Hikaru Nakamura has only ever been defeated in the Speed Chess Championship by Magnus Carlsen. In the Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship and the first season of the Speed Chess Championship, he was defeated by Carlsen in the finals.
In today’s Speed Chess Championship semifinals, he secured his slot in a third finals (taking place tomorrow at ) as he defeated Levon Aronian. Between them, they had won every time control they played thus far and had outscored their opponents by over 50 points!
Despite Aronian’s convincing wins over such notable opponents as Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri, Chess.com’s SmarterChess predictions still predicted Nakamura to be a 70% favorite in the match.
The final match score and outcome was not much different from the predictions, but the route to this outcome was vastly different than predicted. Nakamura leapt out to an early lead in the blitz time controls, but Aronian won the bullet time control, taking the fight to Nakamura on his perceived turf as Nakamura is renowned for his great skill in bullet chess.
Amidst many interesting games in the 5+1 portion, we will look primarily at three queen sacrifices that well encapsulated this portion of the match.
- The player that sacrificed the queen got the better of the game.
- Both players played exciting, interesting, and daring chess.
- In complicated positions, Nakamura consistently played faster, putting Aronian down on the clock and often inducing errors.
After the fastest decisive result we’ve ever had to open the match (a draw by perpetual), Nakamura won game two with convincing play as Black in a queen and bishop endgame. Ultimately Aronian ran out of time.
In game three, Nakamura got pleasant compensation for a pawn sacrifice as White, but then he forced Aronian to sacrifice the queen. Although Nakamura remained objectively better, the position was not easy to play and ultimately, he was probably the more fortunate to reach a draw.
If game three wasn’t sufficiently exciting, things only escalated in game four as Aronian saced a piece on move 12. His pressure was intense, but resourceful play from Nakamura meant that he had to continue to sacrifice material.
He eventually forced Nakamura to surrender his queen as they reached a remarkably balanced imbalanced position. With a draw seeming likely, both players blundered at the close of the endgame, but it was Aronian who blundered last.
In the final queen sacrifice, Nakamura had the advantage for most of the game as Aronian offered a similar piece sacrifice as that which he played in game four. This time Nakamura was in the drivers’ seat for most of the game, and when he did give up the queen, his position was nearly winning.
However, Aronian had one shining opportunity where both he and the commentators felt he should have a strong continuation. After a think, he could not find the continuation in this critical moment.
5+1 segment | Score
With a two-point victory in the 3+1 time control, Nakamura established a six-point match lead, but Aronian got his shots in as well, and in fact the two games that he did win were probably the most exciting in the time control.
Aronian actually began the time control with a win that featured such a chaotic finish that even Nakamura could not help but smile.
Aronian’s second win came in the fifth game of the time control. Unfortunately, this win was sandwiched between four losses in the time control.
3+1 segment | Score
Things got a bit crazy in the 1+1 time control as Nakamura delivered on a promise to his Twitch fans to play the Bongcloud (1.e4 and 2.Ke2?!?!) against Aronian. He did so in three games. Aronian won the first two Bongclouds; the first featured an amusing finish where Nakamura missed two consecutive knight forks.
Aronian used this victory to kickstart a three-game winning streak. In fact, this could easily have been a five-game winning streak as Nakamura only interrupted this run with the following swindle.
Nakamura did close out the 1+1 time control like he began it—with a win. He finished the match in what was likely a personally satisfying game as he finally scored with the “dreaded” Bongcloud.
1+1 segment | Score
For his victory, Nakamura collected a bit less than $5,000, but surely the most important prize to him was advancing to the finals where he can win more money and claim a Speed Chess Championship title.
The full event was broadcast on twitch.tv/chess with commentary by IM Daniel Rensch and GM Bobby “Bagel Boy” Hess.
The Speed Chess Championship finals conclude our finals weekend this Sunday, December 2, as Nakamura takes on Wesley So, who defeated Jan-Krzsyztof Duda convincingly yesterday.