The Hikaru Nakamura Blog

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Sao Paulo/Bilbao Grand Slam Final Part I

October 30, 2011 • General

Good evening/morning to everyone on this pleasant Sunday before Halloween. I have long been contemplating writing another blog but it has been a very busy last month. However, I was having a conversation with Xuan Liu and we were both regretting not writing more blogs as these memories and experiences will not last forever. This really struck a chord and I shall attempt to recap everything which has happened over the past month and a half since I last checked in.

On September 20th, I left St. Louis and flew to Bilbao! As it turned out, the prices were substantially cheaper if I bought two separate tickets, (STL-BIO and BIO-GRU) so I had the opportunity to spend one day in Bilbao prior to flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil. This one day was fairly uneventful as it was hot summer weather and Kris Littlejohn (my second) and I chose instead to simply rest up and spend our time on the internet prior to the long flight to South America. On the following day we had the treat of flying on Singapore Airlines. Having heard a lot about this airline, it was truly an experience between the attractive flight attendants, the great food and the extremely comfortable seats. I can sufficiently say that having flown over 1,000,000 miles, it was the best airline by far.

Upon arriving in Sao Paulo on September 22nd, Kris and I were greeted by two very helpful South Americans (my apologies to them as I have forgotten their names) who escorted both Kris and I by taxi to the Hotel Melia Jardin Europa in the heart of downtown Sao Paulo. The taxi ride was an hour, so I had the opportunity to take in the scenery and it was amazing to see the economic differences throughout this massive metropolis. With the opening ceremony on the 25th and the first round on the 26th, this gave me ample time to relax, adjust to the time zone and finish my preparation for the tournament.

The opening ceremony was held at 11AM (odd time, I know) in the Ibapuera Park in Sao Paulo. Most opening ceremonies tend to be pretty standard, but not in this case! Upon arriving, we were immediately swarmed by a few dozen if not a hundred kids from Sao Paulo who asked for pictures and autographs. This was truly memorable and very humbling to know that so many people are following this great game of chess despite our lack of widespread media coverage. The rest of the opening ceremony was fairly standard with several speeches by the main sponsors and the drawing of lots. I was fortunate to draw number 1 which meant that I would start the tournament with double white’s against Ivanchuk and Anand.

Having played against Vasily Ivanchuk many times, I knew quite well that there was a very good chance we’d end up out of theory very early on in the game. Sure enough, this happened as we were out of theory by move 7! (Diagram 1)

The game was fairly complicated, but balanced throughout and we agreed to a draw on move 28 in a rook ending. All in all, a solid start with a draw and a chance to get my feet wet before taking any big risks.

In the second round and a second white, I faced the World Champion Vishy Anand. We had only played twice prior to this game in classical chess (London, Wijk aan Zee) with both games being drawn. Vishy surprised me early on by offering me the chance to go into the Anti-Moscow Gambit. At the board, I thought for a bit before deciding to go for it. I trusted that my preparation was good enough, and you do not have the opportunity to beat a World Champion every day! Vishy surprised me early on by choosing 9…Nbd7!? (Diagram 2)

This was first played in Kasimdzhanov-Gelfand in 2009, but there have not been many games since then. The middlegame was very complicated and pretty balanced until move 24. (Diagram 3)

Vishy played 24…Bxe5? (Had he chosen 24…Qc8 25.Qxb5 Qc7 the position should be a draw with correct play. I returned this gift with 25.Bxe5? During the game I saw 25.Bc6, but I completely hallucinated that on 25…Bd4 26.Bc7 won on the spot. After blowing this golden opportunity, the game ended in a draw at time control.

The third round featured a matchup against Armenian, Levon Aronian. In this game, I chose to play the fairly passive but solid Schlecter system of the Grunfeld. Having not come up with many better choices, I chose to play this as I felt inspired by seeing all the games Kamsky had won or drawn from miserable positions in this line. Despite giving up the bishop pair early, it seemed like Levon simply did not have much fighting spirit and we shuffled around for 20 moves before exchanging off all of the major pieces and agreeing to a draw.

Starting with two consecutive White’s is nice, but it also meant I would get double Blacks following that. This meant I would face Magnus Carlsen with black yet again. Having lost my last three games against Magnus with black, I knew this was a big opportunity to solidify my standing and also break this horrible streak. Keeping this in mind, I chose to play the very solid Queens Gambit Declined which seems to be very popular of late. Magnus chose to play 6.Bxf6 and we reached the critical position on move 19. (Diagram 4)

Magnus chose to play aggressively with 19.g4, but I equalized nicely with 19…Be6 20.f4 Qb6 21.Rd1 Bxe5 22.Qxe5 Re8. The rest of the game was pretty simple and we agreed to a draw at time control. Having drawn the four players above me and facing the tail ender Paco Vallejo with White in the fifth and final round of the Sao Paulo portion of the Grand Slam Final was pretty much according to plan.

Coming into my fifth round game against Paco Vallejo, we were on opposite trajectories. I had drawn all four of my games while Vallejo had lost three and gotten a miracle victory against Carlsen from a dead lost position. As such, I knew that if I was going to contend for first place, I would have to win this critical game. I chose to repeat the same English Opening like Ivanchuk has chosen earlier and much to my surprise, Vallejo chose to repeat the same line as in that game. I obtained a close to winning position by move 20 before allowing Vallejo to complicate matters by sacrificing a piece. Although the computers show the position to be completely winning, it is not quite so easy for us feeble humans under game conditions with pressure to avoid miscalculating. In a messy time scramble with complications, I was able to outplay Vallejo and eventually ground him down in a very long ending which he resigned on move 59. This meant that I ended the first half with 1 win, 4 draw and in clear second place behind Ivanchuk.

Before delving into the second half of the tournament, I would be remiss if I did not mention the unfortunate incident surrounding our departure from Sao Paulo and the entire event. Following the 5th round, there was a brief closing ceremony at the hotel where we were all given money for a cab. Although I think that the incident involving the robbery of Ivanchuk was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I do think that organizers for such a prestigious event should handle the transportation in a better way.

As I mentioned before, the Ivanchuk incident in Sao Paulo certainly changed the dynamics of the event. Having arrived safely in Bilbao, I was shocked when Kris alerted me to the news, and I promptly contacted the organizers offering to postpone our game an extra day so that there would be the possibility of Ivanchuk’s wife being able to arrive and/or also giving him a chance to recover. Ivanchuk chose to decline the offer and play resumed on October 6th in Bilbao, Spain.

Having had three full days to recover from jet lag and prepare prior to this game, I felt like I would be in very good shape. Unfortunately, after spending the better part of 2 ½ days preparing for the game Kris and I found a significant hole in our preparation and I decided at the last minute to play the Sicilian Kan instead. Much like our first round game in Sao Paulo, we were out of theory by move 7 once again. The middlegame was very imbalanced and we both made several mistakes. After being under significant pressure, I missed a draw on move 22. (Diagram 5)

I played 22…h6? instead of 22…Qb6! 23.Bxd5 Nexd5 24.g4 Rac8 25.gxf6 Nxf6 26.Qf2 Ng4! 27.Qh4 Nf6. The second opportunity I had was on move 30. (Diagram 6)

In the massive time scramble I played 30…Kg8? whereas 30…Rxd3 31.cxd3 Qxc3 31.Bb4 Qxd3 would have been highly unclear. After 31.Bd6, I played on for a few more moves, but to no avail and I suffered my first loss of the Grand Slam Final. This was a tough defeat to deal with, but chess is about converting opportunities and I blew mine while Ivanchuk did not in this game.

This is the first blog on the Grand Slam Final. Stay tuned for the second and final blog on the tournament shortly.

Blogging Once Again!

September 18, 2011 • General

Good day to everyone out the chess world. It seems like forever since I last blogged and I am really not sure where to begin, however it appears that I left everyone hanging at the beginning of the summer (is it really gone already?) and I will start there.


In June, I began my summer chess schedule by competing in the Bazna Kings tournament held in Bazna, Romania. Having never been to Romania, I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the locals. The town itself was very quiet and quaint, and it hearkens back to a different time before modern technology. One of my lasting images is seeing children herding cattle across roads which aren’t completely paved. Sometimes it is truly refreshing to see this considering how many of us (I’m fairly guilty too) spend our time in front of computers and tv screens these days.

The tournament itself was a mixed bag. I blew several promising chances against Radjabov, (twice) Karjakin (twice) and Ivanchuk (with White). It would have been a decent result had I not completely self-destructed in the final round against Ivanchuk with Black to finish with a very undesirable score of 4.5/10. Nevertheless I felt pretty positive about everything as a whole considering the opportunities I missed.


July was one of the more interesting months in recent memory. Much to the chagrin of many in the chess community, I went out to Las Vegas for a week to play some cash games as well as the Main Event at the 2011 World Series of Poker. I have played a lot of poker (mainly PLO Heads-Up) on and off over the past five years. Without saying a whole lot on the topic, I feel very strongly that online poker in the United States should be legal and I cannot imagine what it feels like to the thousands of people who lost legitimate jobs because of Black Friday.

Hanging out with Jennifer Shahade, Katie Stone as well as meeting new people in the poker/chess community and seeing many old faces such as Ylon Schwartz from chess who have quit for poker was a blast from the past. I had a pretty good day 1 as I started with 30k and closed with 53.2k chips all while playing a solid-aggressive game and trying to avoid getting into any major pots with dangerous pros like Galen Hall who were at my table. Day 2, was much more brutal as I was at a table with several hyper aggressive raisers combined with a lack of cards made for a rough day. Nevertheless, I still managed to get it all-in with 20BBs and KK in a squeeze situation. Unfortunately, my opponent was able to outflop me with his 88 and I busted a few hours before the end of the day. All in all it was a fun experience.

After the hoopla in Vegas, I flew back to St. Louis for a few days before heading off to Dortmund, Germany to compete in the Sparkassen Chess Festival along with GMs Kramnik,Giri,Le Quang, Meier and Ponomariov. The tournament got off to a very bad start when I was unable to sleep at all prior to my game with Giri. Somehow I managed to draw this game, but I do not recommend attempting to play a game of competitive chess if you haven’t slept in close to 20 hours prior to the start (not to mention the game going 7 hours GOOD GRIEF). After drawing a relatively easy game with Black against Le Quang, I simply got outplayed by Ponomariov in a structure which I was unfamiliar with. The 4th round against Kramnik was headed for a routine draw until I completely lost my mind and decided to lose instead! The 5th round against Meier was a super-sharp Kings Indian which was highly unclear until I made a critical blunder before time control. Luckily for me, he let matters get complicated and I was able to hang on for dear life until the 8th hour of play and salvage a draw. After drawing two more shaky games in rounds 6 and 7, I promptly lost again in the 8th round against Ponomariov from an equal endgame. Despite the multiple disasters, I finished strongly by beating Meier and Kramnik to turn a catastrophic result into only a bad one.


Right after Dortmund ended, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and compete in the 2011 US Chess Open in Orlando, Florida. Having not played a tournament in the US for 15 months, I was not sure what to expect. The first shocker was that the tournament was being held in the airport hotel. I assumed that I would be sitting on beaches and playing in relaxed conditions, but that illusion was shattered…sadly. I had a decent tournament scoring 7.5/9 and tying for first. However, with such a high rating I dropped a whopping 5 points and fell out of the top 10 at least for the moment. After two bad tournaments in a row, I decided to take the rest of August off from chess and poker (more or less) and drove from St. Louis to Vancouver in my BMW (highly recommended brand). Taking three weeks off from chess to see my many friends up north was truly refreshing and reminded me of why I fell in love with the people and the culture there back in 2008.


Coming off my long vacation, I returned to St. Louis just in time for the opening of the World Chess Hall of Fame ( and to compete in the Kings vs. Queens match at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis ( The opening of the HOF was incredible with all the history in the building, and I highly recommend to anyone dropping through Saint Louis to stop by and see it.

I also competed in the Kings vs. Queens event where I scored a whopping 9.5/10 against the womens field which was comprised of Kosteniuk, Lahno, Krush, Zatonskih and Fierro. Although the women would have done better had GM Judit Polgar been able to play, it was still a fun event and everyone involved had a good time. It also served as a good warmup for the Grand Slam Final which begins on September 25th in Sao Paulo, Brazil and ends on October 11th in Bilbao, Spain. Until then, I will just continue to study and give it a whirl once the event begins!


St. Louis, MO


The Joys of YouTube

June 06, 2011 • General

Greetings to everyone once again! Very seldom do I post multiple blogs on a given day, but I simply could not help myself. It seems like almost every day I go on YouTube and watch a wide variety of videos although they most pertain to hockey, Vancouver, mountain climbing or tourist destinations. Every so often someone will point out one of the hundreds of videos of me playing chess on ICC/Playchess or from the World Blitz Championship. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across a video tonight by Kingcrusher entitled “How Nakamura won the ICC Open June 3-5 2011” It is great to see the many chess fans out there who make educational videos and post them on the internet for people to watch free of charge. In case anyone is interested, here is the link to Kingcrusher’s YouTube page.

For now, I’m going to go drink another Red Bull to stay awake and lose my voice yelling at my computer screen while watching the Vancouver Canucks play the Boston Bruins in game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals! Hopefully I will not wake up the whole hotel and get kicked out in the process, but some things are that important.


Madrid, Spain


Recent Events

June 06, 2011 • General

Greetings to everyone from Madrid, Spain on this slightly overcast Monday morning. Since I last blogged prior to my departure from Saint Louis, several things of importance have happened and as I currently  have several days off before heading to Romania, it seems like an opportune time to update everyone.

I arrived here in Madrid on the afternoon of June 3rd and was greeted at the Madrid Barajas Airport (make sure to not have tight connecting flights as there are simply too many terminals) by GM Pablo San Segundo whom I first had the pleasure of meeting back in 2009 when I won my first major international tournament in San Sebastian, Spain. At the closing ceremony of the tournament, I was also fortunate enough to meet his father, Martin as well. Since then, we have communicated several times via email about the possibility of a simul in Spain. Due to my very busy schedule, (I will update the events section of my site shortly to reflect my upcoming events) we were unable to pull it off in 2010, but Martin emailed me in March, and this great event came together.

Before I talk about the simul, I feel compelled to talk a bit about the fabulous Club de Villa Campo de Madrid. I googled the club in English (There’s a lot more on and there is very little info which does not do it justice. The day before my simul, Martin was gracious enough to show me around the country club which has two world renowned golf courses in the black and yellow course which was designed by the late Spanish golfing great, Seve Ballasteros. Besides the fabulous golfing, there are also a multitude of tennis courts as well as equestrian activities. There are also several pools on the grounds which are extremely extensive and allow one to get a great view of the financial district of Madrid. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera so I do not have any pictures.

The simul featured me playing against 30 players who belonged to the club as well as several players from the Madrid Chess Federation. The setup was very professional and two of the games were shown on DGT board to the spectators and (I assume) an internet audience. I also did a short Q&A session and spoke a little bit in Spanish (one of the more terrifying and exhilarating experiences!) to thank everyone for coming out. Unlike most simuls I have given before, (all in the United States) only a couple of players blundered early, and it took me close to 2 ½ hours to complete all of the games with a score of 28 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss. All the players were extremely friendly and the atmosphere was perfect for everyone involved.

After sleeping for most of yesterday, I took part in the finals of the inaugural Internet Chess Club Open. For the last ten years, ICC had held the renowned Dos Hermanas tournament in which many of the strongest chess players from around the world competed in. Unfortunately, this event stopped after I won it in 2010 (what is with events stopping once I win — ie Mainz?) and this new event appears to be the replacement. Although the top prizes are significantly less, amateurs have a chance to compete for much more. One of the major issues in recent years is the rise of technology which makes it a lot easier for computer cheating to occur. This has largely rendered online tournaments obsolete as there tend to be many cheating accusations regardless of the outcome.

The field for the finals started off with 16 players playing 4 games matches against each other and the field being reduced in half each round. I started by squaring off against Armenian IM Levon Altounian (Albert) who has not been active much lately, but is a highly talented chess coach in Tucson, Arizona. In this match, my play was incredibly shaky, and I almost certainly should have lost the first two games. However, I managed to get lucky in large part due to the clock and was able to recover and win the first match 2 ½-½. In the second match, I cruised very easily, defeating Armenian GM Robert Hovhannisyan(Armcomposer) 3-0. This set me up with a final match showdown against yet another Armenian in GM Simonian Hrair (Erebuni). After jumping out to an early 2-0, I let it slip away by losing the 3rd and 5th games while drawing in 4 and 6 respectively. After this debacle, it setup a tiebreaker featuring two more games of 3 minute blitz in which I was able to clinch the match with a win and a draw and a final match score of 4 ½-3 ½ . Thus I won the inaugural event as well as $600. Ordinarily, I probably would not have chosen to participate, but it seemed like a good chance to stay sharp ahead of Bazna, and a payday is always helpful no matter how much.

For now, I will probably spend the next few days first and foremost adjusting to the time zone. At the same time, I will be annotating two of my games from my match with Ponomariov for Europe Echecs and the Spanish chess publication, Jaque. Most importantly, I will be rooting my heart out from afar as I continue to root for the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals! The city of Vancouver and Canada deserve to have the cup back home after 18 long years in the United States.



Madrid, Spain


Saint Louis Chess!

May 27, 2011 • General

Greetings to everyone once again! It has been a long time, but I have been extremely busy with preparations for my recent match as well as the upcoming double round robin I will be competing in Bazna, Romania shortly.

This past week and a half I played a 10 game match at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis against Ukrainian GM Ruslan Ponomariov. With all the commotion over the ridiculous amount of short draws in the Canadidates Matches to determine which challenge would face World Champion, GM Viswanathan Anand, I thought both Ruslan and I played very enterprising and fighting chess. Overall I came out ahead 3.5-2.5 in classical and 3-1 in the rapid games. With a total score of 6.5-3.5, I was pretty happy with the end result. That being said, it was a very tough match and had Ruslan not made a critical error in the 3rd game, I very easily could have lost the match. Similar to my one prior match against GM Sergei Karjakin, I was substantially outprepared but fought very hard and equalized in the middlegames. Hopefully both of these matches will serve as constant reminders of how much harder I need to work on my opening preparation in order to have a chance in the World Championship Candidate Matches 2-4 years down the road.

Following this long match, I attended a Free Film Screening of the new HBO Documentary, Bobby Fischer Against The World at the Tivoli Theater here in Saint Louis. Overall, I thought the movie was good as it showed the great struggle and the fine line between genius and insanity. I was very impressed by the interviews with IM, Dr. Anthony Saidy as well as the late GM, Larry Evans. I was a tad disappointed by the lack of interviews with the following generation of Americans (Benjamin, Defirmian, Fedorowicz, Christiansen, Seirawan) who would become very strong in their own right. But as with any documentary, it is no easy task putting together massive amounts of footage and combining it with interviews. Therefore, I must congratulate the director Liz Garbus on putting together many of the pieces in a cohesive film which will hopefully generate some more interest from the general public in chess.

I am now going to relax over Memorial Day Weekend before heading off to Madrid, Spain to give an exhibition for Club de Campo-Villa de Madrid against 30 players. Following this, I will spend the week in Madrid relaxing before heading off to Bazna, Romania and competing against Carlsen, Ivanchuk, Karjakin, Radjabov and Nisipeanu in this incredibly strong event. Hopefully a week of relaxation in the Mediterranean sun will help me come back stronger than before!



Saint Louis, Missouri


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