The Need For Speed - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The year of 2017 is now fast coming drawing to a close, and with it World Champion Magnus Carlsen ends the year by failing – for the first time since becoming the world #1 – to finish first in any of his five classical all-play-alls (and including the World Cup knockout) to have a victory to his name. He did have some solace in winning the Isle of Man Super-Open, but by the 27-year-old Norwegian’s very own high-standards, 2017 will be marked in the chess annals as a big disappointment for him.

Nevertheless, despite the setback, Carlsen still managed to win the four-event 2017 Grand Chess Tour title with $245,000 in prize money, plus the tour winner’s bonus of $100,000, thanks to his prowess in the rapid and blitz tournaments in Paris and Leuven. And the world champion’s mastery at speed chess could well be his salvation for the year, with the last event of 2017 for the GM elite being the King Salman World Blitz and Rapid Championships, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, starting 26 December and running through to 30 December.

There’ a record prize fund on offer, with $1.5m for the two men’s competitions and $500,000 for the women, that sees top seed Carlsen leading a strong field. The only setback is the controversial venue, but the organizers claim that Israeli entrants will – for the first time – be granted visas to play. Not only that, but also for the first time in a sporting event in Saudi Arabia, women will not be required to cover their heads during play with a hijab or an abaya.

And Carlsen will also start 2018 by playing in a major speed chess event, with an early January showdown with Hikaru Nakamura, as both go head to head in the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship Final. The #1 US speed player got to the final after beating Russia’s Sergey Krajakin, 16.5-13.5, in a tight semifinal match-up on Saturday.

Carlsen and Nakamura are regarded as the two best speed players in the world, and their Chess.com Speed Chess Championship Final will take place on Wednesday, 3 January 2018, starting at 10 am Pacific, 1 pm New York, 7 pm Central Europe. This is the second year in a row that these two rivals have duked it out in Chess.com gala finals — in the 2016 GM Blitz Battle, and now in the 2017 Speed Chess Championship; both won by Carlsen.

GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Sergey Karjakin
Chess.com Speed Chess Ch., Semi-final
Nimzo-Larsen Attack
1.b3 First popularised by Aron Nimzowitsch, the Nimzo-Larsen Attack came to the fore in the late 1960s and early 1970s after being popularised by one of the world’s best players of the era, Denmark’s Bent Larsen. 1…e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Avoiding the pitfalls of 3.c4 Nf6 4.Nf3 e4 and arguably one of the most famous Nimzo-Larsen Attack ever, the epic Bent Larsen v Boris Spassky encounter from the USSR v Rest of the World match in 1970 – a game that ended in a brilliant miniature with Spassky (as Black) finding a wonderful sacrificial finale. 3…Nf6 4.Bb5 Ever since that Larsen debacle against Spassky, this has proved to be the most consistent – and best – continuation for White, the idea being to frustrate Black taking the centre with …d5. 4…Bd6 This is the modern approach to facing the Nimzo-Larsen. It looks silly, developing the bishop here, but there’s method in the madness. Firstly, it defends the e5-pawn – but long-term, what Black wants to do, is …0-0 and then play ..Ne7 followed by …c6, drop the bishop back to c7 and playing …d5 for full control of the centre. 5.Na3 The knight is heading to c4 to hit both the bishop and the e5-pawn. 5…e4 Unlike Larsen-Spassky, White hasn’t yet committed his knight to f3, so there’s no loss of a move. 6.Nc4 Be7 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.f3 Nakamura wants to start breaking down Black’s pawn centre right away, and avoids the easy game Karjakin had at the start of the year against that other well-known Nimzo-Larsen aficionado, Richard Rapport, which saw Black seize the initiative after 8.Ne2 0-0 9.0-0 a5 10.d3 a4 11.Ng3 d5 12.Ne5 Qe8 13.dxe4 Nxe4 14.Nd3 Bd6 Rapport,R (2702)-Karjakin,S (2785) Wijk aan Zee NED 2017. 8…0-0 9.fxe4 Nxe4 10.Nf3 The knight has developed on its natural square – and with it, Nakamura has control over the vital e5-square and, after castling, will have his rook actively placed on the semi-open f-file. But those are long-term prospects, and right now Karjakin has a tiny edge if he can open the game up for his bishop-pair. 10…Bf6?! This is where Karjakin starts to go astray. Better was 10…d5!? 11.Nce5 Bh4+ 12.g3 and now 12…Bf6, where Black has the centre and weakened the White-squares around his opponent’s king. And note that it’s too dangerous for White to steal a pawn here with 13.Nxc6? as after 13…Qd6 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Nce5 (After 15.Nb4? d4! the game is bursting open up to Black’s advantage.) 15…Bh3 16.d3 Rfe8! and Black is ready to bludgeon a way through to the White king. 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.0-0 Ba6 13.d3 Bxc4 14.bxc4 The game now hinges on just whose weakened pawn structure is the worse, and whose knight finds the better outpost. 14…d5 15.cxd5 cxd5 16.Nd4! Nakamura wins the battle over who gets the better knight. His advantage is minimal, but the mounting threats from the knight induces Karjakin into making a critical error. 16…Qe7 17.Nf5 Qe5 18.Qf3 With the pressure on the f-file, Black has to to be vigilant now over the threat of Nxg7. 18…g6 19.Nd4 Kg7 20.Rab1! Nakamura continues to find all the correct ‘little moves’ – and those little moves all soon mount up to leave Karjakin in a difficult position. 20…c5 21.Nb3 Rfe8?! Perhaps Karjakin should have tried 21…Rab8!?, the idea being that White can’t grab the pawn with 22.Nxc5, as 22…Ng4! and Black has cleverly secured instant equality with the double hit on h2 and e3. And with that in mind, White might have to play 22.Rbe1, when now 22…c4! is much better than in the game. It seems Karjakin had the right instinct, just the wrong execution, as the rook on f8 played a vital role defending f7. 22.Kh1 Another simple little move from Nakamura – but they are beginning to add up, as it indirectly defends e3, as now with no check, White will have a double hit down the f-file. 22…c4?! As we said in the previous note, the right plan, just with the wrong position. 23.dxc4 dxc4? Black should have tried 23…Rac8! to activate his rooks. And this could well be the last chance to save the game, as after 24.cxd5 Rc3 25.Rbe1 Re7! defending f7 is vital first, as those weak White pawns on d5 and e3 are not going anywhere. Now, if 26.d6 Rd7 Black is defending f7 and will quickly round-up the d-pawn – and despite being a pawn down, he has sufficient compensation with all his active pieces. 24.Nd4! [see diagram] Nakamura is very quick to spot the dynamics now in the position, as there’s the unpleasant threat hanging in the air of 25.Rb5 and Rf5! dramatically crashing down the f-file. 24…Rac8 What else is there, as 24…a6 25.Rb6 doesn’t help Black any better? 25.Rb7 Nakamura misses the point of his own dynamics! The Black queen is overworked defending f6, so much so that now winning on the spot was 25.Rb5 Qd6 26.Rf5! and Black can resign here. 25…a5?! The last chance saloon for some sort of spirited defence was with 25…Rc5 26.Rxa7 Rd5 but after 27.Ra6 Rd6 28.Rxd6 Qxd6 with the idea of …Re4 and …Qe5 – but White should find a way to make his extra pawn count by seeking exchanges of the major pieces. 26.Rb6 Ne4 Forced, and with it the brutal assault down the f-file quickly wins. 27.Qxf7+ Kh8 28.Rb7 Admittedly this was the instant human reaction – but the silicon beast will always find the clinical kill, and here it was with 28.Re6! 28…Ng5 29.Qf2 Re7?? The difficulty of the position and the clock probably took it’s toll here with the howler. Instead, after 29…Kg8, Nakamura still had a little work to do in order to convert the win. 30.Nc6 Nh3 Karjakin can’t take the knight, as there’s the little matter of 30…Rxc6 31.Qf8#. 31.Qf3 1-0 Karjakin resigns, as now after 31…Ng5 32.Qd1! Black will either suffer a heavy material loss or get mated after 32…Rxc6 33.Qd8+ Re8 34.Rf8+!

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