A Dutch Treat for Nakamura
By Macauley Peterson   
October 29, 2012
He’s had a tumultuous two months: A disappointing near-miss at a medal in the Olympiad, and a disastrous Grand Prix. But on Saturday, Nakamura was all smiles.

At the 16th Univé tournament in the small Dutch city of Hoogeveen, Nakamura won decisively, by 1.5 points over GMs Sergei Tiviakov, Anish Giri, and Hou Yifan. He was undefeated with one win over each of his rivals, to finish with 4.5/6 and a 2856 performance rating.

“Every tournament is a new tournament, a new chance to start over and play well, and fortunately for me that happened to be here in Hoogeveen,” he said at the closing ceremony.

Nakamura has been playing almost non-stop since the end of August, criss-crossing Europe from Istanbul to London, to Eilat, Israel, and back to Amsterdam, with stops in the USA in between! On the live rating site 2700Chess.com he is the most active member of the Top 50 (tied with Giri) having played 24 recent games, and his rating has slipped such that for the moment he has dropped to number two in the USA, a hair behind Gata Kamsky.

Such an intense schedule inevitably begs the question, “are you playing too much?” Nakamura is in high demand and is trying to find the right balance. He even recently turned down an invitation to the Kings’ tournament in Bucharest, which starts on November 7th.

“I’m a professional player, I have to make a living, so if I choose to not play many tournaments it would be rather difficult. But just in general I enjoy playing chess, and the more games you play -- as long as you try to learn from every game regardless of the result, to try to pick up something new, then I think you should play more....I’m pretty happy with the amount of tournaments that I’m playing right now.”

In Hoogeveen, it was remarkably smooth sailing for Nakamura. He won all three games with white and drew all three with black.

“It's very weird, like I don't think I've ever had a tournament where I haven't won a game with black and I've won every game with white. It's very unusual for me. I tend to have quite a few decisive results with black, wins and losses.”

Nakamura set the pace in the first round with a fine positional endgame win over Giri.

Nakamura has been nursing a slight edge for the past twenty-five moves. "From a computer standpoint [Giri] was completely equal from about move 35...such a position is almost impossible for a human to defend, whereas for a computer it's just routine like clockwork," Hikaru explains.
59.f4 gxf4 
59...Rh4 offered better chances to hold. E.g. 60.Kg3 gxf4+ 61.Bxf4 Rh1 62.g5 Re1 
60.g5 Bd6 61.Bf6 
This allows a clever trick to regain drawing chances. [61.g6!]
61...f3+! 62.Kxf3 Rh4 and it's difficult for white to make progress.
Getting the pawn one more square with tempo makes all the difference. 
62...f3+ 63.Kxf3 Rh5 64.Be5 
Black cannot prevent the pawn's further advance, and will have to give up the bishop. 1-0    

With white against Hou, in round three, after a dubious opening choice by the Women’s World Champion, Nakamura played with the initiative until Hou eventually blundered.


“With white it seemed like I could get the right kind of positions. With black, not so much. I mean it was very tricky because in both of the games against Tiviakov and Hou, I had a position where it was objectively equal, but I felt like I had to try and win because they were lower rated. So I took some chances that I certainly would not take, say, if I was playing against Magnus or Levon, for instance.”

When arriving for his fifth round game, Nakamura expected to play Tiviakov with white, and was shocked to discover it was to be his black game against Hou instead. In a four-player double-round robin, two rounds (in this case five and six) have to be switched to prevent one player from receiving three blacks in a row. The schedule and pairings were available on the tournament website and a printed version was distributed to all players by the arbiter, but Nakamura had nevertheless prepared the night before for the wrong opponent!

“Against Hou, when I played Bd7 and Kh7 -- if I was playing against Magnus, I would have just like traded on d5 and gone f5 and it's just very equal.


“Hou's 2600. If I get an equal position with black, I have to try -- if I have any self-respect -- I have to try and create something. Probably most people won't agree with that, but I just feel [otherwise], it just makes no sense.”

The game ended in a draw after 71 moves. That result allowed Nakamura to take a half point lead into the last round against his nearest pursuer, Tiviakov.


Tiviakov has recently added the French to his repertoire, and Nakamura, sporting a bright American flag tie adorned with a bald eagle, opted to transpose the game into an open Sicilian a tempo down.


“I had looked at this line for Hou briefly with Nxc6 and Qd4. And then at the board I just didn't feel like playing it really, so I chose to play something different. [The move] 8.c4 made some sense to me -- it seemed like I just developed my pieces pretty naturally -- so that's kind of why I chose to play c4 at the board instead of Qd4.”

Even though a draw would have clinched tournament victory, Nakamura opted to press for the win, looking for Tiviakov to crack. 

“Throughout the tournament he was playing very passively and he wasn't trying to play aggressively, so therefore I had this feeling that he would probably not try and do something sharp...once he just decided to try and sit around and not drop the d6 pawn, eventually I was able to outmaneuver him and outplay him in the middle game.”

As is tradition in Hoogeveen, Nakamura was awarded a glass chess set designed by Mark Locock (pictured below right), who has designed the tournament’s unique prize sets for the past five years.

Fortunately for Hikaru, he won’t have to fit it in his checked luggage; it will be carefully shipped home to the USA.

Nakamura, meanwhile, will get a much needed break for the next month, which he plans to spend in New York and Italy (“Frankenstorm” Sandy permitting!), before heading to London at the end of November for a repeat appearance at the London Classic.

Macauley Peterson lives in Germany, and will be producing the live commentary show for the London Classic for the third year, November 30 (opening press conference) through December 9th at www.LondonChessClassic.com