26-year-old US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura
of the USA has won the 5th London Chess Classic, staged this
year as a rapid chess tournament and billed as the Super
Sixteen Rapid. The top American grandmaster defeated former
world championship finalist Boris Gelfand of Israel by 1½-½
in the final.
As the world number four on the FIDE Rating
List for classical chess, and number three at rapid chess,
the result was far from being a surprise but it was a
significant achievement in the career of a remarkable player
who must be a leading contender to threaten Magnus Carlsen’s
world crown in the next few years.
Hikaru’s progression through the competition
was impressive. He scored +2, =4, -0 in the preliminary
phase, and then improved that to +3, =3, -0 against sterner
opposition in the knock-out phase. To go through without a
loss was a clear sign of strength. His toughest moment was
when he came close to elimination in his second semi-final
game with Vladimir Kramnik but he showed an amazing
resilience in first holding the former world champion at bay
and then taking advantage of Kramnik’s evident state of
confusion to finish the match off with a win.
In the final match against Boris Gelfand,
Hikaru showed the courage of his convictions by going
straight for an ultra-sharp tactic in the opening against a
player who had hitherto proved himself the best defender in
the event, and also at this time control in world
championship qualifiers. They say ‘fortune favours the
brave’ and Hikaru’s conquest of this elite rapid chess event
backs that up. Congratulations to him.
Nakamura 1½-½ Gelfand
Hikaru received the white pieces in the draw
for colours conducted by chief arbiter Albert Vasse, and
they launched into a Grünfeld Defence, one of the most
fashionable of all current super-GM openings. Hikaru's
10.Ng5 is quite a double-edged move but Boris avoided the
standard continuation 10...Nb6 by playing instead 10...Nc6.
Hikaru's response was brave and speculative – 11.Nxf7!? – a
move we all like to play against a castled king, whatever
level we play at.
On the face of it, the line looks very dodgy
for Black as he has to give up the exchange, but it is
almost inconceivable that Boris wouldn’t have something
prepared for this. By way of compensation he demolished the
white centre and got his minor pieces to strong outposts.
Was it enough? The unofficial grandmaster jury in the VIP
Room was undecided: the Hiarcs engine thought White was
better around move 15 but Matthew Sadler and others
Hikaru may not have been entirely confident
of his chances as he thought for nine minutes about his 16th
move: quite a big chunk of his allotted 25 minutes. However,
within a few moves, the initiative seemed to have shifted
back to the American after Boris played the dubious
17...Ne4. "He's blown it," exclaimed GM Julian Hodgson,
perhaps a little melodramatically. Then, calming down
slightly, "I think Hikaru's over the worst now – he'll
Julian might have been right the first time.
The next few moves saw Hikaru consolidate his material
advantage, in machine-like fashion, and Boris never really
looked like getting back into the game. At move 25 he used
around half of his remaining six minutes, suggesting he was
running out of ideas. More solid moves followed from Hikaru
and Boris had to resign.
Boris, with White, played the Averbakh
variation of the King's Indian Defence. It followed theory
for about 15 moves and Boris acquired a space advantage.
However, Black’s position remained playable and White
couldn’t bring any real pressure to bear on it. Hikaru used
his tactical prowess to exchange queens and then give up the
exchange for two pawns. It might sound risky but Black’s
pieces remained well-coordinated and Boris’s pair of rooks
had no useful inroads. Boris pressed too hard and made a
slip. Eventually only Hikaru could win the position but,
since he didn’t need to, he was happy to acquiesce to a
Start of Game 2 with
What a gripping competition! Thanks to
Malcolm Pein and his team for their hard work, the players
for their wonderful chess, and to everyone at home and at
the venue for being a great audience. See you all again this
time next year!