New Personal High For Nakamura As Lead In Gibraltar Increases

New Personal High For Nakamura As Lead In Gibraltar Increases

| 11 | Chess Event Coverage

Despite a field of more than 250 players in the "masters" section of the 2015 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, GM Hikaru Nakamura (7.5/8) is looking to shrink the 10-round Swiss into a 9-round affair.

By winning today in round seven over GM Yu Yangyi, he increased his lead over the entire field to a full game, and sloughed off one of the four members of the chase group. The other three members who went into the round a half-point back, GMs David Howell, Daniel Naroditsky, and Axel Bachmann, all drew.

In addition, exactly zero wins came from the eight vaunted members that were a full-point back (boards two through seven were all drawn). As previously reported, that group included three former tournament champions and a current world champion.

Yu Yangyi likely didn't predict Nakamura's fourth move; he spent more than 10 minutes on it (photo: John Saunders).

As if Nakamura needed more good news, his tournament performance rose to 3054 and his live rating to 2794.8, which is fractionally more than the 2794.4 he achieved in October 2013.

"I'm not following," he said when told of this. He has also gained three spots in the world rankings and now sits at number seven by padding his rating nearly 20 points in the last week.

That's about 10 points per square mile of the British Overseas Territory. If he wins, the £20,000 first prize is about 70 percent of the average Gibraltarian's annual salary.

Being the higher-rated and more decorated player does not always equate to success against Yu Yangyi. Late last year in the Qatar Masters Open, he knocked off two top-ten players to clinch clear first.

Today Nakamura played a knight to the rim to win. On move 4, Na3 replaced the more standard 4. d4, and was a move Nakamura prepared "five years ago."

"I felt like playing something peaceful...all the Chinese players are super well prepared," Nakamura explained. "I could have gone into just any one of a million Sicilians, but I would have had to castle queenside. It would have ended with some position where I'm attacking on one side and he's trying to mate me on the other side. I didn't feel like playing one of those games today." 

Nakamura didn't want to castle on opposite sides of Yu Yangyi (photo: John Saunders).

The point of 4. Na3 is many-fold: you can then come to b5 and threaten tricks on c7, White's bishop can use the c4 square, and the knight can redeploy to a square that assists with playing a later d4.

Things got serious for Black when the bishop pair was squandered and his king had to march forward to assist in the defense. Nakamura traded the bishops in for damaged pawn structure, and Yu Yangyi could only put up mild resistance in the opposite-colored bishop middlegame.

Nakamura was not entirely sure he was winning outright, but said he was hoping his opponent would fall prey to a tactic. Curiously, Nakamura won a pawn with 28. Bxa6, the same move he played to win a pawn versus GM Veselin Topalov in his last turn with the white pieces.

Meanwhile GMs Axel Bachmann and David Howell drew on board two, which doubled their trailing margin to one point (6.5/8). Ditto GM Daniel Naroditsky (6.5/8), who took no chances and played a level game with 2014 Gibraltar winner GM Nikita Vitiugov (6.0/8).

The closest player that could have joined others a point back was 2009 champ GM Peter Svidler, who went from slightly better to winning after the time control against Women's World Champion Hou Yifan.

The cleanest win was 47. Rh6 when mate and promotion are both hard to stop. If 47...Bxe6 48. Rxe6+ Kd7, White can keep the rook and knight and hold off the pawn with 49. Rc6. There's still enough time to save the knight with check and reconfigure the rook to the second rank or the a-file.

Svidler slipped on a banana just before finding the win against Hou Yifan (photo: John Saunders).

Instead the highest-rated woman drew to maintain her half-point lead for the top female prize, which she won in 2012 (the sisters Muzychuk both sit on 5.5/8). Mercifully, after yesterday's rook endgame marathon in Nakamura's game, Svidler didn't make Hou Yifan prove she knew the basics.

In other action, GM Richard Rapport reined in any animalistic instincts early, choosing the Four Knights against GM Dmitry Jakovenko. His patience led to a visually impressive attacking formation -- queen on h5, knights on g5 and f5, and both bishops lined up on the kingside too. Somehow the breakthrough just never came.

Defending champion GM Ivan Cheparinov's extra pawn wasn't good enough against GM Pentala Harikrishna, nor was GM Wei Yi's space advantage enough to overcome GM Maxim Rodshtein. Both of those games ended drawn too.

For those coming to this report needing a little more excitement, look no further than GM Gil Popilski vs. GM Baskaran Adhiban. The two gave us an underpromotion as early as move 15, a desperado knight, a majestic queen sacrifice to stop mate, and a mass of pawns overcoming the minor pieces. It should come as no surprise that Adhiban, like Anand, is from the Tamil Nadu state in India!

In round nine, Bachmann ascends to the top board as White and will try to draw even with Nakamura. If Nakamura wins and there is not a decisive result from Howell-Naroditsky on board two, then Nakamura will clinch first with one round to spare. All that would remain is to go play with the monkeys.

2015 Gibraltar Masters | Round 8 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1
1 2 GM Nakamura Hikaru USA 2776 7.5 3054
2 15 GM Howell David W L ENG 2670 6.5 2811
3 26 GM Naroditsky Daniel USA 2622 6.5 2762
4 22 GM Bachmann Axel PAR 2629 6.5 2724
5 4 GM Vitiugov Nikita RUS 2735 6.0 2764
6 3 GM Svidler Peter RUS 2739 6.0 2760
7 6 GM Yu Yangyi CHN 2724 6.0 2757
8 1 GM Topalov Veselin BUL 2800 6.0 2747
9 13 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2673 6.0 2743
10 7 GM Harikrishna P. IND 2723 6.0 2741
11 5 GM Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2733 6.0 2732
12 65 IM Wagner Dennis GER 2501 6.0 2729
13 12 GM Wei Yi CHN 2675 6.0 2722
14 8 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2716 6.0 2717
15 21 GM Adhiban B. IND 2630 6.0 2711
16 10 GM Cheparinov Ivan BUL 2681 6.0 2698
17 101 WGM Padmini Rout IND 2388 6.0 2648
18 92 IM Nakar Eylon ISR 2419 6.0 2636
19 35 GM Mareco Sandro ARG 2583 6.0 2616
20 41 GM Bok Benjamin NED 2572 6.0 2552

Here's the replay of the live commentary of round eight, which also includes frequent video author GM Simon Williams admitting that endgames are not his specialty. He nonetheless explains further the tricky "Vancura position" from Howell-Nakamura in round seven.

Nakamura also gave us some insight to yesterday's mishap -- in his three previous iterations with the position, he was always on the defensive side: "I knew [Howell's] rook was on the wrong square, but it was six hours; I was already kind of starting to lose it."

He said that winning seven in a row was not at the forefront of his thinking.

And if that's still not enough chess for you, here's two master classes conducted on site. The first is from Hou Yifan and the second from Williams, and both are co-hosted by Event Organizer GM Stuart Conquest:

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