The Hikaru Nakamura Blog

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


August 31, 2010 • General

Hello once again! This is just a short email to remind everyone that if I take a hiatus from blogging here, they can follow me on twitter at

Have a great week everyone and a blog on the Spanish Team Championship will be forthcoming shortly!



NH Chess Tournament 2010 Summary

August 30, 2010 • General

Greetings to everyone from 35,000 feet aboard this Continental flight from Amsterdam to Newark. Due to flying between 75,000-100,000 miles annually, I have achieved platinum status which allows me to grab empty rows of exit seats and stretch out while studying and writing blogs from miles up in the sky! Having finished two back-back events in Amsterdam and Bilbao, I felt it was time to update my blog.

Last time I blogged, I was flying high after starting off with 2.5/3 in the NH Chess Tournament. However,  in the fourth round, I had to face GM Peter Svidler with black. For some reason, I seem to play like an absolute clown when I face him. As such, I promptly decided to return to form and get adventurous by playing the highly dubious 10…Qb4? instead of 10…Nd7 in the Caro Kann. This led to a very unpleasant middlegame in which I was significantly worse and could not recover. However, despite this incredibly awful game,  I was still in pretty decent spirits as the third member of my team, Tony Rich joined Kris and I on our quest!

Round 5

After this loss, the road did not get any easier as I had to face GM Boris Gelfand.  With Kris and Tony coming up with wild and insane suggestions, I eventually settled upon playing the Botvinnik Panov variation against the Caro Kann. The game was relatively balanced as I forced Boris to sacrifice an exchange in return for a bishop and two pawns. Neither of us was really able to do anything special and I should have just sacrificed the exchange right back leading to a drawn rook and pawn endgame. In a shocking manner, I just decided that giving up a free pawn with 31.h4??? was an even better idea and after this disaster, Boris did not give me any chances to swindle him as his technique was flawless as usual. This coupled with a win by Anish Giri over Nielsen put me a whole point behind at the half way point. Luckily, there was also a rest day after this game which allowed me to go out with Tony and Kris and enjoy all the nightlife in Amsterdam.

Round 6

After a wild night and the ensuing rest day which allowed me sleep and recover from chess and Amsterdam. I cleared my head as I faced GM Lubomir Ljubojevic with Black as colors reversed for the second half of the tournament. In this game, I decided to play the Semi-Slav which resulted in the Meran variation. My main plan going into this game was to try and create some play while avoiding any obvious lines involving a lot of trades. This strategy paid off, but at a price. I had to start moving my king in the opening. Fortunately, I was able to eventually get a better pawn structure and consolidate my position. This led to a long rook and pawn endgame which I duly converted. Had I not come back strong with this win, it is incredibly doubtful that I would have even contended for the Melody Amber ticket. For further analysis, anyone who is a member of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis can see the game in the September Newsletter.

Round 7

This game was without a doubt the most surprising of the whole tournament. I had white against GM Loek van Wely. Much like the game against “Ljubo,” I approached this as a must win situation. I suspect Loek will certainly have something to say or has said something about this game which I missed, but I was incredibly surprised by his choice of 6…Nbd7. In the upcoming issue of New In Chess, Loek wrote an article on the 2010 World Open held in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. One of the crucial games which got a lot of attention was the theoretical battle between IM Bryan Smith and Czech GM Viktor Laznicka. Despite Laznicka winning this game and the tournament, his position in this whole game was incredibly shaky and he was lost at one point. As such, it remains quite a mystery to me since Black is worse and is trying to draw. In the game itself, Loek forgot this bad variation and instead decided that he wanted to play a line which lost on the spot! With this victory and another draw by Giri, I suddenly had caught fire and was tied with Giri heading into the final 3 rounds.

Round 8

Being back in the driver’s seat was nice after the two catastrophes in rounds found and five, I knew there was still a lot of chess to be played and I had significantly tougher pairings than Giri. However, there is nothing you can do except play chess and see what happens! In this round, I had black against GM Peter Heine Nielsen. The main problem with playing against Nielsen is that he is incredibly solid and rarely tries to come out swinging against anyone. Seeing as Giri had black against Ljubojevic, I knew he would have reasonable chances of winning which meant that I had to keep on pressing. This time around, I decided to play the Queens Gambit Declined instead of the Slav and it worked fabulously as we reached a relatively even position with a lot of play. From this point, I proceeded to soundly outplay Nielsen and was on the verge of winning the game until I completely messed it up in mutual time pressure with 36…Qe5?? allowing 37.Bg6! which boxed in my rook on h6. After this, I still tried to press on towards victory but Nielsen, as usual, decided to flatten it out as a draw was a sufficient result for him. This was especially infuriating for me as Giri won a very nice game against GM Ljubojevic and jumped a half point ahead of me once again with only two rounds to go.

Round 9

Having faced the three weakest players, I returned to face my nemesis Svidler once again. Fortunately, I had white but trying to win against someone who you seem to have problems with is never a fun task. Once again though, I just tried to make the best of a bad situation and continue onwards. I decided to surprise Peter by playing 1.e4 for the first time against him. We played the Zaitsev variation of the Ruy Lopez and unknown to both of us, we ended up following a Karjakin-Eljanov game from the Fide Grand Prix in Nalchik last year. Our game, much like that one didn’t yield either of us anything special and this led to ANOTHER rook and pawn ending where I was down a pawn, but I drew it fairly comfortably.  Giri meanwhile had a completely dominating position and was crushing GM van Wely, but miraculously (for me) he managed to somehow save a draw which still left me only a half point behind going into the 10th and final round.

Round 10

As preparation for this round, I decided to go out with Kris and Tony to a local chess bar where we had a few drinks, played some blitz and then I won some money playing time odds against a local 2300! That being said, I wasn’t giving up completely, but I felt like it was better to go out and do something instead of brooding on the impending round and the various scenarios. Oh well, onto the game! Having black against GM Boris Gelfand is NEVER fun. However, since I had a phenomenal win against him with black in the World Team Championship last January, I knew there was some hope. Alas, I decided that what could go wrong if I decided to play the Kings Indian Defence again? I could definitely lose, but you do not have opportunities to qualify for tournaments such as Melody Amber every day! Unfortunately, Boris decided to play the 7.Be3 variation which avoided the sort of game I wanted as we ended up in a positional KID instead. The game itself was strange as I thought I was worse for the first half, but then was better afterwards only to make a slight inaccuracy in the time scramble. However, after I made my 40th move, I wandered over to check out Giri’s game only to see that Nielsen had a winning endgame. After noticing this, I immediately offered Boris a draw. Boris used a good 15 minutes, but then decided to accept my draw offer. In our postmortem we eventually concluded that white was a little bit better in the endgame.

Blitz Playoff

For the first time in NH history, there was a tie after 10 rounds. Having caught up with Giri at the end of the tournament, I felt that my chances were quite good as I like my chances against anyone at blitz. I also I knew that I certainly have had much more blitz experience and that Giri certainly would be in a bit of shock coming off a loss in the final round and blowing a clear one point lead after five rounds.

In terms of the actual games it was pretty routine for me as Giri simply could not match me either in terms of speed on the board or calculating ability. This led to a very lopsided two games in Giri could not compete on the same level and I went on to win both. Having won the tiebreaker, I was absolutely ecstatic at having qualified for the 20th edition of the Melody Amber tournament next March.


Looking back now, I felt that objectively I played the best of the rising stars despite trailing from the halfway point onwards. In many ways, I feel that had I not lost my mind for two days, I would have won the tournament quite easily. Also, I felt that Giri missed his opportunities when he failed to beat Loek in round 9 and then played a wrong move order to lose in round 10. Despite all these circumstances, the fact remains that I qualified and I will take that regardless of how it happened. As this was the 5th and final edition of the NH Chess Tournament, I would also like to thank Mr. van Oosterom, Dirk Jan Ten Guezendam and everyone else who was involved with the organization of this fabulous event.



NH Chess Tournament 2010 Round 3 Recap

August 14, 2010 • General

Hello to everyone out there in the wide world and on their computers with internet access. After the great swindle in round 2, I went into round 3 with White against Danish GM Peter Heine Nielsen. Much like van Wely, Nielsen is someone whom I have run into a lot over the last year and a half. However, like van Wely, I’ve only played classical games against him here despite many rapid/blitz games. Although Peter is known as a very solid player, his main claim to fame is the preparation he has done with the current world champion, Vishy Anand. As such, his general opening preparation is always quite good and he doesn’t tend to lose very often. Therefore, I went into this game wanting to play something simple with a fair amount of play and simply see what would happen.

I opened with 1.d4 and Peter as he has done every single time we have played so far, (including blitz) chose to play the Queens Gambit Declined. Unlike the other games, I decided to play a main variation as I continued with 5.Bf4. Peter ended up avoiding all the particularly sharp variations and instead played 5…Nbd7 6.c5 Nh5 with the idea of eliminating my dark square bishop. After a long sequence of normal moves, the first critical position was reached after I chose 15.Bc2 avoiding a trade of light squared bishops. (Diagram 1)

This rather unorthodox looking move appears to drop material at first site after (15…bxc5 16.bxc5 Nxc5 however, I calculated that after 17.Bxh7 Kxh7 18.dxc5) the two knights are better than the two bishops. Nielsen played another fairly natural move in 15…Bc4 16.Qd2 Ra7 17.Ne5 axb4 18.axb4 bxc5 19.bxc5 Nxe5 20.fxe5 Be7 21.Rab1 Rfa8 22.Rb4 (Diagram 2)

Here the main idea for White is to try and double on the b file while either trying to get in Na4-b6 or Rb6 and Ba4 at some point putting a lot of pressure on the c6 pawn. Black on the other hand wants to try and exchange a set of rooks and eventually go Bd8-a5. Sure enough, the game continued with 22…Bd8 but here between a miscalculation and a move order mishap, I ended up playing 23.Ne4? in our post mortem we concluded that had I played 23.Reb1 first, the position is better for White as 23…Qc8 24.Ne4! Ba5 25.Nf6 gxf6 26.exf6 kh8 27.Qh6 Qg8 28.Rb8! wins and 23…Qe7 24.Bd3 gives White an advantage due to a favorable exchange of light squared bishops and continued pressure on the b file. Alas in the game, Peter played 23…Qe7 and what I miscalculated here was that 24.Reb1 loses to the incredibly annoying 24…Ba2! and I lose an exchange or a piece. After using quite a bit of time and being highly annoyed with myself, I played 24.Nc3 as its the only move which doesn’t lose material. 24…Ra3? Peter returns the favor. After 24…Ba5 the position is definitely equal if not better for Black. Nevertheless, sometimes it is hard psychologically to play a natural move when your opponent ends up wasting a move as you want to punish it. 25.Reb1! (Diagram 3)

At this point during the game, I realized that I had gotten lucky and figured that I was probably a bit better here. 25…g6 26.Ne4! dxe4?! The reason I only give this move as dubious as opposed to a clear blunder is that the line which Rybka prefers is something no human would play. (26…Qf8 27.Nf6 Bxf6 28.exf6 Bb5 29.Qf4 Ra2) with approximate equality. However, there is certainly still plenty of play and Black’s position is very passive. 27.Rxc4 e3 28.fxe3 Qg5 29.Bd3 h5 (29…Qh6 30.Qe2 Bg5 31.e4 Be3 32. Kg2 Rd8 33.Rbb4) is a better try than the game. 30.Rcb4! a critical move to try and force an exchange of rooks which will eliminate any potential threats on a1/a2. 30…h4 31.Kg2 Kg7 32.Rb7 Ra2 33.R1b2 (Diagram 4)

Here in bad time pressure Peter blows it with 33…Ba5? (33…Rxb2 34.Rxb2 Ra3 is a better try, but I still would have kept a significant advantage after 35.Rb7) 34.Qf2 (34.Rxf7 is probably winning too, but I could not see a clear win and was worried about some sort of tactic after (34…Kg8 35.Qe2 Rxv2 36.Qxb2 Qxe3) 34…Rxb2 35.Rxb2 Ra7 preventing an invasion on the 7th rank. 36.Qf4 Bd8 (36…Qxf4 37.gxf4) is hopelessly lost due to the weak c6 pawn. 37.Be4 h3 clear desperation in time trouble, but it is already pretty hopeless. (37…Qh5 38.Bf3 h3 39.Kf2) is also winning. 38.Kxh3 Qh5 39.Kg2 Qd1 40.Rf2 (Diagram 5)


Here Peter resigned as there are he is down 2 pawns and both c6 as well as f7 are weak. Overall I was pleased with the game, but I still should have played the correct move order with 23.reb1 first. Alas, a win is a win and I will move on and start preparing for rounds 4 and 5 and then enjoy a much needed rest day at the halfway point.



NH Chess Tournament 2010 Round 2 Recap

August 13, 2010 • General

Howdy to all the chess fans on there from Amsterdam on a very boisterous Friday night here!

Coming off my successful first round, I had Black against GM Loek van Wely in round 2. Oddly, despite seeing Loek at many tournaments, the only time we’ve actually played against each other at classical chess was here last year when we drew both
encounters. Over the years Loek has been an up and down player, but there is no disputing that with his deep theoretical knowledge, he can be a dangerous player against anyone. As such, I chose to avoid anything too complicated by choosing to play
into the Nimzo Indian in an attempt to keep the position relatively calm and simple. However, I did a 360 almost as soon as the game began when I tried to take advantage of what I thought was a miscue by Loek. Unfortunately, my judgement was simply
off and this led to me reaching a very unpleasant middlegame position where I was significantly worse. My problems were only exacerbated when I got into time trouble as well. It was at this point that I decided to make a practical decision and sacrifice two pawns and go into a rook and pawn endgame which gave me a chance to bail out. (Diagram 1)

Here in bad time pressure, I chose to play 34…Rb4. At this point, the position is probably losing, but (34..f4 35.Rd8 Kf7 36.Rd7 Kf6 37.h4!) should be winning but it gives me better chances. Loek continued with 35.Rd8 which despite picking up an extra pawn is actually less precise than 35.c6 Rc4 36. Rd8 Kf7 37. Rd7 Kf6 38.c7 when White is almost certainly winning the rook and pawn endgame. 35…Kf7 36.Rd7 Kf6 37.Rd6 Ke5 38.Rxa6 Rc4 39.Ra7 Kf6 40.Ra5 h5 (Diagram 2)

At this point, having reached time control, I was pretty miserable and assumed I was simply lost here, but I willed myself to keep on playing on the off chance that I could find a miraculous draw. 41.Ra6? This was the start of a plan which is probably winning, but gives me a lot of tricky options to complicate matters. 41…Ke5 42.Rg6 Rxc5 43.Rxg7 (Diagram 3)

During my very brief and shallow analysis of the position before time control, I thought that in this position I was very close to drawing if not in fact drawing after (43…h4, however after 44.Re7 Kf4 45.Re1 followed by Ra1, I am simply lost.) Therefore, I chose to play 43…Rc4 44.a5 Ra4 (Diagram 4)

Already, this position has become very tricky. Mainly due to the fact that White’s king is very badly placed. 45.h4?? In our post mortem after the game, we concluded that (45.h3 is probably the only definitive move which wins after 45…Kf4 46.h4! Rxa5 47.Kh2 followed by Rh7 is winning.) Another line which might win but is tricky is (45.Rh7 45…Kf4 46. h3 [46.Rxh5 Ra1 47.Kf2 Ra2 48.Kf1 Ra1 49.Ke2 Ra2 and the endgame is probably a draw.] 46…Kg3 47. Rg7 Kf4 48.Kh2.) 45…Rxh4 46.a6 Ra4 47.a7 Kf4 48.Kh2 Ra2 49.Rb7 Ra6 50.Kh3 h4! (Diagram 5)

51.Rh7 not (51.Kxh4?? Rh6 mate) 51…Kg5 52. g3 (52.Kh2 doesn’t work as I play 52…Ra1 and keep the king boxed.) 52…hxg3 53.Kxg3 Ra2 54.Rg7 Kf6 55.Rb7 Kg5 56.f4 Kh5 57.Rg7 Kh6! 58.Rf7 Kg6 59.Re7 Kh5 = (Diagram 6)

At this point the position is equal as White cannot prevent Ra3 and Kg4 giving up the f4 pawn. If White trades the a7 pawn for the f5 this leads to the well known Philidor position and a draw. The rest of the game was fairly uneventful and drawn 10 moves later.

So what to say about this game? It is quite clear that I got incredibly lucky, but it just goes to show that if you keep fighting and trying to make your opponents ojective of winning harder, sometimes they will in fact crack and blow it. In many ways the difference between being good and great is the ability to salvage every half point and make the most of your opportunities. Hopefully, having gotten some luck, I can now put together a string of some solid games and avoid reaching such precarious positions in the remaining 8 games. Enough drama for 1 day!



NH Chess Tournament 2010 Round 1 Recap

August 12, 2010 • General

Hello everyone! Greetings from sunny Amsterdam, Netherlands. After a fairly calm journey, I finally have had the chance to take in two days now and the weather as well as people have been nothing but curteous.

In the first round, I got White against GM Lubomir Ljubojevic in a repeat of my first round last year except with colors reversed. Ljubo somewhat surprised me by choosing to play the accelerated dragon once again. I chose to play a fairly passive and uncomplicated variation, but true to his style, Ljubo found a way to create quite a few complications. After the first series of fireworks, we reached a position where positionally I had an advantage due to an isolated d pawn, however Ljubo’s counterplay was almost certainly sufficient. Fortunately, all these many years of blitz paid off as I outplayed Ljubo in the mad time scramble which ensued and collected the whole point. Although I’m not particularly enthused by the actual game and my play in it, the result was what I was hoping for and coming off a three month hiatus from chess, it was a good way to shake off some of the rust! Stay tuned for more as I take on GM Loek van Wely tomorrow with Black.



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