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Nakamura Finally Beats Carlsen, Leads In Bilbao

Nakamura Finally Beats Carlsen, Leads In Bilbao

The spell has been broken. Today, Hikaru Nakamura finally managed to beat Magnus Carlsen in a classical game, at the Bilbao Masters. As the other two games were drawn, Nakamura leads the tournament.

For the ninth time, Bilbao is hosting a super tournament with a very exciting field in a stylish venue. We've seen many special places in the past including the glass cube in the old town square, or the Lu Bo Lang club in Shanghai. This year's venue, the Campos Eliseos Theater, isn't bad either! With a small open tournament on one side, and the spectators on the other (both only a few meters away), the six players are playing in the very middle of the theater, on a square-shaped, red carpet.

The first day started with a small opening ceremony in which the players were called on stage one by one, and photographers got the chance to take group a photo.

The six participants doing a quick photo shoot before the game. | Photo Bilbao Chess.

In this first round, the game Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura obviously grabbed most of the attention. The question on everyone's mind was, "Would the American, after 12 losses and 18 draws, finally manage to win his first classical game against the world champion?" The answer was a firm yes!

The support of two of his three sisters and his parents couldn't prevent Carlsen from starting with a loss.

In a Dragon Sicilian (by transposition), Carlsen castled kingside; this line suits his style more than the main lines of the Yugoslav Attack. He said that he got “a nice positional advantage,” but then he “chose the wrong plan.” 

Instead of a promising central pawn push (14.e5!), the Norwegian GM decided to play with his foot soldiers on the kingside. However, in doing so, he weakened some important squares. Nakamura won “a pawn with compensation” as he got an attack as well. Unlike in so many other battles, the American didn't spoil his advantage; this time he won an excellent game. 

Carlsen showed good sportsmanship: “He handled the complications much better than I did. Congratulations to Hikaru, he played much better than I did today.” Nakamura himself wasn't ecstatic. “It's nice, but I have to focus on the rest of the tournament.”

Finally!  | Photo Bilbao Chess.

Nakamura didn't say much in the post-game press conference, but he was more open in his interview with Chess.com: “[It] feels good to win. I thought the game was pretty interesting. I won that rapid game in Leuven, for example, but that wasn't really much of a game because Magnus blundered a piece.

“To play a complicated game and outplay him in the complications feels really good. (...) There's a big difference between Magnus and a lot of the other players in that if you tend to play some moves which are slightly dubious, or you play some openings which are not 100 percent solid or accurate, you can get in a lot of trouble. I found, at least in my games against him, he is much better at punishing me than some of the other players. What that does is it makes it so that you have to kind of adjust your style. You have to adjust the way that you play.”

Here's a video with the full interview:

Want a deeper game analysis? IM Rensch gives you the full play-by-play in his video:

Hikaru's victory was the main story of the day, of course. That was especially so because the other two games ended in draws. The first draw to conclude was Sergey Karjakin vs. Wesley So. They played a 4.d3 Berlin. So found an excellent temporary pawn sacrifice with which he equalized. Later he was down a pawn again, but the queen ending was easy to hold.

A correct grandmaster draw between Karjakin and So. | Photo Bilbao Chess.

More interesting was Anish Giri vs. Wei Yi. They got a similar type of position, but they arrived from a Giuoco Piano. 12...d5 was a bit early according to Giri, and as a result, he got a “good version of a King's Gambit.” His bishop pair provided a pleasant advantage, but the Chinese youngster defended quite well.

A good start for Wei Yi, the only player below 2700 in Bilbao. | Photo Bilbao Chess.

2016 Bilbao Masters | Round 1 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts SB
1 Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 3655 3 3.0/1
2 Giri, Anish 2785 2696 1 1.0/1 0.25
3 Karjakin, Sergey 2773 2770 1 1.0/1 0.25
4 So, Wesley 2770 2773 1 1.0/1 0.25
5 Wei Yi 2696 2785 1 1.0/1 0.25
6 Carlsen, Magnus 2855 1987 0 0.0/1

The second round on Thursday will see the games So vs. Nakamura, Wei vs. Carlsen and Karjakin vs. Giri.


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