Tag Archives: Nakamura

Pew! Pew! Pew!

After Kasparov’s retirement, there doesn’t seem to have been much sniping among more than just a couple top players. The one that sticks out was the Kramnik – Topalov match of 2006, but outside of those two, there haven’t been many shots fired I think. If the past month or two are any indication, that’s about to change!

Back in February, Nakamura went on the record in New In Chess that he felt that he is “the biggest threat to Carlsen.” That was the soundbite quote, but there was a bit of nuance in that he really was referring to long-term threat.

He further tempered that in a subsequent interview that can be read here (with help from Google Translate for most of us I imagine) where he says:

Aronian’s probably a bigger threat than me right now, but outside of him I am right behind. I have a chance. If I do not have confidence that I can beat him, what’s the point of playing then?”

This all happened after Magnus’s Bay Area visit and I also don’t get NIC, so it’s not like I could ask about this, but the 2nd interview above has a shot of Carlsen and Nielsen walking to the Zurich tournament hall with this reaction – who knows if they’re joking about the magazine, but it’s quite the coincidental shot if not!

Carlsen Reaction

Then this happened at Zurich.

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Interviews, Now and Then

I don’t remember reading quite as many interviews with Anand before, but over the past few years, there seem to have been a number of excellent ones – he seems to be more willing to engage with the media and actually say something rather than speak in simple platitudes. Here’s the latest one with The Indian Express.

A couple points that have been mentioned or brought up here were noted in that interview as well: the unusual number of losses with white, Carlsen’s different approach to the opening (as opposed to being “weak” in the opening), and, of course, the general trend of more decisive results when he struggled to do anything but draw for the previous year.

There was also a video interview with Nakamura I saw over at ChessVibes (for anybody else who watched this, was the music between every question/answer kind of annoying for you too?). There was less new stuff here in my view, except for maybe him saying his emotions are both a strength and a weakness for him.

The real highlight of the interviews I recently read was an old one from 1976 about Walter Browne in Sports Illustrated (!). This is a pretty long article, 10 pages in the browser with a lot of content to it.

“I’ve got the talent,” says Browne. “All I need to do is persevere. And I will, because I’m concentrating all my energies on becoming world champion. I have this fantastic discipline to study chess six, eight, 10 hours a day, this drive to win at all costs short of physical violence. I got this aggression that never quits, this feeling of terrific power. I feel this big hot thing like the sun inside me. I’m not bragging. I really feel as if I can beat anybody at anything!”

I’ve played Browne a couple times in slow games (outrated heavily in both games) and once in a rapid game (drawn, when both of us were in general retirement), but I can’t say I’ve talked to him that much. However, reading this article, our postmortem about that last rapid game makes a lot of sense!

The quick profiles of Grefe and Peters, two people I played a few times apiece in the ’90s were also very interesting – actually, I took a few lessons around then from Peters, working on specific openings and endgames. I never met the other 3 players of the 20-something crowd from that US Championship (Rogoff, Tarjan, and Commons).

There’s a lot of other good stuff in the interview, two highlights of which I’ll call out here:

“Tell your Ostrich [a computer chess program at the time, beaten by Browne in a simul] to read Nimzovich,” he sniffed, referring to the father of the hypermodern school of chess.)

“There are perhaps a dozen players who make a living out of chess, few of whom eat very well. Our goal is to make it two dozen, all of whom eat very well.”

You don’t seem to see interviews like this about chess players any more, especially not in magazines like Sports Illustrated …

Using The Little Grey Cells

Well, the Tata Steel results came in a week ago, and I was hit-and-miss with my predictions. I had Anand winning the A group, but his non-winning streak in regular tournament play continues for at least a few months more. Instead, he finished half a point behind the winner, Hikaru Nakamura.

This must be Hikaru’s biggest win to date, and it takes him up to about 2775 FIDE. He was briefly #7 on the live list, until Chucky’s amazing 9/10 in Gibraltar vaulted him slightly ahead in the rankings.

One potentially interesting development was that within hours of Hikaru’s win, Kasparov was on the record at a NY Times blog with this comment:

“Fischer never won a tournament ahead of the world champion. He was second in Santa Monica. Of course there were far fewer such events back then, and Fischer had several great tournament results like Stockholm 62, but it’s interesting. Reuben Fine only equaled Keres on points at AVRO in 38. Then you have Marshall at Cambridge Springs in 1904 ahead of Lasker, though Tarrasch wasn’t there. So unless you include Capablanca as an American player, I think you can go back to Pillsbury at Hastings 1895 for an American tournament victory on par with Nakamura’s!”

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Name Changes, Openings, Predictions

The Tata Steel (formerly known as Wijk aan Zee, before being called Corus) super-tournament is underway now. The field is pretty much as good as it can get in my view. No “boring” 2700s were invited this time around. With two rounds already in the books, it’s a bit late for predictions, but I did think Anand might finally break his tournament-non-winning streak this year. For the B and C groups, I’ll go with McShane (I have to admit I was influenced by his 2/2 start) and then a tie between Bluvshtein and Vocaturo.

Anand did get off to a good start with a solid win as black against Ruslan Ponomariov. Back in Bilbao and Shanghai in late 2010, he played the Berlin every time against 1.e4. But in London, he played the Sicilian in all his black games, and he repeated his once-favorite Najdorf against Ponomariov. I remember Grischuk said something to the effect that “Ruslan doesn’t understand the Najdorf,” but I think that was mostly in regards to Pono on the black side.

The opening choice was also notable because a couple weeks ago, I had dinner with Hikaru Nakamura, Patrick Wolff (Anand’s former second), and John Donaldson. Hikaru contended that the Sicilian had been largely replaced at the top levels because it was no longer tenable for Black. Maybe Hikaru will change his mind, although I’m sure he’s focused enough on other openings. Grischuk actually said something similar about the Najdorf about a decade ago, but then he decided to make the Najdorf a central part of his Black repertoire …

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Predictions, past and present

The Tal Memorial started today in Moscow, and it’s a great lineup. In fact, I can’t remember a top round-robin with as exciting a field in the past few years. As much as I’d like to see Anand play well, he hasn’t been a very compelling tournament player recently, so I’ll happily take Aronian, Kramnik, and Grischuk representing the 2770+ crowd here.

The rest of the field with Mamedyarov (2763), Karjakin (2760), Eljanov (2742), Gelfand (2741), Nakamura (2741), Shirov (2735), and Wang Hao (2727) is filled with a nice blend of young fighters and grizzled veterans.

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Back Home … and Musings on Strange American Tournaments

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
We set out on our travels, we do the best we can
We travel this big earth as we roam

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
And even though we may love, this place on the map
Said it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at

–          Mos Def in Habitat

I’m back in the Bay Area after my two tournament trip to Montreal and Philadelphia. I wasn’t able to get online much in Philadelphia, especially once the schedule shifted to include two games a day.

In the end, I finished with 5 points from 9 games – not a particularly inspiring performance – but I did play a lot of good players and some interesting games. In the first round of the 7-day schedule, I played up against GM Vladimir Potkin. The last time I played up in the first round of a swiss was in 2002 in China when I was much lower rated! Actually, I played up in the first 3 rounds, which was quite a surprise. The rest of my field was over 2400 FIDE on average, so it was a pretty strong tournament. I squandered a couple opportunities in rounds 5 and 9 that would probably have improved my final position. I did get quite lucky, though, in round 4 against FM Thomas Bartell (I should have taken the draw he offered when I was worse!).

Thanks to that save, I only lost one game, to IM Ray Robson (the most recent Samford Fellow). If this were Shakespeare, the moment would have been rife with imagery and symbolism, but for now, I’ll just say that on the first day of his Fellowship, he beat the 2008 recipient. Then on the following day, he beat the 2007 recipient, GM Josh Friedel!

I’ll post more details about my games in the coming week, but for now, I’ll make a few comments about the tournament in general. First, Mark Crowther’s comment at TWIC:

“I’ve always found the World Open a bit odd. Multiple schedules, re-entries allowed and so forth. So what to make of Hikaru Nakamura’s tournament? Turns up one day plays 5 g/45 minute games to get in contention, plays two proper games the following day (quick draw and a win), then takes two half point byes in the final two rounds to share first place and is already flying to [San Sebastian, Spain] before the tournament ends. I guess my main reaction is ‘What kind of tournament is this?’”

This is no knock against Nakamura, who played quite well and took advantage of both his strengths and the scheduling quirks. However, it is kind of silly in my view to have a tournament that gives you the opportunity to win like this. The 4-day Open Section schedule was a farce, with only 3 players showing up, so everybody got a full-point bye. The 3-day schedule Open Section only had 2 GMs, and with 5 rounds amongst themselves at G/45, it was almost like a different tournament than the more popular 5- and 7-day schedules. The 7-day and 5-day schedules, by comparison to the 3-day, were much stronger – the 7-day featured a GM-GM pairing in round 1! Najer played 8 GMs, and as some consolation for a more brutal schedule, he won the tournament title on tie-break as Nakamura wasn’t there to contest the blitz playoff.

Of course, Goichberg runs his tournaments in the purest capitalist sense, so he probably won’t change his ways. Multiple schedules allow for more re-entries and a few extra bucks in his pocket. For a few players, it also helps avoid taking time off from work and cutting down on hotel costs. But when there are such prizes at stake, it difficult to imagine another sporting event where this is possible – there are amazingly different schedules with different fields and time controls and a co-champion doesn’t even show up for the last two rounds and gets something more than a zero-point bye for those rounds. Foxwoods is a rather strong open tournament, but the Open Section there has only one schedule. I would think the World Open should adopt the same format.

As a side note, what happened with GM Leonid Yudasin in round 8? The wallchart at the time said he had withdrawn, but when I walked around, there he was playing Robert Lau around board 80 in round 8! Yes, the same Robert Lau who was not playing in the Open Section until that round! Yudasin won that game, and then won a marathon game against GM Kacheishvili in the last round to claim $2160 in prize money. How is this possible? He received a ridiculous pairing, much easier than his fellow 4.5 pointers in round 8, and it counted? I’m not sure how the pairings would have shaken out had Yudasin been paired correctly, but GM Josh Friedel, who is right around Yudasin’s rating, played GM Gata Kamsky in that round. I wonder which is an easier pairing: a 2200 with black (who isn’t even in the section), or Kamsky with black? I’m not sure if there was any debate at the tournament about this, but it seems rather odd to me. Here’s a link to the wallchart, and I’d appreciate if someone could explain this one to me.

Week 7 in the US Chess League

Last week in the USCL, the SF Mechanics played the Seattle Sluggers. At the time, the Sluggers were 1 match point behind us, so with a win, they’d tie us for first in the division.

There was some controversy over the match date and lineups. I wrote about this on the Mechanics blog (here), Seattle responded (here), and I responded in the comments section (here) – that seems to have ruffled some feathers in Seattle.

In any case, due to the change, I had the white pieces against GM Hikaru Nakamura. I beat him last year in league play (the game can be replayed here) and narrowly missed beating him in rapid play in Germany this summer (see the post here). He’s the highest rated player in the league, and after crossing 2700 FIDE on the October 2008 rating list, he’s the 2nd-highest rated player in the US behind GM Gata Kamsky. The game can be replayed on the USCL site, here.

GM Vinay Bhat (2498 FIDE) – GM Hikaru Nakamura (2704 FIDE)
USCL (Week 7, Board 1), 08.10.2008 [King’s Indian Defense]

1.d4 Nf6

Hikaru showed up late, so he lost 7 minutes on the clock.

2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 Nc6

An offbeat line. Hikaru has normally played 6…e5 here, but he also plays everything under the sun so I wasn’t expecting any specific opening.

7.d5 Nb8

A rather eccentric move. When I looked over the game, I hadn’t expected to find this move in the database, but there were over 300 games with it!

It reminds me a bit of 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8!?!?. I was alerted to the existence of this line when flipping through a copy of Khalifman’s “Opening for White According to Anand, Volume 5”, which at least according to the table of contents, spends close to 10 pages discussing how to get +/= against this line.

Anyways, I didn’t expect to refute 7…Nb8, but this can’t be the most challenging line for Black in the King’s Indian.


8.h3!? takes away the …Bg4 idea, but this may not be a move White wants to play in some lines either. Black can also think about breaking with …e6 here, as his bishop will cover the e6 square.

8…Bg4 9.Be3

I briefly considered, 9.Qb3, which is common in lines where Black deploys his light-squared bishop so early, but with d4-d5 already in, Black can play 9…Nbd7 and eye the weak c5-square.;

9.h3 was the other major option, taking the bishop pair. After 9…Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nbd7 White will likely play to exchange on c6 when Black plays …c6, to try and open up the position a bit for the bishops. White’s a bit better, but I decided I’d rather have a knight here.

9…Nbd7 10.Nd4 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Rc8 12.f4 c6


Anticipating …cxd5 at some point. There were two general alternatives I looked at:

(a) 13.dxc6 changes the pawn structure, and if White can play e4-e5, he will be happy, but I didn’t see any way of forcing that in.;

(b) 13.Bf2 tries to push e4-e5, but now the f4-pawn is a bit weak. 13…Nh5 , hits the pawn and covers the e5-square.


Black, meanwhile, anticipates an …cxd5/exd5 exchange, when the e7-pawn will need protection.

14.Kh1 Qa5

14…e6 is not a good idea, as after 15.dxe6 fxe6 16.Nc2 , Black can play neither …e5 (because of f4-f5) nor …d5 (because of e4-e5). Meanwhile, White can even think of c4-c5 pawn sacrifices at times to secure the e4-e5 advance.


The bishop gets tucked away to prepare the e4-e5 advance while getting away from any future …Ng4/…Nh5 annoyances.

15…cxd5 16.cxd5!

16.exd5 was my intended recapture had Black recaptured earlier. White retains a bit more control of the position, but I thought I’d only have a symbolic advantage here. The e7-pawn is somewhat weak, but Black has enough defenders while White has no easy inroads elsewhere.

However, since 13.Rac1!?, I thought I had gotten more done with my past two moves than Black had and felt I could play for more with 16.cxd5. The queen is a bit exposed on a5 and e4-e5 is hanging in the air.]


White was threatening 17.Nb3 Qb4 18.e5 dxe5 19.fxe5 Nh5 20.e6 Ne5 21.Bd4! f6 22.g4, trapping the knight on h5. Thus, Black has to add an attacker to the d5-pawn for now.



a) 17…Rc5? 18.Qxa5 Rxa5 19.b4 leaves Black’s rook seriously misplaced after the required 19…Ra6 (19…Ra3? 20.Ndb5 Ra6 21.Nc7 is losing.) ;

b) 17…Qxb5 18.Ndxb5 and the a7-pawn and b6-knight are targeted by the knight and bishop on g1.;

c) 17…Nc4 18.b3 a6 19.Qxa5 Nxa5 20.Nf3 is still about equal.

17…Na4 18.Nb1?!

(a) 18.b4 Nxc3 19.Rxc3 Qa4 20.Rfc1 Rxc3 21.Rxc3 a5 is about equal.;

(b) 18.Ncb5! was the right move, and one I had spent some time on. 18…Qd8 (I had seen the nice line 18…a6 19.Nc7!! Rxc7 20.Nb3 and Black’s queen can’t stay in touch with the rook on c7. Black’s lost. For example, 20…Rxc1 21.Nxa5 Rxf1 22.Qxf1 Nxe4 23.b3 Nac3 24.Nxb7+-) 19.Rxc8 Qxc8 20.Nxa7 Qg4. I had seen this far, but was confused as what to do next. I didn’t see any good way to hang onto my extra pawn. I considered 21.Qb5 (21.Qc4! is better for White, though.) 21…Qd7 22.Qxd7 Nxd7 when objectively, the position is about equal, but I didn’t see any way to save the pawn. Black is playing …Nf6 next, to hit e4/d5 if White guards b2. Frustrated, I realized I was running low on time and just played Nb1.

18…Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Qa6 20.Qc2?!

White had two better choices, both leading to unclear endgames. Due to the reduced material, I’d guess both should end in draws.

(a) 20.Qxa6 bxa6 21.Nd2 Nc5 (21…Nxb2 22.Rc6 Nd3 23.Rxa6 is another way to continue.) 22.b4 Ncxe4 23.Nxe4 Nxe4 24.Rc6 with an unclear endgame.;

(b) 20.Nd2 Nxb2 (20…Qxe2 21.Nxe2 Nxb2 22.Rb1 Nd7 23.Nd4²) 21.Qxa6 bxa6 22.Ne2! with an unclear endgame.

20…Nc5 21.Nd2 Nd3

21…Qd3 22.Qxd3 Nxd3 23.Rc7 is not crystal clear, but likely about equal. 23…Nxb2 (23…Ng4 24.N4f3 Bxb2 25.a4 Nxf4 26.Rxb7) 24.Rxb7 Nd3 25.Rxa7 Nxf4 In these lines, White will end up with an extra a-pawn, but Black takes a kingside pawn and has some active piece play. In some lines, he’ll also play …e6 to activate the rook along the e-file. The endgames are not crystal clear to me, but likely about equal in the end.



A strange oversight from Hikaru. After the game, he explained he was under the weather, so that might explain this lackadaisical move. Black wants to bring the knight to b6, to play …Rc8, but he won’t have enough time here.

22…Ng4! is a move he’d normally see and play right away. Black threatens …Ndf2+, forcing some exchanges on f2 followed by a capture on d4. White’s problem is that he has no really constructive move:

a) 23.Nc4? Nxb2! wins a pawn.;

b) 23.N2f3? Nxf4 wins a pawn again.;

c) 23.N4b3? b6! and with …Rc8 next, Black is still in charge. (23…Nxb2 24.h3! misplaces the black knight a bit.) ;

d) 23.h3 Ngf2+ 24.Rxf2 (24.Bxf2 Nxf2+ 25.Rxf2 Bxd4 26.Rf3 b6 when Black is clearly better. He has the more compact pawn structure, the bishop, and the open c-file (after …Rc8). For example,  27.b4 Rc8 28.Qd3 Qxd3 29.Rxd3 Bb2 leaves Black clearly better) 24…Bxd4 25.Rf1 Bxg1 (25…Bg7 when I think Black enjoys a steady advantage. The computer, however, finds an interesting resource: 26.b4 Qxa3 27.Nc4 Qc3 28.Qxc3 Bxc3 29.Rf3 Rc8 30.Nxd6 exd6 31.Rxd3 Bxb4 32.Bxa7=) 26.Kxg1 b6 again with a clear advantage for Black.

23.b4 Bxd4

23…Qxa3 24.Nc4 picks up the knight.

24.Bxd4 Nb6

24…g5 doesn’t save Black. The hope is to open the e5-square for the knight to retreat, but White simply plays 25.g3 , when Qb3 and b5 are still on tap. Meanwhile 25…gxf4 26.gxf4 only helps White because he can add Rg1+ to his list of threats.


The finishing blow – there’s no way to stop b4-b5 next, cutting the knight of from its support. Maybe Hikaru was banking on 25.Bxb6 axb6 26.Qb3 Ra8 27.b5 (27.a4 still wins a piece, though, although after 27…Nxf4 28.Rxf4 Qxa4 , it’s marginally more difficult than in the game.) 27…Qxa3 , which keeps in touch with the knight.


25…Qb5 26.Bxb6 axb6 27.a4 also wins a piece.

26.Rxf4 Rc8 27.Rf1 Qe2 28.Qf3


28…Qxd2?? 29.Qxf7#


With the queens off the board, the rest really is just a matter of technique. Black can safely resign, but Hikaru decided to see if I could blow a piece-up ending two weeks in a row.

29…Rc2 30.Bxb6 axb6 31.Kg1 Ra2 32.Rc1 Rxa3 33.Rc7 Kf8 34.Rxb7 Re3 35.Rxb6 Rxe4 36.Kf2 h6


There are, of course, other ways to win this endgame. I decided that transferring the knight to the queenside (either a5 or c6, depending on the situation) was the simplest, and for that, I wanted to have the d5-pawn protected. Right now, Black can’t approach the pawn because the knight covers e5 and d4, but once it leaves, it will be useful.

37…e5 38.Nd2 Rd4 39.Nb3 Rc4 40.Na5 Rc2+ 41.Kf1 Rc1+ 42.Ke2 Rc2+ 43.Kd1 Rxg2

The kingside pawns aren’t so important, as I just want to queen my b-pawn.

44.Rb8+ Kg7 45.b5 e4 46.b6 Rg5 47.Ra8 and Black resigned.

After 47.Ra8 , Black resigned because if: 47…Rxd5+ 48.Ke2 Rb5 49.b7 . The pawn queens, leaving White a rook and knight up.