MCT Finals: Nakamura wins first set

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/15/2020 – Hikaru Nakamura kicked off the final of the Magnus Carlsen Tour with a 2½:1½ victory over the world champion, after winning game 2 with the black pieces and drawing the remaining three encounters of the day. The match is played to the best of 7 sets and has no scheduled rest days. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“When in doubt, play like Fabiano”

Commentator Yasser Seirawan had a single question for Hikaru Nakamura after his first-set victory over Magnus Carlsen, and it had to with the one decisive game of the day, in which the American won with the black pieces. How did he decide to play that opening, one that he does not have much experience with? Nakamura responded:

When in doubt, play like Fabiano, plain and simple. 

It has all been about pragmatism and simplicity for Nakamura during the Magnus Carlsen Tour, and this response sums it up nicely. What to do when you have to prepare against the strongest player in the world? Just go for something the latest challenger to the world crown and well-known theoretician Fabiano Caruana has played in the past. 

Of course, he still needed to outplay the world champion after getting the kind of setup he was looking for, in this case in a game that lasted 56 moves.

But what was the one thing Carlsen had most trouble with on day one of the final? Nakamura had a clear explanation:

I think Magnus was trying to play the way he has played throughout the last two events, which is he’s tried to play sharp and aggressive with both colours, and I think the positions are slightly more suited to me. [...] So probably I would say the openings were the biggest issue for Magnus today.

The American nevertheless thinks that having won the first set does not make a big difference a match played to the best of 7, “other than the fact that Magnus needs to win one more match than I do”.

Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals

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Nakamura 2½ : 1½ Carlsen

Peter Leko commented that a good day of chess was coming after the players drew a high-quality game to start things off. Then came Nakamura’s single win in game 2, when he played a sharp opening, leaving his king uncastled and focusing on active piece play on the queenside. When the dust settled, Black was an exchange up against White’s two extra pawns with bishops of opposite colours on the board:


A “very messy game” (Nakamura) came to a head after 38...Bxg5 39.hxg5 Rh8, when everything fell apart for White. Carlsen could have gone for 39.Rg4 after the bishop capture to put up more of a fight, but his position was nevertheless difficult by that point. After the text, Nakamura showed good technique to convert his advantage into a win.

The set could have ended in game 3, as Nakamura was the one in the driver’s seat with the white pieces out of a Najdorf Sicilian. 


This position looks great for White, with more space and his opponent’s pieces clearly struggling to find active spots. Continuing to improve the position with 30.Rb7 or 30.Rf2 was called for here, while Nakamura’s forcing line backfired and allowed Carlsen to get back into the game — 30.Bb6 Bxg5 31.Bf5 (forking queen and rook) was followed by 31...Bg6, the move Nakamura had blundered in his calculations.

Carlsen went on to save the half point, but was not able to win on demand in game 4. The world champion also lost the first set of his semifinal match against Ding Liren, but then came back with a vengeance, getting convincing 2½:½ wins in sets 2 and 3.



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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