Nakamura Soundly Beats MVL In Death Match 34

Nakamura Soundly Beats MVL In Death Match 34

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GM Hikaru Nakamura won his second Death Match in convincing fashion — besting GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by a score of 17.5-10.5.

Nakamura's victory was achieved in large part thanks to his incredible pre-eminence at the faster time controls. The match seemed nearly balanced in 5|2 and 3|2, but in 1|1 Nakamura could not be matched.

Prior to the match, all conceded that Nakamura was the favorite in this, the highest-rated Death Match ever, but Nakamura himself downplayed his advantage in the pre-game interview, noting that the increment diminished his advantage in bullet.

Vachier-Lagrave agreed, noting that flagging the opponent was nearly impossible with increment. This proved to be the case as all games were decided "on the board."

Nakamura played from Italy, where he will presumably be celebrating Saturnalia.

Though he was considered the underdog, Vachier-Lagrave is himself a blitz legend. According to the new FIDE blitz rating system, he is ranked third in the world. Previously, he has twice been the European blitz champion.

Vachier-Lagrave played from his apartment in France — hoping for a home-field advantage.

Death Match 34 consisted of 90 minutes at the time control of 5 minutes + a 2 second increment (5|2), 60 minutes at 3|2, and 30 minutes at 1|1. For full details, see the published rules.

Things started off tremendously for Vachier-Lagrave who snagged two wins to start the match. His win in the first game set an incredible tone as it was probably the most pleasing finish of the match and a very nice piece of blitz calculation.

Game two was no better for Nakamura as he struggled against Vachier-Lagrave's initial opening preparation. Vachier-Lagrave's enthusiasm for the day seemed well merited.

Nakamura got on the board in game three as he squeezed out a nice win in what looked at first to be an equalish bishop endgame that many mortals would have given up as drawn. Most humans would be thrilled to display such technique with an hour on the clock.

Nakamura tried to continue his pressure with a gambit in game four. However, when things were leaking bleak for Vachier-Lagrave, FM Mike Klein (watching from the Qatar Masters) called the beautiful intermezzo that provided salvation.

After some thought, Nakamura played the interesting 22...Bf5, but FM Klein's called 23.Bg5! appeared on the board. With the sizzle in the position reduced, the opposite-colored bishops allowed a confident draw.

In the post-game interview Nakamura pointed to the final 5|2 game as the turning point. He allowed a killing blow 19...Rxc3! but Vachier-Lagrave also missed this typical Sicilian tactic! Had he found it, he could have kept a level match and some momentum going into the 3|2.

Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 5|2 Score
GM Hikaru Nakamura 0 0 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 5
GM Maxime Vachier Lagrave 1 1 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 4

Disagreeing with Nakamura, commentators and IMs Danny Rensch and David Pruess instead pointed to the initial 3|2 game as the decisive point.

Vachier-Lagrave built up a massive position, but after allowing counterplay he missed a key saving move with 42.Qd3+. Consequently, he fell to Nakamura's kingside assault. After this, he never truly seemed to recover.

With two such famously aggressive and sharp competitors one would naturally expect some sharp openings and attacks, but the match really turned into a battle of endgames as Nakamura sought and exploited many small advantages.

The openings contributed as he found small edges on the White side of the Najdorf and the Black side of the Berlin. As Pruess noted, Vachier-Lagrave seemed to struggle to equalize with either color.

Vachier-Lagrave tried to shake things up by pursuing opposite sides castling in the Najdorf, but Nakamura struck again with the following kingside attack. "Vicious!" as Pruess said.

Vachier-Lagrave can't have been happy with the previous game, but as always, he kept his cool demeanor.

Continuing to press in the final game of 3|2, Nakamura overstepped in a fascinating bishop vs. knight duel and lost.

 Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 3|2 Score
GM Hikaru Nakamura 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 4.5
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 2.5

Prior to the start of the bullet portion of the match, commentator Rensch revealed a personal confession from Nakamura: he doesn't use premoves in his bullet games! This was a pretty startling revelation to most of the audience given Nakamura's legendary bullet speed.

Your humble author tried to mimic Nakamura's lack of premoves last night and rapidly lost 100 rating points.  

However he does it, Nakamura is, by his own admission, the greatest one-minute player in the world. Few would disagree. On, Nakamura's rating climbed over his average(!) 3100 during the Death Match.

In game 18, Vachier-Lagrave dared to venture the King's Gambit, but he was rebuffed almost instantly.

Vachier-Lagrave did stop the bleeding in game 25 as he impressively fended off dangerous play by Nakamura and converted an exchange up endgame.

A remarkable feat in the bullet portion was the following precision by Nakamura in the penultimate game. Everyone and their mothers seemed to be in the Twitch chat screaming for 49.Rd6+?, but Nakamura thought deeply (exactly 11.3 seconds thanks to the new time notations in v3 ) and played the accurate 49.bxc6.

Vachier-Lagrave won the final game, but it was not nearly enough as Nakamura triumphed 8-4 in the bullet portion. In fact, the bullet result was a good outcome by rating for Vachier-Lagrave.

Perhaps Nakamura will celebrate with a beer? In the post-match interview, Nakamura suggested a nice glass of wine was more likely.

Name  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1|1 Score
GM Nakamura ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 0 1 ½ 0 8
GM Vachier-Lagrave ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 1 4

The victory ties Nakamura for the record with most Death Match wins at two, and pulls the United States even at 7-7 in matches between US and non-US players.

For his convincing victory, Nakamura collected $800, $500 for first place plus $100 for the victories in each time control. In consolation, Vachier-Lagrave collected $200.

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