America’s Nakamura defeats world No1 Carlsen in online speed epic
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Magnus Carlsen’s longstanding rivalry in online speed events with Hikaru Nakamura, the five-time US champion and popular streamer, had another chapter on Sunday, with the American emerging on top by a single point after a fluctuating and controversial match.
Their battlefield was the $100,000 chess.com Speed Championship, a knockout of top grandmasters that only Carlsen and Nakamura have ever won. Carlsen took the first two events in 2016 and 2017, and Nakamura has won every year since, although mostly without the Norwegian’s participation.
The format was 90 minutes of games at 5/1 blitz (five minutes per player per game, plus a one second per move increment), 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet.
En route to Sunday’s final, Carlsen scored a stunning 22-4 victory over reigning US champion Fabiano Caruana without loss of a game and including a run of 11 consecutive wins.
Nakamura made a runaway start, winning the 5/1 section 6.5-2.5 as Carlsen failed to win a game. The No1 had spent what would normally have been his preparation period watching the World Cup final, and his lack of energy showed.
Game 8, Nakamura’s first win as Black, was impressive due to the American’s resilient and psychologically astute play under pressure. Black’s seemingly passive but cunning Qa8 and Qc8 made it look like the queen was grovelling on the back row, while in reality it set up a hidden checkmating counter.
Hugh Alexander, my predecessor in this column, was also England No1 of his time as well as a Bletchley Park and GCHQ codebreaker. Alexander used to say that the hardest move to visualise was a backward diagonal queen capture. Present-day GMs occasionally fail to spot backward knight moves, and in game 14 Carlsen moved his white bishop from f4 to c7 to threaten Black’s d8 rook, completely missing Na6xBc7, whereupon he immediately resigned.
Carlsen caught up in the 1/1 section, winning three in a row, until Nakamura edged ahead right at the end for a 14.5-13.5 margin. The final game was controversial. Carlsen was two points down, but winning game 28. He reached a position two queens up, with mate imminent, but the seconds remaining on Nakamura’s clock were two seconds more than when the match clock ran out, so there was no time to start game 29.
Running down the clock is a familiar concept in many sports, but now there are calls for a rule change so that the arbiter has the power to add extra time for stalling. The complete match can be viewed at Chess24.com.
Bodhana Sivanandan, aged just seven, who earlier this month broke historic age records, is now being backed by biotech company e-Therapeutics. The new sponsorship will include regular coaching by Jonathan Speelman, the former world semi-finalist.
Loek van Wely vs Magnus Carlsen, Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, 2015. Black to move and win. The world champion seemed to have over-reached against the Dutchman, as White’s rook simultaneously attacks Black’s bishop and knight; but Carlsen had it all worked out.
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