An American in Paris - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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Does it get any better than this for US Chess? First, it was Fabiano Caruana, then it was Sam Shankland quickly followed by Wesley So – now comes the turn of Hikaru Nakamura to win big! With a very consistent performance, not to mention his legendary nerves of steel, Nakamura was in his element on the final day of the blitz tournament, as the American took the plaudits and the title ahead of the chasing pack at the Paris Grand Chess Tour Rapid & Blitz on Sunday.

Nakamura held his nerve on the final day, and this proved the decisive difference in Paris between the American and the overnight leader, Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, who dramatically collapsed going down the home stretch. In the end, Nakamura finished on 23/27, losing only one game, to finish 1.5-points ahead of the Russian to take the title and $37,500 first prize.

He also takes a maximum 13 Tour points to shoot up the GCT rankings, just one point behind Leuven victor Wesley So, as now the two Americans lead the standings ahead of Karjakin, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a five-way race for four spots. The GCT circus now moves to the USA for the doubleheader through late July/early August of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz and the Sinquefield Cup, that will ultimately determine which four will emerge to contest the new GCT final, the marque event now at the year-ending London Chess Classic.

Nakamura’s victory also adds to what’s become an unprecedented run of top US wins in major tournaments through the first half of the year, as he now joins Caruana, Shankland and So in the winners’ rostrum – and this welcomed hot streak from the nation’s top four players in turbo-charged mode, comes as a timely boost for Team USA ahead of defending their Olympiad Open title in Batumi, Georgia, in late September.

Paris GCT Final Combined Standings:
1. H. Nakamura (USA) 23/27; 2. S. Karjakin (Russia) 21.5; 3. W. So (USA) 21; 4. L. Aronian (Armenia) 20; 5. M Vachier-Lagrave (France) 19.5; 6. V. Anand (India) 17; 7. A. Grischuk (Russia) 16; 8. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 15.5; 9. F. Caruana (USA) 13.5; 10. V. Kramnik (Russia) 13.

GCT Current Standings:
1. Wesley So 21 points; 2. Hikaru Nakamura 20; 3. Sergey Karjakin 19; 4. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 15; 5. Levon Aronian 13; 6. Alexander Grischuk 9; 7. Viswanathan Anand 8; 8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 7; 9. Fabiano Caruana 4.

Photo: Caruana, Shankland, So…and now Nakamura has something to smile about! | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Paris GCT Blitz, (17)
Colle-Zukertort Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c5 4.Bd3 d5 5.b3 The Colle-Zukertort Attack – named after the early 20th century Belgium master, Edgard Colle, and the mid-19th-century master Johannes Zukertort – is a solid, positional opening system with a lot of manoeuvring and strategies involved for both sides. 5…Nc6 6.0-0 Be7 7.Bb2 0-0 8.Nbd2 b6 9.a3 White has to prevent the awkward …Nb4 from Black. 9…Bb7 10.Qe2 Qc7 11.Rac1 Rac8 12.c4 dxc4 Keeping the tension in the centre almost always favours White. 13.bxc4 cxd4 14.exd4 Rfe8 15.Rfe1 Qb8 16.Ne4 Na5 Nakamura must hit the hanging pawns on c4 and d4 quickly, otherwise Mamedyarov will have a free hand to develop his attack. 17.Neg5 Qf4 A multi-faceted move from Nakamura: With his queen on f4, it helps to thwart the kingside attack, keeps the pressure on the hanging pawns, and then there’s always the possible threats of a …Bxf3 doubling the White f-pawns, should the Ng5 by shifted. White clearly has the better prospects here – and rather than something safe, Mamedyarov opts instead to strike immediately with a sacrifice that usually works out well, never mind in blitz. 18.Nxe6!? The safe route was with 18.h3 and wait to see how Black reacts – but opting to take Nakamura on in a ‘chaotic position’ in blitz, simply plays into the sort of messy game he revels in. 18…fxe6?! Either Nakamura opted here to ‘press the gamble button’ or he simply overlooked the fact that that he had a safer option in 18…Qh6! where, despite losing a pawn, things are not so clear after 19.Neg5 Bd6 20.Qf1 Bf4 21.h4 Bxc1 22.Rxc1 (Tempting looks 22.Bxc1 but after 22…Rxe1 23.Qxe1 Qh5 the queen coming out via g4 offers Black excellent winning chances.) 22…Bxf3 23.Nxf3 Nb3 24.Rc2 Qf4 25.Qd1 with chances for both sides. That said, although slightly ahead in material, Black has the more awkwardly-placed pieces and will find it difficult to realise any winning chances. 19.Qxe6+ Kh8 20.Ne5 Mamedyarov has two good pawns and a raging attack brewing for the piece – and against anyone other than Nakamura (who in blitz at least, seems to possess ‘spidey sense’ superpowers of the dangers and a knack of finding all the best, saving moves), I would have offered better odds he could convert his advantage. 20…Bf8 A good and quick judgment call from Nakamura, bolstering his kingside defences. 21.Qh3 Kg8 22.Nd7? Mamedyarov had to be kicking himself with this foolish knight sortie, as from e5 it had a wonderful outpost to orchestrate the attack from. He should have played 22.Bf5! after which, Black looks to be forced into quickly returning the exchange and faces a long endgame struggle ahead. 22…Ne4! [see diagram] Nakamura quickly pounces on Mamedyarov’s faux pas with the knight – and with just this one little mistake, the tables are turned, as Nakamura now goes on the offensive. 23.f3 Mamedyarov is in dire straits now, as the alternative 23.Qe3 leads to an almost forced loss after 23…Bd6 24.Qxf4 Bxf4 25.Rc2 Nd2! 26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Ne5 Ndb3! 28.g3 Nxd4! 29.gxf4 Nxc2 30.Bxc2 Nxc4! exploiting the fact that 31.Nxc4?? fails to 31…Re1#. 23…Ng5 24.Qh5 Mamedyarov still hopes for mating threat tricks that will save the game for him, so opts to keep the queens on the board – but his last chance for any slim survival hopes lay in trading queens with 24.Qg3 Qxg3 25.hxg3 Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1 Nxc4 27.Bc1 h6 28.Bxg5 hxg5 29.Bf5 Bxa3! 30.Be6+ Kh7 31.Bf5+ g6 32.Nf6+ Kg7 33.Bxc8 Bxc8 34.Re8 Nd6! where the Black minor pieces and soon-to-be-running queenside pawns should easily win. 24…Re3 All roads lead to Rome here, but Nakamura opts for the ‘scenic route’ – much quicker was 24…Rxe1+! 25.Rxe1 Qd2! 26.Qh4 h6 and White should resign as he’s about to lose even more material. 25.Ne5 Rxd3! 26.Nxd3 Qf5 Threatening both the Nd3 and …Nxf3+ picking up the queen. 27.d5 Nxc4 28.Ba1 There’s no hope now. If 28.h4? Nh3+! again picks off the loose queen. 28…Bxd5 29.Kh1 Rc6! The rook threatening to swing into the attack with …Rh6 that will ultimately win. 30.Nf2 Qg6 All things are forgiven with the vagaries of blitz, but it is not like Nakamura – especially after just playing …Rc6 with the clear intentions of playing …Rh6 – to have missed the tactical knockout blow with 30…Rh6! 31.Qg4 Nxf3! 32.h3 (The point is that 32.Qxf5?? dramatically fails to 32…Rxh2#) 32…Qxg4 33.Nxg4 Rxh3+! 34.gxh3 Nxe1+ 35.Kg1 Bc5+ 36.Kf1 Nd3 and Black’s menacing alignment of minor pieces should easily win more material. 31.Qg4 Ne3 32.Rxc6 What else is there, faced with the alternative being 32.Qg3 Bd6 easily winning? 32…Nxg4 33.Rxg6 Nxf2+ 0-1 With little or no time left on his clock, Mamedyarov resigns, clearly not wishing to face the prospects of 34.Kg1 Nfh3+! 35.gxh3 Nxf3+ 36.Kf2 Bc5+ 37.Ke2 hxg6 38.Rd1 Ng1+ 39.Kf1 Be6 40.Bd4 Bxd4 41.Rxd4 Nxh3 etc.

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