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Indestructible Nakamura Clinches Arena Kings Season 9 Championship Final

Indestructible Nakamura Clinches Arena Kings Season 9 Championship Final

AnthonyLevin
| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura won the Arena Kings Season 9 Championship Final on Wednesday, defeating GM Oleksandr Bortnyk 3-1 in the final round of the knockout—after also finishing first in the qualifying arena. GM Jose Martinez and IM Tuan Minh Le finished as semifinalists while GMs Raunak Sadhwani, Baadur Jobava, Benjamin Bok, and IM Gianmarco Leiva were the remaining quarterfinalists.

53 players and streamers, who qualified by earning 10 or more points during the season, participated in the qualifying arena before the final knockout.

How To Watch?
You can watch Arena Kings on Chess.com/TV most weeks. You can also enjoy the show on our Twitch channel and catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/ChesscomLive.

Championship Qualifier Arena

The last day of the season featured energetic commentary by GMs Daniel Naroditsky and Robert Hess for both the two-hour qualifier and the knockout after.

Unsurprisingly by this point, Nakamura won first place in the arena with 88 points total—24 wins, one loss, and four draws. Perhaps more surprisingly, FM Marco Riehle finished second, ahead of several grandmaster participants, with 86 points—25 wins, 12 losses, and five draws. This final day drew a larger crowd of grandmasters than normal and delivered many high-level battles.

The early rounds of the qualifier featured matchups between strong, titled players from the get-go. Shortly after Nakamura and Sadhwani made a draw in a back-and-forth game, Le delivered a memorable Greek sacrifice to take down the formidable GM Sergei Zhigalko. For the Vietnamese IM, this foreshadowed a grandmaster-slaying rampage to come in the knockout.

As we often see in blitz time controls, there was no shortage of ill-timed pre-moves. Among countless other examples throughout the tournament, Jobava was the beneficiary of a losing pre-move by IM M Nubairshah Shaikh, shocking the commentators:

Nakamura continued to pull Houdini tricks, not only surviving slightly-worse to much-worse positions but often winning them by posing practical problems. In the following position, he retreats his knight to f3, not only to protect it but to also set up a cheeky checkmate threat:

13-year-old James Chirilov (@Chessbrainiac), a regular participant in Arena Kings, surely must be proud of himself for achieving a winning position against Nakamura. Still, the escapist narrative prevailed and Nakamura survived with a draw, a saving act the American super-GM would repeat again and again throughout the day.

"I have never seen someone conjure up that much counterplay in such a lost position. Honestly, only he can do it," Chirilov said on his stream a few minutes later.

I have never seen someone conjure up that much counterplay in such a lost position. 

—James Chirilov

Knockout

There is a beautiful quote—perhaps cliché by now, but I can't help myself— by the fictional character Rocky Balboa about boxing and life: "It's not about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." This quote could be the mantra of this season's champion, Nakamura, who was simply impenetrable. Like a cat with nine lives, no matter how dire the situation seemed, he would not go down.

And when it was time to convert an advantage? Well, he did that just fine, too.

The knockout format was similar to the one used throughout the regular season, except that the winner of each match was the first to win three points rather than the usual first-to-two. Indeed, the round of 16 was, bluntly speaking, the usual slaughter-fest. The favorites won on every board, except for Leiva, who was able to defeat GM Gata Kamsky.

In a must-win situation in their last game, Kamsky must have mixed up his move order as he (otherwise inexplicably) failed to grab an exchange and win the game. After a hectic time scramble where both sides had chances, the international master was able to secure a draw and win the match.

Comically, by the way, Nakamura's first game was already over only a few seconds after the commentators finished explaining the format and pairings.

In the quarterfinals, Nakamura had the most dominant score, 3-0. Le, one of two remaining IMs among GMs, asserted that he was no underdog in this format with his match-victory over Bok. Tuning in to the last game close to its conclusion, a puzzled Naroditsky asked, "Wait, where is Black's second rook?" before replaying the crushing attack:

The quarterfinal match between Sadhwani and Martinez went down to the wire and was only decided in a bullet tiebreak (1+1 time control). Both players could have won at various points, but unfortunately, Sadhwani made the last mistake and Martinez reached the semifinals.

Those semifinals featured four players whom consistent viewers of Arena Kings are quite used to: Nakamura vs. Le and Martinez vs. Bortnyk. Truth be told, the Vietnamese IM outplayed Nakamura in the first three games, having winning positions in each, but was unable to convert a single one of them—his frustration becoming more and more visible with each failed attempt.

As Naroditsky said, Nakamura was "unbeatable" in this match.

Here's another insane example where Nakamura was absolutely dead in the water but still managed to survive.

What could be more tilting? After saving the first three games, Nakamura managed to win the next two and take the match. Le nevertheless finished the match with grace and dignity despite, for him, the heartbreaking result.

Meanwhile, the Martinez vs. Bortnyk match went down to the bullet tiebreak. The game concluded with Martinez unfortunately missing a skewer, losing a bishop as a result, and getting mated quickly thereafter. 

And now came the grand finale: Nakamura vs. Bortnyk. In the first game, Bortyk could have won after he found the beginning of a nice combination, but just when he needed to find the following two-knights checkmate, he faltered, got an equal position, and then lost on time.

Bortnyk exchanged a counterblow in the second game, however, after Nakamura blundered a mate-in-one, either by pre-move or simply moving too fast.

The final game featured an incredible attack by Bortnyk, and one that should have been decisive with best play. However, the time it took him to calculate the complications drained his clock. Even when he could have saved a draw at the end, he had no time and succumbed. 

Standings, Results, Prizes

Nakamura earned $3,500 for first place while Bortnyk earned $2,000 for second. The third and fourth prizes of $1,250 went to Le and Martinez. Fifth-eighth received $650 and ninth-16th $250. The full standings of the knockout field are below:

 Arena Kings Season 9 | Championship Final | Knockout Standings

KO Rank Username Country Rating
1 @Hikaru 3200
2 @Oleksandr_Bortnyk 2982
3-4 @wonderfultime 2970
3-4 @Jospem 2924
5-8 @champ2005 2987
5-8 @exoticprincess 2928
5-8 @GianmarcoVaR 2719
5-8 @gmbenjaminbok 2928
9-16 @TigrVShlyape 2853
9-16 @OhanyanEminChess 2683
9-16 @MarcoRiehle 2580
9-16 @ErikRonka 2513
9-16 @FritziSchach_Twitch 2381
9-16 @SlipperySpeedster 2328
9-16 @hallvardhf 2084
9-16 @jack2212 2018

Full arena standings here.

All prizes are published in the results report here. 

arena kings season 9 final prize money

Arena Kings is a weekly Wednesday tournament for streamers on Chess.com. A two-hour arena is followed by a knockout of the top 16 streamers from the arena. Both parts feature a 3+0 time control and games start at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time/18:00 Central European.

AnthonyLevin
NM Anthony Levin

NM Anthony Levin caught the chess bug at the "late" age of 18 and never turned back. He earned his national master title in 2021, actually the night before his first day of work at Chess.com.

Anthony, who also earned his Master's in teaching English in 2018, taught English and chess in New York schools for five years and strives to make chess content accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. At Chess.com, he writes news articles and manages social media for chess24.

Email:  anthony.levin@chess.com

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