Nakamura Powers Through Second Day To Win Ultimate Blitz Challenge
After a shaky first day, top seed GM Hikaru Nakamura, dug deep in his back pocket and found his form in day two of the Ultimate Blitz Challenge. Scoring 6.0/9, Nakamura finished a clear point ahead of the field and further cemented his reputation as the one of the greatest living speed players.
As Nakamura rounded into form, GM Fabiano Caruana continued his fall out of form. Having lost his final three games in day one, Caruana could only manage to score 2.0/9 on day two. Perhaps his well-deserved US Championship celebrations took a little too much out of him.
Meanwhile, GM Wesley So and GM Garry Kasparov were each playing well in the final day. They traded blows back and forth with the other other participants, but they couldn't quite keep up with Nakamura's pace.
Ultimate Blitz graphics courtesy of Spectrum Studios.
Over 100,000 spectators tuned into the coverage on day one. Even World Champion Magnus Carlsen found time to tune in for the first half of day one between rounds at his first Norway Chess victory. Asked about his impressions of Kasparov's play by Chess.com's Peter Doggers he stated...
“He's playing very well. He's playing his stuff in the openings. I think the other guys need to step it up a lot. I thought Fabiano was playing very well for a while, and then he apparently crashed at the end because he doesn't have so many points. Especially the other guys need to step up big time. But happy that Garry is doing well, but the other guys don't seem to have the correct attitude.”
As with day one, we absolutely cannot pick between these games so we are including all 18 games from day two. Enjoy!
BANG! The first round got underway with a big one as So delivered a blitz masterpiece against Kasparov. Be sure to save this one; you'll need it the next time you teach about the dangers of an uncastled king!
So maintained his equanimity as the commentators were going wild. (Photo: Lennart Ootes.)
Kasparov managed to maintain a humorous outlook in the post-tournament interview
@CCSCSL) April 29, 2016
Against Caruana, Nakamura turned the tables as black and even acquired a winning position. In time trouble, Nakamura erred and Caruana escaped in one of the day's few lucky moments.
Kasparov noted after the tournament that he would never have expected to get the better of his six games against Nakamura. He almost added another victory here, but despite excellent winning chances, the position gradually diffused to a draw after incredible defense by Nakamura.
Brain freeze? Nakamura and Kasparov remain the world champions of facial expressions. (Photo: Lennart Ootes.)
Draw, draw, draw... yawn... Woah! A last minute blunder allowed So to snag a critical half point from Caruana from out of nowhere!
In a critical matchup, Nakamura and So faced off and Nakamura delivered in a big way. All rook endgames are drawn -- except when they're not -- or when they're double rook endgames.
Kasparov's Najdorf attacks have been sorely missed in the chess world. Against Caruana, he offered piece after piece until the attack crashed through. Caruana had to begin discarding material like a man shoveling buckets of water out of a sinking boat.
It did no good, and Kasparov happily wrapped up the point.
The player who blundered second to last carried home the coveted half point in a crazy blitz finish between Nakamura and Caruana.
This may have been the only clean draw of the tournament. Kasparov's mouth must have been watering as he turned up the pressure, but accurate defense saved So, and the game liquidated to a comfortable draw.
Perhaps more than any other game in the tournament, Nakamura's battle against Kasparov showed the incredible thrill and excitement of blitz as the players pushed back and forth with incredible ideas in the Benoni.
Kasparov offered a piece, but Nakamura returned it to enter an endgame in which he was pressing hard. A little combination that Kasparov spotted instantly netted the key extra pawn, and the game was drawn not long after.
The legendary concentration was on full display. (Photo: Lennart Ootes.)
In what seemed a fairly rational draw between Caruana and So, a spectacular potential combination went unnoticed! Can you find it?
By this point, even the spectators were pleading for a pause. Chess overload!
omg every single round of #UltimateBlitzSTL is so thrilling. Can't they just have one boring round? I need a break!— greg shahade ( @GregShahade) April 29, 2016
While the previous stunning combination might have gone unnoticed, Nakamura eagle-eyed a tactic against So that is sure to appear in tactics collections for years to come.
Temporarily finding his footing, Caruana demonstrated that despite his misfortunes today, he is US champion for a reason. He steadily outplayed Kasparov as Black and never seemed to offer real chances to resist once the advantage was his.
So was soooooo close against Kasparov, but in a titanic struggle between passed pawn and rooks on the seventh, he could not find the very difficult winning line and the position repeated to a draw.
Nakamura and Caruana went back and forth in a lengthy game that saw each player make multiple slips in extreme time pressure. Nakamura was better for much of the game, but Caruana's bishop pair even created winning chances when Nakamura eased up.
In the end, a subtle misstep with the bishop cost Caruana a much-needed draw.
For at least one game Nakamura demonstrated less than diety-level play. It's hard to say what motivated the piece surrender on move thirteen, but Kasparov converted happily.
Kasparov can smell what the Naka's cooking! He doesn't understand it though... (Photo: Lennart Ootes.)
The commentators quickly surrendered the So's soporific Queen's Gambit Accepted for a likely draw, but So had other plans. He steadily outplayed Caruana until he was able to convert his positional plus into a tangible exchange.
In the final round, So needed a win against Nakamura to close the gap and catch him in first place. Even Nakamura's fans were rooting for So to win the game and push the Ultimate Blitz into tiebreakers.
Sadly for the otherwise thoroughly sated blitz fanatics, Nakamura was able to turn a slightly worse IQP position to his favor and confidently assert the draw.
In his concluding public game for who knows how long, Kasparov delivered a lovely attack against Caruana. For Kasparov, wins against Nakamura and Caruana was the perfect way to close the tournament. It was an emphatic assertion that he remains one of the best players in the world whether he is playing or not.
Kasparov observed that his final game against Caruana shared an opening idea from his first ever game for the Soviet national team.
For Caruana, the tournament will be one to forget. "It was just a bit of a nightmare starting from like round 6."
Kasparov's third place finish meant that $10,000 (his winnings) was donated to the US Olympiad team. His gesture was particularly magnanimous considering that the team will largely consist of his opponents in Saint Louis.
Kasparov's performance left his many fans wanting more. Although he keeps his cards close to his vest, he certainly didn't rule out participating in future events.
@2700chess) April 29, 2016
Kasparov's retirement eleven years ago still seems recent to many, but to add some perspective, these were the first recorded games he has played against ANY of the other participants. An entire generation has risen to the top of world chess in those eleven years.
Happy to have won the Ultimate Blitz today! More importantly, it was an honor to play against the former WC @Kasparov63 who is still a boss!— Hikaru Nakamura ( @GMHikaru) April 29, 2016
Already on the plane back to NYC after two exhausting days in St. Louis. Day 1 I felt great and inspired, but already tired today. Old man!— Garry Kasparov ( @Kasparov63) April 30, 2016
Thank you for all the kind words and support here. Now I'm back to the really tough battles: human rights, politics, democracy, and my kids!— Garry Kasparov ( @Kasparov63) April 30, 2016