The only US player now left in the field is Hikaru Nakamura, and he's safely made it to the last eight after ending the valiant run of World Cup veteran Michael Adams, beating the English No.1 by a score of 1.5-0.5. But Nakamura only got to play Adams by virtue of an epic battle with Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi that went the full distance of an ‘Armageddon’ decider - and even after that, Nakamura’s opponent lodged what turned out to be a frivolous appeal to have the result overturned.
In what looked more like a case of sour grapes after being knocked out 5-4 in a sudden death decider, Nepomniachtchi’s main gripe was that, in the blitz playoffs, Nakamura continually infringed the Rules of Chess (4.1 - Each move must be made with one hand only.) by castling by using both hands to move the king and rook at the same time. While this is a minor infringement of the rules, as with any other sporting activity, you can’t call foul after the event.
The correct protocol would have been for Nepomniachtchi to stop the clocks when it happened at the board and seek a ruling from the arbiter, who could confirm via a replay of the live TV feed if such an offence took place, and then take the appropriate action; which could be a warning or worst-case scenario being extra time added to Nepo's clock (but if the appeal failed, likewise the Russian would be similarly penalised). But the bottom line for such claims remain: It’s no use making a frivolous complaint after the game has finished.
And with Nakamura now going on to beat Adams, to become the first player to reach the final eight, suddenly his appeal as a potential winner of the World Cup looks strong. And not only that, but if he does indeed make it to the final (which has two Candidates spots available for the winner and runner-up), this will appeal further to another Russian, namely Dmitry Jakovenko, as Nakamura’s Grand Prix runner-up spot to the Candidates will go to the Russian, who came third in the Grand Prix behind Caruana and Nakamura.
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Hikaru Nakamura - Michael Adams
FIDE World Cup, (4.1)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 The Catalan Opening is a relatively newish opening in chess praxis - and one that is reputed to be a "made-to-order" creation by the Franco-Polish grandmaster and wit, Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956). He was said to have been asked by the organisers of the 1929 Barcelona tournament to come up with an opening to name after the city's region. Ever the crowd-pleaser, the grandmaster of the epigram played a set-up of 1 d4 2 Nf3 3 g3 and 4 Bg2 and christened it the "Catalan Opening" in homage to the region. 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Nc3 This is the aggressive way to play the Catalan, by sacrificing the c4-pawn for central control and rapid piece development - a familiar trait in the Catalan. The solid, "safe route" though is equally popular, with 8.Qc2 and 9.Rd1 as seen recently in Giri-Grischuk, Sinquefield Cup 2015 in St Louis. 8...dxc4 9.e4 c5 10.Bf4 Nb6 11.a4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 Bc5 12...a6 13.a5 Nbd7 14.e5 Nd5 15.Bxd5 exd5 16.Nf5! Nc5 17.Nxe7+ Qxe7 18.Nxd5 Qd8 19.Nb6 Bh3 with White having a small advantage, was seen in Sorokin-Pigusov, Voronezh 1988. 13.Ndb5 Qxd1 14.Raxd1 Black has exchanged queens and remains a pawn ahead - but the pawn on c4 remains weak and he lags behind in development; the main problem being how to safely develop his bishop on c8. 14...Bd7 15.Nc7 Rac8 16.a5 Na4 17.e5 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Nd5 19.Nxd5 exd5 20.Bxd5 White regains his pawn and still holds a small plus, thanks to his dominant rook on the d-file. 20...Bc6 21.Bxc6 Rxc6 22.Rd7 Ra6 Perhaps marginally better was 22...b5!? 23.Rxb7 Rxa5 24.e6! g5?! The point being is that, after 24...fxe6 25.Rd1! is awkward for Black, as White threatens to double his rooks on the seventh. 25.Bxg5 If 25.Be5 Bxf2+ 26.Rxf2 Rxe5 27.exf7+ Kg7 28.Rxa7 Re3 looks likely to simplify down to a drawn rook and pawn ending. 25...fxe6 26.Bf4 Rf7 Also 26...Ra2 27.Rc7 Rf5! looked safe for Black, as the pin on f2 will force White to exchange bishops by following up with 28.Be3 Bxe3 29.fxe3 Rxf1+ 30.Kxf1 Rxh2 31.Rxc4 with a drawn rook and pawn endings. 27.Rb8+ Rf8 28.Rb2 Keeping the extra rooks on the board helps White slightly, as all of Black's pawns are weak and isolated, and he has the added advantage of two pawns islands vs four pawn islands. 28...Ra3 29.Be5 Rb3 30.Re2 Rb5 31.Bf4 Kf7?! (See Diagram) Surely better was 31...Rb3 offering to repeat moves with 32.Be5? - and if not 32.Be5, then Black can seriously think about rapidly pushing his a-pawn which will offer good chances to save the game. Now, though, the game starts to drift away from Adams. 32.Rd1 Rb7 33.Rde1 Rb6 34.Kg2 Rc8 35.Re4 Rb2 36.Be3 Bxe3 37.R1xe3 Nakamura keeping the extra set of rooks on the board has made this extremely tough for Adams to defend. Amazing as it sounds, such games between top grandmasters can often be broken down to little things such as pawn islands. 37...Rc5? And what he just played made his situation worse - more logical for Adams was 37...Rc6. Now, after the text, Nakamura shows excellent technique in winning the ending. 38.Rxe6 Rf5 39.Re7+ Kf8 40.Re8+ Kf7 41.R3e7+ Kg6 42.Rg8+ Kf6 43.Rf8+ Kxe7 44.Rxf5 It's not just that Nakamura is a pawn ahead in what's often a notoriously drawn ending; the major deciding factor is that all of Adams' remaining pawns are now a target, forcing Black to compromise his position to defend them from being systematically picked off. 44...Kd6 45.Ra5 Rb7 46.g4! The winning plan is to push his g- and h-pawns rapidly up the board. 46...Kc6 47.Ra4 Kc5 48.h4 Rd7 49.g5 Kb5 50.Rb4+ Kc5 51.Rb8 a5 52.Ra8 Kb6 53.h5 Rd3 54.h6 1-0 If 54...Rd6 (54...Rxc3 55.g6!) 55.f4 easily wins.