Wijk aan Zee Recap Part II (The one everyone has been waiting for)

February 05, 2011 • General

Hello! After spending the past four days mainly resting, I am finally feeling quite a bit better. Apparently waking up at 6:30AM on a Saturday morning to endless snow in Saint Louis seems to be commonplace so now seems like an opportune time to drink some tea or cider and eat soup! Of course, it is also high time to write a blog for all the fans out there who have been waiting! YOU MUST GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT!

Last time I left everyone hanging after my painful 4th round game against rising Dutch junior, GM Anish Giri. Coming off of this draw I had 3/4 and was leading the tournament. However, the tournament had really only just begun for me, and I did not even entertain thoughts of winning at this point.

Round 5

In the 5th round, I had White against former Fide World Champion, GM Ruslan Ponomariov. In recent years, Ruslan seems to have become fairly inactive as he plays mainly league events and the occasional round robin. Nevertheless, he is still an extremely solid player and always a dangerous opponent. The opening was a bit of a surprise as Ruslan chose an obscure variation in the 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian and went for an obscure variation early in the game with 10…Be7!? 

Instead of playing a standard hedgehog, I got a bit too ambitious and went for the initiative right away. Ruslan defended very accurately and I soon found myself in a complete mess and in time pressure. Luckily, I was able to complicate things just enough before time control to give myself some chances as we reached time control. Strangely, Ruslan offered me a draw shortly thereafter. I used a bit of time considering my options and I did not see anything conclusive so I took his draw. The commentators were critical of Ruslan offering a draw, but according to the computers I have a forced repetition in hand and can force a draw anyway. A close one!

Round 6

Before I summarize this game, I must say that in any tournament there comes a point when you stop thinking you are capable of winning and starting to believe. For me, this was the critical game as I really started believing it was possible to win after this victory. The game in question was against the Dutch GM Erwin l’Ami. Erwin is a very solid player, but lacks a certain killer instinct which is why he suffered in this tournament. I threw out a big surprise in the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian when I chose to play the pawn sac variation 6…b5!?

Erwin and I followed traditional theory and the position was completely equal when I offered a peaceful draw on move 15.

Much to my surprise, Erwin turned it down! Erwin incorrectly thought that he had small winning chances with no losing chances. This hinged upon his belief that he could keep the bishop pair in a queenless middlegame. However, the cost was a little bit too great as one of his bishops got shut out of the game and I took the initiative on the queenside. Eventually, Erwin cracked under the pressure and blundered right before time control and I brought him the full point!

Round 7

The 7th round saw me face another Dutch GM in Jan Smeets. This game had a completely different tone than any of the others as it was all about payback. Smeets has always been a very talented junior and had a phenomenal win in the first round against GM Alexei Shirov. Much was being made about the fabulous preparation by his second, German GM Jan Gustafsson. In 2009, I lost one of my worst games ever against Gustafsson in 22 moves with White in the Austrian League. In this specific game, my second Kris Littlejohn and I spent all night coming up with some fresh ideas in the Botvinnik variation of the Slav. The preparation we did paid off as Smeets walked right into the preparation and I obtained a very pleasant advantage right off the bat. At one point, I missed several very computerish winning continuations, but I was still able to simplify into a technically winning ending. I did not slip up and converted. Winning this game gave me an incredibly satisfying feeling as I took the lead in the tournament by beating Smeets and destroying the myth of Gustafsson being a theoretical genius.

Round 8

The 8th round saw me facing Norwegian superstar Magnus Carlsen with Black. Some days you just have this bad feeling from the outset. I don’t know if its intuition, heightened perspective or randomness, but it was there from the start. Things did not improve as I played the Najdorf and blundered with 8…0-0 instead of 8…Be6. Magnus correctly responded with the very strong 9.g4!

Things went downhill in a hurry from there as I was unable to find a sufficient plan with a counterattack on the queenside. Magnus came up with a very simple and straightforward attack on the kingside. This led to a typical opposite wing castling Sicilian and my position fell apart and I resigned. Not a good game by any measure, but I still remained tied for first with Anand and headed into another rest day.

Round 9

After a much needed rest day, I came back in the 9th round with White against my co-leader, World Champion Vishy Anand. I played another 3.Nc3, 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian but Vishy surprised me very early on when he chose the variation with 4…b6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 g5!? 7.Bg3 Ne4. 

I was familiar with the basic ideas as I had seen the Kasparov-Timman games from the 80s. However, I went astray with 13.h4? This error led to a significant amount of suffering for me in the middlegame after the strong reply 13…Qf6! 

However, I played very solidly and never let Vishy obtain any serious winning chances. The game ended peacefully at time control when we reached a theoretically drawn rook and pawn ending. Still tied for the lead!

Round 10

In the 10th round I had White against French GM, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Maxime, was one of the surprises of the tournament as he was incredibly and was very steady from start to finish. Our game followed his earlier victory against Alexei Shirov as we hammered out the first 12 moves in a Grunfeld. I deviated from his game with 13.Bg5!? 

This idea was first tried out in Gelfand-Kamsky, and I figured it would keep Maxime off balance and out of his comfort zone. The critical position occurred when he played 17…Rf7? Allowing 18.exf5!

After this mistake his position began falling apart very quickly as he had a knight out of play and a wide open king. After a couple of precise moves, I exploited this advantage and converted the victory without any major complications. I thought that I would move into clear first place, but Vishy showed why he is the reigning world champion by defeating Alexei Shirov in a very complicated tactical battle.

Round 11

The 11th round featured my third battle against an opponent who was younger than me! In this game, I had to play the rising Russian star, Ian “Ctrl+V” Nepomniachtchi with Black. Ian and I had many great internet encounters on the Internet Chess Club, but we had not played over the board until now. In the style of the 12th World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, I played the Caro-Kann. Ian opted for the highly topical advance variation with 5.h4. The only time I faced this prior was against another Russian GM, Peter Svidler. Like every other game I play against Svidler, I got completely destroyed and so it certainly was not one of my fondest memories with this opening! Nevertheless, I came to this game better prepared and came up with a novelty in 7…Bg4!? 

which was an idea by Karpov. We reached a relatively calm middlegame position, but Ian wanted more and created a very dynamic position by sacrificing a pawn! The position completely exploded with major complications and was not clear at all until Ian made a fatal blunder with 24.Qxg7? which allowed the very strong reply 24…Rh7! 

After this, the result was never in doubt and Ian conceded shortly after we reached time control. With this spectacular victory, I took the clear lead heading into the final two rounds.

Round 12

The 12th round featured a matchup with the 14th World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik. There really is not a whole lot to say about this game as we followed the game Smeets-Kramnik from earlier in the tournament and drew quickly. Kris and I spent a lot of time looking at various options and we concluded that based on the tournament situation and the risk involved, there would be better opportunities to take chances than at this moment. The draw also put tremendous pressure on my competitors as both Aronian and Anand were in serious trouble against both l’Ami and Giri respectively. The ended up drawing, which meant that I was a half point up on Anand and a full point up on Aronian heading into the final round!

Round 13

The last round of this extremely long tournament saw me facing Chinese GM, Wang Hao. It seemed like Wang never really got going in this tournament but he did have a very nice win over GM Grischuk in the 5th round. Our game was weird from the get go. I surprised Wang by playing the Benoni! This choice was probably not the best objectively, but I wanted to play something double edged and keep tension just in case Anand managed to stir up something serious against Ctrl+V. As it turned out, my decision worked and failed at the same time! I reached a complicated middlegame and offered a draw because I was very unsure if the looming complications would favor me or backfire completely. Wang Hao used a good 20 minutes before accepting my draw offer, but he did nevertheless! This meant I was guaranteed at least a share of first place. After doing the customary interviews and walking back to the Hotel Zeeduin, I got on my computer and watched the Anand game with great excitement. When I saw the words “Game Drawn,” I simply could not contain my excitement! Winning such a prestigious tournament has always been one of my dreams and regardless of whatever I accomplish in my career here onwards, I will always have my place in history!!

 In conclusion, I would once again, like to thank Jeroen van den Berg for inviting me to this tournament in 2005 as it led to this long journey towards the top. I also cannot express my gratitude and appreciation to the amazing Dutch spectators and journalists who give the tournament such a special atmosphere. One of my best memories from the event was when I headed into the playing hall for my game against Smeets and as a guy was parking, he yelled out, “kick ass!!” It is moments like this which make playing chess so much fun and so rewarding! Last but not least, I’d also like to thank my second, Kris Littlejohn once again for all the great work we have done together. We have shown that it is possible to get to the top with a different approach and that there is no one correct method!

I hope everyone enjoyed the blog!



Saint Louis



  1. nice blog, congrats CB 😉

  2. XxxRenegadexxX

    Thanks for your own recap of your games! I missed watching same of your games b/c of school schedule, etc., so it’s nice for the player himself to fill me in on the gist of some of those games that I missed.

    Once again, fantastic result, and keep up the hard work!

  3. Hans Aangeenbrug

    I really liked this blog, knowing what played and who made the draw offer or declined one!
    Congrats again.

  4. Ann Kittenplan

    Congratulations. It’s always been a privilege to watch you blitz and bullet on ICC – I remember yearoftherabbit!. You could see then it wasn’t just tactics: there was deep understanding of our game. Always great to see someone fulfilling their (enormous/gigantic) potential. All the best in your goal to break 2800. AK.

  5. Just wanted to let you know of the intense following you have among your fellow Americans; reading everything you say, rooting for you so strong to represent

  6. I enjoyed following your progress in the tournament. Congratulations on your win. And thanks for helping reignite my love of the game!

  7. “I had to play the rising Russian star, Ian “Ctrl+V” Nepomniachtchi”

    Haha. Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi, two of my favorite players. I think it’s pretty kickass you live in St. Louis now, as I live there as well.

  8. Also, condolences to Nepomniachtchi’s trapped Queen.

  9. TheGreatest

    Thanks for the blog!
    After the rage I felt after the Moscow Grischuk game and lost shared first the Joy of you winning Tata has put a smile back on my face. Nothing feels better when your team or player is winning and playing well! Glory is forever even if its not your own! Its been a great disappointment/crime that you were not invited to the elite events before but the fire of your talent could not be denied and now its matured and produced the best Tournament result of your career! Being world chess960 champion was great too and all your Tournament victories, and ICC records that no one has touched. Whats amazing is that you won Tata shortly after being invited to your first Elite invites. Keep kicking ass and dominate. The best is yet to come! Who knows maybe we may call you World Classical chess Champion. This fan would love to see that!

  10. Very good blog this.Congrats on winning the tournament! Why on earth is Nepo ‘ctrl+v’.That sounds so funny.Im guessing its because of his ridiculously long surname.Anyway this is a chess fan from Nigeria.You would be suprised to know how many fans you have worlwide.GO NAKA!!!

  11. Good one Naka!
    I guess you have to start working on paying back G-Raw !
    Now that is something I can wait for….

  12. TheGreatest

    Thanks for the blog!
    After the rage I felt after the Moscow Grischuk game and lost shared first the Joy of you winning Tata has put a smile back on my face. Nothing feels better when your team or player is winning and playing well! Glory is forever even if its not your own! Its been a great disappointment/crime that you were not invited to the elite events before but the fire of your talent could not be denied and now its matured and produced the best Tournament result of your career! Being world chess960 champion was great too and all your Tournament victories, and ICC records that no one has touched. Whats amazing is that you won Tata shortly after being invited to your first Elite invites. Keep kicking ass and dominate. The best is yet to come! Who knows maybe we may call you World Classical chess Champion. This fan would love to see that!

  13. Hi Naka, greetings from Argentina!. You have always been my favourite player online, and in classic time together with Ivanchuk, so you can already tell what kind of players I like. BTW, can you or someone else, explain the “CTRL+V” nick for Nemo?, it does sound hilarious. Best congrats for the tournament win and hope to see you logging more as Star Wars after those to games on Saturday against Vlad Artemiev.
    Best regards!

  14. Naka – thanks for allowing us insights into your thoughts, planning, and game analysis. I am looking forward to seeing you on the cover, again, of NIC and your ensuing analysis. You are a providing a much needed boost for chess in the US. Keep working hard. I guess your immediate goals are focused now on Dortmund, cracking into the top 4, and busting the 2800 glass ceiling. Your games are a lot of fun to go over even though I have no clue what you are doing. Should you find yourself in the mood to visit San Francisco/Monterey Ca, my family would love hosting you. Thank you again for kicking some serious ass in Wiik an Zee…. Cheers, mate.

  15. Phil F from Upstate NY

    Having played in tournaments with (teenage) you NY and MA, I cannot help but recall that when I watch you winning the premier events in the world. I see World Champion in your future, too. (Now I wonder who in my current tournament may be world champion some day as well.) You worked hard, yes, but I recalll mostly your determination to play each game YOUR way. Wonderful to see you on the world stage with that same passion, much refined. You have a real contribution to make to the game. Have a blast while you are at it. And keep kicking some serious butt!

  16. “BTW, can you or someone else, explain the “CTRL+V” nick for Nemo?, it does sound hilarious”

    Because his last name is very hard to spell. So he probably found the correct spelling online somewhere, and did a CTRL+C (copy) and CTRL+V (paste) on his blog so he spells it right. He refers to him as simply CTRL+V later on in the blog, haha.

  17. Congrats on winning such a strong tournament. I follwed it on ICC and was happy that you won. +5! Amazing in such a field. Good luck in the future.

  18. Daryn Moran

    Awesome blog recap. We can only imagine your joy when you knew you had 1st! I’ve got a challenge for you–why don’t you be the one to break Kasparov’s record 2851, instead of Magnus! That’d be something. All of us Naka fans think you are ready to do something like that. When you prepare, and play Naka chess, there is no stopping you…

    That rating thing is a numbers game, but you would know from your online prowess. Getting there would mean some sweet victories along the way, and maybe some saving draws ala Anand’s save vs Giri.

    Well, you’ve created the excitement. Now Americans dream along with you. There have been great players recently, such as Anand, Kramnik, Carlsen, and others. Now, there is Hikaru Nakamura!!! An American Champion.

  19. Hi Naka.

    I´m from Germany and I really enjoy your blog. You wrote, that in your game with Smeets, you destroyed Gustafssons myth as a theory guru. As a german I feel obligated to point out, that maybe you didn´t destroy him after all 🙂
    According to Gustafssons own blog, the botwinnik is Smeets “own private hobby” and that he (Gusti) couldn´t add anything to Smeets knowledge in this line during the course of merely one night. Gusti therefore prepared other stuff against you, while Smeets worked on the Botwinnik alone: http://www.jan-gustafsson.de/nc/jans-kolumne/beitrag/noooo/
    It´s in german, though.
    Nevertheless, congratulations to an awesome result and for keeping supertournaments interesting!

    Greetings from Germany

    Jan (NOT Gustafsson!)

  20. One very proud American here to have you representing us !!! The job you did there KICKING SOME SERIOUS ASS can’t be complimented enough. Doing things YOUR WAY and setting records straight around the world and carrying the USA badge is a great thing to see in progress. Your our guy, our CHAMP and our future here in the states and the fans know it and love you here. Good to see a super elite super GM like you finally giving us Americans someone to cheer for and root on for our next World Champion ! Fischer made history but you can become the true U.S. legend he should have became. Keep up the hard work and we are behind you 100% !!! GO NAKA!!!

  21. Bravo ! very interesting site. Go ahead ! chess is life !

  22. “CTRL-V” (“copy/paste”) for Nepo was coined by Mig Greengard on his blog some time ago. Very funny indeed. As to your blog I am not so sure about all the US patriottism (by your fans) but I like your writing immensely. I read respect for the great (Kramnik, Anand, Svidler, Carlsen), a love of chess, and a big Victor-like hunger to crush ego-s and become the best in the world. I hope you will get there! Although I support Kramnik!

  23. Thesaint8x

    Absolutely awesome and admirable that you have recorded your thoughts during and after the tournament here.Although of course I support my countryman Vishy Anand,you are my second favorite.

  24. Barry Adams

    “CTRL-V” – that is funny!!! Congrats on a hard-earned tournament championship!!! Stay hungry & kick some more ass, Champ!!!

  25. Congrats Naka! You deserve the win. Thanks for representing!!

  26. Hi,

    Will you write about the unique aspect that chess allows….the DRAW! Reading your recaps of the recent tournament you won, the rules in which that tournament was played under allowed you to make decisions that in the end put you at the top with most points…..Do you think taking away draw offers enhances the games or otherwise?
    Maybe you just use whatever rules in affect to give yourself the greater chance of winning the tournament at hand?

  27. Robert Dennis

    Hi Naka! I love your games!!!!!!. You have really infused a tremendous rush of fresh hope and excitement in the thought that you maybe our next US world chess champion!! I love your intensity and your double edged style of chess. You are simply awesome Naka, and everyone from icc rooted for you and we were all proud, especially me as an American to have you win this event. Keep it up and I know you will have your world championship title soon!!!!!!!!!! Thank you very much for all that you have given us!!!!! Thanks, Robert!

  28. Hey bro good job. Punkrock chess.

  29. Hi Naka,
    Writing from Turkey…
    I really enjoy your games and your flexible style.
    The motivation you have is what chessworld need nowadays.
    But could you blog more on your games:) We have lot to learn. And it is also great to here about your opening choices, feelings in the games.
    So thanks again and congrats!

  30. Daryl Jones

    Hikaru, even though I know i’ll never be a great player you inspire me to play wild crazy and unorthodox moves and to always strive to improve. Keep the dream ALIVE!

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