Magnus Carlsen’s long-running rivalry in online speed events with Hikaru Nakamura, five-time US champion and popular streamer, has another chapter on Sunday, with the American emerging top by one point after a volatile and controversial match.
Their battleground is the $100,000 chess.com Speed Championship, a knockout of a top grandmaster that only Carlsen and Nakamura have ever won. Carlsen took the first two events in 2016 and 2017, and Nakamura has won every year since then, though for the most part without the Norwegian’s participation.
The format is 90 minutes of play at 5/1 blitz (five minutes per player per game, plus one second increments per move), 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullets.
En route to Sunday’s final, Carlsen scored a stunning 22-4 win over reigning US champion Fabiano Caruana without losing a game and including 11 straight wins.
Nakamura started quickly, winning the 5/1 6.5-2.5 section as Carlsen failed to win a game. The No1 has spent what would normally be his preparation period watching the World Cup final, and the lack of energy is showing.
Game 8, Nakamura’s first win as a Black, was particularly impressive because of the American’s tough and psychologically astute play under pressure. The seemingly passive but sneaky Qa8 and Qc8 Black make it seem like the queen is groveling in the back row, while in reality she is keeping a hidden checkmate counter.
Hugh Alexander, my predecessor in this column, was also England’s number one in his time as well as Bletchley Park and GCHQ codebreakers. Alexander used to say that the hardest move to visualize is catching the queen diagonally backwards. The current GM occasionally failed to find a knight move backwards, and in game 14 Carlsen moved his white bishop from f4 to c7 to threaten Black’s d8 rook, completely losing Na6xBc7, then he immediately withdrew.
Carlsen followed in the 1/1 section, winning a hat-trick, until Nakamura pulled ahead right at the end for a 14.5-13.5 gap. The final match was controversial. Carlsen trailed by two points, but won the 28th game. He reached two queens over the top, with the mate close at hand, but the seconds remaining on Nakamura’s clock were two seconds more than when the match clock was up, so there was no time to start the game. 29.
Running time is a common concept across many sports, but now there are calls for a rule change so that referees have the power to add extra time to stall. The full match can be seen at Chess24.com.
Seven-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan, who earlier this month broke a historic age record, is now supported by biotech company e-Therapeutics. The new sponsorship will include regular training by Jonathan Speelman, a former world semifinalist.
Loek van Wely vs Magnus Carlsen, Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, 2015. Black to move and win. The world champion appears to have overreached against the Dutchman, as the White rook simultaneously attacks the bishop and Black knight; but Carlsen has worked it all out.
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