08 Feb

Nakamura Rocks Gibraltar

As tournaments go, the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival has now become a byword in the chess community for top quality fields, professional organisation, entertaining live commentary, sociable social events and a generous prize fund, plus a wonderful venue at the Caleta Hotel - and its 2016 edition on the Rock last week maintained the high standards of what’s now become a must-play event for all.


This year, the 14th Tradewise Gibraltar Open had yet another impressive cosmopolitan field that was led by not one but two of the eight Candidates who next month will head to Moscow to determine Magnus Carlsen’s next world title challenger. And in what proved to be a tale of differing fortunes, one of the Candidates rocked Gibraltar while the other hit rock bottom.

For India’s Vishy Anand, he was playing in his first open tournament in 23-year’s and - as we reported in Friday’s column, Rock Anand Hard Place - it turned into a disastrous experience for the five-time former world champion, who in the first eight rounds was floundering close to the lower boards after conceding two loses and three draws (all to much lower-rated opponents) as he sensationally crashed out of the world top 10 for the first time in his long and distinguished career.

But for Hikaru Nakamura, it turned out to be double joy for the U.S. champion, who after a slow start finished strongly to tie for first on 8/10 with French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and then went on to win an exciting and tough playoff for a second successive victory and his third overall, equalling the record of the English former world title challenger, Nigel Short.

Under the tournament rules, all prizes were split with the exception of first prize, which had to be played for. It proved to be an exciting and enthralling playoff that brought out the best in both players. After they had drawn both rapidplay games and both blitz games, Nakamura won the Armageddon decider to take first place and $29,000 with MVL taking home the conciliation prize of $23,000.

The top women’s prize of $21,000 went to Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine for her score of 7/10. She took the title in a close race with her sister, the world champion Mariya, and Yuliya Shavayger from Israel who went into the last round on the same score of 6/9 as the eventual winner, but both lost to Lazaro Bruzon and Gata Kamsky respectively.


Today's game proved to be a decisive moment for Nakamura: his penultimate round win over India’s Abhijeet Gupta that moved him up to tie for first.

(Photo Opposite) Hikaru Nakamura receives his winners check from Tradewise Chairman James Humphreys. Hikaru scored 8/10 (+6,=4) and then won a speed playoff 3-2 to take the title and first prize.

GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Abhijeet Gupta
Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, (9)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 One of the most popular Anti-Grünfeld systems in the game today. It is extremely sharp - and that's just the sort of game Nakamura thrives on. 3...d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Qd2 e5 9.d5 c6 In this variation, Black has to constantly chip, chip away at White's pawn centre, as going passive can lead to an early debacle, as White will throw the h-pawn up the board for a quick attack. 10.h4 cxd5 11.exd5 N8d7 12.h5 Nf6 13.hxg6 fxg6 Bad is the "normal" recapture towards the centre with 13...hxg6, as White will quickly launch a mating attack after a timely Bh6. 14.0-0-0 Qd6 Boris Gelfand played 14...Bd7 in his world championship match against Vishy Anand in Moscow 2012; and it is certainly a moot point whether that or ...Qd6 is better - certainly ...Qd6 is played in a lot of systems Black deploys against this Anti-Grunfeld variation. 15.Kb1! Nakamura has to play this now, else after ...Bf5, White's king will be "caught" in the crossfire of the Black pieces on c1. 15...Bf5+ 16.Ka1 Rac8?! Gupta seems to be caught at cross-purposes with this move. Having played Qd6 and Bf5+, it makes sense to prevent Nakamura from going aggressive with g4 by playing 16...h5! - and this was indeed tried successfully by Wei Yi against Krishnan Sasikiran last year, where the general consensus was that after 17.Bd3 White retained an edge. 17.g4 Rxc3!? Not unsurprising, because after 17...Bd7 18.g5 Nh5 19.Ne4 Qc7 20.Qe1  White stands strong. But Gupta feels he is now "pot committed" and has to play for this exchange sacrifice. It does seem like his best option here. 18.Qxc3 Rc8 19.Qe1 Bc2 20.Rc1 (See Diagram) 20...e4? Opening all the lines does indeed look tempting; but it is very loosening and this is expertly exploited by Nakamura. Instead, Gupta should have gone for 20...Nfxd5 21.Bh6 Bxh6 22.Rxh6 Nb4 where he has "chances" for the sacrificed material. 21.Bd4 Qxd5 22.Bc3 Bd3 23.Nh3?! The only misstep of the game from Nakamura - better, and much stronger was 23.Rd1! Qc4 24.Bxd3 exd3 and now 25.Nh3! with a big advantage. 23...Na4? Gupta wants to fight his way out but Nakamura easily refutes the "attack". Things did look bleak, but realistically his only hope  was with 23...Bxf1 24.Rxf1 exf3 and Black is (somewhat) still in the game; but White holds all the aces. 24.Nf4 Qd6 25.Nxd3 exd3 26.Bxd3 Qb6 27.Bc2! A subtle winning manoeuvre that leaves Black totally lost, with both 27… Nxc3 (or 27...Rxc3 28.Bxa4) 28.Bb3+ Kh8 29.Rxc3 Rxc3 30.Qxc3 being quite hopeless. 1-0

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