Hikaru Nakamura Wins 2019 Speed Chess Championship

Hikaru Nakamura Wins 2019 Speed Chess Championship

| 16 | News

Top seed GM Hikaru Nakamura won the 2019 Speed Chess Championship, presented by Regium Chesslast Friday. The American speed demon jumped away in the bullet section after GM Wesley So had put up a great fight in the five- and three-minute portions.

The final score was 19.5-14.5 for Nakamura, who won $7,868 for his victory. So earned $2,132. The final was the closing act of the 2019 championship that began in early September and overlapped the new year due to the busy schedules of the players.

Friday's match was far from lop-sided, as So came back from a four-game deficit early in the match and at one point was even leading. Nakamura was unhappy with his play in the slower segments but ended up winning convincingly as he won the bullet with a four-point margin.

Speed Chess Championship Final Nakamura So's own SmarterChess had correctly predicted that the match would end closely (even calling for an overtime victory by Nakamura).

For a while, it seemed that Nakamura might actually win this one with a big score. He remained undefeated during the first nine games, of which he won four.

His tactical alertness clearly showed in game two, one of the critical games of the match, according to both players. Having played too slowly, Nakamura was low on time but nonetheless capitalized on a mistake by his opponent: 

It really took some time for So to warm up. Also in game nine he was tactically outwitted. While performing the winning combination, Nakamura avoided a tempting alternative that would have lost the game:

After such a nice win for Nakamura, you wouldn't expect his engine to slow down, but it did. So then won two games in a row, thereby limiting the damage to two game points by the end of the five-minute portion.

Game 11 saw a powerful finish by So, who seemed to be a bit under pressure with hanging pawns but found a great, dynamic solution:

5+1 games | Scores

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 Hikaru Nakamura @Hikaru 3241 3113 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 0 0 ½ 7.0/12
2 Wesley So @GMWSO 3054 3182 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 5.0/12

After two more draws at the start of the three-minute segment, it was clear that Nakamura was in a bad phase. Suddenly, So had won three games in a row, and he was leading the match by a point.

"I knew I was tilting by that point, but I figured I should never give up and try to have fun," So said about coming back from the four-point deficit.

Here's the second of those three wins, in which Nakamura mysteriously dropped a central pawn: 

Possibly this was a wake-up call for Nakamura, who decided that that was enough. He took back the lead right away as he won the next two games. With a win each, later in this segment, he went into the bullet with a one-point lead.

In one of his wins, Nakamura played a topical line (4.e3) that avoids the Gruenfeld and showed why top players don't mind playing a Benoni a tempo down because it's still a Benoni:

3+1 games | Scores

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 Wesley So @GMWSO 3083 3241 ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 6.5/12
2 Hikaru Nakamura @Hikaru 3212 3054 ½ ½ 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 5.5/12

The bullet segment was a slugfest with not a single draw. Nakamura won two games right from the start, which brought his lead back to three points. In the remainder, it never got below that. 

The unavoidable huge blunder came in game 26, which was the second bullet game. A tough one and possibly a crucial one in the match:

Having already secured match victory—with a five-point lead and the time running down—Nakamura went full Bongcloud, playing 1.e4 and 2.Ke2. Anything is possible these days!

He even ended winning this game from a lost position due to another howler from So:

1+1 games | Scores

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 Hikaru Nakamura @Hikaru 3200 3075 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 7.0/10
2 Wesley So @GMWSO 2927 3052 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 3.0/10

Always a good sport, So started his post-match interview this way: "First, I'd like to congratulate Hikaru for a dominating performance. It's really unfortunate that I have to run into him every single time!" 

The runner-up, who also lost to Nakamura in last year's final, felt that his first two losses in the five-minute portion were already decisive. Nakamura agreed:

"Really, game two is critical. If you watch ... the video, you'll see that I am just moving super slowly, just chilling; nothing much is going on. I suddenly see my clock get red, and I start moving instantly. I was very lucky that Wesley made a blunder in a much better position. I think from there on it was very much in my favor."

"I feel I need to have a two- or three-game lead coming into the bullet to have a chance," said So. 

Nakamura said the match was closer than the final score reflects: "I thought Wesley played very well to come all the way back."

2019 Speed Chess Championship full bracket
In this repeat of last year's final, So received $2,132 based on win percentage. Nakamura won $5,000 for the victory plus $2,868 on percentage for a total of $7,868.

Nakamura had a total earning of $16,640 in this Speed Chess Championship compared to $10,209 for So.

Replay the commentary with GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch.

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.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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