Nakamura Solid and Almost Stellar in Moscow
By Macauley Peterson   
November 15, 2010
In his Moscow debut, Hikaru Nakamura was a few moves away from a tie for first place at the 5th Tal Memorial tournament. A seven hour marathon game with Alexander Grischuk in the last round ended in a draw that left Hikaru a half point behind co-winners Levon Aronian, Sergei Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (who came third on tiebreaks). Not bad for a round-robin tournament with an average rating of 2757, but it could have been oh so much better.

In what Nakamura himself describes on Twitter as "one of the single most disappointing oversights in my whole career," he hallucinated a winning variation that simply didn't work.


In this position, Nakamura played 84...Qf3? And after 85.Nxe5 Bxe5 86.Qxe5 Qh1+ 87.Kg4, he intended to play h5+ which would win easily but for the fact that it's not safe! White can just take it with his queen! This kind of mistake in the clutch can happen to anyone -- both players were under two minutes, with a 30 second increment -- and the extra half point was worth over $17,000 -- but it's an especially tragic way to end an otherwise successful tournament.

Instead 84...Qe1 85. Nxe5+ (Or 85. Kg2 Qxg3+ 86. Kf1 e4 winning) 85... Bxe5 86. Qc6+ Kg5 87. gxh4+ Qxh4+ 88. Kg2 Qg3+ 89. Kf1 Qd3+! 90. Kf2 Bd4+ and black's queen and bishop will shortly checkmate the white king.

By Nakamura's account, this wasn't the first time he blew the win in this game, but perhaps the second or third. Mamedyarov, the presumptive winner, who took a half point lead into the last round surprisingly lost to Boris Gelfand, encouraging Nakamura to start pressing in his game.

After outplaying Grischuk at the end of the first time control, Nakamura said, his 41..."h6 was terrible."


"I forgot that after [42.]Rg6 I can't play Qa1 because [43.]Nxe5 Rxf2 [44.]Rxg7 Kg7 [45.Qg6 h6 is just a repetition and forced draw." It's probably still winning after Qb4, but it's complicated."

Later, allowing 48.Qb1 "which is quite strong", Nakamura said, was a blunder, and he only felt he regained good winning changes again after Grischuk traded rooks on f8.

The resulting endgame was still no cakewalk, but it remained solidly winning until Nakamura's mental lapse on move 84. He makes no bones about it, telling me minutes after the handshake just outside the playing hall, that "to just blunder like that, deep in the third time control is just inexcusable." You can view the final minutes of the game below.

The failure to convert was no less disappointing, coming as it did after six hours and fifty five minutes of play. In an ironic coincidence, the warning bell signaling the closure of the whole G.U.M. complex began to toll, just before Hikaru resigned himself to giving a perpetual check. Grischuk is Russia's number two player, but there were echos of Nakamura's draw with Russia's best, Vladimir Kramnik in round four. Both games, which could have gone Nakamura's way, earned the respect of the Russian crowd in attendance, as well as his fellow competitors.

"I'm enjoying playing against him because you can be absolutely sure there will be a big fight," said Kramnik after their game. He notices Nakamura slowly but surely improving and added "I think that he really belongs to the Top Ten at the moment, only that he is not incredibly stable yet," citing Nakamura's occasional habit of losing 20 rating points in a single tournament. Nakamura is well aware of this past, and is likely to be more selective about his tournament commitments in 2011 in an effort to protect his nearly 2750 FIDE rating.

But Kramnik also observed that Nakamura is playing more solidly than ever, citing his draws with Veselin Topalov in the Olympiad and with Mamedyarov in the first round in Moscow as examples.

For his part, co-winner Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also took note of Hikaru's new approach, remarking that it was the first time he had personally seen Nakamura play "serious openings" which, Mamedyarov thinks, helped him to play well. "I think he can be, in [the] future, maybe World Champion -- why not," he volunteered, not in answer to a question on the subject.

Nakamura, who was unfortunate enough to have five blacks in this event, can still count his Tal performance a success. He finished shared fourth, ahead of the likes of Kramnik, Shirov, Gelfand, and Eljanov, and added 7.2 precious rating points, according to the unofficial, but closely followed Live Ratings.

As for Grischuk, Nakamura will have a chance to score the full point quite soon in the annual Tal Memorial Blitz tournament (considered the World Championship of blitz). Hikaru, never one to hide his natural bravado, threw down the gauntlet on Twitter late last night when he wrote, "I am going to destroy Grischuk like a baby in the blitz."

Macauley is in Moscow for CLO and, where he will be covering the blitz tournament this week.
He can be reached at and on See his first CLO report on the Tal Memorial, Nakamura Staying Cool in Moscow, featuring video from the site and interviews with Hikaru.