Chess

Nakamura’s place

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

Wesley So won the final Fide Grand Prix, which was held in Berlin earlier this month. But it was Hikaru Nakamura, his defeated opponent in the final, who had the most to celebrate. Since he won the opening leg in February, in reaching the semi-final Nakamura secured a coveted spot in the Fide Candidates tournament, whose winner will become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger. The second qualifying spot went to Richard Rapport, who won the second Grand Prix leg in March.

The Candidates event will begin in Madrid in June, when the two will be joined by previous qualifiers Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, Fabiano Caruana, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Teimour Radjabov. The final place looks likely to go to Ding Liren, in light of Sergey Karjakin’s disqualification.

Nakamura’s greatest strength is resourcefulness under pressure. Facing 19 Bd3xg6! (see diagram above left) many players would keel over. For example, 19…hxg6 20 h7+ Kg7 21 Qe7! leads to a quick mate, or 19…fxg6 20 Qe7 Qc7 (20…Bf5 21 Bf6 is no better) 21 Re6! threatens Rxg6+. Nakamura found a way to keep things going:

Grigoriy Oparin-Hikaru Nakamura


Fide Grand Prix, Berlin, March 2022

19… Nxd5! The knight is immune, due to Bd7-b5 with a pin. 20 Bxh7+ This lets most of the advantage slip, but the strongest move was far from obvious: 20 Bf5! Then 20…Bxf5 21 Qe8+ leads to mate, or 20…Nc3 21 Qe7 closes in. A sidestep with 20…Bc6, is the cue for 21 Bxh7+! Kxh7 22 Qc2+ Kg8 23 h7+ Kg7 24 Qf5 with Bh6+ to follow. Kxh7 21 Qc2+ f5 22 cxd5 Be5 Oparin retains the upper hand, but Nakamura is very much alive. 23 Ne2 Qa6 24 Kf2 Qd3 25 Qxd3 Rxd3 26 Rd1 Rxd1 27 Rxd1 a5 28 Rd3 a4 29 Re3 axb3 30 axb3 Ra2 31 Kg1 Ra1+ 32 Kf2 Ra2 33 Kg1 Draw agreed

In the second position, the pile-up against the f7 pawn demands an answer, as 27…cxd5 28 cxd5 Bc8 29 Rxf7 would spell disaster. No better is 27…Rd7 28 Nf6 Re7 29 Rh3 taking aim at h7.

Andrey Esipenko-Hikaru Nakamura

Fide Grand Prix, Berlin, March 2022

27…f5! The best defence, in spite of the square being guarded six times! 28 gxf5 Bxd5 29 exd5 Nh5 The knight wriggles out, and the f5-pawn impedes White’s pieces. What remains is a mess, and Esipenko soon loses the thread. 30 Re1 Qg7 31 Ng4 Nf4 32 f6 Qd7 33 Rxf4 gxf4 34 Qxf4 Rde8 35 Rf1 Qf7 36 Kh1 Qg6 37 Rg1 White was in trouble but 37 c5! was the way to keep fighting. A plausible continuation is 37…Qe4+ 38 Qxe4 Rxe4 39 Nh6. Then 39…Rh4 is best, but 39…dxc5 would be an amusing blunder – see the puzzle below. h5 38 Ne3 Rxf6 White resigns

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