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American Discovers Spain

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Plenty of excitement this week and the next. Hikaru Nakamura slipped but didn't fall at the Casino de Barcelona tournament. He lost to the lowest seed to put his big lead at risk but then won his two last games to deliver a full-point victory over Cuba's Lenier Dominguez. It's worth noting that the local player he lost to, Oms Pallise, also beat Vaganian and Krasenkow. Dominguez drew early in the last round, so a draw with black would have sealed the tournament win for Nakamura, but he got into a sharp fight with another local, Narciso Dublan. Nakamura's characteristic aggression, speed, and precision in complications paid off and he earned a superior endgame, which he converted. He ended up with 7/9 and a performance rating well over 2800.

For a little perspective, this was a category 15 tournament (2606 avg). Recent events of the same strength and format were won by Roiz and Atalik with 6.5 at Gorenje 07, Ivanchuk with 7.5 at Havana 07, Eljanov with 7 at Montreal 06, Shirov with 7.5 at Sarajevo 04, and Sokolov and Nikolic with 7 at Selfoss 03. In other words, impressive company. Nakamura's exciting games also deserve attention. In the first round he ran his white king to h6 against a dangerous piece sac by Fluvia. In the second he played the 21..Qxf2+! shot that Krasenkow will have burned into his retina for years. Nakamura also played the King's Indian twice: once for a win against Vaganian and the other the loss to Oms that contained a faulty sac. Then he got all Kramnik on Illescas with a Catalan for a win.

All in all, very impressive stuff. Combined with Kamsky's maintaining a top-20 level and Onischuk's tying for first in Biel, it's been a minor Renaissance year for Americans on the international circuit. Who will be the next to join those three in the top 100?


Considering his youth and if he stays focused on chess in the near future, I would think that the very talented Ray Robson currently has the best possibility of making the Top 100.

I guess if Fabiano Caruana ever switches back to playing under the American flag, he'd be a sure bet, but then I guess it's only fair for America, after gaining a whole slew of strong GMs from the former USSR to finally lose one to another country.

American chess officials must somehow get Nakamura invited to the European elite events such as Corus. Failing which, they must organize a custom RR event in the US to enable Nakamura to get the much needed exposure. Its still not too late.

Just curious: at the precise point when Nakamura played Qxf2+ how much of a surprise could it have been? I mean, was he otherwise not utterly lost? Did Krasenkow think he had won the game only to be rudely disabused -- or was this foreseen but underestimated? (Not that the queen sac wasn't a remarkable conception in all; I just mean at the point when it was played).

The queen sack was of course foreseen by Nakamura, and in all probability anticipated by Krasenkow. Of course I can't say it for sure, but I doubt it came as a shock to Krasenkow, because otherwise Naka would be just lost.

I'm only a strong amateur, good enough to beat fide 2400's but no match for these guys, and I could see it immediately, as a possibility. But only as that, a possibility. Nearly all master level players would, given some time to look at the position. So the concept is not that amazing. These romantic king hunts are not foreign, although they are very rare.

But if Nakamura could count Qxf2+ to it's conclusion several moves in advance, then that's impressive! The concept isn't in itself.

Interesting perspective, anonymous; thanks. Confirmed what I thought: that the move had to have been anticipated -- but the play leading up to it was special indeed.

Congratulations, Hikaru! Brilliant, exciting victory!

It's the sort of sacrifice that begins to look highly appealing once you realize that the black king must move forward (to f3 and beyond) rather than back. Once you've seen that, a strong player's intuition would indicate that a mate is highly likely - it then becomes a matter of carrying the calculation far enough to be certain the sac is justified.

The difficult part - to my mind - was envisioning the possibility of ...Qxf2+ a few moves before you're actually able to play it. To even notice and consider such a possibility, you need a well-tuned king-hunter's intuition indeed! As I wrote on another thread, obviously Black had the sac all planned out before playing ...Qb6; otherwise he's simply lost after the Bxf6 discovered attack on his queen.

Someone on the other thread brought up Letelier-Fischer, which I recall as a rather simple 2-move mating combo - totally inept comparison. (I mentioned Fischer's Game of the Century as a better parallel, though that one is even much better than Nakamura's combo, I think. Another one to consider is Fox-Bauer, a superior instance of the motif popularized by Marshall's "shower of gold coins" game. It was easier to calculate to the end than Nakamura's combo because Fox required only a few moves to reach mate; but in common with Krasenkow-Nakamura, in Fox-Bauer the winner had to foresee the stunner Qxg6!! before essaying the preparatory sacrifice, Nc4.)

As for Kraseknow: I haven't tried to analyze the position, but I suspect he didn't have much choice. He surely didn't suspect anything until ...Qb6 landed on the board. At that point he probably took a fresh look and saw ...Qxf2+ coming. But by then, did he have any decent alternative to taking on f6 and hoping for the best?

Someone can dig it up, but there was a similar sac by Zviagintsev some 10 years ago. It won the Informator best game prize for that edition.

Good comments from Mr. Jacobs.

Minor correction: "...the WHITE king must move forward..."

Yes, thanks for talking through that, JJ. As someone whose chess skills are forever going to be pretty limited, it's great to gain access to some more sophisticated understanding of the whole thing.

What I find really interesting is the way that every now and then a crack opens up in the narrative of the game, and one can appreciate the drama and intrigue roiling away underneath, and see the depths of planning that have to occur in these top-level games. I suspect that one way of characterising the differences of strengths between playesr is in the ability to appreciate such things.

"I suspect that one way of characterising the differences of strengths between players is in the ability to appreciate such things."

Yes, and that's a key reason it's hard for chess to make much headway among the general public. The better the play, the harder it is for the uninitiated to appreciate it. This is pretty much the 180 degree opposite of soccer or (especially) baseball or football, where the most spectacular game-changing events are also the most visible and probably the most easily understood by spectators, including those relatively unsophisticated about the game.

By the way, the idea that the beauty of a sac lies partly in how it was "disguised" - i.e., had to be foreseen several moves before hand - also brings to mind a Kramnik brilliancy from the last Olympiad. It was less flashy than the Nakamura game, involving only a piece (or was it two pieces, or the Exchange followed by a piece)...but I recall at the time being impressed that the sac seemed to come "out of nowhere," because it must have been envisioned by Kramnik many moves before it actually occurred.

Here it is:

Roberto Cifuentes-Parada vs Vadim Zvjaginsev


Sorry its not a queen sac in the sense Naka played but a fascinating game still. do check it out.

Worth noting that Hikaru is now in the finals in Bastia where he will face Rustam Kasimdzhanov.

Hikaru took clear first in the Swiss, going 8/10 in a pretty strong field


In the KO, it looks like he beat Mikhalevsky, Van Wely and Bareev. Kasimdzhanov beat Karpov in the Semis

Looks like Naka beat Kasimdzhanov 2-0 in the final.

Yeah, he won either 1.5-0.5 or 2-0 (Hikaru was winning in the final position of Game 2). For some reason I kept thinking it was a 4 or 6 game match but I guess only 2.

Either way I have gotten confirmation that Hikaru did win Corsica, and the 20K Euro Prize. Nice little payday.

Krasenkow says on the Polish online chess forum( http://www.pzszach.pl/ ) that he saw the sacrifice, but at the time he thought all Black could achieve was a draw, he says he missed the idea of 24...Ne5!25.Rxe5 Bc8+!

Krasenkow did see the Qf2 sac. The only thing he overlooked was the final Bc8...

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on October 27, 2007 3:26 PM.

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