Tata Steel Chess India Rapid: Nakamura is champion

by Sagar Shah
11/14/2018 – The Tata Steel Chess India 2018 Rapid came to an end on November 11th with American GM Hikaru Nakamura taking home the first prize with 6.0/9. Nakamura played the event as per the demands of the situation — calm on first and third days and three victories on day two! It was excellent news for Indian fans that Harikrishna managed to fight back with two wins against Levon Aronian and Vidit Gujrathi in last two rounds to finish second. Levon Aronian had to settle for the third spot. IM SAGAR SHAH brings you six things that happened on the last day of the rapid and reflections on the first super tournament held in his native India! Of course, one mustn't forget the small sensation — Vishy Anand was beaten by his former second Surya Sekhar Ganguly in the final round.

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World number 2 finishes rapid number 1

The final day of the rapid section at Tata Steel Chess India 2018 began with Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian leading with 4½/6. The next player was Harikrishna with 3½/6 and then a pack of four players with 3.0/6 which included Vishy Anand and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov among others. It was clear that with such a lead either Nakamura or Aronian would win the tournament with just three rounds to go. In the end, it was all about not going wrong as Nakamura made three draws, two extremely solid ones against Anand and Sergey Karjakin and one wild game against Wesley So. On the other hand, Aronian drew his seventh and ninth round game against Vidit and Mamedyarov but lost the critical encounter in the eighth round against Harikrishna.

Meanwhile, Harikrishna scored 2.0/3 on the final day beating Aronian and Vidit to finish second ahead of Aronian. There would have been playoffs if two players had tied for the top spot, but Nakamura was the sole leader with 6.0/9 followed by Aronian and Harikrishna (5.5/9). Hence, the American was adjudged as the champion without any tiebreaks coming into effect.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Nakamura Hikaru 6,0 0,0
2 Harikrishna Pentala 5,5 1,0
3 Aronian Levon 5,5 0,0
4 So Wesley 5,0 0,5
5 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 5,0 0,5
6 Karjakin Sergey 4,5 0,0
7 Anand Viswanathan 4,0 0,5
8 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 4,0 0,5
9 Nihal Sarin 3,0 0,0
10 Ganguly Surya Shekhar 2,5 0,0

Three great players, three different emotions! Caption this! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Round 7
Name Result Name
Nihal Sarin ½ - ½ Ganguly Surya Shekhar
Anand Viswanathan ½ - ½ Nakamura Hikaru
So Wesley ½ - ½ Mamedyarov Shakhriyar
Karjakin Sergey 1 - 0 Harikrishna Pentala
Aronian Levon ½ - ½ Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Round 8
Name Result Name
Ganguly Surya Shekhar 0 - 1 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
Harikrishna Pentala 1 - 0 Aronian Levon
Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 1 - 0 Karjakin Sergey
Nakamura Hikaru ½ - ½ So Wesley
Nihal Sarin ½ - ½ Anand Viswanathan
Round 9
Name Result Name
Anand Viswanathan 0 - 1 Ganguly Surya Shekhar
So Wesley 1 - 0 Nihal Sarin
Karjakin Sergey ½ - ½ Nakamura Hikaru
Aronian Levon ½ - ½ Mamedyarov Shakhriyar
Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 0 - 1 Harikrishna Pentala

1. Hikaru Nakamura is good at rapid chess!

Nakamura paced himself excellently in the tournament. He started with three draws against strong opponents Aronian, Vidit and Harikrishna on day one. Day two was when he really started getting things rolling by defeating Mamedyarov with the black pieces and then following it up with two wins against the tailenders Surya Ganguly and Nihal Sarin. With 4½/6 he was ideally placed to win the tournament. Now the important thing was to not take any risks, play solidly and see what his main competitors are up to.

Nakamura gave Vishy absolutely no chances to win the game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nakamura has a friendly chat with his compatriot | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In the eighth round, the battle between two Americans was very intense. In fact, Wesley So was clearly better at some point, but then gave chances to Nakamura. In the end, it was a draw.


Bxh7+! was a simple tactic missed by Wesley. If the knight moves from f6, then the bishop on d5 is hanging. Nakamura was better after this, but couldn't convert the edge and the game ended in a draw.

Don't miss Nakamura's expressions in this video

In the final round, Karjakin and Nakamura drew their game within five minutes. Only Aronian would be able to catch Nakamura if he won the game, but Levon was unable to do so, the game ended in a draw and Nakamura became the champion.

Hikaru Nakamura won the 1st Tata Steel Chess India 2018 Rapid section | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nakamura's short speech after winning the tournament at the closing ceremony

2. Harikrishna's tough mental state

Harikrishna was playing quite solidly until the end of day two. He had a win against Mamedyarov and five draws. Coming into the final day he lost his game against Sergey Karjakin. It was a normal position in which he blundered big time.


The move ...f5 was inaccurate and after taking the bishop on b6, White went f3 and the bishop on g4 was trapped. After ...Nxg3 hxg3 the bishop move back to h5 and exf5 helped White to net a pawn. This pawn could not be recaptured because g4 would fork two pieces.

'Hari' had some chances in the game, but eventually lost to Karjakin | Photo: Amruta Mokal

It speaks a lot about Hari's mental toughness that he was able to come back form this loss to beat a player of Aronian's calibre from an equal endgame. Harikrishna managed to win a couple of pawns, but still, the knight endgame was not at all easy. In fact, at one point Aronian had a draw in his hand if he found the accurate move.


Aronian chose the move ...Nd5, but better was to play ...Nb5 when White has to agree to a draw!

Harikrishna won the game after a long fight | Photo: Amruta Mokal

You can literally feel your heart pumping faster when you see the tense endgame between Harikrishna and Aronian. It is simply amazing how Harikrishna kept his cool, thwarted all of Aronian's ideas and won the game!

Chief arbiter of the event R. Anantharam asks Hari if 20 minutes is a good time for him to relax and be back for the final round? | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In the final round, things were proceeding just normally in the game between Vidit and Harikrishna, when all of a sudden Vidit blundered.


Rad1 is such a natural move that it is very difficult to understand why it is a mistake. But Harikrishna found the error in Vidit's move!


3. Surya Sekhar Ganguly beats Vishy Anand

Ganguly and Anand had never played against each other in an over the board encounter, not even in rapid or blitz. Surya had been Anand's second for many years — he helped Anand to win three World Championship titles against Kramnik, Topalov and Gelfand. Of course, he is well versed with Anand's playing style. But, it is one thing to know everything about the opponent, and quite another to actually beat him. Ganguly managed to play some inspired chess to beat the five-time World Champion from the black side of the Caro-Kann.

Surya Sekhar Ganguly against Vishy Anand in the final round of the Tata Steel Chess India 2018 | Photo: Diptansu Sengupta


The move e6 followed by Nge7 and f6 has not really been played by any good players. This is an idea that Surya has developed. Later he pushes his pawn to f6 and preapres for the e5 pawn break. Something about it says that the setup doesn't look the best, but it is quite difficult to refute it over the board!


The move ...b6 prepares the transfer of the rook towards the kingside via a7. Very original and creative play!


It was time to use the g5 pawn as a battering ram to open up White's kingside.


...Bxf1 was a well calculated move by Surya. Once the defender was eliminated, a sac on g3 became very obvious.


In this position, Ganguly sacrificed his piece on g3 and the game was over!


IM Shah takes a deep dive into Anand-Ganguly in "Under the Surface" (ChessBase India) 

Guess to whom Ganguly giving this nice smile? | Photo: Diptansu Sengupta

...It's his wife (left) Sudeshna Dutta, who has been at the playing venue on all the days rooting and cheering for her husband | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Also on team Ganguly is GM Vishnu Prasanna who is his second | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A great result for Ganguly who had three draws and five losses before the final round. Even after the win, he finished on the last position, but this final round victory would be a great victory etched forever in his memory.

The complete video footage of Surya Ganguly's win over Vishy Anand

One position worth showing here is Ganguly's penultimate round game against Vidit Gujrathi:


White is better in this position. It is Black to move here. What would you play?

One thing that separates grandmasters from normal players is that they don't really have prejudices. They play the position as per its needs. Vidit realized that the bishop on d4 was strong and needed to exchanged and hence played ...Bf6!


Ganguly took on f6. Black now has tripled pawns! Some might say they are pretty ugly, but then that's just a matter of perspective! They are doing an important role of control some key squares and although White is slightly better here, he went on to lose the game.

4. A very respectable 3.0/9 for Nihal Sarin

Nihal Sarin is just 14 years old. Thanks to the organisers of the Tata Steel Chess India 2018 he got a chance to rub shoulders against the best in the business. Would he be able to sustain his play against these world-class opponents? Nihal was more than up for the challenge. He drew six games against Karjakin, Vidit, Anand, Ganguly, Harikrishna, and Mamedyarov and lost three against Aronian, Nakamura and So. A very respectable performance for a boy who had no real experience facing these super elite grandmasters.

Although his first super tournament, it never seemed as if Nihal was out of place! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The most awaited game of the tournament — the little cub versus Madras tiger! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

An intense game is underway. Nihal matched Anand move for move and at some point was even clearly better | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nihal can be proud of the fact that Vishy accepted the draw with a look of smile and relief on his face! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nihal Sarin vs Vishy Anand — a battle of generations

After the tournament ended, I went to Nihal's room in Taj Bengal and did a detailed round-up video of his performance and game analysis of all nine rounds. That will be published soon. It was very interesting for me to see how Nihal could fight on equal terms against all the giants of the game and I realized that when it comes to sheer calculation, the boy is really moving close to the level of these greats. Stay tuned for "Inside the mind of Nihal Sarin!"

5. No win for Vishy Anand

For Vishy Anand, the most frustrating part of the event would be that he couldn't win a single game | Photo: Anjana Ashwin

An event of this stature in India would be impossible without Vishy Anand's inclusion. It's because Anand's presence motivates the sponsors, him playing in the event inspires hundreds of people to visit the playing venue just to have a glimpse of him in person. It didn't come as a surprise that everyone was looking forward to Anand winning a game or two with great enthusiasm. But that didn't happen. In fact, the closest that Vishy came to a win was in the first round against Wesley So. After Anand lost the last round against Surya Sekhar Ganguly there was a huge silence in the playing hall. Everyone was stunned. One can only hope that Anand comes back to form in the blitz event.

6. The massive turnout of spectators

The playing hall was full each day and people would come close to the stage prior to the start of the game to get a picture or two! On the final day, we had a jam-packed crowd with some people not getting a seat to sit inside the auditorium.

Playing hall crowd | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Now that's something every chess lover would be proud of | Photo: Amruta Mokal

For youngsters this was their chance to get a picture with the stars! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The organizers had made appropriate arrangements today so that no fan had to go back home without an autograph! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Busy giving autographs! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Some preferred selfies, while some were very shy to approach these world-class players! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The press conference after the rapid section comes to an end

The Blitz tournament

The blitz event began from the 13th of November 2018. We will have 18 rounds of 3 minutes + 2 seconds increment. Nine rounds on the 13th and nine rounds on the 14th.

Watch live


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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