January 29, 2023

The longstanding and evenly matched online rivalry between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura took another turn on Sunday when the five-time US champion and popular streamer defeated the Norwegian No. 1 14.5-13.5 in the final of the $100,000 chess.com speed championship.

The event, a four-hour mix of 5/1 and 3/1 blitz and 1/1 bullet, is a marathon test of quick reactions, creativity and ingenuity under extreme and constant time pressure, and this pair has monopolized it. In 2016 and 2017, Carlsen defeated Nakamura in the final; since then, with Carlsen usually out of the game, Nakamura has won five years in a row.

The result of their last fight was arguably influenced by outside factors and by the fine print of the rules. In the opening segment 5/1 (five minutes per player for the entire game, plus one second per move), Nakamura scored a dominant 6.5–2.5 without a loss, as Carlsen lacked energy and made uncharacteristic errors. He had spent two hours of preparation time watching and supporting France against Argentina.

Nakamura already felt his chance in game two: “For me, the moment I knew I was going to get chances was probably the second game, when I played the King’s Indian, and Magnus didn’t put me away. He was up a pawn, it was a very typical Magnus-like position, with a great knight on f5, but in the time battle he was very shaky and the game ended in a draw, and I think I felt good from then on. about my chances because it was just very unusual for Magnus not to be right there.”

Carlsen highlighted game three as “a bit of a meltdown” and lamented that he hadn’t been more solid as Black. In game five, Carlsen’s unusual gamble (1 Nf3 Nf6 2 d4 b6 3 c4 Bb7 4 g3 e5?!) turned out to have been played long ago by both Alexander Alekhine and Mikhail Botvinnik, but the experiment failed and in game eight he lost with white as Nakamura’s rope-a-dope with his lady in the back row led to this week’s puzzle diagram.

Four down after the 5/1 segment, Carlsen began a recovery by winning the 3/1 section 6-4 and the 1/1 5-4. and briefly tying the scores before Nakamura edged forward at the end. His comeback still had a gruesome moment when, in a routine position, he played Bf4-c7 to attack a d8 rook and Nakamura answered Na6xBc7, immediately acquiescing.

Hugh Alexander, England’s number 1 of his time and a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, used to say that back diagonal queen tricks were the hardest to spot, but backward knight tricks might need to be added.

In the final game, Carlsen led by two queens, but Nakamura was able to hold checkmate until the match clock ran out of time and there was no time to start another game. Carlsen still needed to win that one to force a four-game tiebreaker and a possible Armageddon. The full game can be viewed at chess24.com.

Carlsen and Nakamura will now travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the over-the-board World Rapid and Blitz Championships will have their opening ceremony on Christmas Day, followed by three days of rapid and two days of blitz from December 26-30.

Carlsen has won three Rapid and four Blitz titles and holds the record for the highest ever blitz score of 2948. Nakamura, on the other hand, has never won either title, though he ranks No. 2 in blitz, behind Alireza Firouzja but ahead of Carlsen . on the fourth. Both tournaments are very competitive, many players have a realistic chance and the new generation of teenagers will be eager to impress.

Rapid chess in the UK got a big boost this week when the ECF and 4NCL announced that the 2023 British Rapid Championship will be held in Bradford on April 15-16. It will be an 11-round Fide-rated Open, with a prize pool of £3,000.

This is an upgraded version of what used to be an annual event that has been suspended since 2019. The generous conditions for top players are sure to attract a large number of grandmasters. It’s also a chance for up-and-coming talents to showcase their skills, and for aspiring amateurs to take on highly rated opponents and perhaps surprise them.

3846: 1…Nf4+! 2kg1 If 2 gxf4 Qg4+ 3 Kf1 Qxf3 and Rc1+ is a winning threat. Qh3! and Carlsen gave up to Qg2 mate or Rc1+.

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