Meier Wins 2nd Speed Chess Qualifier Amid Nakamura Drama
Tuesday's Speed Chess Championship Qualifier 2 (with two more on April 18 and 25!) featured one of the most remarkable finales in Chess.com's history as Hikaru Nakamura entered the last round a half-point ahead of the field but ineligible to qualify for the Speed Chess Championship as he is already seeded into it. GM Georg Meier and IM Toms Kantans were a half-point back with tough pairings against GM Dmitry Andreikin and Nakamura respectively.
Behind them was a pack of seven strong players on 7/9 hoping to win and catch or pass Meier and Kantans to make a playoff. Though our headline proudly declares the winner, readers will surely not guess the circumstances that lead to Georg Meier's victory. Read on for all the wild details.
The Dominance Of Hikaru
Although Hikaru Nakamura is ineligible to qualify in the qualifier, he is still eligible to play (as is any titled player) and take home the cash prizes. Perhaps getting ready for the Zurich Chess Challenge, which starts today, Nakamura opted to enter the event, and it was quickly clear he was in fine form. Nakamura won his first seven games to take a full-point lead over the field. The only player who could clearly have achieved a draw was GM Cayse, who had a very interesting opportunity:
However, the order of the day was crushing victories for Nakamura. For example, he won this fine game against GM Robert Hess:
... and earlier dispatched GM ftorodent in an even briefer game.
Race To Qualify
Why even discuss Nakamura's victory? Shouldn't we be focusing on the battle for second and a qualification spot? Well, yes, but as it turned out, Nakamura's careening finish had a significant impact on the race.
At this point, Nakamura looked assured of an easy and clear first-place finish. Behind him were strong GMs like Dmitry Andreikin, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Meier, Grigoriy Oparin, Jeffery Xiong, Maxim Chigaev, Jose Ibarra Jerez, Andrey Rychagov, Yuniesky Quesada and a host of other GMs and IMs who had a shot at clear qualification or playoffs with a good finish.
Here are a few of the exciting games they played. This first one featured a rare four queens in a middlegame.
Nakamura took round eight off, agreeing a quick draw with Meier. He then drew last week's qualifier GM Sergey Grigoriants, who had his second strong event in a row. This time Nakamura was quite lost though.
Earlier Grigoriants won this nice endgame against Xiong.
Both Meier and Kantans won in round nine in somewhat peculiar fashions. Kantans benefited from a disconnection in a won position by Tomeshevsky while Meier's game was just baffling.
With Nakamura playing Kantans and Meier having a difficult match as Black against Andreikin, all of the 7/9 players could feel good about their chances for at least a playoff berth if they won. At this point, Kantans' chances seemed relatively low. After all, he was playing Nakamura. However, Nakamura was still in coasting-to-win-the-tournament mode, and he offered a draw...or at least he tried to offer a draw.
In fact, Nakamura was at this moment boarding a plane to take off the Zurich Chess Challenge. He had switched to playing on mobile (from the Chrome browser) for the final two rounds, and he accidentally pressed the resign button instead of the draw button! There are no takebacks in chess, and Kantans now had 8.5/10 and could only be caught by Meier.
With no buttons to press (except the clock), Nakamura won the opening blitz tournament in the Zurich Chess Challenge today.
Soon after this, Meier's position had started to deteriorate, and he was soon dead-as-a-doornail lost against Andreikin. It looked certain that Kantans would qualify, and while no one could begrudge Kantans his excellent tournament, it did seem a bit unfortunate for the spectators that a mis-click by Nakamura should obviate the need for a playoff. Then the spectators were blessed with a Speed Chess Championship miracle.
With that utterly unbelievable swindle (Why would Andreikin take that bishop?!), Meier and Kantans were going to a single Armageddon game to determine who would be in the Speed Chess Championship this year. Our Armageddon rules give White seven minutes while Black gets five minutes and draw odds. There is no increment or delay. Meier, as the higher-rated player, had the pick of color and selected Black for the draw odds. Everything was ready but where was Kantans? He was so certain of victory (understandably) that he had logged off and could not be found. Fortunately, Chess.com members are a helpful bunch and were actively messaging him.
The tiebreak game clearly favored Black with the always-solid Meier rebuffing Kantans aggression. He soon picked up a pawn and later the game, grabbing that critical qualification spot.
Meier was, by his own admission, a bit emotional after the finish, but he agreed to an interview on air, sharing his thoughts on the games and who he'd rather match up against in the championship.
|6||38||IM||JoachimBN||Joachim B Nilsen|
|8||18||GM||jcibarra||José Carlos Ibarra Jerez|
|9||16||IM||renatoterrylujan||Renato Alfredo Terry Lujan|
|15||163||FM||feigelag||Johannes Luangtep Kvisla|
Full tournament results and standings are available here.
The complete affair is available for streaming via Twitch.tv/chess with commentary from IMs Danny Rensch and Aman Hambleton.
GM Meier and IM Kantans each received $450 for first place. GMs Nakamura, Chigaev, and Grigoriants received $167 for shared third-fifth place.
Note: The top-ranked qualifiers at midnight on April 30th (by Chess.com blitz rating) will be given their choice of pairing in the Speed Chess Championship.