The Hikaru Nakamura Blog

Musings by Hikaru Nakamura on life, chess, and travel. Don't forget to subscribe to receive timely updates.

Gibraltar Round 1

January 27, 2009 • General

Today I started my defense of the Gibraltar Telecom Open which I won last year in spectacular fashion. Coming off of a few stressful weeks, it is nice to be back in Gibraltar where the lovely weather and friendly people are always a welcome sight for me. In the first round game, I played the young Polish FM, Arkadiusz Leniart with Black. The game started fairly routinely out of the opening until he had a seizure and decided to try and play the hero. The whole Bh6 idea with Ng5 was a beginners try at a hopeful mate. I was able to defend quite easily and the game wasn’t much of a challenge. A good start is just what I needed, and I will check back in tomorrow for all the eager fans.

Gjovik Rapid Aker Challenge Day 3

January 05, 2009 • General

In the 5th game of the tournament I got black against GM Lie and chose to play a modern/pirc. The position was fine for me, but choosing to play Bg4 in conjunction with Nd7,Rc8 and c5 was probably inaccurate. Afterwards he found the very strong idea of 16.b4 followed by 17.Na2!. After a long variation of moves, he ended up a pawn, but the position is probably equal still due to the everlasting weakness on c2. A justified result probably would have been a draw here, but Lie went badly astray with 25.Bg5 Re8 26.exf5 gxf5 27.f4?? which allowed the very strong 27…Ng6 after which he is just losing. With Peter losing to Magnus, this made the whole situation complicated. Many people have wondered why I took a draw with Magnus in the last round.

My general strategy was to avoid much risk and head for blitz if necessary. As it turned out, Peter would go on to beat Kjetil which left the latter with the score of 0/6 and led to a three way tiebreak. In the first game I was simply not ready for blitz and used way too much time before the game even really got started. This led to me getting a horrendous position before Peter blundered when we were both in time pressure by allowing me to pick off his a4 pawn with 30…a5! . I probably had some drawing chances here, but due to the time disadvantage I had, I missed a nice tactical shot with 38. Ra8 followed by 39. Qe7. In the second tiebreak game, Peter chose to play into the Ruy against Magnus and got another bad position with little counterplay as they went into the endgame. He slowly got ground down and lost. This left me in the very unpleasant situation of having to win with White against Magnus in the final blitz game. Magnus again chose to play the Slav against me but with 4…dxc4. I chose to play the 5.e4 variation because the situation dictated that I needed to play for a win and although I normally would have played the 5.a4 lines with 6.e3 and 7.Bxc4, I figured that creating a messy position was a better choice. The ensuing position is very complicated and although I was down two pawns, it was much easier for me to play. I have seen various comments suggesting that I was not in fact winning. However, I was up about 10 seconds when I went wrong with 34.Bxh6. After 34.Rf6! Kc7 (Kb7) then I have a very big advantage after 35.Ra2. When you consider the time in this position too, it should be winning with all the threats looming on d5/f7/h6. Alas, once queens came off, I might still be able to play for a win, but I’m not the one with the obvious moves anymore. As is, I completely panicked and blundered horribly by sacrificing a piece.

In conclusion, I am not disappointed with my games against Kjetil or Magnus as I felt I played very well overall. However, I am far from pleased with my games against Peter as I played badly in all three of the games. Perhaps I should have played for a win in the final game against Magnus, but I felt that blitz should be favourable for me. Unfortunately, whether it is due to taking classical chess far more seriously or just a lack of blitz on ICC or anywhere else, I seem to be quite a bit slower than I used to be. Overall, I came here with very low expectations due to my lack of preparation, sickness and personal problems. So I am quite pleased that I had two winning positions against the number four player in the world. In the future, I just have to find a way to play well against Peter as I now have a nice score of .5/4.

Today I will play Kjetil in the match format and hopefully I can pull it together and win. After a long day yesterday, my goal is simply to just forget and try to play good chess on the final day. I will also take this opportunity to announce that I will be playing in the Canadian Open from July 11-19, 2009 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that I am currently spending most of my time in Europe and New York right now, not Vancouver.

Gjovik Rapid Aker Challenge Day 2

January 04, 2009 • General

Once again, just like in Cap D’Agde, I got off the snide by playing a solid game against Magnus with Black in the third round. Overall, I felt that the whole Nh4 idea with g4, Qe3 and f4 was slightly too optimistic. After the more natural 18.Nd4 Qe5 19. Qe3 Rae8 the position might be slightly better for White. However, the ensuing endgame was still roughly equal until Magnus went for the risky 40.Nd1. After 40.f5 g5 41. f6!? the position remains very complicated. However after 40.Nd1 Bd5 41.Nc3 Rd4 Magnus made the final blunder with 42.Kg3? After 42.Re3 Rxf4 43. Kg3 Rcf8 44.Nxd5 cxd5 45. Rxd5 the game should end in a draw. The position is already very bad for Magnus, but 43. Nxd5 loses on the spot. Later on, Svidler suggested 44. Re3 Re8! 45.Kf2 Rxf4 46. Ke2, but after 46…Rxe3 47.Kxe3 Rxg4 48. Nxd5 cxd5 49.Rxd5 c3 and White is probably losing in the endgame. Overall, it wasn’t my best game ever, but I played very solidly and avoided ever getting into any trouble with Black.

In round 4, I had white against Svidler. After the debacle yesterday, my goal was to try and play relatively quietly with very few complications. As it turned out, Peter surprised me by choosing the Cherbanenko Slav with 4…a6. Sadly, after a few more natural moves, I confused the move order by playing 8.Be2 first instead of 8.Nd2 followed by 9.Be2. Peter then chose to play 8…Ne4 which is a very strong and completely equalizing move. The next critical point came on move 15 when I went for the ambitious g4 as opposed to the standard 15.Qd2; however, after 15…Re8 16. 0-0-0 h5 Black has the very simple plan of Nf8-e6 and probably a small advantage. In game we reached an interesting position after my critical pawn sacrifice with 22.g5!? In reality, this pawn sacrifice is actually probably losing, but it seemed like the most logical choice considering the game situation. After 22…Qxg5 23.0-0-0 Rae8 was definitely a blunder. After 23…Rf5 24.Rg1 Qf6 25.Rhg2 Bf7, it is hard to see how I can obtain any real compensation for the pawn sacrifice. In the game though, after 24.Rdg1 Bf7, for some reason I hallucinated and overlooked the rather obvious 25.Nxf4 Bh6 26.Rg4 after which either Rh1 or Qh2 follow. As is, the game continuation with 25. Rg4 led to a more or less forced draw. As is, it was a justified result since we both made blunders.

Overall, it was definitely a successful day as I remain in the hunt to make the finals. Today, I will try my best just like the past two days and we shall see what happens. I will also put up some annotations on a few games from this tournament after it ends. Until I check back tomorrow, I hope everyone has a great Sunday.

Gjovik Rapid Aker Challenge Day 1

January 03, 2009 • General

Hello to everyone. As I have just finished my preparation for today’s second round games, I will take this opportunity to make a few brief remarks about my two games yesterday. In the first game I was black against GM Peter Svidler. Surprisingly, we have only played once despite crossing paths at several different paths. In that game back in 2002 i(wow have 6 1/2 years really gone by that quickly?) n the Dominican Republic. In that game I was black and made the ill-advised choice of the Najdorf and got crushed by a very strong novelty. This time around, I made a much better opening choice by playing the Caro Kann. Peter surprised me with the interesting 8.Na3!? After a couple of moves I obtained a very nice position and was equal until I blundered badly with 14…a6? If I had simply played Bc5, I probably would have been able to draw with relative ease. Alas, after the very strong 15.c4 I went astray quickly and lost horribly.

In the second game I had white against Kjetil Lie who is coming off a phenomenal performance in the Olympiad. In this game, I chose to play an unsound pawn sacrifice with the very early a3-b4 in the English. The one other time I played this variation (Nakamura-Wojtkiewicz, 2004) the gambit was declined. However, this time around Kjetil (I cannot pronounce the name remotely near how it is supposed to sound) showed no fear and grabbed the pawn. I suspect that at some point he was quite a bit better, but due to a shortage of time and uncertainty as to whether to play for a win or a draw he played a little too passively and fell victim of a very powerful attack after 19.d4 Bxd4 20.Nd5. I have yet to analyze this position with rybka, but it is definitely difficult to play if you are A)short of time and B)not a computer. Objectively, I am sure that there is an adequate defense and Black is winning, but it seemed like the right idea considering the circumstances. Kjetil was unable to find this defense and lost to my very strong kingside attack.

So going into the second day, I currently have 1/2. Overall, it was not the score I was hoping for, but that is life. I suspect that what irks me more about it is that 1 move is really the only difference between the desired result and what I have now. However, this tournament reminds me in many ways of Cap D’Agde as I also played there after a long break of 6 weeks. In the first round there, I lost horrendously to Radjabov when I overlooked an obvious tactic. That tournament didn’t turn out too badly for me, so I hope that the same holds true for me here. Today I am Black against Carlsen and white against Svidler, so I will definitely have to play some more enthusiastic chess than I did yesterday. If not, then it’s unlikely I’ll be playing for a shot at winning this rapid tournament.

2008 Recap

January 02, 2009 • General

Happy New Year to everyone out there in the wide world from Gjovik, Norway. I do apologize for not blogging over the past few weeks, but I have been busy with quite a few non-chess related personal matters. As most people know, I am getting ready to play in the rapid supertournament here with Carlsen, Svidler and Lie, but there will be plenty of time to discuss this event over the coming days and weeks. For now though, I would like to take an opportunity to look back on my 2008 and what a year it was both for chess and other stuff.

2008 Recap

January: Coming off of a great fall/winter run in 2007 including wins in the Magistral Casino tournament and the Corsica Rapids, I started 2008 in a less than inspiring fashion as I started the Gibraltar Open with a miserable 3/5. However, as luck would have it, I turned everything around and won my final five games in a magical finale with wins against Hebden, Petrosian and Efimenko in the last three rounds. I would then go on to win the rapid final against GM Bu to win the whole tournament. I will attempt to defend this title shortly, but the great win there jump started my year.

February: There really isn’t much that I can say about this month as the only tournament I played was the US Amateur Team Championship. I went 6/6 with relatively few notable games. Other than this, it was also notable because both my mother and brother celebrated birthdays on the 4th and 7th respectively.

March: March marked the beginning of what likely will become fairly standard for me as I began my career in the European Chess Leagues. I started playing in the French League for Antibes. During the first leg, I scored 2/3 with 2 draws and 1 win. Once again, much like February this was a slow month overall, but still successful.

April: Surprisingly this month marked both the beginning and end of life as I knew it. During this month there was much upheaval in my life. The month started rather unauspiciously with the second leg of the French League. I once again put together a stellar result in the French League, scoring 2/3. It was shortly after this the year truly began for me as I packed my bags and headed for the Great Northwest aka Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Although I may not have fallen in love with it immediately due to the cold weather and snow! The next few months were some of the very best of my life.

May: I played the Chicago Open which, as it turned out, would end up being my second and final tournament in the US during the year. Much like the previous open in Gibraltar, I did not get off to the most inspiring of starts as I went and lost a very bad game to GM Friedel. However, I was able to recover with a few key wins and tie for first on 5.5/7 with GMs Akobian and Petrosian. On the tail end of the month, I scored an extremely solid 3.5/4 in the third and final leg of the French League. This led both to me becoming only the 2nd American to ever break 2700 as well as achieving the best performance on board 1 with 7.5/10.

June: Unfortunately after such a great run during the first five months of the year, this was when several important streaks ended for me. I played the National Open against my better judgement and my grueling schedule in May finally caught up with me as I scored a miserable 4/6 and thus ended my unbeaten streak in Nevada. Although I guess all good things must come to an end sooner or later.

July: During this month, the only tournament I played was in the Mainz Chess Festival. Surprisingly, despite going there with my eye on winning the rapids, I ended up winning the Fischer Random Open tournament instead with 9/11. Sadly, I also had a shot at winning the rapids too, but unfortunately I blew a completely winning position against GM Almasi which ended that dream. Overall though, it was a successful tournament nevertheless and I will almost certainly be back there this year as well.

August: This was another relatively quiet month for me as I only played in the Japanese Chess League. I scored the standard 7/7 without playing anyone particularly strong, but it was enjoyable returning to my homeland once again. After this, I returned to Canada and played in the Montreal International. This tournament started off well for me, but due to several outside circumstances as well as getting sick ruined the second half and I scored a dreadful 5.5/9.

September: During this month, I returned to Vancouver and did not play any over the board chess. However, I did play a few games in the US Chess League which was both fun and enjoyable as I helped the Seattle Sluggers make the playoffs. Overall this month was a lot of fun as I saw quite a bit of British Columbia besides just the Vancouver area. the highlight of this month was probably when I went kayaking out at Belcarra National Park near Port Moody. As is, it was a great month which definitely marked the high point of my time in Vancouver.

October: After a break of about 7 weeks, I really was unsure how I would respond when I returned for the rapid tournament in Cap D’Agde. However, the break seemed to have been just the medicine as I needed as I played some of my most consistently solid chess that I can ever recall. This led to some memorable wins against Karpov and Ivanchuk which I will never forget.

November: This month was also quite memorable although just like the others, it definitely did not feel that way. This olympiad in Dresden which was my second seemed to be going downhill from the start for us, as we got off to another slow start. But in a run very reminiscent of 2006, each of the team members won certain critical games and it was truly a team effort as we got the bronze.

December: During this past month I did not play any chess, choosing instead to relax on the west coast in both Seattle and Vancouver. It was also during this month that I celebrated my 21st birthday. Overall it was an interesting month filled with some great experiences as well as some personal experiences which I would desperately like to try and forget about.

2009: Looking ahead to this year, I have many resolutions and goals both chess and non-chess related. Hopefully I can achieve them, but either way I hope that this year can be the start of a great future for everyone. Hopefully, President-Elect Obama can lead the US back from the precipice which President Bush seems to have put the country on. I also sincerely hope that the economy will also recover somewhat despite the gloomy economic forecasts which seem to persist in these uncertain times. Despite these troubled times, I choose to look forward with hope and optimism and I certainly hope it can be fulfilled during this year.