They say that great rivalries help push sports with the fans and the media. For every Mohammad Ali, there is a Joe Frazier; for Bjorn Borg there was Jimmy Connors; and for Niki Lauda there was James Hunt while Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov once brought the house down for chess fanatics. And in today’s game World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s self-professed rival seems to be the US No1 Hikaru Nakamura.
A couple of years ago, the US No 1 tweeted: “I am the only person who is going to be able to stop Sauron. I do feel at the moment that I am the biggest threat to Carlsen.” However, his trash-talking likening of Carlsen to Tolkien’s dark lord with the all-seeing eye may have betrayed more than intended. Certainly, his attempts to ascend Mount Doom have been beset by troubles.
Nakamura has an abysmal score (11 loses, 17 draws and no wins) against the World Champion in the slow “classical” time limit that matters most in the game. It’s almost as if he’s doomed to forever lose to Carlsen never mind attempting to ascend Mount Doom - and everyone expected blood to be spilt during their eagerly-awaited encounter in the penultimate round of the 3rd Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour.
And after doing all the hard work of getting Nakamura in a bad position from the opening, and then successfully torturing him for so long, Carlsen looked to be heading easily for the round dozen with yet another win to jump back into contention for the title…only to spoil it all with one small error in a critical position. But to Nakamura’s credit, the US No1, even from a difficult position, was quick off the mark to find the drawing technique needed to salvage the game. For a dejected Carlsen, this has to go down as the one that got away…
Grischuk draw Vachier-Lagrave
Giri draw Caruana
So draw Topalov
Aronian draw Anand
Carlsen draw Nakamura
Round 8 standings: 1. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 5.5/8; 2-5. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4.5; 6-7. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 4; 8-9. Vishy Anand (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3; 10. Wesley So (USA) 2.5.
Magnus Carlsen - Hikaru Nakamura
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (8)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.Bf4 Nf6 5.e3 0-0 6.a3 c5 This is usually the route Black takes for equality in this line. 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.Qc2 Qa5 10.Rd1 This position is not so easy as it looks to draw for Black. I witnessed so many good games in the late 1970s and 1980s from Hungarian great Lajos Portisch, who won many endings from these sort of positions. 10...Be7 11.Be2 Ne4 12.cxd5 Nxc3 13.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 14.bxc3 exd5 15.Rxd5 Bxa3 16.Nd4! Nxd4 17.exd4! Ideally, you would want to keep all the pawns linked together in the one chain with 17.cxd4, but here Black will have good chances to win with those outside passed pawns storming down the a- and b-files. So this is one of the exceptions to the rule, as you are restricting Black to just one outside passed pawn. 17...b6 18.Kd2 Be6 19.Rb5 The material may be equal, the piece distribution even with a set of rooks and a set of bishops, but White has the advantage, as his bishops can attack and dominate a8 and b8, and his rooks are also going to dominate the b- and a-files. With this in mind, Nakamura gets himself into a tangle and comes very close to losing this. 19...Bd7 20.Rb3 Be7 21.Bf3 Ba4 22.Rb2 Rad8 23.Ra1 b5 Nakamura has stopped Carlsen winning one of the queenside pawns, but at the cost of now seeing his white-squared bishop stuck on a4 and vulnerable to threats of White successfully engineering c4. And Carlsen successfully does this, though follows up badly to ruin all his good work in getting to such a good position. 24.Bc6 a6 25.Bb7 Bd6 26.Be3 a5 27.Bc6 Rb8 28.d5 Rfd8 29.Kd3 Bf8 30.Bd4 f6 31.Ke4 Bd6 32.c4! The first part successfully accomplished. Now, apart from winning Black's b-pawn, if Nakamura isn't careful then there's the even bigger threat of pushing the c- and d-pawns rapidly up the board. So.... 32...Bb4 33.Ba7 Now if 33.c5 (with Black's dark-squared bishop secure on b4) Black has good chances of salvaging the game with a timely exchange sac..for example: 33...Rbc8 34.h4 Kf7 35.h5 Rxc6! 36.dxc6 Re8+ 37.Kd3 Rc8 with excellent drawing chances. 33...f5+ 34.Kf3 Better was 34.Ke3! and one-square closer to the queenside. We'll soon see why this matters. 34...Rbc8 35.cxb5 Bxb5 36.Bxb5 Bc3 37.Rab1 Bxb2 38.Rxb2 Rxd5 (See Diagram) 39.Be3? The spade work has been done, and Carlsen has the winning advantage he was looking for, with two bishops for the rook - but immediately he goes wrong allowing Nakamura to swap off a set of rooks that makes it easier to draw. Instead, his best chance of winning involved keeping as many pieces on the board as possible, as the attack mounts on Nakamura's king and his a-pawn. He could easily have achieved this with the far superior: 39.Ba4! Rc3+ 40.Ke2 Re5+ 41.Kd2 Rc8 42.Rb7. "Today is just a moment of insanity," a dejected Carlsen reflected after the game. "Just a complete lack of concentration. It was just one move. Just a moment of insanity...Right now I'm sick of playing so badly." 39...Rb8 40.Bc4 Rxb2 41.Bxd5+ The hundreds of fans following the game live at the official site were all convinced that, with playing engines going +1 and increasing, Carlsen was easily winning this - far from it, as the computer can't work out the technicalities available to Nakamura to draw this. 41...Kh8 42.Bd4 Rb1 43.Ke2 a4 44.g3 a3 45.Kd2 h5 46.h4 Kh7 47.Bc4 g6 48.Kc2 Re1!? The simpler draw, as pointed out by GM Yasser Seirawan during the live online coverage, was 48...Rb7 cutting the king off from successfully capturing the a-pawn. 49.Be3 The engines now start climbing to +2 - and the fans were even more convinced Carlsen was winning. But despite the engine assessment climbing here, as Nakamura played an inferior drawing move, he does have a plan! 49...f4! And here it is. If not for this, Carlsen would have been winning as he can swing his king across to the kingside (after removing the a-pawn). Now the king gets cut off before it can reach the crucial winning squares of g5 or f6. 50.Bxf4 There's no other option. After 50.gxf4 Rh1 51.Kb3 (51.f5 gxf5 52.Bg5 Rh2 and White can't defend both f2 and h4.) 51...Rxh4 Black will have swapped off a set of pawns, doubled White's f-pawns and created his own passed h-pawn - impossible for White to even think about winning this. 50...a2 51.Bxa2 Re2+ 52.Kb3 Rxf2 53.Bb1 Re2 Cutting off access to the e-file is the key to drawing. If Carlsen can't successfully get his king across to g5 or f6, there's no realistic way to win this. Nakamura also has other drawing resources, the first being that there's a "50-move rule" in chess, meaning if a pawn is not moved or a piece captured before move 102, then its a draw. Another drawing theme to keep in mind is sacrificing the rook for White's dark-squared bishop, so long as Black can successfully leave just the White h-pawn on the board. 54.Kc4 Kg7 As pointed out by commentator Yasser Seirawan, with the example of some silly non-moves, White's task of trying to win this is not easy 54...Re1 55.Bc2 Re2 56.Bd3 Re1 57.Kd4 Kg7 58.Be4 Kh7 59.Ke5 Re2 60.Bg5 Re1 61.g4 hxg4 62.h5 Rxe4+ 63.Kxe4 gxh5 and a draw. 55.Kd5 Re1 56.Bc2 Re2 57.Bd3 Re1 58.Be4 Rd1+ 59.Ke5 Re1 And this recurrent theme of dominating the e- and f-files (particularly the e-file) guarantees the draw. But for even safer measures, Nakamura has also played ... Kg7 just in case of any g4 and h5 tricks. 60.Bd2 Re2 61.Bc3 Kh6 62.Bb4 Rf2 We're just going around in circles now. Carlsen could just have ceded the draw here. 63.Bc5 Rf1 64.Bb4 Rf2 65.Be7 Rf1 66.Bf6 Rg1 67.Bg5+ Kg7 68.Bf4 Re1 69.Kd5 Rd1+ 70.Ke6 Re1 71.Ke5 Re2 72.Kd5 Re1 73.Bd3 Kh7 74.Kd4 Kg7 75.Be3 Ra1 76.Ke4 Ra4+ 77.Kf3 Ra3 78.Bb5 Rb3 79.Be8 Rb1 80.Bc6 Rb4 81.Bd2 Rb6 82.Bc3+ Kh6 83.Bd5 Rb1 84.Kf4 Rf1+ 85.Ke5 Just when you think a little progress has been made, suddenly there's the other little matter of defending the g-pawn and we're back to square one. 85...Rg1 86.Bd2+ Kg7 87.Bf4 Re1+ 88.Kd6 Kf6 89.Bf3 Kf5 90.Kd5 Rf1 91.Be4+ Kg4 92.Bxg6 Rxf4 93.gxf4 Kxf4 94.Bxh5 Now, as an example, Black could safely draw with ...Kf5, ...Kf6, ...Kg7 and putting the king on h8, as this is a theory draw. But then again, there's also the much easier task of just taking off White's h-pawn... 94...Kg3 95.Bd1 Kxh4 ½-½