rest, Nakamura was facing his biggest test; a match up with the new world number one, Magnus ‘Norwegian Blue' Carlsen.

Carlsen would have been suffering the Norwegian blues after missing a simple win of a piece in the previous round against bottom seed David ‘Wolfing' Howell.

Black to move and win

Show Solution

The game began in front of a full house; organizer Malcolm Pein explained (before again introducing the "explosive" Nakamura), that this had been the first sold-out day in British chess history.

Nakamura not only passed the test with flying colours - he even managed to create winning chances as the players headed down to the first time control.

"I think I outplayed him in the middlegame," said a disappointed Nakamura who at one stage thought that Carlsen was dead, though he was just resting. "But a draw is a draw, I'll take it."
The post-game analysis, Photo Cathy Rogers

The game is given below, with comments from the two players.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Nh4 Bc8
Position after 6...Bc8

Hikaru Nakamura HN: "This is a standard Slav. I could play 6...e6 but after 7.Nxf5 exf5 8.e3 Bd6 9.Bxc4 0-0 10.0-0 he can try for f3 and e4 and it could be quite unpleasant for Black."
7.e3 e5 8.Bxc4 exd4 9.exd4 Be7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Re1 Nd5 12.Nf3 Be6 13.Qb3 Na6
Position after 13....Na6

Magnus Carlsen (MC): "I spent a long time on this move because I was trying to work out if I could win after 13...Qb6 . I calculated 14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Bxd5 Qxb3 16.Bxb3 Bxb3 17.Rxe7 Bd5 18.Be3 Nc6 19.Rxb7 Nxd4 20.Rd7 Nxf3+ 21.gxf3 Bxf3 22.Rxa7 Rxa7 23.Bxa7."
HN: This is winning for White isn't it?"
MC:  "No, you play 23...Rd8! and after 24...Rd1+, it will be a draw."
MC: "I wanted to play 14.Qxb7 with the idea 14...Nab4 15.Ne5 Rb8 16.Qxa7 Ra8 17.Qb7 Rb8 18.Qxc6!! . However after 18...Nxc3! (18...Nxc6 19.Nxc6 Qd7 20.Nxd5 is, surprisingly, good for me.) 19.Nxf7 Bxf7 20.Bxf7+ Rxf7 21.Qxc3 Rc8 Black is winning."
14...Nab4 15.Ne4 Bf5 16.Ne5 a5 17.Nc5 Bxc5 18.dxc5 Qc7
Position after 18...Qc7

HN: "When I played into this, I thought that I could play 18...Nc2 but after 19.Qxb7 Nxe1 20.Nxc6 Qh4 21.Bxd5 Nd3 22.Ne7+ Kh8 23.Be3 it's just winning for White."
MC:"I should have kept the tension with 19.Qf3 Be6 20.Bb3 Rad8 21.Rad1 Nf6 22.Bxe6 fxe6 23.Bxb4 when White has a better version of the game, though Black is hanging on."
19...Nxb4 20.Qf3 Be6! 21.Bxe6 fxe6
Position after 21...fxe6

HN: "He overestimated his position after the exchange on e6."
22.Qb3 Qe7 23.Nf3 Nd5
HN: "I was thinking about 23...Qxc5 but I thought that 24.Qxe6+ Kh8 25.Re5 Qc2 26.Re2 Qf5 27.Qxf5 Rxf5 28.Re7 could be rather unpleasant, even though it should be a draw."
24.Rac1 Rf4 25.Ne5
HN: "I thought that 25.g3!? was promising but after 25...Rb4 26.Qc2 Qf6 27.Ne5 I have 27...Rd8 so it's probably nothing."
25...Raf8 26.Nd3 Rd4 27.Rc4 Rxc4 28.Qxc4 Qf6 29.g3 Rd8 30.Kg2
Position after 30.Kg2

MC: "Now his knight is active on d5 and my pawns are weak. It's all a matter of timing; if I could get my knight to c4 or b4, White could be better; otherwise it is only equal, or worse."
30...Qf5 31.Nc1!
HN: "I overlooked 31.Nc1. If he can get his knight to b3 I can have some problems."
31...Rf8 32.Qe2

MC:"A really bad move. 32.Re2 is much better. Then the attacks with 32...Qf3+ 33.Kg1 Rf4 don't work because I have 34.gxf4 Nxf4 35.Qe4."
Actually Carlsen is very lucky he didn't play this line, as Nakamura would have played 32...Ne3+!! in a shot, and won immediately!
Analyis after 32...Ne3!

32...Nc7 33.Nd3 Rd8 34.Ne5 Rd5!
Position after 34...Rd5

Avoiding Carlsen's nasty trap 34...Na6? 35.g4! Qg5 36.h4! Qxh4 37.Nxc6! bxc6 38.Qxe6+ Kf8 39.Re3! with a winning attack for White.
MC: "If I play 35.Qe3 then 35...Na6 wins the pawn anyway. Here I was just trying to create problems for you."
35...Rxc5 36.Nc4 Qf8
HN: "The safest move."
37.Rd1 Rd5 38.Rxd5
Position after 38.Rxd5

HN: Here I just blundered. After 38...cxd5 39.Qe5 Qc5 40.Nd6 Qc6 41.b3 b6 I am just better."
MC:"I think I can just save the game with 42.Nc8! Qc5 43.Nd6."
HN: "Yes, my king is very bad."
39.Qe5! dxc4 40.Qxc7 Qb4 41.Qc8+ Kf7 42.Qf5+ Ke7 43.Qe5+!
HN: "If he plays 43.Qxh7?! then after 43...Qxb2 44.Qe4+ Kd6 45.Qxc4 b5! my pawns are much faster."
43...Kf7 44.Qf5+ Ke7 45.Qe5+ Kf7 Draw

After four rounds of the tournament, Carlsen leads with eight points (using the Classic's preferred system which gives three points for a win and one point for a draw), with Vladimir ‘Siberian Hamster' Kramnik in second with seven points, and McShane, Nakamura, Adams and Howell tied for third with four points each. On a normal scoring system, the only change would be that McShane (who has won one game and lost two) would be tied for last place with Short and Ni.

Look for a second blog from GM Ian Rogers after the tournament, and also follow the event on the official site , chessdom and the Internet Chess Club.


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