03 Feb

Mr. Gibraltar

Players have been known to dominate certain major events; therefore claiming in the process to “own” the tournament just by their sheer phenomenal number of conquests there. Garry Kasparov picked up the nickname of “Mr. Linares”, having won the Spanish super-tournament nine-times.  And Kasparov’s nemesis, Vladimir Kramnik, is known as “Mr. Dortmund”, as he went one better in the record books with his haul of ten Dortmund titles.

After 26...Bb4!

And the latest to pick-up a “Mr” sobriquet is America’s Hikaru Nakamura, who this week picked up a hat-trick of successive victories at the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, the annual chess festival staged on the strategic British colony of 2.3 square miles of land mass, at the mouth of the Mediterranean, dominated by a 1,3000ft limestone rock, that has built a stellar reputation as a world class tournament anyone can enter.

As ever, this mega event had a world-class field with three top-10 players led by Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura; not to mention a sub-cast of former top-10 players Veselin Topalov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Peter Svidler and Boris Gelfand; and also a large contingent of leading women players, led by World Champion Hou Yifan.

But in a tense last round tussle, Nakamura overwhelmed Romain Edourad to go into the clubhouse with a share of at least first equal on 8/10.  The four-time US champion was then joined in a three-way tie for first place by David Antón of Spain and Yu Yangyi of China.  And in the ensuing playoff for the title, speed merchant Nakamura proved no match for the other two as he beat Yu and then Antón in the final to take the title for the third successive year.

And Nakamura’s Gibraltar win gives him a little bump in his world ranking, rising two places in the unofficial live ratings to number 6 - just behind Vachier-Lagrave and Kramnik - and comes hard on the heels of Wesley So’s victory in the Tata Steel Masters to complete a remarkable brace of US top-tournament conquests in the past week.

A delighted Hikaru Nakamura receives his winners check for £23,000 ($29,000) and trophy from Tradewise Chairman James Humphreys (left) and Tradewise Chess Festival Organiser Brian Callaghan. Hikaru scored 8/10 (+6,=4) and then won a playoff final against Antón, 1½-½, to take first prize and his third title.

GM Romain Edouard - GM Hikaru Nakamura
Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, (10)
Nimzo-Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 The Nimzo-Indian has to have been one of Black's most dependable defence to 1.d4 for the past 70 years. 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Bg5 c5 6.Rc1 h6 7.Bh4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 d5 9.e3 e5 Nakamura's central conquest does not last long - but he cleverly uses it for a rapid development of his pieces, and failing to deal with this is ultimately Edouard's downfall. 10.Nf3 d4 11.exd4 exd4 12.Nxd4 Probably played with the fear of Nakamura exploiting the open e- and d-files - but the best way forward for White was to accept the challenge and play sharply with 12.Qxd4 Qe7+ 13.Be2 g5 14.Nxg5! Nc6! 15.Qf4 Nh5 16.Qe3! Qxe3 17.fxe3 hxg5 18.Bxg5 f6 19.Bh4 Ng7 20.0-0 Nf5 21.Bf2 and a double-edged game in prospect. White has three good pawns for the piece, but a piece is a piece after all. 12...Qb6! The problems on the open d- and e-files now become a major headache for Edouard. 13.Nf3 Rd8 14.Qc2 g5 15.Bg3 Nc6 16.Bd3 g4 17.Nh4 Bf8 Nakamura's immediate threat is to play ...Nb4, but a better way was with 17...Ba5! 18.a3 Nd4 19.Qb1 Re8+ 20.Kf1 Nb3 and White is in trouble. 18.Qb1 Re8+ Nakamura has sacrificed a pawn, but he has excellent compensation for it, as White has awkwardly placed pieces and difficulty in completing his development. 19.Kf1 Be6 20.h3?! Too cautious by half - White had to play energetically here with 20.Nf5! Rad8 21.Ne3 where at least his pieces are back in the game and he has a grip of the d5 square. However, after the timid 20.h3?!, Nakamura now mobilises his forces for a typically brutal onslaught. 20...Nh5! This leads me to wonder whether, in playing 20.h3?!, Edouard perhaps might have overlooked this? 21.Ne4 White could try 21.Nf5 but after 21...Nb4 Black has the easier position to play. 21...Nxg3+ 22.Nxg3 Rad8 For the pawn, Nakamura has dominant rooks on the open d- and e-files and now the bishop-pair to play with - so what's not to like here if your name just happens to be Hikaru Nakamura? 23.hxg4 Hanging in longer may well have been 23.b3 but after 23...gxh3 24.gxh3 Bc5 Nakamura is soon going to be knocking on the door of Edouard's king. 23...Ne5 24.Be2 Bxg4?! It's unlike Nakamura to miss the clinical win with the flashy sacrificial attack with 24...Bxc4! 25.Rxc4 (25.Bxc4 Nxc4 26.Rxc4 Rd2! 27.Rf4 Qxb2! is quickly mating, as White can't take on b2 because of ...Rd1 mate!) 25...Nxc4 26.Bxc4 Rd2! with an unstoppable mating attack. 25.Bxg4?? When you are under the cosh, sometimes the pressure becomes so much you miss the obvious.  I can understand the pressure Edouard had to have been under here, but that is no excuse for signing his own death warrant with 25.Bxg4?? Instead, after 25.f3 Bc8 26.Ne4 it is not so clear how Black wins this. Sure, White has problems with his position, but there's no sure-fire way for Black to force home a win here. 25...Nxg4 26.Qc2 Bb4! The threat of ...Rd2 is now overwhelming - and defending against it, leaves another big problem on e1. 27.c5 Qa6+ 28.Kg1 Be1 All roads lead to Rome here, but a tad quicker was 28...Re1+ 29.Rxe1 Bxe1 30.Rh3 Bxf2+ and White can resign. 29.Rh3 Bxf2+ 30.Kh1 Re1+ 31.Rxe1 Bxe1 32.Nf3 Nf2+ 33.Kh2 Nxh3 34.Nxe1 Ng5 35.Qc3 Qg6 0-1

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