Tal Baron Is Titled Tuesday Magician
In the waning moments of Titled Tuesday 12, GM Hikaru Nakamura looked to be squirming his king through the barricades for a fourth-consecutive win in Chess.com's monthly event. But just when he was about to draw level with GMs Baadur Jobava and Georg Meier with four lifetime titles, GM Tal Baron stopped Nakamura in his tracks with seconds remaining on his own clock.
Stalwart defense and a good eye for repetition protected Baron's lead in the final round. The draw with the top blitz player on Chess.com earned Baron his first Titled Tuesday crown (he previously had one second-place place in Titled Tuesday 10).
Even though Nakamura could not tie the historical mark for most wins, other records did fall. The 128 players were the most ever, as were the 26 grandmasters. More than 1,750 fans watched at the peak viewership, also a record.
Besides Nakamura, other 2700s played. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Dmitry Andreikin and the Titled Tuesday debut of GM Laurent Fressinet made the event quite top-heavy. Baron's victory wasn't pairings-assisted; he had to play all four of these players!
Tal Baron also came close to winning the new perfect score bonus of $250, which was available for the first time. He started with 7.0/7 but drew in round eight before the draw with Nakamura in round nine.
For this Titled Tuesday report, we try something new -- showcasing the best, or at least the most interesting or important game from each of the nine rounds.
Round One: GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. IM Tobi-Wan-Kenobi
The tournament began with a wild game from MVL. His king had to walk the plank to give him winning chances. Black had a way to get a better ending with no risk, but he went for glory and came up short.
Round Two: GM Maxim Dlugy vs. IM Mateusz Kolosowski -- GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT NOMINEE. Vote on the Chess.com survey.
Dlugy found himself down the exchange for some central control. He eventually came back to win. That happens a lot in blitz, but getting to mate with a bishop and knight is a rare occurrence at Titled Tuesday.
Round Three: FM Marko Sokac vs. GM Hikaru Nakamura -- GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT NOMINEE. Vote on the Chess.com survey.
This game was most like a pendulum of any played on Tuesday. Nakamura sacked, sacked, and almost mated. Then Sokac, a frequent prize-winner in recent Titled Tuesday events, gave his queen back to rebuff the attack. The Croatian then gave more, a rook for Nakamura's knight, leaving the 2800-GM with only a queen against Sokac's close-knit coterie of pieces.
After the upset, Sokac expressed in the chat how happy he was with the win.
Round Four: GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. FM Marko Sokac -- GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT NOMINEE. Vote on the Chess.com survey.
If there was any doubt who the world-class players were, Sokac learned the very next round. As the warden says in Shawshank Redemption, "His judgement cometh and that right soon."
Vachier-Lagrave showed that Sokac isn't the only one who can sacrifice a queen. This time, it was for tactical reasons, not defense. Commentator IM Danny Rensch was very impressed. At first Rensch though that MVL would have to repeat at move 23, but he lit up with excitement when the Frenchman found 23. Nxd8 followed by 24. Bxc4+.
The only way for Black to not resign immediately was 24...Nd5, which Rensch called merely a "confusion tactic."
"It's like when the Ninja Turtles are in action and they throw up a smoke bomb," he said.
A bonus puzzle: GM Sergei Movsesian vs. GM Imre Balogh -- Black to move.
Round Five: WGM Alexandra Dimitrijevic vs. GM Alexander Indjic
Only four players headed in to round five with perfect 4-0 scores. This all-Serbian matchup showed the strength of one mighty outpost -- White simply could not successfully dislodge a black knight from e5.
Bonus: The artistic endgame position on move 93 in NM pacific_heights vs. IM Greg Shahade
Amazingly, there is no win despite the extra knight. How often have you seen a position like this? It is reminiscent of a Pal Benko birthday present.
Round Six: GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. GM Tal Baron
The only two unblemished scores remaining faced off in round six (the "perfect" 128-player field was coincidentally a prelude to next month's FIDE World Cup, which also has 128 players).
Baron's imposing knights and central pawns caused Vachier-Lagrave to take drastic measures which did not work out in the slightest.
Round Seven: GM Tal Baron vs. GM Dmitry Andreikin
From the "now I feel better about my own chess" file, here's a top-30 world player hanging mate-in-one in an otherwise mostly-equal position. It was clearly Baron's day when something like this happens!
Baron moved to 7-0 with the win. He now had a chance to win a perfect-score bonus of $250 with two more wins in the final rounds, but he accepted a relatively early draw in round eight to protect his lead.
Round Eight: GM Alexander Indjic vs. GM Maxim Dlugy -- GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT NOMINEE. Vote on the Chess.com survey.
The pawn formation resembled a King's Indian Attack versus the French, with typical themes of Black ripping open the queenside while White plays for mate on the other flank.
Dlugy defended well and found himself up the exchange in the endgame, but there was on problem: he left White with a pawn looming on h6. When he tried to corral the menacing piece, his seventh rank became neglected. Like Andreikin, Dlugy also found himself mated.
Round Nine: GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Tal Baron -- GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT NOMINEE. Vote on the Chess.com survey.
This instant Title Tuesday classic is notable for the finish. With Nakamura winning games in bunches following his round-three loss, he needed one final win to catch up and tie Baron.
After Baron dominated on the b-file and broke through in the center, Nakamura untangled by giving away a piece for some pawns. Just when it looked like he couldn't improve his position, an epic king walk up the board landed the monarch on e8!
There was just one problem: the f7 pawn was still immune and while Nakamura was trying to toggle moves to find another avenue to improve, Baron correctly spotted a triple occurrence of position. With his clock down to single digits, he hit the draw button, which may as well have been a championship button. Baron's defense protected his half-point lead and won him the title.
Finishing second and winning $400 was GM Conrad Holt, the current U.S. Open champion (where he is back defending his title right now in Phoenix, Arizona). Holt had been inactive at Chess.com for nearly two years before returning for this one. Nakamura, Indjic, Andreikin and GM Romain Edouard all tied for third for $93.75.
The top IM prize is split between IM Krutoy123 and IM Nikita Meshkov ($50 each). Top FM/NM/CM is a three-way tie among FMs Minh Le, MichaelK123 (no relation!) and Renato Alfredo Terry Lujan. WFM Victoria Bukhteeva wins $75 for top female and GM Sam Sevian the same for top under 18.
The best game prize of $125 will be voted on by you -- check the Chess.com homepage soon for the poll.
The next Titled Tuesday will be September 1 at 11 a.m. Pacific.
|11||18||USA||GM||RLH2||Hess II, Robert||6.5||29.25|
|12||10||ARG||GM||Genghis_K||Perez Ponsa, Federico||6.5||28.75|
|15||3||FRA||GM||LyonBeast||Vachier Lagrave, Maxime||6||31|
|21||8||PER||FM||renatoterrylujan||Terry Lujan, Renato Alfredo||6||25.5|