With Magnus Carlsen seizing the initiative from the coronavirus global pandemic to raise the online presence of chess with his own $1m signature tour, it seems the ancient game is also having something of a “moment” on Twitch, as the Norwegian’s old foe Hikaru Nakamura has also grown his fanbase to 366,000 followers with a meteoric rise on the gaming platform, and the five-time reigning US champion appearing in a major feature in the latest June issue of Wired magazine.
But historically there’s always been a healthy and longtime rivalry between these two new emerging innovators of the ‘new normal’ of the online elite chess scene, with a veritable fan frenzy whenever and wherever they clash. The latest proved no exception, with the second marquee match-up in the opening game of Day 2 of the Group A preliminary stage at the $150,000 Chessable Masters, the third leg of the ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’.
If anything, after trailing overnight Russian leaders Vladislav Artemiev and Daniil Dubov, Carlsen was the one who looked to be “wired”, as the Norwegian got off to a storming rebound performance that set the tone for the rest of the day. After easily beating a somewhat bamboozled Nakamura, who fell into a nasty early tactic, Carlsen also went on to get his revenge with a virtuoso win over Dubov, after the dashing young Russian beat the Norwegian on Day 1.
At the end of the day, Carlsen dominated to be the first to progress to the “business end” of the knockout stages, soon to be joined by Artemiev, with both finishing tied for first place on 6/10. But in a dramatic finish to the final round, there was a cruel reversal of fortunes for Dubov, the winner of the previous Lindores Abbey tour leg.
After losing to Carlsen, overnight co-leader Dubov sensationally crashed out of the competition as the misfiring Nakamura finally find the form needed for a vital last round win over the Russian, and with it grabbing the final qualifiers spot on the head-to-head tiebreakers. Carlsen, Artemiev, Nakamura and Alexander Grischuk now go forward to Thursday’s quarter-finals, and will be joined by four more players from Group B.
Group A (final standings):
1-2. M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Artemiev (Russia) 6/10; 3-4. H. Nakamura (USA), A. Grischuk (Russia) 5* (all four now go forward to the quarterfinals); 5. D. Dubov (Russia) 5; 6. P. Harikrishna (India) 3.
Group B (Day 1 standings):
1-2. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), A. Giri (Netherlands) 3/5; 3-5. F. Caruana (USA), Ding Liren (China), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 2½; 6. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 1½.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Chessable Masters, Group A, (6)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 Nakamura has been staunchly defending with this system against the QGD with Bf4 – but Carlsen has a little subtle trick up his sleeve. 6.a3!? Nbd7?! Nakamura sticks to his system but doesn’t spot the danger – probably best is 6…c5!? 7.dxc5 Ne4 8.cxd5 Nxc3! 9.bxc3 exd5 which seems to offer equality as White can’t hold onto the c5 pawn. 7.Nb5! And this was the reason for Carlsen’s little waiting move of 6.a3, as now …c6 and …c5 is out of the question. 7…Ne8 If 7…c6 (or …c5) then 8.Bc7! Qe8 9.Nd6 Bxd6 10.Bxd6 and White will win the exchange for a big advantage. 8.e3 dxc4 9.Bxc4 While Nakamura is living in “Awkwardsville”, Carlsen gets easy development to build-up a good position. 9…c5 10.dxc5 a6 11.Nbd4 Bxc5 Better looked 11…Nxc5 as that at least starts the unravelling process of Black’s position. 12.0-0 Qe7 13.Rc1 It’s just simple developing moves from Carlsen – but with it, Nakamura finds himself in a development bind. 13…Bd6 14.Ba2 Ndf6 15.Ne5 Nd7 16.Ndc6! [see diagram] The stunned look on Nakamura’s face at this moment made for quite a picture! It all felt just a bit too early in the morning for the American, who obviously hadn’t had enough coffee, as he walks right into this winning shot from the World Champion. 16…Qh4 Nakamura decides he may as well now hang for a sheep than a lamb for the sake of some spurious chances. If 16…bxc6 17.Nxc6 Qf6 18.Bxd6 Nxd6 19.Qxd6 Re8 20.Rfd1 is just easily winning for White. 17.Bg3 Qg5 18.h4 Qf6 19.Ng4 The chasing of the queen just gives Carlsen’s pieces even more activity. 19…Qxb2 20.Bxd6 bxc6 What else is there? If 20…Nxd6 21.Ne7+! Kh8 22.Qxd6 Qxa2 23.Nxc8 Raxc8 24.Rxc8 Rxc8 25.Qxd7 Rf8 26.Ne5 Kg8 27.Qe7! Qc2 28.Qxb7 and Black is hopelessly lost. 21.Rc2 Qb5 22.Bxf8 Nxf8 23.h5 The clinical kill was 23.Qd8 Bb7 24.Qd4 but basically Black is bust anyway. 23…h6 Not that it’s much comfort for Nakamura, but he could immediately have snatched the pawn with 23…Qxh5 but after 24.Qd4! Qg5 25.Rb1 White commands the board. 24.Qf3 Qxh5 I think by this stage Nakamura had seen enough and just wanted the agony to end. 25.Qxc6 Nc7 26.Qf3 Nd5 27.e4 e5 28.Nxh6+! 1-0 Nakamura throws the towel in, as after 28…Qxh6 29.Bxd5 there’s a triple hit on a8, f7 and c8.