Nakamura Wins 5th London Chess Classic (UPDATED)

Nakamura Wins 5th London Chess Classic (UPDATED)

| 59 | Chess Event Coverage

The London Chess Classic's Super Sixteen Rapid tournament was won by Hikaru Nakamura. On Sunday the American grandmaster knocked out Vladimir Kramnik, who blundered terribly in the second game of their semi-final, and then Nakamura beat Boris Gelfand in the final. Jon Ludvig Hammer won the FIDE Open.

Report by John Saunders

Gelfand 1½-½ Adams 

Boris started with a joke, as the young ceremonial move-maker pushed Boris's pawn to e4. Malcolm asked him what he thought of it. Boris: "It's the best move." Malcolm: "Are you going to play it?" Boris: "Not today!" In fact, he went for a Catalan set-up against Mickey Adams. The game was 'book' until 14.Nxc5 was played instead of 14.Bf4. Despite Boris's two bishops, analysis engines seemed to favour Black, perhaps because White had yet to find a home for his king and because he had a weak pawn on c3. Boris's 18.Bxc5 allowed Mickey's rook to reach the seventh. He seemed well set but then made a serious error... Gelfand - Adams After 24.Ne5 Mickey, in a good position, played 24...Nd7? allowing Boris the startling castling move 25.0-0-0!!, which Nigel Short had already spotted in a similar position which was being debated in the VIP Room. It sets up a double attack, on the b2 rook and the d7 knight. I used the phrase 'startling castling' deliberately as it is the title of a chess book by Robert Timmer. Julian Hodgson extolled the praises of this book, describing it as 'a perfect read in the bathroom'. (Chess & Bridge are currently offering it at a bargain price of £5.) Mickey managed to cut his losses to the exchange for a pawn and chances came and went, but Mickey finally blundered when he played 46...Kf6, allowing 47.Rd4 winning material.

Mickey started patriotically with the English Attack of the Najdorf Sicilian, needing a win to force a play-off. But of course Boris's opening knowledge is encyclopaedic and he wasn't intimidated by Anglo-aggression. Things soon looked rather ominous as Boris freed his position with ...b4 and ...d5. 21.Ne3 may have been a mistake as Boris played 21...Qa5, piling on the pressure along the d-file. In order to defend d4, Mickey had to let his a-pawn drop. Soon a second pawn fell and, rather than strain himself trying to win, Boris traded his pawns in for a simple playable position with zero risk of losing.

Kramnik ½-1½ Nakamura

Vladimir Kramnik, with White, kicked off his semi-final match with Hikaru Nakamura by playing a double fianchetto English Opening. You could call it a reversed Sicilian. "Kramnik has played like Kottnauer," said Nigel Short in the VIP Room. "This is what Kottnauer advised me to do about 40 years ago." I'm guessing most younger readers won't know the name Cenek Kottnauer but he was a very fine player who emigrated to Britain from Czechoslovakia many years ago and became one of the country's best players, who was also responsible for coaching some of England's finest talents. Glad to hear Nigel name-czech him...

Things started to happen when Vlad went in for the risky 23.e5, when Hikaru simply took the proffered pawn on f4. But Hikaru's answer to 24.e6, namely 24...Qb5, was not approved by the massed ranks of GMs in the VIP room (they thought 24...Qd8 was significantly better). Kramnik grabbed his pawn back and then the pieces started to disappear from the board. Julian Hodgson predicted a draw, and he wasn't wrong as it came down to a knight and pawn ending, with Hikaru a not very useful pawn up. In the end the players amused the crowd by playing a stalemate.

Hikaru opened 1.d4 and the players went into a QGD/Grünfeld hybrid. Vlad took the opportunity to swap queens, settling for a fairly sedate middlegame. However, it soon livened up again when White allowed him a sneaky tactic with 16...Nb4, gaining him the exchange for a pawn, although White's position, with the two bishops, remained very solid. The late endgame was quite tactical and Hikaru missed various chances to make things difficult for Vlad, who exchanged off a pair of bishops and reached a position where his rook counted for rather more than Hikaru's knight. However, Hikaru clung on and created just enough play to make Vlad think. Vlad was probably still winning when he reached this position...

Here Vlad played 42...Kf7 and was surprised by 43.Nc5! Bf8 44.Ba5 Be7 45.Bb6 and Black has no good way to make progress. Really, he should settle for a draw but he continued to press for a win, with calamitous consequences. First, he gave up a piece for the powerful white d-pawn. Even then he may have had a lost position but he then blundered catastrophically, after which there was no doubt whatsoever:

This could still be a draw after a move such as 64...Rd6, but Vlad played 64...Re7+?!, which was answered by 65.Ne5+. This is already extremely unpleasant, and perhaps objectively lost, but he followed it with the hideous 65...Kf6, which allows the pin 66.Bd8, winning immediately and eliminating Black from the tournament. Vlad's sudden collapse sent shockwaves round the building as only two results (Kramnik win/draw) had seemed possible only a couple of minutes before it happened.


26-year-old US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura of the USA has won the 5th London Chess Classic, staged this year as a rapid chess tournament and billed as the Super Sixteen Rapid. The top American grandmaster defeated former world championship finalist Boris Gelfand of Israel by 1½-½ in the final.

As the world number four on the FIDE Rating List for classical chess, and number three at rapid chess, the result was far from being a surprise but it was a significant achievement in the career of a remarkable player who must be a leading contender to threaten Magnus Carlsen’s world crown in the next few years.

Hikaru’s progression through the competition was impressive. He scored +2, =4, -0 in the preliminary phase, and then improved that to +3, =3, -0 against sterner opaposition in the knock-out phase. To go through without a loss was a clear sign of strength. His toughest moment was when he came close to elimination in his second semi-final game with Vladimir Kramnik but he showed an amazing resilience in first holding the former world champion at bay and then taking advantage of Kramnik’s evident state of confusion to finish the match off with a win.

In the final match against Boris Gelfand, Hikaru showed the courage of his convictions by going straight for an ultra-sharp tactic in the opening against a player who had hitherto proved himself the best defender in the event, and also at this time control in world championship qualifiers. They say ‘fortune favours the brave’ and Hikaru’s conquest of this elite rapid chess event backs that up. Congratulations to him.

 THE FINAL: Nakamura 1½-½ Gelfand 

Hikaru received the white pieces in the draw for colours conducted by chief arbiter Albert Vasse, and they launched into a Grünfeld Defence, one of the most fashionable of all current super-GM openings. Hikaru's 10.Ng5 is quite a double-edged move but Boris avoided the standard continuation 10...Nb6 by playing instead 10...Nc6. Hikaru's response was brave and speculative – 11.Nxf7!? – a move we all like to play against a castled king, whatever level we play at.

On the face of it, the line looks very dodgy for Black as he has to give up the exchange, but it is almost inconceivable that Boris wouldn’t have something prepared for this. By way of compensation he demolished the white centre and got his minor pieces to strong outposts. Was it enough? The unofficial grandmaster jury in the VIP Room was undecided: the Hiarcs engine thought White was better around move 15 but Matthew Sadler and others preferred Black.

Hikaru may not have been entirely confident of his chances as he thought for nine minutes about his 16th move: quite a big chunk of his allotted 25 minutes. However, within a few moves, the initiative seemed to have shifted back to the American after Boris played the dubious 17...Ne4. "He's blown it," exclaimed GM Julian Hodgson, perhaps a little melodramatically. Then, calming down slightly, "I think Hikaru's over the worst now – he'll survive."

Julian might have been right the first time. The next few moves saw Hikaru consolidate his material advantage, in machine-like fashion, and Boris never really looked like getting back into the game. At move 25 he used around half of his remaining six minutes, suggesting he was running out of ideas. More solid moves followed from Hikaru and Boris had to resign.

Boris, with White, played the Averbakh variation of the King's Indian Defence. It followed theory for about 15 moves and Boris acquired a space advantage. However, Black’s position remained playable and White couldn’t bring any real pressure to bear on it. Hikaru used his tactical prowess to exchange queens and then give up the exchange for two pawns. It might sound risky but Black’s pieces remained well-coordinated and Boris’s pair of rooks had no useful inroads. Boris pressed too hard and made a slip. Eventually only Hikaru could win the position but, since he didn’t need to, he was happy to acquiesce to a draw.

What a gripping competition! Thanks to Malcolm Pein and his team for their hard work, the players for their wonderful chess, and to everyone at home and at the venue for being a great audience. See you all again this time next year!

More photos can be found here and here; the official website here.

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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