Lindores Abbey Final: Nakamura storms ahead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/2/2020 – Hikaru Nakamura stormed ahead in the first leg of the $150,000 Rapid Challenge final today. The American, fresh from toppling World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the semi, showed all his cool, calm skills to race into a 2:0 lead almost without breaking a sweat. After four games Nakamura was leading 2½:1½. Tomorrow, former World Rapid Champion Daniil Dubov will be back gunning to turn the match around. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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"As flat as possible"


The Lindores Abbey Chess Challenge started on May 18th. Twelve players are taking part. After a three-day preliminary, the best eight players will advance to the deciding knockout section. The time control is 15 minutes for the game, with a 10-second increment per move.


Two fan favourites reached the final of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge. Daniil Dubov and his uncompromising style gained a lot of praise by the public, while Hikaru Nakamura has a huge fan base online.

Climbing up the rating ladder in the United States chess scene starting in the late 1990s made Nakamura a "street fighter" over the board, needing to collect close to perfect scores in the circuit of quick-paced American opens to make a name for himself. Much like Dubov nowadays, the grandmaster born in Hirakata used a fearless tactical style in his early days. With time, he has come to terms with the fact that playing it safe under certain circumstances can help him get better results.

Against the tactical Dubov, Nakamura developed a plan that ended up working well on the final's first rubber. He explained: 

I did what Daniil does to everybody: I played the man more than I played the position. [...] I felt that Daniil really wanted to press hard in the white game. He likes to be very creative, play things that are not standard, so for that reason I just figured [I should] try to make the game as flat as possible.

Talking in more general terms, 'Naka' noted that stepping away from highly theoretical fights not only improves his results but also allows for a more enjoyable experience:

I like being out of my comfort zone. I feel, in general, that when both players are out of their comfort zone and just playing chess, that's actually when chess is the most fun, as opposed to stuff that's pure preparation.

Nakamura cannot rest on his laurels after his clear win in the first rubber, though. As was demonstrated in his semi-final against Magnus Carlsen, getting a major win in the first mini-match does not, by any means, guarantee overall victory.



Nakamura 2½:1½ Dubov

The approach of playing games "as flat as possible" gave Nakamura two wins in a row at the start. In game one, Dubov played a committal move, which, according to his opponent, lacked a specific tactical justification:

 

Looking for a way to give some life to the position, Dubov played 17.b5, not a mistake by any means, but a move that allowed Nakamura to get a solid, stable setup with the c5-square at his disposal. The American gained a pawn on move 24 and slowly but surely converted his material advantage into a win.

A similar story was seen in game two, as Dubov made an inaccurate pawn push, giving Nakamura the kind of small edge that he was looking for from the get go:

 

All White has going for him in this position is a slightly better pawn structure, so it makes sense for Dubov to try to get rid of his isolated pawn on the e-file. However, 25...e4 is not the most precise at this point — 25...Nd7 is more passive, but also more effective. Apparently the Russian underestimated 26.Nc5, when White gained a pawn after 26...b5 27.Nxe4 Nxe4 28.Rxe4. Nakamura, again, patiently converted his advantage, and later commented:

I think Daniil wasn't super sharp in the first two games.

Dubov bounced back with a win in game three, but was not able to get much with black against his opponent's pragmatic play in the last rapid encounter.

Nakamura has gathered a large crowd of online followers thanks to his frequent and entertaining streams on Twitch. Commentator Tania Sachdev asked him if this had an effect on his play. Nakamura responded:

When you know that there are thousands of people watching who are rooting for you, it certainly makes a difference.

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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