Hikaru Nakamura on a roll

Hikaru Nakamura demonstrated in Gibraltar that super-GMs can show their extra class in open tournaments. In issue 2015#2 of New In Chess magazine editor Jan Timman reviews Nakamura’s games. Timman still regards Nakamura as a possible challenger of Magnus Carlsen, especially if he refines his endgame technique.

By Jan Timman

Nakamura played in Gibraltar, which meant that he skipped the Tata tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Nakamura had no regrets. In an interview with Chess.com immediately after the tournament he explained that the weather in Gibraltar was better than in the wintry north. The open Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival is so strongly contested that if you score well, you end up playing in a strong grandmaster tournament. The American immediately set a blistering pace, winning five games on the trot.

Crucial for the final result was what happened in Round 6. Nakamura was playing Topalov, who had also decided to play an open tournament again. The battle between the two heavyweights proceeded more or less equally.

Hikaru Nakamura – Veselin Topalov
Gibraltar 2015 (6)
Notes by Jan Timman

1.e4 c5 2.♘f3 d6 3.♗b5+ ♘d7 4.a4 ♘f6 5.♘c3 e6 6.d4 cxd4 7.♕xd4 a6 8.♗e2 b6 9.0 0 ♗b7 10.♖d1 ♕c7 11.♗g5 ♗e7 12.♘d2 h6 13.♗h4 ♘e5 14.♘f1 ♖d8 15.♗g3 0 0 16.♘e3 ♖c8 17.♔h1 ♖fd8 18.f3 ♘h5 19.♗f2 ♘f4 20.♗f1 ♘fg6 21.♕d2 ♗g5 22.♕e1 ♘f4

White has got nothing out of a Sicilian opening. On the contrary: Black has got very active play.

Yet White has nothing to fear, since there are no obvious weaknesses in his position. Nakamura now decides to go for repetition.

23.♗g3 ♘h5 24.♗f2 ♕e7

Topalov was trailing by half a point, which is probably why he wanted to play for a win. The text is somewhat unfortunate, since it causes the b-pawn to lose its cover, while the black queen is unable to bolster Black’s initiative on the kingside.

25.♖a3 ♘f4 26.♖b3 ♖c6 27.♘e2 Freeing himself from Black’s pressure. 27…♘xe2 28.♗xe2 ♖dc8 29.c3 ♘d7 30.♘c2

White can already start thinking about an advantage.

30…d5 A badly timed pawn push, but after 30…♘c5 31.♖a3 Black’s life wouldn’t be easy either.

31.♘b4 ♖c5 32.exd5 ♖a5 33.♘c6! With a large advantage. White finished the job flawlessly.

‘Objectively I never should have won,’ Nakamura later observed. But it was the win that virtually guaranteed him final victory.

Nakamura came very close to doing a ‘Caruana’ in Gibraltar, but missed a win in a rook endgame against Howell that ended in a draw. In the final round, Nakamura got another rook ending a pawn up that resulted in a draw. The result didn’t threaten his tournament victory, but it was a disappointment nevertheless.

When you’re getting near the 2800 level, every half point is welcome. Nevertheless Nakamura has reached the point where, like Caruana and Giri, he must be regarded as a serious candidate to challenge for the world championship. Caruana and Giri both have an experienced GM for a coach, and their opening repertoires have been refined to a T.

This is not something Nakamura can say. But he does have a very good sense for which opening to go for, looking for systems that he really understands. And he will have every chance in the world to develop his opening repertoire further. The same goes for the endgame. Studying the standard works by Dvoretsky and Nunn will probably enable him to make him more accurate in the final phase.

In New In Chess magazine 2015#2, that was published this week, Nakamura himself annotates his win against Anand in Zurich in a rapid game. The magazine furthermore has annotations by Naidistch (his win over Carlsen), Giri, So, Vachier-Lagrave and many more.

For more information click here: New In Chess

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