Nakamura Wins 2018 Grand Chess Tour
Hikaru Nakamura holding his trophy. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura Wins 2018 Grand Chess Tour

| 54 | Chess Event Coverage

Hikaru Nakamura won the 2018 Grand Chess Tour and its $120,000 first prize after beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the fourth blitz game of the final at the London Chess Classic.

Fabiano Caruana came in third as he defeated Levon Aronian in their match. Gawain Jones won the British Knockout.

Aronian Vachier-Lagrave Caruana Nakamura Grand Chess Tour London

The four GCT contestants before the first game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It was an incredibly close affair today at the London Chess Classic. MVL and Nakamura drew no fewer than seven games in a row—after splitting the point in their two classical games as well—and just before a special tiebreak was about to start, Nakamura struck in the last, normally scheduled blitz game.

When Vachier-Lagrave got to play the white pieces in the first rapid game, we saw a repeat of yesterday's Berlin Endgame, with the Frenchman deviating first. Nakamura drew fairly comfortably:

MVL-Nakamura Berlin London Grand Chess Tour 2018

MVL and Nakamura involved in another Berlin. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura then got a promising endgame in the second rapid game, using a specially prepared sideline against his opponent's Gruenfeld. He forced a doubled pawn in his opponent's camp and got the bishop pair, but in the end he couldn't win it.

"I was a little bit annoyed because I probably should have won this rapid game which I didn’t, so I kind of let Maxime off the hook there but for the most part today I wasn’t in danger so it was a pretty good day," Nakamura would later say.

Nakamura  London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Nakamura let his opponent off the hook in the second rapid game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

MVL got good chances in the first blitz game, but failed to convert. Two fairly balanced blitz games followed, and the organizers were already taking into account the possibility of the tiebreak, which would consist of two 10+5 games and possibly an all-decisive Armageddon game with 5-vs-4 minutes.

All that wasn't necessary as Nakamura suddenly won quickly:

"It was a very tough match, yesterday and today as well," said Nakamura. "Fortunately I was able to hold and then in the last game I found this little idea before the game. It went a lot smoother than I thought it would but nonetheless it’s quite nice to win.

"(...) I was really happy the last game the way it went. I had looked at something very similar to what happened in the game and I saw the computer gave Be2 in a similar position and said White was winning and so to be able to play all these moves pretty much a tempo was really nice. Considering how stressful it was, throughout the day, to just finish like that was great and I just look forward to playing against next year."

Nakamura  London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Shortly after winning the Speed Chess Championship, Nakamura clinched another title thanks to his amazing blitz skills. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

MVL: "The only thing I can say is that today I didn’t play nearly well enough. I defended quite well this second rapid game, which was extremely tough, but then in the blitz I was definitely not playing up to my standards."

He added that it's especially hard to beat Nakamura in blitz: "It's his speciality and it's where he plays his best chess."

Vachier-Lagrave London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Due to this last blitz loss, MVL is also no longer the world number-one blitz player in the live ratings. Magnus Carlsen tops all three lists again. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Aronian didn't make it a secret yesterday that he wasn't playing for an advantage but went straight for the faster time control, because he had a "much higher rating in rapid and blitz than Fabiano." Today, Caruana proved that ratings say something about expected scores, but predictions are no certainties.

This match for third place started with an exciting theoretical battle in the first rapid game. Aronian decided to test his opponent's world-championship preparation, and played the main move 11.Nd2 against 10...Rd8 in the Queen's Gambit Declined.

A series of spectacular moves followed, with Caruana making use of very deep prep. Still, it was nice to watch:

Aronian-Caruana London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Aronian went straight into one of the Carlsen-Caruana world championship openings. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana dealt a serious blow by winning the second rapid game. There was a theoretical story here as well, with Aronian deviating from the first classical game with 10...Bf5, a move Caruana had mentioned to him on Saturday!

The Armenian grandmaster kept the position roughly equal for a long time, but then made a serious miscalculation and was subsequently outplayed in an instructive bishop ending.

Caruana-Aronian  London Grand Chess Tour 2018

More heavy theory in the Giuoco Pianissimo. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

That meant a four-point lead for Caruana, but Aronian won the first two blitz game to level the score. In the first, Black had been close to lost for many moves, but suddenly he got a chance in a rook endgame—a chance that was missed by Caruana:

Aronian-Caruana London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Caruana resigning a rook endgame he almost drew. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"I was pretty demoralized after losing two games in a row," said Caruana. "Especially since, in the first blitz game, I thought I was close to winning and I had a huge time advantage but he played very well when he was down to his last few seconds and I also missed a draw near the end. In the second blitz game I also missed a draw near the end, so yeah, it was pretty tough."

But Caruana bounced back, and won a complicated endgame with the black pieces. "Luckily I played a sharp line in the third game, and it worked out," he said. "I was better throughout the game and although I don’t think I played maybe in the cleanest way, it was still a pretty decent game."

This meant that Caruana needed only a draw to win the match. Instead, he won the last game as Aronian needed to take too much risk in the opening:

Caruana London Grand Chess Tour 2018

Finally some rapid and blitz success for the world championship challenger. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana: "I’m not too proud of third place but still, I beat a very strong player. A win against Levon is always an accomplishment so I am very proud of that. But when we’re not playing for first, it doesn’t feel the same. I would want to be in the final but Hikaru deservedly won both matches."

Aronian wasn't too happy. "I’ve been playing badly. Generally, the whole tournament," he said with a wry smile. "This third game I had an advantage out of the opening and then I played some really bad moves. Coming back with Black is always very difficult.

"It was a terrible year but being here is good. I hope next year will treat me better."

2018 Grand Chess Tour Final Standings

The Grand Chess Tour will have an exciting fifth year, as was announced today by spokesperson Michael Khodarkovsky in the live broadcast and later in a press release.

The tour will expand to a total of seven events, including the final in London in December between the top placed qualifiers. Three new events have been confirmed for 2019, including rapid and blitz tournaments in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire) and India.

The latter tournament is a result of a new cooperation between the tour and Gameplan Sports, the company that is behind the Tata Steel Chess India tournament. The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament has been dropped. A new classical chess tournament has been added as well, and will be held in Croatia.

With more tournaments, you need more players, and so this time a minimum of 10 players will be offered full tour contracts for 2019, including the top three finishers from the 2018 GCT finals who earn automatic qualification to the 2019 Grand Chess Tour.

The total prize fund of the 2019 tour will be at least USD $1.5 million, which is a 43 percent increase from the previous USD $1.05 million prize pool of the 2018 season.

British Knockout

Gawain Jones won the British Knockout championship convincingly. After scoring 1.5-0.5 in the classical games, giving him a 9-3 lead, he increased that right away to 13-3 lead as he beat Luke McShane in the first rapid game and then secured the title by winning the second as well.

Here's that first win, in which McShane's long-term piece sacrifice was very interesting and could have given Black an advantage at some point:

Jones-McShane British Knockout 2018

A topsy-turvy first rapid game for Jones and McShane. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

With the following game Jones secured the title. He was much better out of the opening, then gave his opponent some chances but was more resourceful in the end:

Gawain Jones British Knockout 2018

Gawain Jones is British Knockout Champion 2018. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Michael Adams won the match for third place vs David Howell. After two draws in the rapid games, he won two blitz games in a row, the first one with a double-attack tactic:

Michael Adams British Knockout 2018

The 47-year-old Adams showed his class today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Good defense is just as important as attacking in chess. By holding a difficult endgame to a draw, Adams scored the decisive point:

Howell vs Adams British Knockout 2018

While failing to win the third blitz game, Howell almost flagged at some point. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Here you can replay the show from the final day.

London Grand Chess Tour 2018

A view of the stage, with a cameraman from St. Louis. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Malcolm Pein London Grand Chess Tour 2018

The organizer Malcolm Pein (third left) could be seen in the spectator area. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Gawain Jones British Knockout

A highly concentrated Gawain Jones. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

London Grand Chess Tour 2018 backstage

A view from backstage... | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

London Grand Chess Tour 2018 playing hall

...and from the back of the hall. It's tough to get a full house on a Monday. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

London Grand Chess Tour 2018 VIP room blitz

Alejandro Ramirez and Lawrence Trent playing blitz, with Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana watching. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

London Grand Chess Tour 2018 Ramirez Nakamura interview

Left-right: Michael Khodarkovsky Malcolm Pein, Alejandro Ramirez and Hikaru Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura trophy London Grand Chess Tour 2018

And one more photo of the winner to finish the report! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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