Speed Chess: “Burned out” Nakamura reaches final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/16/2022 – Hikaru Nakamura defeated Nihal Sarin by a 14½-10½ score in the first semifinal of the Speed Chess Championship. Naka, who won every edition of the online event since 2018, will face either Magnus Carlsen or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final match, which is set to take place on December 20.

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A seventh Speed Chess Championship final

Despite later confessing that he has felt burned out for the last month or so, Hikaru Nakamura managed to defeat Nihal Sarin in the first semifinal of the Speed Chess Championship. The US grandmaster thus reached his seventh final of the online event — which is celebrating its seventh edition!

In the final match, set to take place on Tuesday, Nakamura will face either Magnus Carlsen or reigning world blitz champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. This is the third time Carlsen is playing this event. In 2017, he took home first prize, while in 2020 he was knocked out by none other than MVL — and also in semis. Importantly, Carlsen will get to play the Frenchman after scoring a demolishing victory over Fabiano Caruana in the quarterfinals. 

Speed Chess Championship 2022

In the match against Nihal, Nakamura won both the 5-minute section and the 1-minute section by 5-3 scores. Remarkably, the US grandmaster employed a strategy based on questionable openings, even playing 1.a3 or 1.h3 at times. The plan worked out well, as Nihal seems to have been authentically shocked by his opponent’s choice.

The Indian prodigy did score a few nice wins, though.

 

Going for 17...h6 was a mistake by Naka, as placing a knight on f6 was necessary at this point. Nihal grabbed his chance and replied by 18.Ndxe6 — a correct sacrifice, although the more spectacular 18.Nxf7 was even stronger.

A forcing sequence followed: 18...fxe6 19.Nxe6 Rxe6 20.Rxd5

 

Of course! Grabbing with the rook and not with the bishop, since the light-squared diagonal pointing towards the black king is more important here.

20...Bxd5 21.Bxd5 Qe8 22.Qg4

 

A precise attack in a 3-minute game by the young Indian. With those two bishops perfectly placed, Nihal needed four more moves to force his opponent’s resignation.

After winning the match, Nakamura talked to the commentators and confessed to have been feeling burned out for the last month or so, which partly explained why he had played dubious opening moves in some of the games. Naka also noted:

I’ve been playing so much chess, so going into this match I figured I would just play anything and have some fun. That was sort of the attitude — to just try to save what little I have left in the tank for the World Rapid and Blitz.

Speed Chess Championship 2022

All games - Nakamura vs. Nihal

 
 

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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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