Nakamura Wins 3rd Straight Gibraltar Title In Playoff

Nakamura Wins 3rd Straight Gibraltar Title In Playoff

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In the year of the rooster, GM Hikaru Nakamura just scored a turkey. By winning yet another playoff, he scored his third straight strike at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Fesitival and became the first man to win three in a row.

Maybe he is slowing down though? Last year he needed 15 games to take the title. This year, it took him 16. For a man who loves frequent flier miles, let's hope he also gets some special status for all this chess. Counting playoff games, he's now played 46 consecutive games on the The Rock without a loss.

GM David Anton (left) and GM Yu Yangyi (right) tied for first but both ran into the blitz maestro in the playoffs.

He didn't need to go to Armageddon this year, but the American did need to expend a ton of energy on today's final day. First he won as Black in round 10 just to make the playoff against pre-round leader GM David Anton. Then GM Yu Yangyi also won to make it a three-way playoff.

"I've played so many tiebreaks at this point that it doesn't faze me at all," Nakamura said.

Per rule, Anton got an automatic chair in the finals due to his higher (2859) performance rating, meaning Nakamura had to first play twin rapid games and then blitz against Yu. After outlasting him and drawing Anton in their first rapid game, he finally ended the event by beating Anton in their rematch.

"Objectively Anton played a better tournament than me," Nakamura said afterward. "They should have been rooting for the other guy. I've won too many times!"

Nakamura has broken each of their hearts before. He beat Anton on board one in the final round of regulation last year in Gibraltar. He also beat Yu in the rapid semifinals of Millionaire Chess II in 2015, which he called much more "up and down" than his games against the Chinese grandmaster here.

In his winner's speech, Nakamura alluded to the turmoil that unfolded on his native soil while he's been away. "It's good to see people from Iran, for example, [and] Israel...It's great to see that, regardless of what's going on in the world."

Like Roger Federer, Nakamura hasn't gone anywhere.

GM Hikaru Nakamura's trio of titles have come after his initial win nine years ago (he's also the first to win four career titles in Gibraltar, passing GM Nigel Short).

"For the first half of the this tournament, I was so preoccupied watching the Australia Open," said Nakamura, a big tennis fan and player. He said watching Federer-Nadal in the finals "took me back to 2008."

Here's how he won the opening leg of the tiebreak games. The format was twin 10+5 games, and if tied, which was the case against Yu, twin 3+2 games.

Surprisingly, Yu outrated Nakamura by a solitary point (2791 to 2790) in rapid, but I guess it depends on if you called 10+5 rapid. What is not debatable is Nakamura's large lead in blitz, which he certified by winning both games (the second was Yu going ballistic trying to get even; the first game blitz was essentially the decider).

The semi-final between Yu and Nakamura.

That endgame push made up for Nakamura's late mistake in one of the rapid games. Do you know the two winning moves here?

The final between Anton and Nakamura.

Here's how Nakamura got into the finals: a crush of GM Romain Edouard that finished him at nine extra rating points and a chance at that top prize.

GM Ju Wenjun lost but she had already wrapped up the top women's prize going into the day (all five of the chase group trailed by a full point and her TPR was much higher; there is no playoff for the ladies).

GM Ju Wenjun had been the highest-rated female not to win in Gibraltar, but that all changed this time around.

GM Hou Yifan also created quite a scene by opening 1. g4 d5 2. f3 against GM Babu Lalith in an apparent protest to her earlier pairings. She resigned after move five.

She apologized to her fans in the video for the non-game. Yifan was apparently upset at the pairings from earlier in the tournament, which required her to play seven games against women in the first nine rounds.

Several people have attested that they've downloaded the Swiss-Manager pairing program and affirmed the pairings were correct for the final rounds of the tournament. has not independently verified this. Chief arbiter Laurent Freyd assured that no human hand was involved in the pairings.

Even husband and wife had to play in the final round. IM Anna Zatonskih, in line for a top female prize, had a round-10 encounter with GM Daniel Fridman. They admitted nothing good could happen. If she won a fair game, accusations would fly. Honorable until the end, they drew, denying her £5,000+ in prize money (she would have finished in clear second).

But there is some justice in the world.

Fridman was the "first man out" of the prizes, and as such won the annual award from the Association of Chess Professionals of around £500. And here's some entertaining math: He won slightly more for himself by drawing rather than winning! That's right, the nature of the ACP prize is that it is one extra award equal to the last-place award. If Fridman had won, he would have been one more player factoring into the calculation of the place prizes, thus lowering the amount won. Wrap your head around that!

Gibraltar Masters | Final Standings (Top 30)

Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 w-we
1 24 GM Anton Guijarro David 2650 8 2859 2,69
2 3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2785 8 2847 0,87
3 8 GM Yu Yangyi 2738 8 2830 1,17
4 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 7,5 2804 0,33
5 5 GM Adams Michael 2751 7,5 2797 0,67
6 28 GM Sutovsky Emil 2628 7,5 2759 1,78
7 13 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2689 7,5 2755 0,91
8 7 GM Topalov Veselin 2739 7,5 2749 0,23
9 10 GM Gelfand Boris 2721 7,5 2729 0,3
10 20 GM Howell David W L 2655 7 2732 1,13
11 38 GM Ju Wenjun 2583 7 2731 2,07
12 16 GM Short Nigel D 2675 7 2722 0,79
13 1 GM Caruana Fabiano 2827 7 2709 -0,98
14 27 GM Akobian Varuzhan 2633 7 2709 1,16
15 12 GM Matlakov Maxim 2701 7 2699 0,13
16 11 GM Naiditsch Arkadij 2702 7 2696 0,04
17 9 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2724 7 2679 -0,44
18 18 GM Fressinet Laurent 2660 7 2677 0,33
19 21 GM Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo 2652 7 2675 0,42
20 26 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2637 7 2673 0,63
21 6 GM Svidler Peter 2748 7 2671 -0,74
22 37 GM Lalith Babu M R 2587 7 2640 0,9
23 30 GM Edouard Romain 2613 7 2639 0,61
24 58 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2512 6,5 2659 2,09
25 42 GM Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2572 6,5 2654 1,23
26 69 IM Steinberg Nitzan 2486 6,5 2644 2,13
27 54 GM Lagno Kateryna 2530 6,5 2634 1,28
28 47 GM Muzychuk Anna 2558 6,5 2630 0,96
29 23 GM Piorun Kacper 2651 6,5 2619 -0,28
30 33 GM Fridman Daniel 2594 6,5 2617 0,39

(Full final standings here.)

Nakamura interviewed by IM Jovanka Houska.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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