Nakamura Beats Topalov, "The Caruana" Still Elusive

Nakamura Beats Topalov, "The Caruana" Still Elusive

Americans aren't supposed to be comfortable at "The Rock." The nickname for Alcatraz Island, formerly an impenetrable prison, luckily is also the moniker for another tiny landmass's most distinguishing feature.

American GM Hikaru Nakamura surely prefers the Mediterranean version, the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival. Through seven rounds he remains in sole possession of first place and has retaken his spot as the top U.S. player.

After running through the field in the first five rounds, he faced top-seed GM Veselin Topalov in round six yesterday. Nakamura played the Rossolimo Variation against the Sicilian, and it worked well enough for his opponent to play it against him in today's round seven.

Nakamura and Topalov, the top two seeds, faced off in round six (photo courtesy Sophie Triay, official site)

Although Nakamura beat Topalov and climbed back in front of GM Wesley So after a brief period as American number two (2792 against 2788), he could not achieve seven straight wins today against GM David Howell. Like vaunted GMs Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik at Qatar, 2014 and World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen at Tata Steel this year, six was the limit. 

In that game versus Topalov, all of Black's queenside pawns on the sixth rank needed attention, and Black's position began to unravel after 30...d5, an attempt to not sit idle. From there Nakamura made seven advancing moves and one lateral move, culminating with the bishop pair and the theft of a pawn. Black's counterplay was a mirage and Nakamura converted without any issues.

Today Howell cleverly trotted out the Rossolimo himself, only to have Nakamura differ right away with 3...Bd7. The position's pawn structure morphed into a French Advance, or perhaps more precisely a Caro-Kann Advance, with White getting inadequate kingside chances.

Black pounced on the c-file and hit on the usual weakness at d4, which fell just before the time control. The question lingered for 30 more moves and several hours: was the one-pawn margin enough for 7-0?

Nakamura eventually wriggled into a theoretically winning endgame, one that he has been all too familiar with in the last year. The key moment was on move 64:

Instead, Nakamura chased the white rook to its preferred square, and that little juke was enough to spoil the win.

That's the nature of chess of course, and mistakes in the sixth hour often count far more that tempos earlier in the game. Nakamura has a working knowledge of this position, usually dubbed the "Vancura Position." 

He held it successfully last year against GM Teimour Radjabov at the Gashimov Memorial.

Nakamura also tweeted about it a month later when a fellow American failed to hold the draw. There are numerous sources where you can learn more about the endgame, including right here on Chess.com. GM Melik Khachiyan picks up this exact topic at 11:00.

Hungry for more endgame esoterica? Here's a graphic of one of the many "drawing zones" that grandmasters are forced to learn.

Image: Wikipedia

With Nakamura on 6.5/7, the chase group is still only a half-point back, but went from two players (GM Yu Yangyi and Howell) to four players (Yangyi, Howell, GM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Axel Bachmann), all on 6.0/7.

GM Yu Yangyi still controls his own destiny; he will face Nakamura tomorrow (photo courtesy Sophie Triay).

Still eight others are sitting a full point back, and there's still three rounds to go in this 10-round Swiss. Don't overlook them -- amongst the octet are three former winners (GMs Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler and Ivan Cheparinov and a world champion, GM Hou Yifan).


You also have one of the hottest players on the planet, 15-year-old Wei Yi, who has added 100 points in the last year and just eclipsed Carlsen as the youngest ever to break 2700. After dropping a game to Howell in round six, today he won as Black in yet another Rossolimo!

Naroditsky has jumped to second by beating two consecutive Indian GMs in two offbeat openings. In round six he defeated GM Chanda Sandipan's Albin Countergambit, and today he beat GM Baskaran Adhiban in a sort of Old Benoni/Reverse Trompowsky hybrid.

GM Daniel Naroditsky is riding a three-game winning streak; he draws former champ Vitiugov tomorrow (photo courtesy John Saunders).

After 11 moves, Naroditsky had zero development, but was clearly better 10 moves later before winning in an endgame.

Other interesting games in round seven included GM Pentala Harikrishna's not-quite-sound exchange sac against GM Anna Muzychuk. Harikrishna, yet another Indian player in Gibraltar, leads India's sizable and strongest contingent (13 GMs, 2 IMS and 2 WGMs).

Harikrishna's inventive 13. Rxd7?! could have been met by the surprising antidote 14...Be7! 15. Rxd7 a6! and Black crawls out of the mess.

Svidler proved that sometimes you can open a Greek gift. He first defended with a counterattack on g2, then used an inventive blockade to rebuff the attack.

Also today Carlsson went down after walking his king to d3. Not that Carlsen; he was 1420 miles away, getting started at the super tournament in Baden-Baden, Germany.

Along with GM Baadur Jobava, there's another 2700 GM that can be counted on for unorthodox openings and creative chess. Unfortunately for GM Richard Rapport, he was completely busted before the first two dozen moves. See if you can find the cruncher that would have knocked out Black immediately:

Rapport was still lost (33. Be5 was another missed winner) but he made the most of his third life by converting the ending. White is curiously mated after the final rook trade.


Yangyi and Hou Yifan drew today on board two. Nakamura will have White versus Yangyi tomorrow. He is looking to win his second title in Gibraltar -- his first came in 2008.

2015 Gibaltar Masters | Round 7 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1
1 2 GM Nakamura Hikaru USA 2776 6.5 3015
2 15 GM Howell David W L ENG 2670 6.0 2859
3 6 GM Yu Yangyi CHN 2724 6.0 2843
4 26 GM Naroditsky Daniel USA 2622 6.0 2787
5 22 GM Bachmann Axel PAR 2629 6.0 2754
6 4 GM Vitiugov Nikita RUS 2735 5.5 2792
7 3 GM Svidler Peter RUS 2739 5.5 2779
8 7 GM Harikrishna P. IND 2723 5.5 2759
9 13 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2673 5.5 2753
10 5 GM Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2733 5.5 2744
11 12 GM Wei Yi CHN 2675 5.5 2737
12 8 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2716 5.5 2724
13 10 GM Cheparinov Ivan BUL 2681 5.5 2704
14 1 GM Topalov Veselin BUL 2800 5.0 2713
15 85 GM Vishnu Prasanna. V IND 2463 5.0 2699
16 28 GM Lenderman Aleksandr USA 2614 5.0 2683
17 65 IM Wagner Dennis GER 2501 5.0 2682
18 21 GM Adhiban B. IND 2630 5.0 2676
19 51 GM Lalith Babu M.R. IND 2537 5.0 2665
20 11 GM Rodshtein Maxim ISR 2680 5.0 2662


You can watch the live commentaries from Round six here. Round seven has yet to be made available.


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