Sometimes fast chess is more of a street brawl than fancy mental boxing. In this area, Hikaru Nakamura is in great danger, even for the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, who also won the first semifinal round 3-0 on Thursday. But the American won the 2nd (2.5-1.5) on Friday and the 3rd (3-2) on Saturday, in sudden death, after overcoming a losing position. His rival since Monday in the final of the online tournament Lindores Abbey will be the Russian Danil Dúbov.
Carlsen began the afternoon with an annoying psychological setback when Nakamura, with the black pieces, did not suffer the least to tie the first round. It gave the impression that the Norwegian tried to surprise with the opening of the Four Horses, frequent in the 19th century and first half of the 20th, but he found a very well-prepared rival. The quick knock that would have comforted Carlsen so much after the chagrin of the day before did not occur.
Everything indicates that the Scandinavian again erred in the choice of his defense in the second – the open variant of the Spanish Opening – because, after 22 plays made by memory by both, Carlsen introduced an idea that did not improve the reference game (Wei -Vidit, Danzhou 2018). Nakamura had an objective advantage and – this was the most worrying thing for Carlsen -, in a type of position where a single error can be the last. Thus it happened, in 29, and the American was relentless in taking advantage of it.
Like the day before, the world champion was again in one of those situations that demand a colossal performance from the great stars of the sport. But he was right: he sacrificed a pawn with White in exchange for a lasting and dangerous initiative. This time it was Nakamura who slipped in an exchange of tactical shots, and from there Carlsen’s game was scary: more than 90% of his decisions coincided with those of the most powerful machines, as if he were not satisfied with a simple victory: he sought the perfect annihilation of his adversary, who surrendered when there was no longer any point in continuing to fight.
Magnus Carlsen thinks about one of his plays during the fast online tournament Lindores Abbey Arne Horvei / Chess24
But Nakamura is a very tough guy. Not in vain does he combine chess -especially fast or ultra-fast- with poker. And squeezed the champion again in the fourth round. However, not with enough precision, and Carlsen managed to sneak away to bring the outcome of the semifinal to dramatic sudden death or Armageddon (one game; five minutes for white, forced to win, by four of black).
For having won the previous phase (a league between twelve players), the American had the right to choose color, and preferred black, so that his rival felt all the pressure on him. As he later explained himself, Nakamura adopted a scheme that allowed him to think little, moving his horses in the center while waiting for the Norwegian to launch the attack.
This time, Carlsen was Carlsen at the right moment to deliver the necessary shots with great precision to gain an advantage. So much so that his position was objectively winning. But there was very little time left on both watches, and psychology became the deciding factor. The rowdy Nakamura – accustomed to poker tables, one-minute chess games all night, to the trick to inconvenience the rival – did his job very well, avoiding positions where his opponent could act as an automaton, and entangling him in others objectively worse for Nakamura, but much more complicated.
On the contrary, the very champion Carlsen perhaps thought more about the great importance of the game against the rival who not only disputes his supremacy in the fast modalities, but also wants to be more popular on social networks, and concentrated less on solving the very specific problem I had on the board. He did not succeed in the auction, and ended up losing.
Nakamura highlighted two things during his immediate interview with Chess24. The key to his victory: “Magnus has not managed the clock as well as other times.” And what he expects from the final where he thinks he is a favorite (he said it on Friday): “Dúbov is very innovative and unorthodox, so it will be a very interesting duel.”
Carlsen did not appear, despite the fact that Chess24 is his company, but soon after he published this tweet: “When you are the best and you boast about it, many people enjoy watching you fall. Enjoy while you can, you have deserved it. But I’ll come back”.
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