Nakamura Beats MVL In Playoff, Keeps Gibraltar Title

Nakamura Beats MVL In Playoff, Keeps Gibraltar Title

| 35 | Chess Event Coverage

Winning an open is not easy for a top grandmaster. Winning it twice in a row is quite an achievement.

GM Hikaru Nakamura repeated his success at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival on Thursday after beating GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a playoff that saw four draws, when Nakamura won as Black in an Armageddon game to clinch the £20,000 first prize.

Photo: Sophie Triay.

“Certainly I had my hopes but I wasn't realistically expecting to win. I just kept trying, I found a way,” Nakamura said. 

Hikaru Nakamura not only won the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival for the second year in a row (and three in total); he also impressed at the closing ceremony. We know he can play decent chess, and it turns out he's pretty good at speeches too.

“I managed to beat Maxime [Vachier-Lagrave]. He played a fantastic tournament and I think he was just as deserving as I was,” Nakamura said, complimenting his opponent in the playoff final that was needed after both players had finished on eight points.

Round 10

Where MVL had drawn rather quickly with Etienne Bacrot the previous day, he successfully played for a win against Sebastien Mazé in the final round.

The captain of the French team had played an excellent tournament himself, and was cheered at loudly at the prize-giving despite losing in the last round.

Annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov

No mercy for countrymen. | Photo: John Saunders.

In his post-game interview with GM Simon Williams, Nakamura admitted that he had been lucky with the pairings: two white games in the final rounds, and the young Spanish GM David Antón Guijarro as his last opponent. 

“You need to be a bit lucky with the pairings; you need some opponents that want to try and beat you, that want to come after you. 

“For example Vishy in his game with Gledura, basically the guy wanted a position where only two results are possible; he didn't want a position where there would possibly be play.

“Every time you're playing someone who is something like strong-IM or GM-level, if they don't want to let you play a game then you're not gonna win. If they just decide not to lose a game it's almost impossible to win.

“I was fortunate in round eight to get an opponent who wanted to play a game, who wanted to take some chances.”

And that's what Antón did as well.

Here's the interview with Nakamura:

The other two games that could have delivered participants for the playoff ended in draws: Pentala Harikrishna vs Li Chao and Etienne Bacrot vs S.P. Sethuraman. Especially Harikrishna came rather close.

“After the opening it must have been winning somewhere,” Hari told “But in the middlegame and endgame he played really well.”

Harikrishna had excellent chances to reach the playoff. | Photo: John Saunders.

Gawain Jones wrote two books on the Sicilian Dragon last year. After that he felt he couldn't play it anymore, but then he went for it anyway in the final round, and duly beat Yu Yangyi with it!

The strong Chinese grandmaster, who did so well in both Qatar Masters tournaments, missed some basic knowledge in an opposite-colored bishop ending.

The Dragon is still alive. | Photo: John Saunders.

It was Anna Muzychuk who took home the hefty £15,000 top women's prize as the only female player to reach seven points. In the final round she beat Saleh Salem:

A big fat envelope for Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: John Saunders.

Anand defeated GM Erik Blomqvist to finish with two wins. He still left Gibraltar with a 21.9 Elo loss, and is now the world #12 in the live ratings, just below Pavel Eljanov.

The previous report stated that the Indian will probably want to forget this tournament as soon as possible. It's a phrase often used for a player who is off form, but the five-time world champion actually confirmed this state of mind to

“I haven't decided yet whether I should go back or try to forget [these games], erase them. Probably I'll go for erasure,” Anand said.

Anand couldn't really find an explanation for his disappointing result: “Let's just say that the head wasn't screwed on straight. It sounds a bit random; it wasn't. Some days just nothing works.”

According to Anand the last time he played an open was the PCA Interzonal in 1993 in Groningen. “It's been 23 years. Apparently I've forgotten how to play an open. Let's see. There might be a chance to do another one in the future,” Anand said. 

“Apparently I've forgotten how to play an open.” | Photo: John Saunders.

2016 Gibraltar Masters | Final Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 rtg+/-
1 2 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime FRA 2785 8 2838 6,8
2 1 Nakamura Hikaru USA 2787 8 2811 3,4
3 11 Bacrot Etienne FRA 2697 7,5 2786 10,3
4 25 Sethuraman S.P. IND 2639 7,5 2781 19,4
5 4 Harikrishna P. IND 2755 7,5 2773 3,5
6 28 Jones Gawain C B ENG 2625 7,5 2730 14,2
7 5 Li Chao B CHN 2751 7,5 2721 -1,3
8 22 Sutovsky Emil ISR 2647 7,5 2628 -0,9
9 14 Ragger Markus AUT 2689 7 2737 7,6
10 32 Gupta Abhijeet IND 2613 7 2716 15
11 35 Maze Sebastien FRA 2591 7 2716 16,9
12 7 Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2732 7 2711 -1,1
13 24 Anton Guijarro David ESP 2639 7 2706 10,7
14 18 Bruzon Batista Lazaro CUB 2666 7 2703 5,9
15 26 Grandelius Nils SWE 2635 7 2692 9,5
16 9 Rapport Richard HUN 2721 7 2682 -3,6
17 47 Muzychuk Anna UKR 2537 7 2677 17,5
18 23 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2642 7 2675 5,7
19 16 Almasi Zoltan HUN 2684 7 2662 -1,9
20 30 Edouard Romain FRA 2617 7 2650 5,5

(Full final standings here.)


The playoff started with two games of rapid play: 10 minutes + five seconds per move. After both were drawn, two more games were played at three minutes + two seconds per move. These two were drawn as well but all four games were thrilling affairs!



MVL and Nakamura in a thrilling playoff. | Photo: John Saunders.

This meant that an Armageddon game was needed to decide the tournament. Although the time schedule wasn't ideal (tournament director GM Stuart Conquest was busy preparing the closing ceremony and missed most of the playoff!), the organizers couldn't have wished for a better end of their tournament.

According to the regulations White would get four minutes and Black three minutes (both with two seconds increment), but in fact the arbiter put the clock on five vs four minutes (plus increment). This helped Black obviously and Nakamura, who won the toss, chose Black.

Update: The arbiter told that the different time control was decided after consulting the players. It was five vs four, with a one-second increment from move 61 onwards.

MVL seemed to get the upper hand but suddenly Nakamura equalized and since he needed to win, the Frenchman then overpressed.

“With anyone else than MVL or Magnus I probably would have won this in two games,” said Nakamura. He described Vachier-Lagrave as “a fantastic rapid and blitz player.”

He thought winning that toss for the Armageddon was fortunate: “If Maxime had won the toss and gotten Black I think he would have been the champion.”

You can watch the thrilling playoff below, with commentary by GM Simon Williams and IM Elisabeth Paehtz:

And so an end came to one of the most “social” opens of the year. Organizer Brian Callaghan said 50 female players participated, and that he wants 60 next year. No fewer than 51 federations were represented this year.

“Most of the tournaments I play tend to be these elite events where you have maybe 10, 12 players at most,” said Nakamura in his speech. “It's a very small community; it's all the top players and sponsors.

“Unlike Gibraltar you don't have the social element and here especially there are a lot of big groups.” Nakamura mentioned the Norwegians, Indians, and French, and got those parts of the crowd cheering loudly.

“I think it's great to see all the different people here from all different backgrounds and all different countries. That's what makes it so special in Gibraltar.”

Like in 2015 Nakamura starts his year with a tournament victory. | Photo: John Saunders.

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