Nakamura Is Again Leader of Tata Steel Chess Tournament

Jan 22, 2011, 5:12 PM |

Hikaru Nakamura is once again leader of the pack at the Tata Steel Chess tournament. He won his second consecutive game on Saturday — this time against Jan Smeets of the Netherlands — while Viswanathan Anand of India, the world champion, played a perfunctory draw with Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

Nakamura leads the top section with a stellar score of 5.5. points, while Anand has 5 and Levon Aronian of Armenia and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia each have 4.5. Carlsen is tied for fifth, with 4 points.

Nakamura has won four games and drawn three, but the next two rounds will be a stiff test as he plays Anand and then Carlsen, who has been ranked No. 1 in the world for much of the last year. He also has yet to play Kramnik, a former world champion, who is ranked No. 4. Nakamura is No. 10 on the official list by the World Chess Federation, but on an unofficial list that tracks results up-to-the-minute, he has climbed to No. 8.

Nakamura’s game on Saturday was in the ultra complicated Botvinnik System of the Semi-Slav Defense. It is the type of opening that Nakamura, who had White, has long enjoyed because he is incredibly good at calculating tactics. Smeets managed to hang with Nakamura all the way to an endgame in which he was down a pawn but had some drawing chances. But Nakamura played impeccably, first winning one of Black’s remaining pawns and then forcing an exchange of bishops. Though Smeets was able to win Nakamura’s rook for his remaining pawn, Nakamura wound up with three connected passed pawns against Smeets’ rook and he resigned.

There were two other decisive games in the top section of the tournament. Alexander Grischuk of Russia continued to implode, this time losing rather meekly to Aronian. It was Grischuk’s third loss of the tournament.

Kramnik beat Anish Giri, the 16-year-old Dutch grandmaster, wearing down his defenses in a game that was a masterpiece of endgame technique.

The B section continued to be a highly entertaining section. For the second consecutive round, six of the seven games ending decisively. Among the losers this time was Luke McShane of England, who had been the sole leader since the first day. He finally lost, succumbing to a mating attack by Le Quang Liem of Vietnam.

While McShane lost, Wesley So of the Philippines won his third consecutive game, this time over David Navara of the Czech Republic.

So, McShane and Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine are tied for the lead, with 5 points each. Gabriel Sargissian of Armenia is alone in fourth with 4.5 points.

The game of the day, and perhaps the tournament, at least so far, was the win by Surya Ganguly of India over Wouter Spoelman of the Netherlands. Ganguly sacrificed his queen to weave a beautiful mating net around Spoelman’s king. Ganguly has been having a miserable tournament — even with the win he is only a half point out of last place — but combinations and educational toys like the one he used on Saturday’s will put a smile on a player’s face and stick with him long after the tournament is over.

In the C group, six of the seven games also ended decisively. The two co-leaders — Daniele Vocaturo of Italy and Ilya Nyzhnyk, the 14-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster — both won to keep pace with each other. They each have 5.5 points.

Nyzhnyk’s win against Sebastian Siebrecht, a German grandmaster, featured a mating attack in which neither player’s king ever managed to castle.

Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine also won, beating Benjamin Bok, a Dutch international chess master. With 5 points, she remains within striking distance of Vocaturo and Nyzhnyk.