Nakamura Triumphs in the Super Sixteen Rapid in London
Monday, 16 December 2013 09:39
26-year-old US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura of the USA has won the 5th London Chess Classic, staged this year as a rapid chess tournament and billed as the Super Sixteen Rapid. The top American grandmaster defeated former world championship finalist Boris Gelfand of Israel by 1½-½ in the final.
As the world number four on the FIDE Rating List for classical chess, and number three at rapid chess, the result was far from being a surprise but it was a significant achievement in the career of a remarkable player who must be a leading contender to threaten Magnus Carlsen’s world crown in the next few years.
Hikaru’s progression through the competition was impressive. He scored +2, =4, -0 in the preliminary phase, and then improved that to +3, =3, -0 against sterner opposition in the knock-out phase. To go through without a loss was a clear sign of strength.
His toughest moment was when he came close to elimination in his second semi-final game with Vladimir Kramnik but he showed an amazing resilience in first holding the former world champion at bay and then taking advantage of Kramnik’s evident state of confusion to finish the match off with a win.
In the final match against Boris Gelfand, Hikaru showed the courage of his convictions by going straight for an ultra-sharp tactic in the opening against a player who had hitherto proved himself the best defender in the event, and also at this time control in world championship qualifiers. They say ‘fortune favours the brave’ and Hikaru’s conquest of this elite rapid chess event backs that up. Congratulations to him.
The Final: Nakamura 1½-½ Gelfand
Game 1 - win for Nakamura
Hikaru received the white pieces in the draw for colours conducted by chief arbiter Albert Vasse, and they launched into a Grünfeld Defence, one of the most fashionable of all current super-GM openings. Hikaru's 10.Ng5 is quite a double-edged move but Boris avoided the standard continuation 10...Nb6 by playing instead 10...Nc6. Hikaru's response was brave and speculative – 11.Nxf7!? – a move we all like to play against a castled king, whatever level we play at.
On the face of it, the line looks very dodgy for Black as he has to give up the exchange, but it is almost inconceivable that Boris wouldn’t have something prepared for this. By way of compensation he demolished the white centre and got his minor pieces to strong outposts. Was it enough? The unofficial grandmaster jury in the VIP Room was undecided: the Hiarcs engine thought White was better around move 15 but Matthew Sadler and others preferred Black.
Hikaru may not have been entirely confident of his chances as he thought for nine minutes about his 16th move: quite a big chunk of his allotted 25 minutes. However, within a few moves, the initiative seemed to have shifted back to the American after Boris played the dubious 17...Ne4. "He's blown it," exclaimed GM Julian Hodgson, perhaps a little melodramatically. Then, calming down slightly, "I think Hikaru's over the worst now – he'll survive."
Julian might have been right the first time. The next few moves saw Hikaru consolidate his material advantage, in machine-like fashion, and Boris never really looked like getting back into the game. At move 25 he used around half of his remaining six minutes, suggesting he was running out of ideas. More solid moves followed from Hikaru and Boris had to resign.
Game 2 - draw
Boris, with White, played the Averbakh variation of the King's Indian Defence. It followed theory for about 15 moves and Boris acquired a space advantage. However, Black’s position remained playable and White couldn’t bring any real pressure to bear on it.
Hikaru used his tactical prowess to exchange queens and then give up the exchange for two pawns. It might sound risky but Black’s pieces remained well-coordinated and Boris’s pair of rooks had no useful inroads. Boris pressed too hard and made a slip. Eventually only Hikaru could win the position but, since he didn’t need to, he was happy to acquiesce to a draw.
What a gripping competition! Thanks to Malcolm Pein and his team for their hard work, the players for their wonderful chess, and to everyone at home and at the venue for being a great audience. See you all again this time next year!
For photos to accompany this press release, please go to our Flickr Press Photos page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnchess2/sets/72157638571169226/
For more information about the London Chess Classic, please go to www.londonchessclassic.com
Report by John Saunders