Lindores Abbey SF: Nakamura knocks out Carlsen, reaches final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/31/2020 – Hikaru Nakamura bounced back from a 0:3 loss in the first mini-match of the semi-finals by winning the next two rubbers to knock out world champion Magnus Carlsen from the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge. The third mini-match went down to the wire, with Nakamura choosing black in the Armageddon decider and beating Carlsen after the latter first achieved a favourable position and then blundered away the game. Nakamura will face Daniil Dubov in the final, starting Monday. | Photos: Austin Fuller / FIDE

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A thrilling (semi) finale


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.


It almost felt like a final, as incidentally it was the only tie to reach the third rubber in the semis. Furthermore, the two were the pre-tournament favourites — the world champion was facing the number one player in blitz, after all. A little back and forth during the last week on social networks added some spice.

In the end, a closely disputed third mini-match ended up favouring Hikaru Nakamura. After a draw in game one, the American got ahead on the scoreboard with a strong showing of theoretical preparation. The score levelled in the next encounter, when Magnus Carlsen took advantage of his opponent's blunder. A draw in game four meant the whole match would be decided in Armageddon.

As the winner of the preliminaries, Nakamura got to choose the colour in the tiebreaker. He chose black, getting less time on the clock and draw odds. Carlsen had a superior position in the middlegame but, as pointed out by 'Naka', Black could simply play natural moves, quickly. Things came to a head when Carlsen lost control around move 37, first giving away his edge and then blundering a whole rook. 

Nakamura had reached the final by eliminating the strongest player in the world, and said: 

It's great to beat Magnus. At least one time I found the way, so I'm pretty happy.

Carlsen, on the other hand, told the Norwegian press, as reported by Tarjei J. Svensen:

I feel better now than ten minutes ago. But this will be painful for a while. [...] It didn't cross my mind that things would go wrong, when things started to go wrong I became more and more stressed while he likely got more and more confidence.

Of course, the world champion is not one to allow losses to put him down longer than strictly necessary. Carlsen tweeted:

The Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge continues on Monday, when the final will kick off after a rest day. Daniil Dubov, who showed he is not afraid to employ his ultra-sharp style against the best in the world will face an in-form Nakamura. The same format as the one used in the previous stages of the knockout will be in place.  

Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge 2020

Nakamura 2:2 Carlsen

Once the match was over, Nakamura was asked which colour he would choose to play with in the first game of the final. He chose black, as he has done in all previous rounds — he always gets to choose the colour as he finished first in the preliminaries. With black, he comfortably held Carlsen to a draw at the outset of their third mini-match.

Game two was the turning point of the contest. Nakamura showed deep preparation out of an Open Ruy Lopez, while Carlsen uncharacteristically spent large amounts of time frequently. The players followed mainstream theory until move 23, when the world champion deviated with a subpar continuation:

 

Ray Robson, Vidit Gujrathi and Anish Giri, among others, had played 23...Rac8 in this position. Nakamura proved he remembered this variation during the post-game interview, while Carlsen opted for 23...Nxb2 instead. White had a favourable position and, more importantly, a massive advantage on the clock — Carlsen erred on move 29 and resigned on move 34. The Norwegian's poor time management was a crucial factor, as noted by Nakamura:

I felt, especially yesterday and today, he was just too slow on the clock. I'm not sure why, but it just seemed like in the flow of the moves he was a little bit off.

Carlsen bounced back immediately, though, as Nakamura later confessed that he "wasn't really in the game" in the third encounter of the day — the win in game two had not sunk in yet. Carlsen won in 46 moves. 

A draw in the last 15-minute game of the day meant the whole match would be decided in Armageddon. Playing white, Carlsen got a strategic advantage out of the opening. Nakamura's position was slowly deteriorating, but his quick play allowed him to even the clock times. The American also avoided committing any major tactical missteps, while the game was decided when the world champion made a one-move blunder:

 

40.Re4 or 40.Qe4 would have kept the game going, while White's 40.Rxb4 gave way to 40...Qe1+ 41.Kh2 Qxb4. Carlsen resigned the game — and the match — on the next move.

 

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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.