The Hikaru Nakamura Blog

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

NH Rising Stars Update

August 21, 2009 • General

I will recap rounds 1-5 when we hit the rest day, but for now just a few quick comments on my first two rounds. In the first round game against GM Ljubojevic, we reached a very bizarre middlegame in which I was probably a bit worse. However, I was able to outplay my opponent towards the end of time control and reached a winning endgame only to simply hallucinate and forget where the White bishop ended up. This led to a draw. In the second round, I once again obtained a very promising position against GM van Wely after two inaccuries in the middlegame. With time control looming, I simply blundered horribly allowing a very cute e4-e3-e2 trick which led to an endgame in which Black has a fortress. What can I say about the first two games? I felt that I have played very well in general, but I am getting tired at critical points in the game. This probably has something to do with my health which has been steadily going downhill since the first day I arrived. Alas, I will now go back to sleep until the round.

Japan Recap

August 16, 2009 • General

Greetings to everyone from Japan once again. It seems that despite my best efforts to set certain time schedules for blogging, I end up doing it sooner than planned. Therefore, without further ado, I present a recap of the past week and all its wild adventures which were to be had. Enjoy!

Day 1: “Arrival”

Early Tuesday afternoon, I arrived at Tokyo Narita International Airport after a long 14 hour flight from Newark. Fortunately, due to all my traveling, I really did not feel like this was anything particularly surprising. For the first five hours of the flight, I slept like a baby so there really is nothing to mention there. After that, I spent the next two hours charging up my computer and then studying some chess for the tournament here in Japan. After I got bored by this, I chose to turn on the entertainment system and spent time admiring how much better movies were in the old days, having re-watched To Catch A Thief (Alfred Hitchcock) and Diamonds Are Forever (Who doesn’t love Sean Connery?). At this point, we were only two hours from landing, so I decided to spend the rest of my time reading Market Wizards Volume I. Not such a bad flight after all since it was quite productive.

After clearing customs, I was met by Ms. Watai and Mr. Ozaki, who are both members of the JCA (Japan Chess Federation). Both have been quite generous to me over the past couple of years since I started making my annual voyage out here each August for the tournament. We then took the train from the train station out to Kamata, which is where the tournament was being held. After my mother and I checked into our hotel, we pretty much crashed immediately. On a complete sidenote, one of the great things about coming to Japan is that there is always free high speed internet everywhere. One of my big pet peeves about Europe is the ability of hotels to rip people off for internet instead of simply having it like most places in Asia do. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world.

Day 2: “Let’s Try This Game Instead”

On the second day, my mother and I, along with Mr. Ozaki headed over to go see a shogi festival where the legendary Habu Yoshiharu played a rapid game. It was here, that I had the pleasure of meeting one of Habu and GM Joel Lautier’s friends, Jacques Pineau. Although this was nice, it led to me ending up playing several games of shogi in which I got absolutely destroyed…sigh. I guess you can’t be good at all games, eh? After this somewhat enjoyable, somewhat traumatic experience, we all went out and had a nice dinner at an eel restaurant as Habu put it. Nevertheless, despite all my trips to Japan, I will never get used to having to sit on tatami mats as they make my legs hurt! With a 10 AM round looming, we did not let it get too late and returned to Kamata as I got myself into chess mode.

Day 3: “And So It Begins”

After having a day and half of trying to get on the time zone, the tournament began the following day. As much as I would like to start talking about the games, the morning had an event which I have not felt for some time. Having woken up at 5 AM, I decided to take a short nap from 7-9AM. This was, however, cut abruptly short when I got awoken by my mother and instantly realized that my bed was shaking?! The day before we had left New York, there was an earthquake in Japan. Although we originally thought this was an aftershock, it turned out to be a completely different earthquake which measured 6.6 on the Richter Scale. This certainly was NOT what I expected before the round and certainly a new experience which is saying something considering all the traveling I have done.

In the first round, I was paired against the Japanese player, Ryo, Shiomi (2124). After a very quiet opening, my opponent fell apart pretty quickly after he could not come up with a good plan in the middlegame. I duly converted without any problems at all. The second game was a bit of a surprise as I played an unrated Japanese player Goto,Susumu. It appears that due to the Japanese tournaments being only 7 rounds in cases such as this one that some players never get a FIDE rating. However, since I had played him last year, I was quite aware that he was around 2000 strength. After a roughly equal position from the Scandinavian, I proceeded to outplay him in the ensuing queenless middlegame without any major issues. Obviously, it is good to get off to a good start, but I found it much more useful here since I had not played a classical game of chess since San Sebastian which was already nearly a month ago.

Day 4: “Keeping The Status Quo”

On the second day of the tournament, I was definitely surprised, when I noticed that I was paired against Nakamura. Luckily, I was not paired against myself, but against Ryuji (2177). In another typical game with White, I chose to play an extremely slow fianchetto opening and achieved a small advantage. However, I was able to slowly build up an advantage and eventually won when my opponent finally collapsed at time control. The fourth round was definitely a step up when I was paired with Ryosuke Nanjo (2199) with Black. Nanjo and I go way back having co-tied for first place in the nationals about 10 years ago now (I forget which nationals it was in…sign that I am getting too old)! Nanjo, like quite a few of the other top Japanese players has been on a bit of a downswing. Nevertheless, he gave me a serious run for my money three years ago when I played in this tournament for a second time. This time however, I avoided any real dramatics as I got a small advantage with Black and then after a few miscues a completely winning one. I did not make any mistakes and was off to a 4/4 start after two days. However, as I have learned from previous years, there are always one or two games where I have some issues.

Day 5: “Rolling Along”

The fifth game brought me my third White of the tournament against Gene, Nakauchi (2193) who is Japanese, but apparently plays for Australia. Despite another pairing against a significantly weaker player, I was not going to take my opponent lightly as he played a marvelous first round game against FM Kojima (brightest Japanese junior player) and should have won but only ended up drawing. After getting a nice advantage with the Tromp, my opponent decided to go for a very speculative exchange sacrifice, but then mid way through it realized that it did not work. This simply left me up an exchange with no problems. I easily finished off the game moving to 5/5. In the sixth round, I got Black once again against British junior Samuel Franklin (2133, 15 years old). After a roughly equal position out of the Scandinavian, I took a big risk since I had to win the game. Ironically, I had looked at the exact line on the plane during the flight over, but then decided against what I had prepared as the line was simply equal. This led to me reaching a slightly worse position but still playable. However, as Samuel used up more and more of his time, he eventually went astray and this led to an unpleasant ending where he suffered for a bit before blundering away a pawn and the game. 6/6

Day 6: “The Finale”

Once again, for a fourth year in a row, I came into the last day with 6/6. However, unlike previous years, I had to play the second best player in the last round as opposed to earlier rounds. In the final round, I was paired against FM Akira Watanabe (2339) with White. Unlike previous days when I took a slow and steady approach, I came right out of the gates going into an open sicilian. This backfired nearly immediately when I reached a slightly unfamiliar pawn structure. After a couple of very careless manouvering moves, I ended up with a slightly worse position. However, I was able to wind through the complex complications of the late middlegame and turned the game around near time control. After a long endgame, I won and thus ended the tournament with a perfect score of 7/7. This now puts my career score in Japan at 28-0.

After the prize giving ceremony, there was a simul with twenty player. Despite facing a master and several 2100’s, it only took me an hour and a half to complete a clean sweep. Unlike past years, there was definitely a certain feeling of finality to this year. Perhaps, I will be back against next year or in the future, but my schedule will likely make it difficult. Either way, it has been a great run and I have had a lot of fun here over the past four years. In particular, it has been great meeting some gringo’s Simon, Phil and semi-gringo, Paul. Overall, I have nothing negative to say about Japan chess, only positives. Hopefully, God willing, I can become world champion and generate some genuine interest in chess here. Tomorrow morning, I fly back to New York for a day before heading off to Amsterdam for the NH Rising Stars Event. Enjoy the following pictures below!

Trying my luck at Shogi against Mr. Pineau!

A picture from the dinner. Left to right: Me, Mr. Habu, my mother, Mr. Pineau.

Some idiot looking all smug after receiving the first place prize.

Japan Update

August 15, 2009 • General

This is a quick update for those who are interested. I am currently in the lead by a whole point here in the Japan League with a score of 6/6. However, I will be playing FM Akira Watanabe (used to be 2400 Fide) tomorrow, so it should be interesting. Once I return to the US for half a day on the 17th, I’ll add a complete recap on the tournament.

2009 US Open Exhibition Simul, Twitter!?

August 09, 2009 • General

In tune with the past blog, I will now recap my past week which has also been extremely busy. For some unknown reason, I cannot ever have one free day of rest. Oh well, such is life in this day and age. At least I can keep everyone apprised of what IS happening.

Following the Mainz Chess Classic, I returned to New York for a few days briefly. Shortly thereafter, I headed off to Indianapolis, Indiana for the 2009 US Open. After arriving in Indianapolis on Thursday, I went straight to the tournament to check out who was participating as well as the location itself. I must say that after so many years away from the US Open, I am not happy with the current trend. Although the young talent seems to abound, I recognize fewer and fewer people with every passing year. Perhaps I am getting too old for too attend this tournament!? I recognized the usual faces such as Shabalov, Finegold,Kosteniuk, etc. After this, I briefly chatted with several people who asked me various questions about my schedule. Unfortunately, due to the rather isolated location of the tournament, it was rather impossible to do anything in particular, so I simply spent the evening relaxing and then eating dinner with a few friends. A very uneventful first day in Indiana to say the least!

On the second day (Friday) I had a simul scheduled for 1 PM. The entry fee was $50. Unfortunately, the simul was scheduled at a horrendous time as it prevented people in the 4 or 6 day schedules from being able to participate in the event. Nevertheless, the turnout was quite substantial with 26 players in total playing out of a possible 50. This was more than I expected, so I was pleasantly surprised. In terms of the actual competition, there were several experts who signed up to play which surprised me, and made it a lot more of a challenge. In the end, I won all 26 of the games despite several games in which my opponents nearly held draws. By this point it was already 3:30 in the afternoon at which point I went to the hotel restaurant and had a brief lunch with my dad, Macauley and World Senior Champion, Larry Kaufman. After this, I was planning to take a brief nap, but I got waylaid by my friend Chris and ended up analyzing his game instead (with a crowd watching). This led to about a 10 minute break before I went downstairs to the bookstore and started signing memorabilia for fans.

Since I had now completed all the tasks which I was specifically there to take part in, I decided to finally go out and explore Indianapolis. I went to a nice quaint little sushi place nearby with WEBMASTER DAVE and his lovely wife, Kelly. This definitely improved my original opinion of the town; however, this seemed to change rather quickly when I found out later that we were near the area where murders apparently happen (I later found out its safer than the Bronx). We decided to do a drive by tour of downtown Indy and I saw Lucas Oil Stadium which replaced the famous RCA Dome last year (This is football). This massive 800M behemoth of a monument to Peyton Manning looks quite impressive from the outside and hopefully at some point in the future I’ll have the opportunity to attend a Colts-Titans and watch the Colts get smoked! We passed by Conseco Field House home to the Indianapolis Pacers and Monument Square as well. Overall, I enjoyed the tour, but at the same time, it truly makes one realize just how fundamentally different certain parts of the country are.

One would assume that after such adventures, I would just call it a night since I had a 11 AM flight back to New York the following morning. This turned out to NOT be the case, as I ended up heading back downtown later that evening for a late night snack with my father and a few others. We had a few drinks and discussed the general state of chess and all of our aspirations for the future. Sadly, the evening did not involve any real mixing with the downtown area (I blame Jim, Drew and a few others for having to play games which went well past 10 PM) and we all returned back to the hotel around 2 AM. My dad and I then watched our two friends duke it out at blitz. The sight was definitely not pretty, but at 2 AM no one can really be expected to play good chess. Thus ended my brief, yet satisfying stay in Indianapolis.

The following morning, after a few hours of sleep (Thanks for keeping me up, Chloe!) I got a ride to the airport and boarded a flight back to New York. The route that we took to return went directly over the Hudson River which was a bit disconcerting as there was a crash between a helicopter and a charter plane which occurred less than an hour before I was over that area. Thankfully, my flight arrived safely and I got back without any problems. Since then, I have just been relaxing and doing some last minute preparation before I begin my August schedule which involves tournaments in Tokyo, Japan and Amsterdam, The Netherlands. That is all for now folks as I have to get some sleep since I have a 11 AM flight from Newark to Narita tomorrow morning. Once again, thanks to everyone who takes time to read and or post comments.

Last but not least, I finally caved today and started a twitter account (several people have been asking me to create one for some time). For those who are interested, it is

Mainz Chess Classic Recap Part II

August 09, 2009 • General

Hello to everyone once again. Unfortunately, because I am a total idiot, I accidentally hit the back button after finishing up my annotations on the first game from the 960 final against GM Aronian. Thus, I ended up erasing 1 hour of hard work…c’est la vie. Therefore, I am simply going to be writing up a blog entry without annotations as it will be too excruciating to redo all of it at this time.

Day 5: “Showdown in Mainz”

Once again, keeping in tandem with my ‘normal’ schedule up to this point, I chose to stay up for most of the evening prior to the looming showdown on the following day. Thus, I enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast at 6:30 AM eventually turning in around 7:30 AM. To avoid any potential nightmare, I set an alarm for 4:30 PM just to be safe. After waking up, I decided to chill out for an hour before I meditated and got ready for the big match. Surprisingly, I was very loose before the actual start. In many ways, my goal was to simply make it to the final, so by making it there and also beating Levon along the way, I felt that even if I lost 4-0, it would have been successful. I cannot reiterate it enough that being relaxed rather than overly tense is always more enjoyable. Of course, more often than not, the pressure is on me to win and not the other way around! This time around though, it definitely helped to not have to prove anything.

In the first game itself, I played the first couple moves quickly and the position should have been relatively balanced. However, Levon after using more time was unable to come up with the right idea and I came out of the opening with a surprisingly big advantage. When coupled with the nice time advantage which I had, I was able to get a winning position. It was at this point that Levon tried to complicate matters by sacrificing a rook. I managed to maintain my cool and was able to convert with any real scare. All I can say is wow! Obviously, I felt that I would have chances in the match, but to start off like this really surprised me and definitely made me believe that I had a legitimate shot at winning.

After winning the first game, my goal was to simply play chess and not do anything overly stupid if possible. Surprisingly enough, I was able to trick Levon with a nifty little pawn manouver in the opening after which I really had no major problems. In the middle game, Levon used nearly all of his time trying to solve the complications which I created. Much like in the first game, he reacted badly and after two quick blunders, I netted a piece and the game. This game had a lot less drama than the first game as the result was very sudden. Right before I won the game, I really started thinking to myself if this was really happening or if it was all a dream. Running into ICC journalist Macauley Peterson outside the playing hall after the second game, I realized that this was actually reality!

The start of the third game brought a sense of tension and urgency on both Levon and my part since we both had something to prove. If I drew or won the game, the match was over while he was in a must win situation with Black. In this third game, Levon chose to play a Philidor type of setup which was, without a doubt, the wrong plan. I got a big advantage after 10 moves while Levon’s time simply kept on ticking away. As the game progressed, I am pretty sure I missed one or two ways to convert the win quicker, but I went for tactics since he was low on time. In the end, my simple attack on the queenside was just too strong and there was no obvious defence at the very least. When Levon resigned the third game, there was a lot of clapping in the Rheingold Halle. To put it simply, I was just elated with the result. However, in some ways I was definitely disappointed since I was expecting more of a challenge. I do think that if I can beat the number five player in the world that easily, then I definitely have a chance at becoming world champion in a few years. I know that Levon attributed it to having a bad day, however, I simply do not believe in this justification as his play the previous day was also very shaky with losses to Bologan and myself. Before I get ahead of myself we did, in fact, play a fourth game in which I completely winged it and somehow miraculously drew from a much worse and probably losing position. This meant that the final score was 3.5-.5.

What conclusions can be drawn from the 960 Fischer Random event? I think that what it showed me is that I am capable of competing with the best players when it becomes “chess” as opposed to simple systems and preparation. Therefore, I am very optimistic about my future chances if I am adequately prepared and maintain my current level in classical chess. As far as my overall view of Fischer Random, I think that what it shows more than anything is pawn structure and middlegame structures more than anything. However, I still do believe that it is not an adequate means of attempting to become a better tactician (I think blitz or bullet online is more productive in this regard).

Day 6: “Sleep”

I know that many people were expecting pictures, but I simply was too entrenched in my routine by this point so I simply was asleep pretty much the whole day as I needed to try to recharge my batteries prior to the Ordix Open which was starting on Saturday.

Day 7: “Ordix Open Day 1”

Having played in the Ordix Open last year, I knew that it would be brutally strong and tough. Overall, playing 11 games over 2 days is tough, but adding 7-8 games against GMs makes it simply an endurance test. Coming off of the 960, I simply was not ready for rapid, and I did not start off well as I blundered terrible and was losing in the first game to a 2100! From there, things really did not improve as I misplayed the English against GM Cvitan and was probably close to losing at a certain point before I swindled him. The one other game of note was in round five when I played GM Shomoev in the final round of the day. We played a hair raising Scandinavian in which it seesawed back and forth. I suspect that at more than 1 juncture, we both missed wins. After all the smoke cleared, we ended up in an endgame where I had R+N+pawn against R+B. However, Caissa must have decided that I had enough luck on the day since Shomoev played well and avoided cracking in the horribly time scramble. The end result was a draw with left me on 4.5/5. Overall, I could not complain with the result due to my horrible chess.

Day 8: “So Close and Yet So Far”

On the second and final day of the Ordix Open, the games started bright and early at 10 AM since we had 6 rounds to play! This definitely did not favor me as I had spent the last week (prior to day 1 of the Ordix Open) going to sleep in the early morning and waking up in the evening. However, I somehow I forced myself to get a few hours of sleep before play resumed in the open. In the sixth round, I had White against GM Andrei Sokolov of France. After playing a slightly offbeat variation in the English, I got an advantage only to play the variation in the wrong order. After this disaster, I was much worse if not outright losing ONCE AGAIN. My saving grace was that I had a big advantage on the clock. After tricking Sokolov in the midst of his bad time pressure, I got a small edge in a rook and pawn ending only for him to flag in a position where there was still a lot of work left. The seventh round worked out a lot better for me since I got Black against GM Gyimesi from Hungary and was able to execute a nice tactical combination in the Kings Indian. This left me on 6.5/7 and one of the clear leaders now. In the eight round, I was White against GM Sasikiran of India. This time around, there would be no repeat of 2.Qh5 like the one time we played in the Sigeman round robin in 2005! After blitzing out the first 15 moves in a Grunfeld, I simply forgot the theory and went astray instantly. At this point, I was clearly losing but I managed to just hang on while forcing my Indian opponent to use up valuable time trying to find a forced win. In the end, I somehow survived the dust but was still worse when he overstepped on time, thus giving me another miracle win. I really wish I could be more positive about the games, but my horrid play continued in the ninth round when I was Black against German GM Arkadij Naiditsch. After playing the opening like an idiot, I was simply losing YET AGAIN! Somehow though, I found a nifty little exchange sacrifice which gave me quite a bit of counterplay. My opponent was unable to find the right defensive plan and I was victorious.

At this point, having amassed a huge score of 8.5/9, I was really not sure what to make of anything. I was tied with GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov heading into the tenth round game. As we were the only two people on 8.5, this game more or less would decide the winner of the Ordix Open if it was decisive. Since I had White in this game, I figured that this was the one time when I really needed to find a way to play a good game of chess as it could give me a miracle victory. Overall, I felt that I played the game very well and always had a small advantage. It was only towards the end as we both headed for the time scramble, that I went horribly astray. The first mistake I made was not simplifying when I could have. The second and much more major mistake was getting cute and winning a piece. Although this was the best choice in the game, from a practical standpoint it made life horribly difficult as I always had to find the right moves in the scramble while Mamedyarov’s moves were all natural and easier to see. In the end, I simply got careless and blundered horribly. This blunder cost me both the game as well as any chance of winning the tournament. In the eleventh round game against GM Gashimov, I simply was unable to focus at all and lost without putting up any sort of fight. This left me on a final score of 8.5/11.

In conclusion, the Ordix Open was really a mixed bag. To play so badly in 9 of the 11 games and yet have a chance to win the tournament proved that even if I have a bad day or two, I will always be contending. Overall, I really could not have expected better than I did considering my lack of sleep and energy and all the ridiculously bad positions I achieved, so I am pleased. I would just like to point out that I had a great time in Mainz and although I doubt I will be back next year, I look forward to defending my Fischer Random 960 title in two years! Anyone who has a free week in the summer and wants to play chess should definitely consider taking a trip to Mainz if they want the real European chess experience. That is all for now since it is 2 AM and I have to pack for my trip to Japan!

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