Speed Chess Championship: Nakamura Defeats Giri, Will Face Ding In SF

Two quarterfinal matches in the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event occurred on December 6. In the first match, GM Ding Liren defeated GM Levon Aronian by a 15-11 score. You can read the full report for the Ding-Aronian match here.

This report will focus on the second match, which was played between GMs Hikaru Nakamura, the reigning Speed Chess Champion, and Anish Giri. Nakamura won by a score of 18.5-10.5 and will face Ding in the semifinals.

The last quarterfinal match between GMs Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana is scheduled for Thursday, December 9 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time/19:00 Central European Time.

The match, as usual, began with 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz. Nakamura had the white pieces in the first game, and did not get much of an advantage out of the opening. The players ended up repeating moves rather early, taking a draw on move 19.

This is rather typical behavior of the popular streamer during these matches, by the way: he is known for being extremely stable, and especially during the recent years, he has been mostly playing for small advantages and practical positions, leaving the notion of taking chances and going all-in far in the past. No advantage? A repetition is not a problem.

In the second game, another draw was seen. However, the time the character was a lot different: in a complex Italian position, all the pieces remained on the board for a long time, and soon enough, the Dutch star went on to sacrifice a piece. Despite the black pieces being quite far away from the kingside, the sacrifice was hardly sound, but the position was very murky and Nakamura missed a chance to score, which allowed White to bail out with a perpetual check.

In game five, Nakamura got outplayed and was lost, but then equalized the position to… flag the opponent. After that disappointment, the Dutch grandmaster was trailing by two points by a score of 3.5-1.5 with 40 minutes to go in this part of the match.

But, the tough start did not disappoint Giri, who went on to win two games in a row after drawing in the sixth game, equalizing the score at 4-4. The following positional win is particularly impressive.

However, Nakamura then went on to win the two last games of the slower 5+1 blitz segment, ending this portion of the match with a score of 6-4.

In the next leg of the match, played with the 3+1 time control for an hour, Giri started strong by winning the first game. But then the American star more or less made the outcome of the match clear by winning four games in a row, getting a five-point lead with a score of 10.5-5.5.

After one more draw, they went on to exchange shots with Nakamura winning one more, losing in the next game, and winning the last game—ending the 3+1 portion of the match with a total score of 13-7.

Lastly, the grandmasters had half an hour of 1-minute bullet chess. Again, the famous American streamer went on to dominate, winning the first two games. And then, very surprisingly, the next seven(!) bullet games all ended in a draw, which is something that almost never happens even at the top level. The end of the 24th game was memorable, as Nakamura found a way to save a lost position:

As a result, Nakamura secured a win with a very convincing score of 18.5-10.5 and advanced to the semifinals, where he will face Ding. In the post-match interview with the commentators, GMs Daniel Naroditsky and Aman Hambleton, the players shared a lot of interesting thoughts.

Giri admitted to enjoying the complex Caro-Kann positions so much that even the practical aspect of the match was not as relevant to him as it should have been.

He said: “This Caro-Kann…the thing is that I am kind of fascinated by these positions, I find them very interesting, you know, when Black goes …g5, so I just wanted to keep playing them out of curiosity, because I just enjoying playing them, but I just kept losing games, so of course, it would have been more efficient to not go there. I had already lost to Hikaru in those positions before, in some other tournament.”

… I am kind of fascinated by these positions, so I just wanted to keep playing them out of curiosity, but I just kept losing games.
—Anish Giri

Commenting on his thoughts and chances in the upcoming match with Ding, Nakamura said: “First and foremost, I was a little surprised Ding beat Levon, but… he’s a very strong player, of course. We’ve both played each other a million times. Against Ding, I must have played 50 games online. If I can keep it close until bullet, I have good chances, but the main thing is to just avoid the tilt.”

… If I can keep it close until bullet, I have good chances, but the main thing is to just avoid the tilt.
—Hikaru Nakamura

The 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund. The tournament will run November 8-December 19, 2021 on Chess.com. Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.

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