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Nakamura Close to Career-Best Triumph in Wijk aan Zee Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
January 27, 2011
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Cathy Rogers

At the end of January, two great sporting events take place on opposite sides of the world.

The first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, the Australia Open, is held in Melbourne while the first Grand Slam chess event of the year takes place in the Dutch seaside resort of Wijk aan Zee.

Having attended both Grand Slam tournaments in the past 10 days, a few differences soon became clear.

Both events attract thousands of spectators, though the record daily attendance figure in Wijk aan Zee of 7,000+ - established a decade ago with Garry Kasparov as the drawcard – would only half-fill centre court in Melbourne.

Chess does, of course, have an invisible army of hundreds of thousands watching on the net, though perhaps this army would struggle to overwhelm the hundreds of millions who watch the Grand Slam tennis on television.

The spectators at the competing Grand Slam tournaments also look as if they have come from different planets; whereas Daisy Dukes or Stubbies - plus face paint to show your national allegiance - seemed de rigeur for visitors to Melbourne Park, the chess fans arriving at De Moriaan in Wijk aan Zee are covered from head to toe, with outfits that invariably include a heavy coat, gloves and hat. (“The weather is great today – it will be 2 degrees!” I was told, without irony, upon arrival in Wijk aan Zee.)

Beer features prominently as spectator fuel at both events but only Wijk aan Zee can supplement that with pea soup and herring.

However while the tennis seems to be drifting towards a quiet conclusion, with the top two seeds eliminated in both men's and women's events, the 73rd Wijk aan Zee tournament, sponsored for the first time by Indian steel giant Tata, is moving towards one of the most exciting finishes in recent times.

Big names such as Anand, Kramnik and Aronian have risen to the top, while world number one Magnus Carlsen only dropped off the pace yesterday with an unexpected loss to the Nepo Man – Russia's new Champion Ian Nepomniachtchi.

However there is one other player joining these superstars at the top – Hikaru Nakamura.
And with just three rounds to play in the Tata tournament, Nakamura is within touching distance of his greatest triumph.

It was little more than 12 months ago, at the London Classic in December 2009, that Nakamura came to believe that he could compete against the world's elite without fear. Since then the 23-year-old American has broken into the top 10 and looks perfectly at home in super-tournaments.

In Wijk aan Zee in 2010, Nakamura challenged for the lead in the first half of the event but fell back after a loss to Kramnik.

Nakamura started similarly strongly in 2011, suffered a similarly nasty loss, this time to Carlsen, but this time bounced back and after 10 of the 13 rounds is tied for first place with World Champion Viswanathan Anand.

Nakamura has a seriously difficult run home; the Nepo Man, Kramnik and China's young star Wang Hao, but the way he has played to date  inspires confidence. Throughout the tournament it has been Anand playing catch-up with Nakamura, though it must be said that the World Champion looks particularly determined to break his three year tournament first prize duck – and establish a new record for Wijk aan Zee victories.

The other fly in the ointment is likely to be Levon Aronian, the Armenian who recently joined the exclusive 2800 club. Aronian is sitting only half a point behind Nakamura and Anand, and has a number of the tournament tailenders to come.

Still Nakmaura has plenty of motivation to win his first super-tournament - and the first by a US player with a name other than Kamsky for decades. If Nakamura can keep up the silky smooth form shown in the following games, he must have a great chance to do so.

Diagram after White's 15th move
Nakamura's attempts to liven up the opening have come to nothing so as he played
he offered a draw. There is no reason for L'Ami to refuse, apart from disappointing the spectators. However playing on for a few moves couldn't do any harm, the Dutchman thought, so he continued
16.Qxb6 Nxb6 17.Bg3 Rxc1+ 18.Rxc1 Rc8 19.Rxc8+ Nxc8 20.h3 Ne4 21.Bh2 Kf8 22.Ne1?!
Without the obligation to justify his refusal of the draw, L'Ami would no doubt have played 22.Bxe4 Bxe4 23.Nd2 when a draw is almost inevitable. Instead L'Ami plays to keep his bishop pair – and the Black knights take over the board.
22...Nd2 23.f3 f5 24.Nc2 Ke7 25.Kf2 Nb6 26.Ke2 Nb3 27.Nb4 Na5 28.Bc2 Nac4 29.Nd3 a5 30.Bg3 Nd5 31.Bf2 g5 32.g4 a4 33.e4 fxe4 34.fxe4 Ndb6 35.e5?
White has been drifting badly, but had he found 35.d5! exd5 36.e5! his bishops  would have come to life sufficiently to likely earn a draw. Now Nakamura puts the boot in.
35...Be4! 36.exd6+ Kxd6 37.Bg3+ Ke7 38.Kd1 Bxd3 39.Bxd3 Nxb2+ 40.Ke2 Nd5 41.Be4 Nc3+ 42.Kf3 b4 43.Be1 Nbd1 0-1

Far from a spectacular victory but to beat a 2600+ player in this way is a sign of excellent technique.
Nakamura's loss to Carlsen was so spectacular that it will be published around the world, so inclusion in one blog more or less won't make much difference.


However the game certainly worked to motivate Nakamura for the following game, played two days later. “I was pretty embarrassed by the way I'd played the openings in the last two games,” said Nakamura, “so I wanted to find something [special] against Maxime's Grunfeld.”


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 Na5 11.Bd3 b6 12.Qd2 e5
So far, so predictable, especially from the undefeated Vachier-Lagrave.
However now Nakamura varies from the World Championship-tested 13.Bh6 – on which he had “wasted” three hours before this game without finding anything.
13.Bg5!? Qd7 14.Bh6 Bb7
As Nakamura explained at the post-game press conference, the point behind White's interpolation of 13.Bg5 can be seen in variations such as 14...cxd4 15.cxd4 exd4 16.f4 followed by f5 and f6+, when the attacking pawn is not later vulnerable to attack on f6
15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.d5 f5 17.f3
Nakamura in the commentary room, Photo Cathy Rogers

“After this I just thought I was better,” said Vachier, “but it is not so simple.”
17...Rf7 18.exf5!
Both players were convinced that the game was effectively decided around here, but they could not find a clear improvement for Black. Vachier showed some wonderfully deep variations in the post-mortem but ultimately foundered; Nakamura's judgement that White's position was fundamentally healthy seems correct.
Vachier had originally intended 18...Qxd5 19.fxg6 Rd7 but when he analysed 20.Qe3! Qxd3 21.Qxe5+ Kg8 22.Qe6+ Kh8 23.Rad1! Qxd1 24.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 25.Kf2 hxg6 26.Nf4 he gave up the idea. (Nakamura was at first not totally convinced by this line as a win for White but he soon came around.)
A move earlier the players looked at 17...Rf6, but after a later ...gxf5 they discovered that the rook was vulnerable to a later Ng3-h5.
So the upshot was that Black may have nothing better than 17...f4, even though Vachier managed to talk himself out of this move with another long line 18.g3 g5 19.gxf4 gxf4 20.Kh1 Kh8 (Vachier also analysed 20...Rf6 21.Rg1+ Rg6 22.Rxg6+ hxg6 23.Rg1 Qh3 24.Nxf4 Qxf3+ 25.Qg2 Qxg2+ 26.Nxg2 and didn't like this either, though perhaps Black can hold here.) 21.Rg1 Qh3 22.Nd4!! followed by 23.Raf1 and perhaps 24.Nf5.
19.Bc2 gxf5 20.Rad1 f4
“The only move not to lose but it is really ugly,” said Nakamura. Black's problem is that 21.Ng3 was coming, with nasty threats.
21.g3 Qd6 22.gxf4 exf4 23.Kh1 Re8 24.Rg1+ Kf8 25.Be4

Positional domination, and as an added bonus the White knight has a path to the Black king via d4.
25...Bc8 26.Nd4 Qf6
“The final blunder,” said Nakamura. 26...Ree7 was the only chance.”
27.Ne6+ Bxe6 28.dxe6 Qxe6 29.Bd5 Qh3 30.Bxf7 Qxf3+ 31.Rg2 Kxf7
Now Nakamura reached out to play the winning queen checks but pulled himself back for 30 seconds or so, double-checking everything. This is not a bullet game, so why risk mucking up a win by rushing the finishing touches.
32.Qd7+ Kf6 33.Qg7+ 1-0

Wijk aan Zee 2011
Scores after 10 of 13 rounds:
=1.Anand(Ind), Nakamura(USA) 7;
=3.Kramnik(Rus), Aronian(Arm) 6.5;
=5.Carlsen(Nor), Vachier-Lagrave(Fra), Neopmniachtchi(Rus) 5.5;
=8.Giri(Ned), Ponomariov(Ukr), Wang Hao(Chn) 5;
11.Smeets(Ned) 3.5;
12.L'Ami(Ned) 3;
=13.Grischuk(Rus), Shirov(Spa) 2.5.

See the full schedule here, read Macauley Peterson's earlier CLO report and watch his video of Nakamura after four rounds. Also look for an upcoming report by GM Ian Rogers in Chess Life Magazine.

January - Chess Life Online 2011

St. Louisan Dominates World's Best at International Chess TourneyBest of CLO 2010: #2GM Hikaru Nakamura Wins Tata Steel Chess! Best of CLO 2010: #3Paragua Wins Jimmy Quon Memorial (Video) Nakamura Captures Clear Lead at Tata Best of CLO 2010: #4 Nakamura Close to Career-Best Triumph in Wijk aan ZeeBest of CLO 2010: #5 The US Chess School Comes to Los Angeles Updates on US Championships and US Women's Nakamura Back on Top with Anand in Tata Steel Best of CLO 2010: #6 Nakamura Tied for Tata Lead after Facing Two Titans Best of CLO 2010: #7 Tata Steel Round 7: Nakamura Captures Clear LeadThe US Chess Scoop on the Liberty Bell OpenChess & Football: IM Marc Arnold advises on CBS SegmentBest of CLO 2010: #8Building Thinking Skills through Chess The Reincarnation of the Fight Club Chess Comes to Sundance!Best of CLO 2010 #9: The Sicilian Slayed Best of CLO 2010 #10Nakamura Starts Strong at Tata Steel Bojkov and Bryant Best in ConcordBest of CLO 2010: Meet the Judges and Runners-upResults in at MLK Day Tourneys! Jimmy Quon Memorial: Details and Pre-Tourney AnalysisNakamura Leads Tata Steel ChessMLK Weekend Tourneys Approach Conclusion Choosing to Break 2200 Tata Steel Chess Begins FridayThe Staunton Code: Part III An Adult's Last Stand in Utah Happy New Norm Year in Berkeley! Raven Sturt's Rating Jumps into 2011 Shankland Nears GM Norm in Berkeley!Berkeley Norm-Hunting Update The Staunton Code: Part II Van Wely in Clear Lead at Berkeley International The Charm & Anguish of the Pan-Ams: An Organizer's Summary The January 2011 Check is in the Mail!Berkeley International Kicks off the New Year!