Nakamura Beats Nepomniachtchi In Speed Chess Semifinal
Hikaru Nakamura advances to the Speed Chess final against Wesley So.

Nakamura Beats Nepomniachtchi In Speed Chess Semifinal

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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14 | Chess Event Coverage

The Chess.com Speed Chess Championship final will be an all-American affair. After Wesley So advanced to the final last month, Hikaru Nakamura beat Ian Nepomniachtchi 17.5-14.5 on Sunday in the second semifinal.

Much has been said about the busy schedule for the top grandmasters in 2019, especially late in the year. It was impossible to get all the players' calendars aligned and finalize the Speed Chess championship before the end of the year.

Chess.com hopes to hold the final between Nakamura and So as soon as possible (dates in early February have been discussed), but it might take a while because both players will be active in the PRO Chess League this week, and then So is participating in the Tata Steel Chess tournament.

But for now, let's look at what happened in the semifinal on Sunday between Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi. The predictions were not far off, but, the scenario was a bit different than you would expect: Nakamura won the five-minute portion, and in both faster segments the score ended in a tie.

Nakamura Nepomniachtchi prediction 2019 Speed Chess Championship semifinal
The SmarterChess statistical predictions for Nakamura vs. Nepomniachtchi.

More than ever, this match was a theoretical fight in the sense that the players kept sticking to their openings, and often they repeated earlier games for quite a while. For instance, Nakamura played one of his pet lines against the Najdorf six times in this match: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. h3!? and with reasonable success: He won four games and lost two.

"I played it in Moscow against Maxime [Vachier-Lagrave] and Alireza [Firouzja]," said Nakamura. It’s not that it’s effective; it’s something to play in blitz, a little idea."

You can find all these games embedded in the viewer below, which starts from the first in the match:

Nepomniachtchi kept going for the Giuoco Pianissimo—and specifically one deep variation was repeated six times. In this line, the score was 4-2 for the Russian player.

Here is game eight, including the other five games in the same line:

So much for theory. As the match progressed, Nakamura was leading by one point after nine games, but then pulled away as he finished the five-minute segment with two straight wins.

He had convincingly won his black game early in the match, when Nepomniachtchi accidentally played a Ruy Lopez and got nothing in an Anti-Berlin. As the webcam suggested, Nakamura's music might have inspired him here:

Game 11 saw an interesting endgame, where Nepomniachtchi missed two chances to draw, one discovered during the show by the commentator Robert Hess:

5+1 games | Score

# Fed Handle Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Score
1 @Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura 3221 3198 1 0 1 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 7.0/11
2 @lachesisQ Ian Nepomniachtchi 3100 3123 0 1 0 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 0 4.0/11

At the start of the three-minute segment, Nakamura extended his lead to four points straight away, but after a draw, Nepomniachtchi suddenly won three in a row. He was back in the match.

One of the more interesting games in this part was one of the draws. From a better position out of the opening, Nepomniachtchi blundered an exchange, but then got good compensation and later he was completely winning:

3+1 games | Score

# Fed Handle Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Score
1 @Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura 3221 3100 1 ½ 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 5.5/11
2 @lachesisQ Ian Nepomniachtchi 3100 3221 0 ½ 1 1 1 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 5.5/11

Nakamura went into the bullet portion with a three-point lead, which is usually bad news when you're playing against the American speed demon. But as Nepomniachtchi pointed out afterward, the difference between 1+0 (pure bullet) and 1+1 (as played in these matches) is quite big, and he also tied here. The Muscovite scored 3.5-0.5 in the last four games, when the overall match was already decided.

Here's game 31, a good old Grand Prix:

1+1 games | Score

# Fed Handle Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 @Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura 3305 2949 1 ½ 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 ½ 5.0/10
2 @lachesisQ Ian Nepomniachtchi 2949 3305 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 ½ 5.0/10

"I was missing some very simple tactics, blowing away some good positions [...] so in general I think I played far below my level," said Nepomniachtchi. "My plan was actually to press in the longer time controls but somehow it went a bit wrong. I was constantly getting good positions out of the opening with both colors and it was unnecessary to make some gifts."

Nakamura agreed that the level could have been higher: "In the three-minute session I think we just missed stuff everywhere," he said.

Nepomniachtchi added: "I underestimated maybe a little how important it could be here to be fast. Perhaps I should play some Puzzle Rush to grab some material in one move."

Nakamura wasn't so sure if his participation in the Puzzle Battle World Championship in the same weekend had helped him, saying the attempt to find quick tactical solutions sometimes "tilted" him somewhat during the bullet.

Speed Chess Championship 2019 bracket
Nepomniachtchi earned $1,359 based on win percentage. Nakamura won $3,000 for the victory plus $1,640 on percentage for a total of $4,640.

Nakamura will now play So for the championship. The date and time for that match is not yet known but will be announced soon.

Replay the commentary with GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch.

All match games for replay and download:

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