Nakamura Perfect After 2 Rounds in Saint Louis

With his victory today, GM Hikaru Nakamura moved up to No. 5 in the world on the live rating list and is less than a point away from overtaking GM Alexander Grischuk for the No. 4 spot.

By Brian Jerauld

SAINT LOUIS (September 10, 2013) -- Hikaru Nakamura is done with the side dishes. Now bring on the main course. 

Through the first two rounds of the inaugural Sinquefield Cup, the American No. 1 has already gotten fat from both number-twos in the quartet, first gobbling up a blunder by World No. 2 Levon Aronian on Monday, and then chewing through U.S. No. 2 Gata Kamsky on Tuesday to remain perfect through the tournament. Nakamura’s two points hold him in clear first in the six-game, double round-robin Sinquefield Cup, after World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen equalized early and convincingly in his 36th classical game against Aronian – but could not find a way to topple the Armenian king. The draw gave Aronian his first half point of the tournament and pulled Carlsen into second with 1.5/2. Kamsky still seeks his first tally.

Both number-ones – America’s Nakamura and the World’s Carlsen – will meet on Wednesday for the last game of the first cycle. Kamsky will command white for the first time in the tournament, against Aronian.

GM Gata Kamsky was out maneuvered in a tactical melee as he neared time control in round 2 against GM Hikaru Nakamura.

It would seem the United States’ top two players would have more of a history with each other, especially considering the world travelers have traded the title of U.S. Champion for the past five years, but much of 25-year-old Nakamura’s uprising came during 39-year-old Kamsky’s eight-year hiatus from the game. The two had met just eight times before the Sinquefield Cup, with six draws and a victory each; Tuesday proved to be a tiebreaker.

Despite his usual selections of 1. d4 or 1. Nf3 against Kamsky, Nakamura opened with 1. e4 for the second day in a row, to which Kamsky – on the attack after Monday’s loss to Carlsen – answered with the Kan variation of the Sicilian. Though both players would be nearly playing the increment by the 40th move time control, the game’s opening sped off at a furious pace for the first dozen moves, with early action.

Nakamura’s 9. Re1 looked innocuous, but his intentions became clear when Kamsky chased the white knight on c3, ushering 11. Nd5 – a square that black attacked twice, but with dangerous consequences upon capture. And still on his fast opening attack, Nakamura dropped 12. Qh5 with authority, immediately getting up from the board to let Kamsky think about the already dangerous position. But it was Nakamura who would give the game its first deep think, dropping nearly 30 minutes from his clock after Kamsky’s novelty response of 12. … Ne7.

Early signs of trouble turned into the real deal by 20. Qxf6, leaving Kamsky with a permanently weak king, a disharmonious army and a mounting white attack on the doorstep. The silver lining to his dreadful position, however, was Nakamura’s clock, which was 30 minutes lighter than Kamsky’s by the 22nd move.

Nakamura converted the first material advantage with 24. Bxh7, though it seemed to stifle his railroad momentum. At the cost of several tempi to pull his bishop back to safety, Kamsky found counterplay and eventually equalization with 28. … Qd6. Nakamura was under five minutes after 29. Rf1.

GM Hikaru Nakamura now stands alone atop the leaderboard with a perfect 2/2 score.

But 32. … Kb7 was a question mark for Kamsky, and Nakamura – a blitz world champion – was up to the task of keeping this new advantage. 35. Qc5 brought the white queen thrashing into the black camp, easily cracking open the position despite the threatening clock. The game was all-but over by time control.

“Probably around move 28-29, I was much more concerned about the time pressure mainly because there were many moves to consider, plans to consider for both sides; you can’t just make moves instantly,” Nakamura said. “When you’re playing at this level, any mistake is one too many. It’s quite nerve-racking, but I feel like I defended it quite well.”

Nakamura-Kamsky Annotations by GM Ben Finegold

Looking ahead to their Tuesday matchup after Aronian’s devastating blunder-loss on Monday, Carlsen proclaimed that he would “try to kick him while he’s down.” But nobody expected Carlsen to wear steel-toed boots.

The World’s best stomped all over the opening of the world’s next-best, first shocking Aronian’s 1. d4 with a Dutch defense that had spent nearly a decade on the Norwegian’s shelf, and then finding early equalization by move 11. … Ng5.

GM Levon Aronian fought an uphill battle all day and was fortunate to notch his first half point of the tourney against the World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen.

“I thought Aronian’s game against the Dutch hadn’t been particularly impressive,” Carlsen said. “I thought ‘Why not give it a try?’ especially as I was in a very good mood after my win yesterday. I got an excellent position, nothing to complain about there.”

Indeed, after an ugly looking 13. f4 was needed to chase the black queen, Aronian shifted fully into defensive mode after 15. … c5 locked Carlsen’s knight onto a brutal d4 outpost. Picking his poison, Aronian pushed 20. a4 to stop the b5 break, though it exposed weak squares on the white queenside.  Smelling blood in the water, Carlsen was quick to redeploy his queen, stringing Qd8-Qa5-Qb4 and pushing his position to a near full-point advantage – seemingly with material on the way.

But Carlsen could not find a way to break the back of Aronian, who weathered the storm and slowly traded pieces to drown black’s attack. Despite spending most of the game in time trouble and without initiative, Aronian had all major pieces traded off the board by 37. Kxe1 and needed no use of the 40-move time bonus. Carlsen accepted his handshake before the 41st move.

GM Magnus Carlsen will have the white pieces agaisnt tournament leader GM Hikaru Nakamura tomorrow.

“I was a bit too indecisive,” Carlsen said. “There were a lot of attractive options, and I didn’t choose the right one, evidently. For instance, I could have sacrificed my rook for a bishop at some point and gotten a fat pawn and some very active pieces. But I didn’t see anything really clear in that line, so I decided to postpone the critical moment a bit - and then it all just fizzled out. It was disappointing, but (Aronian) also deserves credit for defending such a grim position.

Aronian-Carlsen Annotations by GM Ian Rogers 

Standings After Round 1

No. Name Rating Total
1 Hikaru Nakamura 2772 2
2 Magnus Carlsen 2862 1.5
3 Levon Aronian 2813 0.5
4 Gata Kamsky 2741 0

Pairings for Round 3 - 09/11/2013

No. White Rating Result Black Rating
1 Carlsen, Magnus
2862  -  Nakamura, Hikaru
2 Kamsky, Gata
 -  Aronian, Levon