Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals: Nakamura Wins In Armageddon, Makes 3-2
Hikaru Nakamura leads 3-2. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals: Nakamura Wins In Armageddon, Makes 3-2

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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57 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura is one mini-match victory away from clinching the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva after he defeated GM Magnus Carlsen for the third time in their best-of-seven. On Tuesday, the American GM won the sixth blitz game on demand and then also the armageddon game.

How to watch?
The games of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals can be found here as part of our live events platform. IM Levy Rozman, IM Anna Rudolf, and IM Eric Rosen are providing daily commentary on Nakamura's Twitch channel at 7:00 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe.

So far, this fascinating clash between the two best speed chess players on the planet had just about everything in terms of drama and excitement. Only one thing was missing so far: an armageddon game.

The fifth mini-match delivered, with a somewhat odd score progression: four draws in the rapid games, followed by three black wins in a row.

The first rapid game was, in a way, exemplary for why Nakamura has been so successful this week against the one opponent he tends to invariably struggle with at shorter time controls. The American star has been defending very well.

The first game seemed one of those typical Carlsen-Naka encounters where not much is happening, pieces get traded and an almost equal endgame appears on the board. Carlsen then often increases his advantage further and further, with tactics assisting positional ideas, until the opponent—in this case Nakamura—cracks somewhere. 

This time, Carlsen found the tactic, got a winning advantage, but then failed to deliver while facing incredibly stiff resistance.

"I found a way to make good moves," said Nakamura. "I think that's the big difference that's been going on in this match: I've been defending and just always finding the best moves at the critical moments. Frankly, I've had a lot of experience with many bad positions against Magnus, so it's kind of fitting in a way."

Hikaru Nakamura Kiva
Nakamura has been defending strongly. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Not much happened in game two as Nakamura "corrected" his move-order mistake from yesterday in the Italian and equalized without problems this time. Also in game three, things remained equal and moves were repeated during the middlegame.

Game four saw another example of Carsen getting a small edge but Nakamura limiting the damage with concrete moves:

For the third time, the players moved to two 5+3 games and in the first, Carlsen surprised right away by playing the Alekhine as Black.

"I wasn't sure if that was intentional or not because he had a weird look on his face as soon as he played the move so I'm not sure if that was psychology or if that was actually a mistake, it wasn't really clear to me," said Nakamura. "He didn't look like he prepared it, based on the webcam. Maybe he was just doing a very good acting job."

Whether he intended to play it or not, it was a big success for the world champion as he rolled up White's queenside while Nakamura's attack never really went anywhere. The American GM admitted that he didn't react very well and "kind of misplayed" it, adding: "I felt I should have moved quicker. I used too much time trying to decide to go all-in or just try and defend on the queenside."

He ended up going all-in on the kingside, and if you do that, you might as well do it without thinking about it. There was one slip by Carlsen that gave Naka a chance to draw for one move, but it was hard to find.

Carlsen Peter Heine Nielsen
Did Carlsen prepare this Alekhine with Peter Heine Nielsen, was it behind-the-board inspiration or a mouse slip on move one? Nakamura wasn't sure. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the previous three times that a player had to win on demand in this best-of-seven (in matches one, three, and four), they failed. This time Nakamura managed to do so, with the black pieces.

The risky but flexible King's Indian was a logical choice, but he pointed out that he had to avoid the mainline with 6...e5 because of the option for White to trade queens by taking on e5.

"I almost played it and then I was like: aha, wait, he's just gonna trade the queens!" said Nakamura, who thought 15.c5 was a mistake. "It's not that this is necessarily bad for White but the game starts spiraling into stuff that's very murky and unclear."

At some point, Carlsen sacrificed a pawn to trade queens, which was met by a strong exchange sacrifice from Nakamura, who seemed to be winning quickly as his d-pawn was running. However, with less than a minute on the clock vs. about two and a half for his opponent, Carlsen found an amazing defense with 39.Rd7, missed by his opponent.

"Then I'm lucky that I can still play on with 39...Rxb4," said Nakamura. "In a normal game, a human might be able to draw this but in a blitz game where both players are low on the clock and especially where I have much more time as Black and the moves are easier, practically speaking I think you're gonna lose this like 95 percent of the time with White."

Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals day 1.

Nakamura agreed that he went into the armageddon with a slight psychological edge: "It makes a difference, certainly. I was thrilled to get to the armageddon because after the first blitz game I assumed that it would be over."

Carlsen choosing the white pieces was slightly surprising, but Nakamura could understand it: "In that second blitz game which I won against Magnus he was extremely slow on the clock, so based on the fact that he was so slow in that second blitz game I thought it makes sense to have that extra minute."

The Samisch line of the Nimzo-Indian was an interesting choice from the world champ, but also a bit of a gamble. "I was lucky Magnus walked into something that I'm pretty familiar with and I was able to just remember it during the game," said Nakamura. He said he had prepared it several times in recent years and that explained the speed at which he could play his opening moves, putting Carlsen under pressure from the start.

"It really comes down a lot to who comes out of the opening quickly. If Black can get out of the opening without using a lot of time it's a serious advantage," he said. In armageddon games, White gets five minutes and Black four, who has draw odds.

"It's been a wild match and I think more than anything I'm just glad that it's been very competitive, for the fans especially," Nakamura said. "I know there are some people who didn't think it would be. It's been a great match for everyone. I've had a lot of fun. I think it's hard to top what happened today."

It's been a wild match and I think more than anything I'm just glad that it's been very competitive, for the fans especially.
—Hikaru Nakamura

All games | Final, Day 5

The Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva runs August 9-20 on chess24. The semifinals phase was a best-of-five series of matches consisting of four-game rapid matches each day. The final consists of a best-of-seven series, where the player who wins four matches is the winner of the tour. The prize fund is $300,000 with $140,000 for first place and $80,000 for second. The time control is 15 minutes and a 10-second increment.


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