Who Won Recently? Strong & Steady Nakamura Part I

Apr 15, 2015
  Inopov
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Hi current and future Chessity members! I am finally back this month to continue my series on recent tournament winners. Ofcourse there have been many events happening lately but I believe one of the most notable is 2015 U.S. Championships held from April 1-13 at the world-class St. Louis Chess Club.

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This year's edition is undoubtedly the strongest as it fielded the most number of top-100 players in US Chess history, including two top-10 players. With the continued support of Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, the event was well organized with a fanstastic live coverage and commentary by a team of GMs which could be replayed on this link.

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In this blog, I will focus on the games of the Open Section winner Hikaru Nakamura. Hikaru has been performing well since the beginning of this year winning Open and Closed tournaments. He has proven his strength time and time again, but his ability to maintain a good form as of now is something that cannot go unnoticed. The games I'd like to share weren't decided from the opening, but rather from middlegame and endgame situations where he outplayed younger, well-prepared GMs.

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Holt, Conrad (2530) - Nakamura, Hikaru (2798)

US Championship 2015 2015.04.01

BD_10663_297_0.pngDiagram #1

We are following the position after Nakamura made an oversight in his game analysis that allowed White to exert unpleasant pressure on Black's position especially on the kingside. Let's watch and learn how Nakamura copes with it:

1...Qh7 keeping the Queen active and threatening Nb4-c2

2.Kf1 Bf5

BD_10663_297_1.pngDiagram #2

Bringing another piece into play where it's controlling important squares.

3.Kg1 Bc2! giving the opponent a choice in a complicated position is almost always helpful, especially when one is worse simply because it gives the opponent a chance to make a mistake.

4.Qd2 the more natural 4.Qe1 will probably be met by4... Nd3 which can be annoying 5.Bxd3 ( 5.Qf1!? )5... Bxd3 leaves White very weak on the light squares.

4... Ne4 5.Nxe4 Qxe4

BD_10663_297_2.pngDiagram #3

Since the past few moves, notice that Black has brought in more pieces in the enemy territory. Even though White may be objectively better due to his material advantage, White has to play accurately because Black has more active pieces right now.

6.Bf1 threatening Qxb4, and also planning to kick out the Black Q with Bf1-g2.

(6.Qxb4? 6... Qxe2 will only lead to trouble.)

6... Bd3! Nakamura makes a counter-threat so as to not let go of his initiative or pressure on the enemy territory. In the meantime, it also give White another moment of choice.

7.Bh3?! a step in the wrong direction.

Driving the Q away from the center was probably the best 7.Bg2 but ( 7.Qxb4 Bxf1 8.Be3 ( 8.Kxf1 Qxh1+ -+ the counter-threat created by Bd3)8... Bxc4 9.Ng6! ~~ leads to a complicated battle)7... Qxc4 8.b3 Qc2 was still more difficult to play for White over-the-board.

7... Nc2! Nakamura allows White to have what he wants, but he understands well what matters most in such positions as this.

8.Be6+ Rf7 9.Nf5? played under time trouble.

Black to play

( 9.Bxf7+? ( 9.f3 was the only way to hang on but it's obvious who has outplayed who9... Qd4+ 10.Kg2 Nxa1)9... Kxf7 10.Rb1 ( 10.f3 Qd4+)10... Nd4 dominating the light squares that will eventually lead to a mating attack 11.Ra1 Ne2+ 12.Kh2 Rh8! -+ )

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9... Ne1!

the double threat of Qg2 and Nf3 is devastating.

10.Ne7+ Kf8 11.Ng6+ Ke8

there is no way to prevent either mate or avoiding huge material losses so White resigned.

The next game is another complex game against a higher-rated Grandmaster who has made significant improvement in the past two years. We start following the game in middlegame situation that commonly occurs in the Sicilian Dragon Variation.

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GM Daniel Naroditsky

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Naroditsky, Daniel (2633) - Nakamura, Hikaru (2798)

U.S. Championship 2015 2015.04.05  

BD_10663_297_3.pngDiagram #4

Here Nakamura creates a material imbalance in the position.

1...Rxc3!?

this may not be objectively the best continuation here, but the ensuing positions still provide chances for both sides.

2.Qxc3 Ofcourse keeping the Qs on the board with 2.bxc3 only increases Black's compensation as Black's attack will be stronger with his Queen in play. 2... Rc8 3.Kb2 Nc4+ 4.Bxc4 Rxc4.

2... Qxc3 3.bxc3 For the exchange, Black has well-placed, active pieces and targets on the queenside especially White's c3P. However, if White is given the time he will slowly push Black's Ns back and create threats to simplify the position. Therefore, Hikaru starts creating threats first:

3... a5! this move also has the benefit of giving the opponent a choice.

4.a3 the safe and solid way.

White proabably didn't like 4.a4 because it creates a potential weakness on a4, but the plus side is that it would've slowed down Black's queenside attack.4... Rc8 5.Kb2 Nc4+ 6.Bxc4 Rxc4 7.Kb3! a nice defensive idea7... Rxa4? (7... Rc8) 8.Ra1! +/- and White achieves simplification which underlines his material advantage.

4... Rc8 5.Kb2 Kf8 allowing the f6N to move in the near future

6.Ne2?! Planning to relocate it to d5 via f4, but it also allows Black to improve his pieces.

6... Bb5! 7.Nd4 White admits his mistake which is probably better than insisting on a dubious path.

7.Nf4 was the original intention, but Black has the unpleasant 7... Nh7! 8.Nd5 Nxg5 9.hxg5 a4 10.Ba2 e6! and it is clear who gained from the previous moves.

7... Ba6 Black next ideas entail transferring & directing other pieces to the queenside.

8.Rhe1 Nfd7!

BD_10663_297_4.pngDiagram #5

Simple and strong.

9.f4 White undestandably tries to generate counterplay

9... Nc4+ 10.Bxc4 Bxc4 11.f5 the logical follow-up

If 11.e5?! Black has f6 12.Bxf6 ( 12.exf6?! 12... exf6 13.Ne6+ Bxe6 14.Rxe6 fxg5 15.Rexd6 Bxc3+ and the 2 minor pieces are stronger than White's rook) 12... exf6.

11... Nc5 (11... Be5!? centralizing the B and fixing e4 is also good.)

12.Re3 Ke8 Nakamura has skillfully steered the dynamically balanced game into a situation in which he was able to provoke more enemy weaknesses resulting in a position that's easier to play for Black.

13.Bf4 Na4+ 14.Kc1 Ba6 the most difficult part about White's position has been defending his weaknesses and and lack of targets to pressure Black using his material edge. This perhaps explains White's risky decision with his next move:

15.e5? a risky decision.

The idea needed to be prepared with 15.Rde1 which is psychologically difficult as it gives material and allows an enemy piece into the heart of the position15... Nxc3 16.e5 is a better move order, and after16... dxe5 (16... Nd5!? 17.exd6 Nxe3 18.Rxe3 Bf6 ~~ ) 17.fxg6! ( 17.Bxe5 Bh6)17... Nd5 unclear, which are all difficult to conceive during the game.

15... dxe5 16.Rxe5 Bxe5 17.Bxe5

White's idea was to give back the material to neutralize or wrest the initiative from Black, unfortunately White simply lacked enough resources to do so.

17... Nxc3 18.Re1 gxf5 19.Bf6 (19.Nxf5 also doesn't give Black technical problems due to19... Ne2+ 20.Kd2 Rc5! White is still lost. 21.Ng7+ Kf8 22.Bb2 Ng3 -+ and White's N will eventually be caught.)

19... Ne4! 20.Nxf5 Bd3

BD_10663_297_5.pngDiagram #6

Black's pieces achieves a beautiful harmony against the enemy king

21.c3 Rc5!

BD_10663_297_6.pngDiagram #7

a double threat to capture the N and to deliver mate via b5-b1

22.Nxe7 Rb5 and White resigned. Another energetic fighting game by the 4-time American Champion Hikaru Nakamura!

Let's recap what we can learn from how the Champion created chances in these games:

1. Nakamura entered positions with material & positional imbalance.

2. He gave his opponents a choice numerous times.

3. He placed and maneouvered his pieces toward active squares/ diagonals.

4. He used tactical threats to maintain or increase pressure on the enemy position.

5. Took advantage of his opponents oversights and dubious ideas.

Stay tune for the next blog where I feature the American Champion's games against the veteran GMs!

Have more to add to this article? Do share your thoughts in the comment section below! We will be happy to read your comments.

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