Carlsen Beats Nakamura, Wins Speed Chess Championship
Magnus Carlsen wins the Speed Chess Championship.

Carlsen Beats Nakamura, Wins Speed Chess Championship

| 99 | Chess Event Coverage

Four days after winning the FIDE World Blitz Championship, Magnus Carlsen hadn't lost his form yet. With even bigger numbers than last year (18 to 9 this time), the Norwegian again defeated Hikaru Nakamura in the final on Wednesday and won the 2017 Speed Chess Championship convincingly.

"Magnus is just improving every year in Speed Chess," said commentator GM Eric Hansen towards the end of the match between Carlsen and Nakamura. It expressed a general feeling that was left after Carlsen's dominating win at the World Blitz, on the other side of the year's end. Yesterday a five-game winning streak in the bullet portion was the knockout blow.

This Speed Championship event started early May 2017 with the rounds of 16, or April 2017 if you count the Titled Tuesday qualifiers. Nakamura eliminated Sergey Grigoriants, Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin to reach the final; Carlsen was too strong for Gadir Guseinov, Wesley So and Alexander Grischuk.

Due to busy schedules from the players involved, the tournament stretched out a few days into the new year. However, Carlsen clearly took his great form from late 2017 into 2018. Last year his winning score was more modest 14.5-10.5. This time around, he doubled up.

Before the final had asked several experts to provide their predictions. It was the Norwegian grandmaster Jon Ludvig Hammer who got the closest, predicting that Carlsen would win in all three time controls but lose the Chess960 mini-match.

Hammer predicts Speed Chess

Nakamura played from a special location: Johannesburg, South Africa. He is on a short vacation there and is also attending the South African National Junior Chess Championships, a huge event where about 2,500 kids are expected to participate. Because of all this, the American speed devil played on a laptop before a crowd of about 120 local fans.

Nakamura playing the Speed Chess final from South Africa

Nakamura playing the Speed Chess final from South Africa. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Carlsen played from home, and followed a personal "tradition" by arriving slightly late—or maybe we should say, insufficiently prepared. At the start of the first game, he could hardly be seen in front of the webcam as he was still grabbing food, drinks and his headset. Only two minutes into the game, he could be seen headbobbing to the music he was listening to. He was already having fun.

This positive mindset seemed to work right from the start. Carlsen won the first 5+2 game as Black from what looked like an equal position; his 18...Nb4 was a nice move to grab the initiative.

Carlsen was under pressure but held game two to a draw, and then blundered in the next. The score was level again.

Meanwhile, half an hour into the show, already 25,000 fans were watching, making the Speed Chess final the third most-watched show on Twitch on that moment. Later it would jump to second place. 

While the show was breaking 30K viewers, Carlsen showed great endgame technique in game four. From a completely equal position, Nakamura dropped a pawn. It might still have been a draw. But not this time.

Carlsen won game five and, after a draw in the next, also game seven. For the first time someone in the match had more than a one-point lead, and the way it happened must have been a bit of a blow for Nakamura. He had been close to winning for about half the game, and then unnecessarily lost a drawn pawn endgame (which, incidentally, was even more complicated than everyone thought).

Rensch: "That's the kind of turnaround that wins matches."
Hansen: "That was [Nakamura's] best position of the match. He has to turn it around right away." 

Carlsen-Nakamura Speed Chess prediction

Instead of turning it around right away, Nakamura lost another game to get three points behind—and again from a promising position. Fans and commentators expressed their disbelief of what was happening.

"I am pretty sure Magnus was saying to himself what the bleep," said Rensch after 32...b5, and at the end of the game: "Magnus Carlsen holds lost positions all day. He holds them for breakfast."

Nakamura won the Chess960 so things were still more or less under control, but he did lose the 5|2 with a three-point margin: 6-3.

Score 5|2 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2965 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 0 6
Hikaru Nakamura 2853 0 ½ 1 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 3

The 3+2 segment started with a draw, and the slightly disturbing news that Nakamura had forgotten his laptop charger in his hotel and his battery was getting low! But luckily help came quickly and there were no further issues (although in the bullet session Nakamura seemed to play with less power than normal).

The next game was another win for Carlsen, and the third in which he had been outplayed by Nakamura in the opening and early middlegame. The American noted afterward that this was quite different from the 2016 Grandmaster Blitz Battle: "Last year I was outplayed throughout the match but today I got some great positions."

Strangely, the next game (another fantastic fight) suddenly showed a completely opposite picture with Carlsen spoiling (and losing!) a winning position. This was rare for the world champion, in this match and in general.

The 3|1 part saw one more win for Carlsen and four draws, after which the score was 10.5-6.5. A five-point margin still wasn't decisive, but Nakamura really needed to show his famous bullet skills to make it close.

Score 3|2 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2965 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 4.5
Hikaru Nakamura 2853 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 3.5

That didn't happen. Instead, Carlsen started to dominate the match completely. After a win and a draw, he defeated Nakamura five times in a row, thereby depriving his opponent of a theoretical chance of survival. With a devastating 17-6 on the scoreboard, Nakamura won game 25, Carlsen game 26 and Nakamura game 27 (the Chess960) to make it 18-9.

Nakamura vs Carlsen in South Africa

Hikaru Nakamura in action vs Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

If missing chances in several games wasn't frustrating enough, Nakamura also made a mouse slip in game 18. Blegh!

Game 23 prompted Rensch to compare Carlsen's play with the Harlem Globetrotters as it was almost too fancy to win that pawn on e4 like that, and trapping the bishop at the end.

Nakamura's last regular bullet win saw an abrupt finish when Carlsen blundered a basic tactic.

As Hammer predicted, Nakamura won the Chess960 mini-match (with a 2.5-0.5 score). In early February the same players will play a Chess960 match in Norway, and Carlsen admitted that he needs a bit more experience for that, noting that he didn't do great in this part of his matches with Grischuk and So either. (Rumor has it that Carlsen might make an appearance in tonight's Chess960 Championship.)

Score 1|1 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2965 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 7.5
Hikaru Nakamura 2853 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 2.5

Carlsen-Nakamura Speed Chess score

"Every time I had a chance something went wrong. It wasn't very good but that's how it goes sometimes," said Nakamura. 

Carlsen: "It's becoming a bit of a recurring story I suppose. It did upset me that I was outplayed in several of those games. That was indeed the critical part of the match. He was only a couple of games behind and dominating most of the games but of course, you never give up completely. You try to hang in there a bit. I guess I got my share today."

2017 Speed Chess Championship bracket

As it was based on the final score, Carlsen won $8,333.33 in this match and Nakamura $1,666.67. The total amount Carlsen earned in the tournament is $17,525.11 vs $10,493.25 for Nakamura.

Whether it will be in the same format or with slight changes, for sure will be organizing another Speed Chess championship this year. Especially the final has been very successful, with close to 400,000 unique viewers for the English broadcast and an average of almost 30,000 simultaneous viewers over a period of four hours. (To put this into perspective: the World Rapid & Blitz Championship normally had roughly 7,000 simultaneous viewers.)

Here you can watch the broadcast of the match again. 

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