Nakamura Beats Blundering Caruana 17-10
Hikaru Nakamura was the favorite in this Speed Chess match, and won expectedly against Fabiano Caruana, who made several one-move blunders. The score 17-10 was almost exactly what was predicted by a new metric system developed by one of our members together with Chess.com.
The clash between Nakamura and Caruana, held on Thursday (with the former playing from Florida and the latter from St. Louis) was the third quarterfinal in the 2017 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship.
Nakamura was extremely resourceful, also in difficult positions. Caruana sometimes outplayed his opponent, but he also made bigger mistakes.
Nakamura made it to the semifinals, where he will meet Sergey Karjakin. A date for this match will soon be announced. The fourth and last quarterfinal, between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So, will be played on November 18.
No other top GM has more experience with online chess than Nakamura and this makes him the favorite against almost any opponent. The numbers suggested the same: With 3051 Naka had the highest rating on Chess.com, and at 2677 Caruana before the match was in fact the 100th on the list; it was one vs 100, as noted by FM Mike Klein—although the odds weren't that bad for Caruana.
In fact, at the start things were pretty equal and it was Caruana who started with a win.
Nakamura struck back immediately, using one of his favorite first moves: 1.b3. He would use openings inspired by Bent Larsen and Aron Nimzowitsch (also 1.Nf3, 2.b3) throughout the match, and would later agree with the assumption that this helps to play faster and win time on the clock. "It's a good way to start out at least," said Nakamura.
It must be said that Black was actually fine out of the opening and only erred late in the rook endgame.
Game three, the second Anti-Berlin and the third long endgame, ended a draw. Nakamura then grabbed the lead in game four, and would never let go. It was the shortest and most interesting game so far.
The next game was a draw, but what a draw! "One of the most exciting speed chess games we've ever had hands down," said commentator IM Danny Rensch. "An unbelievable game," said commentator GM Simon Williams.
That was before they had seen the analysis.
Before going to the game itself, first a puzzle. Would you play 44.Rd7 or 44.e6+ in this position? The answer can be found in the annotations below.
Black's ...f5 and ...g5 are rather standard in this Closed Catalan type of position, but when Black started running with Harry the h-pawn things went from interesting to pure insanity. The question marks are pure objective evaluations of the moves but by no means intended to criticize these players; the position was hugely complex and the computer can sometimes help to find even more hidden brilliancies.
After a draw in game six, the match reached a crucial moment. Nakamura won two games in a row, where Caruana could easily have scored 1.5 points. Especially the first he should have won, but it must be said that Nakamura found a fantastic way to mess up the position.
After eight games the time was up, and a Chess960 should have started to finish the 5|2 portion. However, before a staff member could post the command to start that Chess960, the players had already clicked rematch and another, regular 5|2 started.
Caruana ended up winning his best game of the match, but there was one problem: it didn't count, according to the rules of the event made available to both players.
Caruana was understandably upset. Afterward he said: "It was very frustrating that the game I won didn't count."
"The Chess.com team will do its best to avoid a situation like this in the future. We'll be working on a technical solution for the upcoming matches," Danny Rensch commented.
This meant that Nakamura won the 5|2 segment 6.5-2.5. It would be the highest margin of all three segments.
Score: 5|2 Time Control
Nakamura increased his lead even further by winning the first two 3|2 games. Both ended in identical fashion: rook ending, Caruana doing fine, but blundering away the game in one move.
The next one was even worse. On the webcam the fans could see Caruana going from surprise to disgust, looking away and needing about 15 seconds to click the resign button...
To be down 2.5-8.5 and knowing that you're missing simple things is tough. By this point nobody really wanted to put money on Caruana anymore, probably himself included. However, he avoided a total collapse and still showed excellent chess in many games.
After drawing game 12, Caruana won a good game where Nakamura again found some amazing tactics, but this time they were not enough to hold:
Two draws followed, with game 15 going until move 107. That was because Nakamura played on in a totally drawn endgame, and even spent 48 seconds in this position before allowing the last pawn to be taken.
A few games later Nakamura would repeat his strategy by playing a basic king-and-pawn endgame all the way till the end.
The reason for doing this is winning "match time," which favors the one who is up on the score. Alexander Grischuk did the same in his match with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave last month, arguing that Magnus Carlsen had done it against him last year.
Although it is perfectly legal, not every spectator was amused. As GM Georg Meier put it: "You get a card for that in soccer."
Nakamura won the next game convincingly, and Caruana took the Chess960. Afterward he felt that the 3|2 segement was his worst, although the score was the closest of the three: 4.5-3.5.
Score: 3|2 Time Control
The bullet section lasted 10 games, and saw only two draws—quite typical for this super-fast time control.
With Nakamura winning the first two, the score went to 13-6 and the real match intrigue was over, but the games were still full of content. For example, it was interesting to see Nakamura using one of his favorite setups as Black in bullet, and employing a tactical idea that he must have used before:
With a smaller margin perhaps than expected Nakamura won the bullet. He won in style, and even briefly looked into his webcam when playing his final move in game 21:
Score: 1|1 Time Control
"I didn't really think about openings before the match though I had some playable positions," said Caruana in the post-match interview. "Some positions which I lost were not because of the opening or a bad position, but because of blunders. There were too many, pretty bad blunders."
Nakamura, who had been headbobbing during parts of the match, revealed that he had been listening to AFI and Offspring. "Once I found the right music...I felt pretty good overall."
In the chat he added later: "'You're gonna go far, kid' was the best song of the day. I scored 3/3 with that one on repeat."
Nakamura, who recently started streaming on Twitch, suggested that Caruana would be a good streamer as well. "Fabiano is very good in explaining the process, how he thinks."
About his next match, against Sergey Karjakin, Nakamura said: "When he plays up to his potential he is obviously very dangerous, very strong. I think my chances are good especially in the bullet."
You can watch the broadcast replay with commentators Danny Rensch and Simon Williams here: