It's worth wondering if Hikaru Nakamura is just bored by any game of chess that leaves him with more than one minute on his clock. Today in the first round of the NH Tournament in Amsteram, which pits the Rising Stars team of young players against an Experience team of no longer young players, Nakamura was, for the first time in my memory, in actual time trouble. The only real old-timer left in the event, 59-year-old Yugoslav legend Ljubo Ljubojevic, dared Nakamura to take on an offbeat line of the Accelerated Dragon. The American declined the gauntlet -- 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Ng8 8.Bc4 Bg7 9.Qf3 looks hideous for Black, but after 9..f5 10.Bf4 e6 he controls the key squares long enough to organize his defense. Nakamura took a few minutes to instead play quietly with 6.Nb3, leading to normal Dragon lines -- at least if Black continues with ..d6 at some point.
Which, like any good Accelerated player, Ljubo did not. Some nice maneuvering of his heavy pieces on the back rank allowed him to reach the promised land of every Acc.Drag player, getting in ..d5 in one move instead of two. The position was about equal by this point according to Joel Benjamin on Chess.FM, and Black had plenty of activity to compensate for his isolated d-pawn (in a Dragon, really). More surprisingly -- everyone knows Ljubo can still play a 2700 game when he's in the mood and rested -- the clocks were about even as Nakamura spent his lead trying to find ways to play for a win against the lowest-rated player in the field. I kept warning the audience about Ljubojevic's tragic habit of getting good positions and then imploding in time trouble, but as move 30 passed it was Nakamura who was down to a few minutes while the veteran had a those and a few more.
But there are few players in the world as good as Nakamura at finding dynamic chances and we saw that again here in the last 10 moves. The idea of creating a passer on queenside looks desperate at first, but Black couldn't find any way to break through on the kingside despite his powerfully placed pieces. It slowly, well, quickly since they were both down to a few minutes, became clear that White's threats were stronger and Black had to find a way to deal with the a-pawn. This way, as Yoda would put it, Ljubojevic did not find. Instead he collapsed under the pressure, blundering with 36..b4?? missing 38.Rb8 and the game is over. White was already clearly better by that point. 31..Be3 looks like the last best chance to hold the balance. Earlier, we looked at 29..Re2 as a an interesting try. Nakamura mopped up with his customary precision to notch the first win of the event. He made his last few moves with a dozen or so seconds left on his clock. Perhaps the set of bullet games he played on the ICC before the round weren't such a bad idea!
That was wild, but not nearly as wild as Caruana-van Wely. Let the record show that it looked to all the world like van Wely simply blundered a pawn in the opening, missing a double attack with Qh5 that would have cost him his knight on a5. He regrouped to get enough counterplay to hold on with good defensive play. Then things got very sharp again and a spectacularly unusual repetition draw suddenly appeared with mate threats on both sides. Great stuff.
Gelfand outplayed Howell in a difficult queen and pawn endgame. If anything will push the 19-year-old Englishman to skip a career in chess, games like this one might have as much to do with his decision as the possibility of dying poor.
The official site is doing its usual excellent job of putting up round reports under the direction of Dirk Jan, so I won't duplicate efforts too much this week. I will be tweeting occasionally, however. Macauley Peterson is there for the ICC and the organizers, so we can also expect great video material from him and the ChessVibes crew.