Nakamura 4-for-4 In Quest For 4th Straight Gibraltar Title
Here's a pro-tip: Don't try to outcalculate GM Hikaru Nakamura.
With seven players sitting on 3/3 going into today's round four of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, the American used his nonpareil calculation skills to navigate through an incredibly messy position in the Najdorf to beat GM Nils Grandelius.
Excellence checks out excellence as His Excellency Ed Davis, the Governor of Gibraltar, watches board one in round four. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.
None of the other players on perfect scores could keep pace, so Nakamura is all alone at the top in his quest to win his fourth-consecutive title on The Rock.
A complicated middlegame was likely just fine with Nakamura. Two days previously, he needed 135 moves and nearly eight hours to prove his two rooks were better than GM Valentina Gunina's queen. Gunina gets the "Ironwoman Award" for playing seven hours and 45 minutes against the super-GM, then serving double duty the day after with her game in Gibraltar and evening PRO Chess League games, then finally volunteering after round four to host the event's evening master class.
Get comfortable: These two were here for a while. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.
After round five she's already signed on to the women's team for the annual "Battle of the Sexes" event after the game. And on the sixth day, maybe she can rest.
How did a field of more than 270 players get winnowed to one perfect score less than halfway through the 10-rounder? You can look to round two for much of the blame. Just one of the top five boards went according to rating form, and that only came after most of the field had gone to bed. Who are we kidding? This is Gibraltar. Everyone stays up late for the night events.
Nakamura looked confident heading into the first time control. What wasn't to like? He'd just offered a whole rook, then his queen, on consecutive moves.
He had Gunina's king on the run and a pawn on the seventh, but right at the time control she came up with a great practical try. By chucking a few pawns at the defending champ's king, she kept alive the option of limitless checks.
GM Valentina Gunina relished the chance to play a super-GM so much that the game nearly lasted into the next day. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.
Nakamura labored in the first move after the added time, trying to coordinate his rooks and find his king safe harbor. In fact the analysis showed Black was likely drawing, but after 95 more moves, the underdog's defenses finally gave way.
"I was really happy to see how he was nervous," Gunina said. "He has to win...He was just taking off his jacket all the time. It was so funny. I really enjoyed this game even though it was too long."
In a round that began at 3 p.m. local time, they wrapped up just before 11, even after the evening's master class concluded.
"I think I never played such a long game in my life," Gunina said after the following day's play (as you might guess, both she and any journalists just wanted to sleep by the time the game was done!). "I didn't analyze because it was too long. I will analyze when I come back to Moscow."
It's about three hours from Gibraltar to London and another 3.5 onward to Moscow, so she could have flown home in less time than it took to play the game. Or, she could have watched the first four of the Rocky movies with a little bonus time to start Rocky V (and she might have felt less punch-drunk).
Gunina said she'd never played someone of Nakamura's caliber, but she enjoyed the experience. Playing a world top-10 is just one of the perks that brought 12 of the world's top 15 women to Gibraltar.
Just outside the top five, on board six GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda moved up in the rankings quickly with a win that took about 33 percent of the time and 15 percent of the moves.
While Nakamura kept on winning, it was time for top-seeded GM Levon Aronian to try to get back on track and in the mix. Following his opening-round draw and consequently coming off a round where he wasn't even on a DGT board, Aronian didn't get a huge pull from the opening. Then he made up for it with a sparkling tactic:
Aronian is playing his first true open since his plane also touched down in Gibraltar back in 2005. Perhaps that was his last time he played on a non-DGT board, and Aronian said it "took off a lot of the pressure." He admitted that playing against lower-rated players takes some readjustment.
"The important thing in an open tournament is to take more risks," he said. "It's a cup that I have to drink." Aronian added that he's in good company since GM Mikhail Tal also got off to many slow starts.
GMs Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Two familiar faces who are unused to playing outside the roped-off boards. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.
The Armenian said after a poor performance in Tata Steel a few years ago, he was ready for a change, so he chose Gibraltar this year. He added that sometimes it's not the player's call at all, since one is at the whim of whom the organizers invite to Wijk aan Zee. So he will prepare here (the lone Candidates' player in Gibraltar) for the most important tournament of his life.
One of many subplots of the tournament is the "Pragga-watch" -- can the young GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa set the record for youngest grandmaster in history? He has until exactly March 10 to eclipse the record of 12 years, seven months, zero days, owned by GM Sergey Karjakin since 2002.
While chess fans and historians are on "Pragga-watch," he's watching us. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.
He can still make it happen. He's sitting on one norm, so he would need one more here and another in his final event next month.
One famous GM, his round-three opponent, is trying to protect the shield:
@nigelshortchess) January 25, 2018
So how did the "thrashing" go? Not so great.
"Maybe I could have played better in the middlegame," Praggnanandhaa said after being surprised by Black's choice of captures on move four.
Praggnanandhaa split the point again in round four, so his opening win and trio of draws still leave him in contention at plus-one. Here is he talking about the game and a common criticism of his game: time management.
Four players had extremely long days after round three, as they also had to play their PRO League matches.
For Gunina, who had the earliest call time (8 p.m. local), that meant she couldn't play longer than about a 4.5-hour game in Gibraltar. Luckily she had no such marathon as in round two. But actually it was her own choosing.
Knowing that her Cannes Blockbusters had her in the lineup, at one point her clock read one hour, 22 minutes while her opponent had merely 16 minutes. She won despite the alacrity, and got a bite at dinner before logging on.
While he didn't play in the PRO League last night, GM David Howell (red shirt) did get off to a 3.5/4 start as he seeks to become the first British player to win the Gibraltar title since 2012. Here he teams with IM Tania Sachdev in a fun tandem game against GM Daniil Dubov and GM Natalia Zhukova. | Photo: Sophie Triay/Gibraltar Chess.
Other players in Gibraltar also played in the PRO League, with GM Eduardo Itturizaga's 4-0 performance proving the best of the bunch as he helped his Miami Champions to victory. Nakamura lost a critical final-round match to GM Leinier Dominguez, which made the Seattle Sluggers only tie the Las Vegas Desert Rats in a match that commenced around 3:45 a.m. local time for Nakamura.
The final player pulling a double shift, GM Varuzhan Akobian, won a six-hour over-the-board game, then won his first three for the Saint Louis Arch Bishops. But like Nakamura, he failed to go 5-0 on the day after dropping his final-round PRO League game (on time), which also had his team's match end in a tie.
Only seven players began this afternoon's play with perfect scores. That meant one player "down-floated" to play against the highest-rated of the 2.5-score group. IM Nino Batsiashivili was the lucky contestant to get a crack at GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
IM Nino Batsiashvili, trying to become a GM, again. | Photo: John Saunders/Gibraltar Chess.
Why still an international master? Although seemingly clinching her third and final norm at the Chess.com Isle of Man International last year (with one round to go!), she told Chess.com here that FIDE nixed one of her norms.
With a 3/3 start, this loss against a near-2800 won't sting too much in her renewed quest to be the world's 36th female grandmaster and fifth from the Republic of Georgia.
"I love ths game!" GM Simon Williams said on the commentary, adding that 17. c5 was the "move of the day" and the finish reminded him of Tal-Tringov, 1964.
Shortly thereafter, Williams then had to revise his statement. In what may be a world's first for the "Ginger GM," he said the mostly-defensive 21. Qa1 was his new favorite.
Nakamura said that move was forced. He seemed most pleased with his first long think and the analysis he did after 16...Rc8. The American initially thought he'd found fault with 17. c4, but eventually decided he had to go for it.
"There aren't any other moves where White can play for advantage," he said. "That's why I returned to c4 and in the end it was a very good choice."
It took him 50 minutes to wade through the depths, but after that he had most of the remaining critical moments worked out. Nakamura thought afterward he may just be winning after the move.
Next up in round five trying to stop the Nakamura Express is Duda. The rest of the field wants him to succeed, but will the Duda abide?
2018 Tradewise Gibraltar | Round 4 Standings (Top 25)
|4||16||GM||Howell David W L||2682||3,5||2818|
|6||38||GM||Antipov Mikhail Al.||2588||3,5||2808|
|17||63||GM||Lalith Babu M R||2542||3,0||2690|
A full 67 players have 3.0 or more! Full standings here.
Need something lighthearted after all this chess? Check out this video of the players answering punchy questions about their good and bad qualities and their relationship status:
The 16th Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival is a 10-round open event that takes place from January 23-February 1 at the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar. Rounds 1-9 take place at 3:00 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern U.S., 6 a.m. Pacific). Live commentary with GM Simon Williams and IM Jovanka Houska and player interviews with IM Tania Sachdev can be found at Twitch.tv/Chess or the official site.