Nakamura Beats So To Reach Speed Chess Championship Final Presented By OnJuno

Nakamura Beats So To Reach Speed Chess Championship Final Presented By OnJuno

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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43 | Chess Event Coverage

On his 33rd birthday, GM Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wesley So 13.5-12.5, thereby qualifying for Saturday's final of the 2020 Speed Chess Championship presented by Onjuno. GM Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will play on Friday for the other spot in the final.

How to watch?
The semifinals and final of the Speed Chess Championship presented by Onjuno are held Dec. 9-12. The games are played on the Chess.com live server. They are also available on our platform for watching live games at Chess.com/events and on our apps under "Watch." Expert commentary can be enjoyed at Chess.com/tv.


The live broadcast of the match.

The Nakamura-So match was a repeat of both the 2018 and 2019 finals of the Speed Chess Championship as well as a repeat of the recent match the players played in the Skilling Open.

Nakamura lost that last one and had made it clear that he was out for revenge, after his win in the SCC quarterfinal: "Certainly, it's payback time. I'm gonna be out for blood, I will say that much!"

The match was one of the closest of the championship so far, with the players still in a tie before the bullet segment. Nakamura expectedly made the difference in the 1+1 games but in the end, the margin was just one game.

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It was So who started powerfully in the five-minute segment. After two draws, he won both games that followed. Here's game four, which wasn't a 100-percent smooth ride for him, but he did find a nice trick in the end:

To turn the tide, Nakamura decided to play a bit sharper. He chose to caste queenside in an Anti-Berlin and it worked out well:

Nakamura also won games seven and eight, so he was leading 5-4 when the five-minute ended. He allowed his opponent to tie the score right away in the first 3+1 game as he mixed up the moves in another line of the Anti-Berlin:

So had some momentum there as he also won the next game and should have held the next one. A huge blunder kept the match tied:

So won the penultimate 3+1 game in crushing style, eventually doing what Nakamura did to him: castling queenside in an Italian. But by then, White was already winning due to an early blunder by Black.

Afterward, So pointed out that his loss in the last 3+1 game (from such a solid position) was "very critical" as he won that second segment with only 4.5-3.5.

"If I had won that game, I would be on plus two, and it doesn’t matter if I lose the bullet portion for sure, but if I am on plus two, I have at least a small cushion," said So. "Losing that game was a big blow because coming to the match I knew for sure that I was going to lose the bullet."

However, So was hardly the worse player in the bullet either. Nakamura ended up winning it with only 5-4.

Still, the fact that he won, for example, this theoretically drawn rook endgame speaks for his incredible experience. So was playing the last 20 moves with just two or three seconds on the clock, while Nakamura had about six or seven seconds all the time. He found the one moment where So slipped and took his chance:

Nakamura was more in control during the bullet than the final score might suggest. He was leading 13.5-10.5 after game 24, with four and a half minutes left on the match clock. He was never going to lose three games in that timeframe, if only because he could stall at the right moment.

First, however, the Move(s) of the Match went to So, who found a lovely checkmate in game 25 and brought the score back to two points:

But, as said, there just wasn't enough time for So to have real chances anymore. Game 26 started with a minute and 49 seconds left on the match clock, and while Nakamura was heading for another loss, he made sure to use enough time to get there in the end—a generally accepted match strategy, by the way.

"I am very happy to win the match but in all seriousness, a lot of credit goes to Wesley. He played a very good match," said a gracious Nakamura afterward. "I think in many ways, he was the better player of the match. It’s just that at the end of the day, there were a couple of missed opportunities for him in the 5+1 and 3+1, and then in the bullet, I was just a little bit better. But I thought he played great."

In many ways, he was the better player of the match.
—Hikaru Nakamura

So was a good sport after his loss: "First, I want to wish Hikaru a very happy birthday. Thank you for popularizing chess and doing a good job on your Twitch. Streaming is a big deal now that chess is moving online. May this be a good year for you and many more to come!"

Reflecting on the match, So said: "The start was really my best chance to do it. I think there were two opportunities where I could have seized the initiative in the match. First, when I was leading the 3+1, of course, I should have never let go of the lead, but then I lost two games after that. Then the match became very messy. And also losing the 5+1 portion was critical."

So won $2,884.62 based on win percentage; Nakamura won $6,000 for the victory plus $3,115.38 on percentage, totaling $9,115.38. In the final, Nakamura will be playing the winner of GM Magnus Carlsen vs. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

He apparently doesn't give MVL a lot of chances as he was already looking forward to a clash with the world champion: "Certainly, playing Magnus again will be fun, and I’m looking forward to it. But I’ll have to play a lot better than I did today; today was not very good."

All Games

Speed Chess bracket
The 2020 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund, double the amount of last year. The tournament will run November 1-December 13, 2020 on Chess.com. Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.

Speed Chess Fantasy standings
The current leaderboard for SCC Fantasy.

See also:

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