There are not many duels between elite chess players that generate as much interest as the games between the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the U.S. number one Hikaru Nakamura. Indeed, everyone can find something of interest. What will prevail: solid positional chess or total chaos on the board, G-Star Raw or Ray-Ban, orange juice or Red Bull?
If only they could use some flashy nicknames... just imagine the match: "The Norwegian Undertaker" vs. "Big H." Add the fireworks, scantily clad girls, some trash talk before the games, and the best hotels in Las Vegas would be fiercely competing for the honor of hosting such a match. Unfortunately, there is a fly in the ointment. The score of the classical games played by these two mega stars is ten to zero in the World Champion's favor (not counting 15 draws).
No matter how great the situation on the board looks for Nakamura, he can never score! Just look at the game where Hikaru was closest to a win. The position is exactly what Nakamura can only dream about. Not only is he winning, but it is also very sharp. Under normal circumstances it would be a piece of cake for Nakamura to find a winning line in such a position, but this time "a human computer" missed a direct win. Can you, dear readers, find it?
It is a beautiful combo which shouldn't be too difficult to find for a super GM. Yet, look what happened in the actual game:
The recent Gashimov Memorial added more insult to Nakamura's injury.
By the way, judging by the reports, it is probably one of the best organized tournaments ever! I saw the pictures and can only say "wow!"
Carlsen - Nakamura | Image © Chess.com
Now, let's take a brief look at Nakamura's ninth loss:
Of course, it looks like one of many dozens of typical games of Carlsen where he gradually grinds down his opponent. Now, please take a look at my article The Art of Doing Nothing which was published abount one month before the Carlsen - Nakamura game.
Magnus Carlsen | Image © Chess.com
There you can find exactly the same diagram. And here is my comment from that article: "It is interesting to note that Carlsen played this variation with both White and Black! It is more proof that our World Champion plays different openings and variations, but the only thing that stays the same is the result of his games!"
Moreover, in part four of that article (which was published just a couple of weeks before the game Carlsen - Nakamura) I mentioned another game of Carlsen's that featured the same position:
In part four I also explained the mystery of Carlsen's strange 21. Rc2 followed by 22.Rcc1 which looked like just a waste of time. Now look at the recent game Carlsen - Nakamura, don't you think that his 6. Be2 followed by 7. Bd3 was just another fine example of "doing nothing?" In my opinion, it was not the most practical desision to allow Carlsen to play a position which allows him to do nothing as much as he wants. Besides, Magnus has played it many times for both colors and had a lot of experience there. Finally, this kind of the position doesn't fit Nakamura's dynamic style.
By the way, talking about dynamic style, let's look at the second game they played in the Gashimov Memorial. The game was already analyzed dozens of times by all the major computer engines, so I'm not going to repeat the same lines again. What really surprised me is the next position:
True to his style, Carlsen kept creating practical problems even in a strategically inferior position, but his move 24...h5!? looks like a little bit too much. Yes, these days chess players spend so much time with their computers that they don't pay much attention to such factors like "weakening your king" or "high concentration of white pieces on the kingside." If there is no forced refutation, they, just like computers, play a risky looking move. Yet, I was surprised that Nakamura didn't try to immediately punish Carlsen for breaking one of the major rules of chess: "Do not push pawns on the side you are weaker lest you create new targets for your opponent's attack." Let's see what could happen in one more or less forced line:
I don't care what chess engines say about the final position of the variation, Nakamura had to go for this line. Why? Because Carlsen told him so! Not sure what I mean? Then look at one of the previous encounters of the same two giants:
It looks to me like Carlsen gave a master class on the topic: "an exchange sacrifice to ruin the opponent's king and get a powerful knight on h5." Why didn't Nakamura follow the footsteps of the World Champion? Beats me! Or maybe Korchnoi was right when he insisted that Carlsen hypnotizes his opponents?
So, does Nakamura have a chance to ever beat "Magnus the Invincible?" To cheer up Hikaru, I recommend him to watch the next clip:
To paraphrase the punch-line, let me ask: "Over? Was it over when Mikhail Botvinnik crushed Bobby Fischer in the beginning of their World Championship match?"
Meanwhile, I'll get popcorn and reserve the front seats for the continuation of the Clash of the Giants!