The Curse Of Nakamura
It is not a big secret that I devote a lot of space in my articles to Hikaru Nakamura's chess.
The reason is not even that just like thousands of his fans I am rooting for a grandmaster who has a unique, entertaining style of play. Hikaru's transformation from a little boy into a super-GM happened right in front of my eyes and we even played on the same team in the U.S. Chess League.
So you can imagine how painful it was to watch Nakamura's elimination from the World Cup 2017.
Here is the game that was the end of the road for Hikaru.
This game surprised me for many reasons. First of all, after 8. Nxf7 Black's position became very unpleasant, so I cannot imagine that Nakamura could possibly miss this move during his home preparation, especially considering that Hikaru's second Kris Littlejohn runs very powerful chess engines 24/7. Was it some sort of a computer glitch?
On the bright side, at least it looks like my houses in Florida are going to survive despite my terrible game today! #Problems— Hikaru Nakamura ( @GMHikaru) September 10, 2017
Even if we imagine the unimaginable, that Nakamura was on his own as early as move seven, still it is difficult to believe that he missed the move 8.Nxf7, as it is a standard move in similar positions and has happened hundreds of times.
Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
One of the most famous games is the next one:
Here is what Tal wrote about this game:
In my opinion a sacrifice like this doesn't require any calculation, it is enough just to take a look at the resulting position to see that the sacrifice should be sound. And what kind of sacrifice are we talking about here? Black gets two minor pieces for a rook and a pawn, which, according to most textbooks is just an extra half of a pawn.
But in the game Fedoseev-Nakamura, White got a rook and two pawns for his two minor pieces, so, using Tal's math, White had an extremely powerful pawn center, initiative against a vulnerable black king and a material advantage!
In the very unlikely case that Nakamura never saw the above-mentioned Tal game (or hundreds of similar examples) he definitely knew one game where two minor pieces succumbed to a rook and two pawns.
Here is the game that eliminated GM Nakamura from the World Cup 2015:
Of course that game also had its great predecessor:
You shouldn't think that a rook and two pawns are always better than two minor pieces; it all depends on the position. Look at the next game for example:
While I think Anand resigned a tad prematurely, his position is indeed extremely bad. Black's rooks have nowhere to go and white pieces dominate all the key squares. While in this game Black had a tiny material advantage, White's enormous positional benefits more than outweighed Black's extra "half a pawn."
However, in both Nakamura's games, his opponents had the material advantage and the initiative, hence the result!
Here are two more classical games that demonstrate the concept:
So, when Nakamura plays his next World Cup, he can play Qh5 on the second move, or trade options between the rounds, but for God's sake, Hikaru, don't give up a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces!