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Nakamura Strikes Back With A Vengeance

Nakamura Strikes Back With A Vengeance

PeterDoggers
Dec 16, 2016, 2:19 PM 38,642 Reads 47 Comments Chess event coverage

There's no better way to get back after a devastating loss than using the same opening with the other color and scoring a nice win yourself. That's what Hikaru Nakamura did today in his game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in London's seventh round.

Yesterday's tilt between Caruana and Nakamura has been described as the "game of the tournament," and the black player in that encounter might have heard that too.

Whatever happened in the hours in between the two battles, one thing is clear: Nakamura came back with a vengeance, bounced back quickly and defeated MVL in great style.

Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The American player went for the same line as yesterday, but now with the white pieces. "The thing that was so confusing about yesterday was that I looked at this line, actually I had stolen it from Maxime, or I just borrowed it from him," Nakamura said.

"When I looked at it I thought it was completely fine but then yesterday of course I just got blown off the board without really playing a move. I knew Maxime would play the Najdorf and I figured: why not play the line? It didn't look that simple."

The Najdorf is suddenly not that simple for Black. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

MVL was the first to deviate (from both yesterday's game and his encounter with Giri at the 2016 Norway Chess tournament), but Nakamura was prepared for that as well. And then, like Caruana yesterday, he also got the chance to play the typical Nd4-f5 move—but this time with Black still having a pawn on e6!

Nakamura: "I just figured, why not, take a chance. It's a fun move and there's nothing to risk."

The engines liked it too. White quickly got a passed h-pawn, and attacking chances on top of that. MVL decided to give up a piece for some counter chances against the white king, but that didn't work—Nakamura in fact had seen everything when he took that piece.

Nakamura's 35.Rg6 was a nice finishing touch. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Asked what he thinks about his roller-coaster of a tournament, Nakamura said: "It's fun. It's better than drawing every game. [This way] it's more like a sport."

A rollercoaster of a tournament, but Nakamura is enjoying it. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

What about the tournament leader? Well, he continues to lead. After a solid draw as White against Vladimir Kramnik, there's a good chance that Wesley So has already won the Grand Chess Tour in every theoretical scenario. (But feel free to disagree in the comments!)

About the game, his opponent Kramnik said: "I just played my normal chess. I didn't know if he would be ambitious and try to play for a win or try to play safe, so I saw no reason to risk myself, especially because I had the black pieces."

The Russian said that his 23...h6 was "very accurate," after which the game "was heading to a draw."

And then, in what was an interview with Maurice Ashley, Kramnik had some very nice words for So. 

"He improved enormously this year. He was already for a while a top player but this year he's playing maybe the best chess in the world in fact. (...) I feel that he is going to be a very serious challenger for Magnus [Carlsen] in the years to come. He's really strong now."

Kramnik praised his opponent today... | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

...which will surely boost So's confidence even further. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

But So definitely hasn't won the tournament yet. Tomorrow he'll face the world number-two and the tournament's number-two, Fabiano Caruana, in a critical game.

The latter was on the (slightly) worse end of the draw against Michael Adams today, who suddenly switched from 1.e4 to 1.c4.

Every day some youngsters make the first moves for the grandmasters on the stage, and funnily enough the move made on Adams' board was in fact 1.c4.  "That was a bit of a surprise, yeah," Adams said about the coincidence.

The Englishman chose to play the English and got a slightly better endgame, but admitted that Caruana defended well.

Adams: "[Top grandmasters] are very good in making decisions in worse positions. They know the right time to liquidate and they liquidate in the right way."

By drawing his game today, Caruana's hopes of finishing the year as the world number-one vanished. But even if he's not satisfied with the small gap of 11.4 rating points with Magnus Carlsen at the moment, he can still end it on a high note by beating So tomorrow.

Caruana said he was planning to approach the game like any other. "I shouldn't say like the previous seven, because I did play some pretty bad games, but I'll play it with the same attitude in mind. If chances come, I'll take them."

Caruana on So: "I consider myself a stronger player." | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The longest game of the round was Anish Giri vs Veselin Topalov, which lasted until 9:52pm local time—almost six hours. It seemed that Giri was trying to find the right moment for the g4-g5 push, but never found that moment.

Maurice Ashley described it differently: "It's a marathon and he is willing to keep him running until he passes out in the game." But then Giri suddenly stopped running himself.

The seventh draw for Anish Giri. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Levon Aronian tried a line of the 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit declined against Vishy Anand in which he had beaten Nakamura at the Sinquefield Cup earlier this year. It looks like Anand was very well prepared as he equalized without much trouble.

Image: Spectrum Studios.

Here are the pairings for round eight, which is Saturday at 2 p.m. local time (9 a.m. New York, 6 a.m. Pacific).

Image: Spectrum Studios.


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