Nakamura Starts Strong at Tata Steel
By Macauley Peterson   
January 18, 2011
Hikaru Nakamura is off to a blazing start in the Wijk aan Zee supertournament, now known as Tata Steel Chess. With "plus two" -- two wins and two draws -- Nakamura shares the lead along side World Champion Viswanathan Anand.

On Tuesday, at the start of round four, the American ace was awarded a 500-euro prize for the best game of the round, in recognition of his win over Alexei Shirov the day before. The daily "Piet Zwart Prize," named after the former Hoogovens tournament director (no relation to the Dutch winter holiday character Zwarte Piet), is announced just before the ringing of the traditional gong that signals the beginning of play.


It was an tense fight against Shirov, who twice appeared to give a piece sacrifice by grabbing a pawn on d5, but in both cases the piece is better left alone. The second time around, there was a stunning zugzwang lurking.

Position after 41...Bxd5

If Nakamura had grabbed the bishop, 42.cxd5, there would have followed 42...Rxe3 43.Kf1 Kf6 when white has to return the piece for lack of moves. But he had seen Bxd5 in advance and planned 43.Nd2 as a way to continue to play for advantage.

The game remained very close, and Hikaru was pleased with his play in the ending.

"I think what it comes down to is that there've been several games in the past couple of tournaments where I've been very close to winning -- or winning outright, like in the Grischuk game from Moscow, for example -- but [against Shirov] I managed to keep it all under control and I felt that I played it incredibly precisely toward the end, despite the fact that I was getting low on time."

Nakamura's other win in Wijk aan Zee came over Alexander Grischuk on the first day, a victory which he described as a fitting payback for his tragic lapse in the final round of the Tal Memorial last November, which cost him a half point and a tie for first.


Hear Nakamura's take on the game that put him in the early lead:

Tuesday's round four was less successful, as Nakamura was reduced to groveling in a pawn-down rook ending for a couple of hours by the rising star Anish Giri, in his first A-group appearance.


Giri made front page news nation-wide in the Netherlands by downing world number one Magnus Carlsen on Monday, with black, in just 22-moves!



Hikaru had looked at the white side of this particular Catalan variation as recently as a week ago week, recalling a line Aronian played against Karjakin (Moscow, 2010) that is adequate but nothing special.

"During the game, I think [13...]Qa5 is wrong -- there's something that's better than that -- but I just couldn't remember, and I was low on time already, so I just played it like a complete idiot, and got into a terrible position."

He survived the time pressure and around move 30, Giri let the queenside pawns be exchanged, after which black remained worse, but Nakamura was confident that he could hold, with correct play.
The draw allows him to keep a share of first place going into the Wednesday's rest day, however in a thirteen round event, it'll take consistently steady nerves to remain at the top of the heap. Hikaru plans to relax and catch up with friends in the States on his day off, and try to take his mind off of chess, if briefly. But come Thursday, he'll be gearing up for another white game against Ruslan Ponomariov.

"The goal is to find a way to win a tournament for a change instead of coming close and then blowing it with one or two ridiculous moves in any given game," he explained, adding, "I feel like I can play with the best players in the world at this point, and I just want to win."

Macauley is an independent media producer currently recovering from Episode #6 of The Full English Breakfast. He can be reached at and on More recent videos available on his YouTube Channel.