Four Hours Of Blitz Will Decide Tied Aronian-Nakamura Match

Four Hours Of Blitz Will Decide Tied Aronian-Nakamura Match

| 15 | Chess Event Coverage

After the first two games were both taken by White, games three and four of the GM Levon Aronian versus GM Hikaru Nakamura match both ended in draws.

The match, dubbed as the "Showdown in St. Louis," is hosted by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Classical chess is now over and on Tuesday the contest moves to the blitz phase.

The pair will be play 16 games over approximately four hours. The scoring of the classical portion was 4 points for a win and 2 for a draw. The players are thus both sitting on 8 points, with blitz games counting for the normal 1 point each.

Today's play begins at 2 p.m. local time (GMT -7) and you can follow the live broadcast here.

Both are of course exceptional blitz players. Nakamura said on at the 2014 U.S. Championship that he regards himself as the best bullet player in the world, though it is conceivable that others could be as good in blitz.

Yesterday he said that since he has a higher rating in blitz, he thinks he should be regarded as better in that format (as many people do for Aronian in classical).

Nakamura admitted that his style of discourse is more direct and that Aronian is more "subtle."

GM Maurice Ashley (left) asks GM Hikaru Nakamura if this is his "lucky hat." (Screengrab courtesy official coverage.)

Aronian is similarly confident and true to form to Nakamura's analysis. When asked by GM Maurice Ashley if he is better blitz player, Aronian said, "I have an opinion but I'm not going to share it, because people are going to think I'm arrogant!"

The player who gets to 8.5 wins in the blitz will grab the winner's share of the prize fund -- $60,000. The "loser" takes $40,000, which is an amount most chess players would be happy to earn in a loss!

Back to the classical chess, Nakamura had White in game three and went for a kingside attack. The h-file never opened and after Aronian swapped queens the endgame was nearly symmetrical.

Analysis by GM Maurice Ashley:

Nakamura said he prepared something "light" against the Grunfeld. Critical for him was after 18...Nb4. He analyzed the pawn advances d5 and h5 at many points. If 19. h5 immediately, 19...Nc2+ 20. Kf2 Qd4+ 21. Kg3, "and it's still very, very tricky."

He added that 21...g5 22. Bxe6+ Kh8, "and I thought I could be in trouble here."

The timing for h5 was better after 21...b6. Nakamura gave the line 22. h5! g5 23. Nxg5 (avoiding the fantastic queen trap 23. exf6 exf6 24. Rxd5 Qxd5 25. Nxf6+ Rxf6 26. Qxf6 Re8+ 27. Kf2 Re6! -- Nakamura) 23...fxg5 24. e6 (a move both players missed during the game). Best for Black is probably 23...Qf5 but still "White can't lose" according to Nakamura.

Not an illegal position! This is the DGT board system for signaling a draw. (Photo courtesy Austin Fuller of the CCSCSL.)

Four points were split in game four as well. Aronian again played an English (which won him game two, albeit with the aid of some endgame miscues). This time, a Catalan-like structure fractured the American's kingside pawns, not queenside.

Black's bishop pair held the balance and Nakamura was just in time to stop the a-pawn. The opposite-colored bishop ending was agreed drawn immediately.

"It felt a little bit worse but I never felt like I was in a lot of trouble," Nakamura said.

The most researched post-mortem line was if Aronian had played 25. g4! Qg6 26. a5 (26. h4 is perhaps a better try) Kg7 27. a6 Bd5 28. a7 b3 29. a8=Q Bxa8 30. Qxa8 Qxg4, "and Black should draw. Four against two [pawns] is an easy draw" (Nakamura).

Nakamura in game three (photo courtesy Austin Fuller of the CCSCSL).

The commentators discussed the even more amazing line 25. g4 Qg6 26. a5 Bd5!? 27. Nxf6+ Kg7 28. Ne8+ Kg8 29. Bxd5 exd5 30. Nf6+ Kg7 31. a6 b3 32. a7 b2 33. a8=Q b1=Q+ 34. Kg2 Qb4 35. Qa1 d4 36. Qaxd4 Qxd4 37. Nh5+ and White wins only a pawn!

"That g4 get four queens, wow!" GM Yasser Seirawan said. WGM Jennifer Shahade estimated that the odds of four queens in a game (simultaneously) is "one in a thousand" and even more rare than a knight promotion.

"I'm ready to fall on the floor looking at this line," Ashley said.

"The position is screaming for g4," Aronian said. He showed some lines where he thought including the move a5 was beneficial. He was upset at missing this move. Instead Black has several ways to draw and "[Nakamura] doesnt have to be sophisticated just to hold this position, which is embarrassing."

No, Aronian doesn't have an eye infection. He just loves colorful shirts! (Photo courtesy Austin Fuller of the CCSCSL.)

Game three followed two notable chess events, the successful world championship defense by GM Magnus Carlsen and also IM Sam Sevian cresting 2500 FIDE to fulfill his final grandmaster requirement and becoming the youngest American GM of all time.

Both Nakamura and Aronian weighed in on the news.

"I think it's good for American chess when you have up-and-coming talents," Nakamura said of Sevian, who will become the sixth-youngest GM of all time.

"Well, [Sevian] has the right genes to become a chess player!" Aronian joked. "He has the Armenian blood in him...He has a positional style -- I really like his play."

Aronian is the highest-rated Armenian of all time and Sevian has Armenian parents.

Neither man was especially impressed with the world championship.

"I think it was predictable in the sense of him winning the match," Nakamura said of Carlsen. "I thought the quality of his play was very bad actually, or maybe Anand was just playing well."

He later clarified on Twitter that "Carlsen's play wasn't as dominant as last year."

"I thought Vishy was better prepared this time," Aronian said. "But it's still difficult for him to play against Magnus. [Anand's] just a player of a different generation. Chess advances." 

America's newest GM, 13-year-old Sam Sevian (right) now has seven wins and two draws! Here he faces local IM Priyadharshan "P-Diddy" Kannappan. (Photo courtesy Austin Fuller of the CCSCSL.)

Aronian elaborated by drawing a parallel to one of another sport's all-time greats.

"I consider Kasaprov to be the greatest player in the world, but I can see him analyzing with players of the modern era, and I can see his understanding is very different. Like if you had Michael Jordan playing with current players, he wouldn't be the greatest probably."

Like Nakamura, Aronian was not impressed with the play. His critique was perhaps even stronger.

"I've never seen a world championship with quality. It's very rare. It's the two best players playing against each other. They're over-prepared, they work so much, they commit easy mistakes during the game because they're not fresh...You can't expect those two players, who have so much pressure on them, to perform their best."

Aronian said he planned to practice blitz on the Internet before the match today.

You can watch the full broadcasts and player interviews on the CCSCSL Youtube Channel. Round 3 is here and Round 4 is here.

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