The Hikaru Nakamura Blog

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

Marshall Invitational, Fame, Tennis, Basketball

June 23, 2009 • General

Hello once again to everyone out there. As a courtesy to one of my fellow friends, I have decided to blog about the comical events of another crazy summer day in New York. Early this afternoon, I chose to go into the city as several friends who were playing in the Marshall Invitational were interested in some singles/doubles. I must admit that anytime I go to the Marshall these days, it feels like I am in a foreign country. I guess this is what happens you show up at your old stomping ground years later. Shortly after this, a few of us went out for lunch and ate some burgers, while a certain unnamed player decided to show a great game from the morning round of the Marshall Invitational (Diagram below).

IM Esserman-Sorkin, Marshall Invitational (7) 22.6.2009

During our analysis with unnamed player we discussed how during the game there was a repitition involving Qd2, Nc6 Qh6 Nb4. Here though, the unnamed player explained that he had analyzed with Rybka and concluded that the fantastic Rc3! is winning. During our analysis this wins by force as Black loses to Nxd5 Nf5!! gxf5 Rg3 Bg6 exf5. Another possible line is Rc3 e6 Rg3 after which White has unstoppable threats. Unfortunately, this mysterious player did not see this tactic, but I still find the tactic quite instructive. After some fun analyzing this and a few other games from this tournament, the four of us headed off to play tennis. As we headed further up the Upper West Side, an older couple stopped nearby and said “Wait, is that Hikaru Nakamura?” Somehow this caught me by surprise and I ran into none other than ChessFM journalist Macauley Peterson’s parents. This was certainly a welcome surprise, and it is always nice to see that in certain circles and areas of America, chess is prominent.

After we reached the Central Park Tennis Courts, it turned out there were no available courts. After dawdling around and considering some options for about a half hour, two older gentleman who had been playing for three hours, started talking about chess within our earshot. Shortly thereafter, they started playing a game. We expected the players to be somewhat weak, but the opening started with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4! This was definitely a surprise considering the level of chess any serious player is used to seeing outside of actual tournaments. Although Black went on the err with 4…c5 ?! (Top choice according to Rybka!) it was clear the players weren’t too bad. Nevertheless, they had already played tennis, so we were unable to hustle them for a tennis court which sucked considerably.

Since our plan to play tennis was an epic fail (There’s my pretender 2000’s lingo) we decided to go and play basketball. A specific unnamed person was challenged to a game of one-on-one by a little 6th grader who wasn’t even 5 feet, while the anonymous basketball player stands over 6 feet tall. This turned into a funny game involving about 10 missed shots from the paint and then some putbacks. We then decided to play some three-on-three involving first to eleven. After my team confidently won the first game, we changed the teams around. This game was very close and involved quite a bit of trash talking involving the unnamed person. After the opposing team took a 10-9 lead, I drained a three pointer to supposedly win the game 11-10. However, Mr. X then said it should be first to win by two points! This led to the game ending up tied at 12-12 before I hit another game winning three pointer. One might ask what this has to do with anything. Originally, I had no intentions of blogging about today, however, Mr. X said “I know you are going to blog about this later,” so I felt compelled to write up the events of today just for Mr. X.

As a general sidenote, involving chess, I would like to congratulate IM Lev Milman who made his first (I think) GM norm today in the New York International with a very nice victory over GM Leonid Yudasin. Lev was always very talented when he was younger, and although he put aside his chess ambitions in favour of college and a more traditional lifestyle, it is great to see that he is still capable of playing great chess at times. Congrats, Lev, you deserve it! As for the other player who was in the running for a norm, IM, Sam Shankland of California, he got completely destroyed by GM Giorgi Kacheishvili and missed a norm. This really did not surprise me as I do not feel he is of GM strength yet. It is now going on 3 AM, so I will try to get some sleep or else it’s going to be time for endless double shots at Starbucks tomorrow morning.

Chess Events, Sports, Book, Life

June 22, 2009 • General

Good afternoon to everyone on another completely overcast and miserable day here in New York. It has been some time since I last blogged and this has been due to a variety of reasons. I have also started my preparation for both the World Open and San Sebastian beginning this week, so that is occupying a lot of my time at the present moment. Before I get into all the chess topics which I am sure everyone is anxious to read about, I’d like to start by talking about sports.

First, I was highly impressed with the Pittsburgh Penguins when they came back at 3 different points in the series to beat the Detroit Red Wings. Normally, come June, I have little interest in the playoffs as the teams I root for tend to be long gone. However, along with much of the hockey world, I was glad to see the Wings lose, and for Sid The Kid to get his first ring despite the fact that the true star on the Penguins was Malkin. Overall, kudos to the Pens on a title well deserved. Sadly, despite a great start to the NBA Playoffs involving probably the best opening round series between the Bulls and Celtics, fizzled out considerably towards the end. The Cavaliers who were the clear favourites from the start of the season were completely overmatched against the Magic. Despite Lebron’s great individual performance it was simply not enough to overcome the play from the trio of Turkoglu, Lewis and Howard. In the west, the Lakers had a much tougher road than the Magic, but they were able to turn it on when they got into trouble against both the Rockets and the Nuggets. Although the Lakers beat the Magic 4-1 in the final, the Magic had excellent opportunities to win in games 3 (Love missed the layup at the buzzer) and game 4 (Howard should have hit his free throws). However, I’m sure the young and inexperienced Magic team will learn from the experience and come back as a better team next year. Nevertheless, nothing can be taken away from the Lakers or Phil Jackson who proved that he is the greatest coach of all time and can find ways to win championships even when he doesn’t have a certain player called Michael Jordan on his team. As far as other sporting events go, I was highly disappointed in the final round of the US Open today when Mickelson and Duval came up just short against a couple of random players. Also, I randomly noticed that the US was able to qualify for the semifinals in Soccer, but as I do not follow this sport, I really have nothing to say other than that I am quite convinced they’ll lose once again.

Now onto the more important stuff! I believe that tomorrow, my interview which was conducted on Saturday with John Watson for ChessFM should be appearing on ICC tomorrow. I hope that everyone enjoys the interview as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much more importantly, I got an invite the other day for Corus-A in January of 2010. Hopefully, I can keep up my good results and make a push at the super elite level of players. As it currently stands, my goal is still to reach 2730 by the end of the year and if I can continue to play well and remain in form, I should have good chances. Anyway, it should be an interesting next half year for me and probably the most important. Stay tuned for my results as I will be playing the World Open 3-day schedule starting July 3rd.

The other big piece of news which I have not mentioned much about is the chess book which I worked on for much of last fall and winter on bullet chess. The title of the book is Bullet Chess: One Minute To Mate, and it is co-authored by myself and Vancouver FM Bruce Harper. I hope that everyone likes it and it is already available for pre-order on Amazon. The current release date is set for September 3rd, 2009 and I hope that it interests people. Here is the actual link itself.

That is all for now. If anyone reading this blog is at the World Open, don’t mind saying hello!

French League Part III

June 02, 2009 • General

Well, I’m not sure where to begin with this blog. Coming off of the high from the US Championship, I headed to France 10 days later to continue my streak of solid play. Prior to the event, I just wanted to play some good chess and get my rating back over 2700 if possible. I assumed that a score of 3/4 would be good enough, but as fate would have it, I ended up completely outperforming this expectation. Onto the games…

In the first round, I was paired against GM Christian Bauer with White. Last year when I was playing for Antibes, I played Bauer with White in a very interesting and complicated English. This time around, I decided to play 1.e4 and we entered a complicated variation of the Scandinavian. The game was roughly equal until about move 23-24 when Bauer made several inaccurate moves as he neared time pressure. I grabbed a pawn and thought I was clearly better; however, the position actually remained relatively balanced as Bauer’s knight was better than my bishop. Fortunately, he didn’t find the most accurate variation and I was able to convert the advantage into a win right after time control. Although this game was not spectacular, a win is a win. Overall this was the worst game I played by far.

The French League is interesting in that you will always have an idea of who the top few boards on each team are, but actual lineups are only announced two hours before actual game play. This makes the league very similar to the swisses in the US as players must rely more on their knowledge than pure preparation which takes more time. The second round surprised me as I got a second consecutive white against GM Michal Krasenkow of Poland. The last time I played Krasenkow, (Barcelona, 2007) I played probably the most brilliant sacrifice of my chess career thus far, sacrificing a queen for free leading to a spectacular mating net. This time around, I played the Giuco with White, however, this time around Krasenkow chose to play much more aggressively and sacrificed a pawn right out of the opening. This sacrifice proved to be rather futile as I neutralized all of his potential kingside play and duly converted it into a win.

Coming off these first two games, I approached the situation as needing to play solidly. I did not put too much stock into my two wins as they were both with White and I would have to face two formidable opponents with the Black pieces. I got a bit of a break in the third round when I was Black against GM Robert Fontaine instead of the much stronger Vladislav Tkachiev. Before the game, our team captain Arnaud Hauchard said that Fontaine would play to draw, so I simply needed to play solidly. Although I assumed that Fontaine was probably a little scared of me, I did not expect him to play for a draw from move 1! After the first ten moves in the modern, I achieved clear equality and he started to go wrong pretty much instantly from moves 11-15. After this, it was simply a matter of technique and I was able to convert a relatively straight forward endgame. After this win, I was quite ecstatic as it meant I would have accomplished my goal of returning to the 2700+ level barring a huge collapse in the last game.

Whenever I travel to France, it is rather difficult to get on the time zone, so I attempt to accomplish my studying early in the morning (3-5 AM) and then sleep until about two hours before the round in the afternoon. However, this always catches up with me on the last day when the game is always at 10 or 11 AM. The last round was no exception and I barely got three hours of sleep before my game against GM Hichem Hamdouchi of Morocco with Black. For only the second time in my career, I chose to play the dragdorf as I felt it would be one of the lines which Hamdouchi would not be well prepared for. Hamdouchi started improvising right out of the gate when he chose to play a2-a3 and then a3-a4 on consecutive moves. This led to a small advantage for me which I was later able to convert when he sacrificed an exchange which led to a scramble. Out of the time pressure he got into, I was able to get a winning position once the smoke cleared. This led to a 4th consecutive victory. The team also won a relatively easy match and we became the French champions!

Looking back at the games themselves, I was quite proud of my play in three out of the four games, having played pretty close to perfectly. In the French League, I scored 7.5/8 overall against a 2584 average for a performance rating of 3028. This led to me winning the board two medal on top of everything else. Last year, I won the individual medal for board 1, so the real question is if there is any way that I can slide down to board 3! For now, this result puts me at 2710 which is an all-time high for me. Now, I will take three weeks off before I start studying again in preparation for the World Open and the San Sebastian Round Robin. Hopefully, I can remain in form and I will see everyone then!