Nakamura Defeats Aronian to Win Berlin Grand Prix

Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been here for years.
 

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GM Hikaru Nakamura FIDE Grand Prix


GM Hikaru Nakamura capped off a stunning run in the first leg of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix with a victory over GM Levon Aronian in rapid tiebreaks.

After not having played classical chess in two years, Nakamura’s chances in Berlin were widely debated by the chess Twitterati. Fans and stans thought the professional streamer would cut through the field like a knife through butter, while others worried that his heavy focus on blitz and banter would rust his blade.

But Nakamura quickly silenced the doubters, winning Pool A by half a point over second-place finisher GM Andrey Esipenko at 4/6. His dominating win over the Russian in round two provided the margin of victory.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Grand Prix 1 Pool A"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.05"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Esipenko, Andrey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2736"] [BlackElo "2714"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2022.02.04"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 Nf6 9. a3 Nd4 10. Nxd4 exd4 11. b4 Bb6 12. Na4 Re8 13. Nxb6 axb6 14. e3 d3 15. Qc3 Ne4 16. Qc4 Bf5 17. Bb2 Qd7 18. Bxe4 Bxe4 19. f3 Bc6 20. Rac1 Re7 21. Qf4 f6 22. Rc4 Rd8 23. Rfc1 Qe6 {[#]} 24. b5 $1 Bxb5 25. Re4 Qf7 26. Rxe7 Qxe7 27. Rxc7 Rd7 28. Rc8+ Rd8 29. Bxf6 $1 gxf6 30. Qg4+ Kf8 31. Rxd8+ Qxd8 32. Qb4+ Qe7 33. Qxb5 {[#]} Qxa3 34. Kf2 Qc5 35. Qxd3 b5 36. Qc3 Qe7 37. Ke2 Kg7 38. Qd4 Qf7 39. Qg4+ Kh8 40. Qb4 Qe8 41. Qd6 {Utter domination.} Qf7 42. Qc5 Qe8 43. g4 Kg7 44. h4 Qd7 45. h5 Kg8 46. h6 1-0 [/pgn]

Each of the three Grand Prix features four preliminary double round-robins, with a total of 16 players participating. The top finisher in each pool advances to a four-player knockout, with two games of classical chess followed by rapid tiebreaks.

Nakamura advanced from Pool A, and was paired with GM Richard Rapport in the semi-finals. Rapport tied with GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek at 3½/6 in the preliminaries, and then defeated him in the rapid tiebreak, but it was his victory over GM Vladimir Fedoseev that may have featured the move of the tournament.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Grand Prix 1 Pool B"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.05"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Rapport, Richard"] [Black "Fedoseev, Vladimir3"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E32"] [WhiteElo "2763"] [BlackElo "2704"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "103"] [EventDate "2022.02.04"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 b6 7. Bg5 Bb7 8. Nh3 h6 9. Bh4 d6 10. f3 Nbd7 11. e4 c5 12. Nf2 Re8 13. dxc5 Nxc5 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. Qxf6 gxf6 16. b4 Nb3 17. Rd1 a5 18. Rxd6 axb4 19. axb4 Ra1+ 20. Rd1 Rea8 21. Be2 Nc1 22. Ng4 R8a2 23. Nxf6+ Kf8 {[#]} 24. Kf2 $5 Rxe2+ 25. Kg3 Rc2 26. Kh4 Kg7 (26... Rxc4 27. Kh5 Rc2 28. Kxh6 Rxg2 $11) 27. Nh5+ Kg6 (27... Kf8 28. Nf6) 28. Rd8 Ra8 29. Rhd1 Rxc4 30. Rxa8 Bxa8 31. Rd8 Bxe4 (31... Kh7) 32. g4 Kh7 33. fxe4 e5 34. Nf6+ Kg6 35. Rd6 Ne2 36. Ng8+ Kg7 37. Nxh6 Rxe4 38. Nf5+ Kh7 39. Rh6+ Kg8 40. Rxb6 Nf4 41. Kg5 f6+ 42. Kh6 Re2 43. h4 Kf7 44. b5 Rb2 45. Rb8 Nd5 46. h5 e4 47. Nd6+ Ke7 48. Nxe4 Rb4 49. b6 f5 50. gxf5 Rxe4 51. b7 Nf6 52. Rd8 1-0 [/pgn]

Aronian lapped the field in Pool C, his score of 4½/6 giving him a full point and a half margin of victory over GMs Vidit Gujrathi and Daniil Dubov.
 

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GM Aronian FIDE Grand Prix 2022


GMs Leinier Dominguez and Wesley So shared the top spot in Pool D, forcing the two countrymen into a rapid playoff. After a relatively calm draw, Dominguez’s calm and precise attack gave him the win over So, creating another all-American pairing in the semi-finals.
 

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So-Dominguez FIDE Grand Prix


[pgn][Event "FIDE GP 1 Pool D TB"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.11"] [Round "2"] [White "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2752"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2022.02.11"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O O-O 6. h3 d6 7. c3 a5 8. Re1 Be6 9. Bb5 Ba7 10. Nbd2 Ne7 11. d4 Ng6 12. Ba4 Nh5 13. Nf1 Nhf4 14. Ng3 c6 { Varying from their matchup in group play.} (14... exd4 15. Nxd4 Bxd4 16. cxd4 d5 17. Qf3 Qf6 18. Bd1 Qh4 19. Bd2 c6 20. Rc1 f5 21. exf5 Bxf5 22. Nxf5 Rxf5 23. Qg3 Qxg3 24. fxg3 Nd3 25. Bc2 Rf2 26. Bxd3 Rxd2 27. Bxg6 hxg6 28. Re7 Rxb2 29. Rce1 Rf8 30. Rd7 Rff2 31. Ree7 Rxg2+ 32. Kf1 Kh7 33. h4 Kh6 34. Re5 Rbf2+ 35. Ke1 Rxa2 36. Kf1 Rh2 37. Kg1 Rag2+ 38. Kf1 Rb2 39. Kg1 Rhd2 {0-1 (39) Dominguez Perez,L (2752)-So,W (2772) Berlin GER 2022}) 15. Bc2 Qd7 {Pressuring the kingside pawn shield. White's next move is practically forced.} 16. Nf5 f6 17. Be3 Kh8 $6 (17... d5 $1) 18. dxe5 fxe5 19. Ng5 d5 20. Nxe6 Qxe6 21. Bxa7 Rxa7 22. Qg4 Qf6 23. Rad1 (23. g3 $5 Ne6 24. h4 d4 $5 {is double-edged, although White seems to have the better chances after} 25. Rad1 c5 $2 (25... dxc3 $4 26. Rd6) (25... Raa8 $5 26. Bb3 Nc5 27. h5 Ne7 $16) 26. Bb3 $1 { with the idea of Bb3xe6 and h4-h5}) 23... h5 $2 24. Qf3 Qg5 25. Qg3 Qf6 (25... Qxg3 $2 26. fxg3 Ne6 27. exd5 {and all of White's pieces are alive}) 26. Kh2 Raa8 27. Qf3 Nh4 28. Nxh4 Qxh4 29. exd5 Nxg2 {[#]} 30. Qd3 $1 e4 31. Rxe4 $1 Qxf2 32. Kh1 $1 Nh4 33. Rxh4 g6 34. Rxh5+ 1-0 [/pgn]

Both of the semi-final matches featured a win for White in the first game, followed by fairly careful draws. In the end, it was Aronian and Nakamura who advanced, setting up a tantalizing final and a number of interesting storylines.

Before his move to the United States, Aronian had been struggling a bit, with results that were not up to his usual standards of excellence. Here, however, in one of his first big post-transfer events, his play had been sparking, exhibiting the creativity that has long been a hallmark of his chess. See, for example, his masterful win over GM Vincent Keymer in the preliminaries.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Grand Prix 1 Pool C"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.06"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Keymer, Vincent"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2664"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2022.02.04"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. h3 Nc6 6. Nf3 Nb4 7. Nc3 g6 8. Ne5 a6 9. O-O Bg7 10. Re1 O-O 11. Bg5 Nxd3 12. cxd3 $5 {[%csl Gc4,Ge4] [#]} Qb6 13. Nf3 e6 (13... Qxb2 14. Na4 Qb5 15. Rb1 Qc6 16. Nb6 Ra7 (16... Rb8 17. Bf4)) 14. Na4 Qd6 15. Qd2 a5 16. Rac1 Bd7 17. Nc5 b6 18. Bf4 Qe7 19. Nxd7 $1 Nxd7 (19... Qxd7 20. Rc7 {[%cal Ye1c1]}) 20. Rc7 Rfc8 21. Rec1 Qd8 22. Qc2 Rxc7 23. Qxc7 Qxc7 24. Rxc7 Rd8 25. Rb7 Kf8 26. Bd6+ Ke8 27. Ne5 Bxe5 28. dxe5 Rc8 29. d4 Kd8 30. Ra7 Rc4 31. b3 Rc1+ 32. Kh2 h6 33. Kg3 Rc3+ 34. f3 Rc6 35. h4 Rc8 36. h5 Rc6 37. Kh4 Rc8 38. g4 Ke8 39. f4 Kd8 {[#]} 40. hxg6 fxg6 41. g5 h5 42. f5 (42. f5 exf5 43. e6 Nb8 44. Rh7) 1-0 [/pgn]

For his part, Nakamura showed that the long layoff from the physical board had not done him any harm; in fact, as he wryly noted in a post-finals interview, he has probably played more chess over the last two years than any of the other elite players!

In the first game of the finals, Aronian pressed a bit, but Nakamura always kept things under control. The second classical game was a sedate draw, setting up today’s rapid tiebreak playoff. Nakamura wrung blood from the proverbial stone in the first rapid game, squeezing a win out of an objectively drawish rook and pawn ending.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Grand Prix 1 Playoff"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.17"] [Round "2.3"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2736"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "122"] [EventDate "2022.02.12"] [EventType "k.o."] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d5 {In the style of the Marshall Gambit.} 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. a4 Nd4 12. Nbd2 Nxb3 13. Nxb3 Nb4 ({Aronian has had this position with White against Ding in December, where one game went} 13... f6 14. Na5 Qc8 15. Bd2 c5 16. Qe2 Rd8 17. Qe4 Bc6 18. Nxc6 Qxc6 19. h4 Bf8 20. h5 Ne7 21. Qg4 b4 22. Be3 Rac8 23. Nd2 Nd5 24. Nc4 {1-0 (53) Aronian,L (2782)-Ding,L (2799) Chess.com INT 2021}) 14. Nxe5 Qd5 15. f3 Bd6 16. d4 (16. Ng4 Bg3 17. Re4 Qd6 18. Rd4 Qe7 19. Bd2 c5 20. Bxb4 cxb4 21. Nh6+ gxh6 22. Rg4+ Kh8 23. Rxg3 Qe5 24. Qe1 Qxb2 25. axb5 a5 26. Qe7 Bd5 27. d4 {1-0 (29) Vachier Lagrave,M (2774)-So,W (2767) Chess.com INT 2019}) 16... Rae8 17. axb5 axb5 18. Bd2 Nc6 {The first new move of the game.} (18... Bc8 19. Ng4 h5 20. Rxe8 Rxe8 21. Nf2 Bf5 22. Bxb4 Bxb4 23. c3 Be7 24. Ra5 c6 25. Nd2 Be6 26. Qe2 Qd7 27. Ra1 c5 28. dxc5 {1/2-1/2 (28) Neubauer, R (2150)-Koentges,M (2063) GER email 2014}) 19. Bf4 Kh8 20. Bh2 Nxe5 21. dxe5 Bxe5 22. Bxe5 Rxe5 23. Rxe5 Qxe5 24. Qd4 {Giving back the pawn and drying everything out. Still, White has a tiny bit of initiative, so Hikaru plays on, virtually risk-free.} Qg5 25. Qc5 Qxc5+ 26. Nxc5 Bd5 27. Ra7 c6 28. Nd3 g6 29. Rc7 Ra8 30. Nb4 Kg7 $6 {It's not clear why Aronian gives up the pawn. Maybe he thought his activity was enough to hold the rook and pawn ending, but it would always be a thankless task, especially in rapid play.} (30... Ra1+ 31. Kf2 Rc1 32. Ke3 Kg7 33. Nxd5 (33. Nxc6 $4 Rxc2) 33... cxd5 34. Kd4 Rg1 $11) 31. Nxc6 Bxc6 32. Rxc6 Rd8 33. g4 {Thematic -- prophylaxis against ... h7-h5, but perhaps not best!} ({The computer loves} 33. b4 {with the idea} Rd2 34. c3 Rc2 35. Rc5 (35. h4 h5 36. Kh2) 35... f5 36. Kh2 f4 37. Rc7+ Kh6 38. h4 Rd2 39. Rc5 Rc2 40. Kh3 $18) 33... Rd2 (33... h5 34. b4 $1 {with excellent chances to win.} ) 34. h4 (34. b4 $1) 34... h5 35. gxh5 gxh5 36. b4 Rd4 37. c3 Rxh4 {[#] This should be drawn, but White has the only chances to win with his queenside majority.} 38. Kg2 Rf4 39. Kg3 Rf5 40. f4 h4+ 41. Kxh4 Rxf4+ 42. Kg5 Rf3 43. Kg4 Rd3 ({After} 43... Rf6 {White can force the draw with} 44. Rxf6 Kxf6 45. c4 ({or} 45. Kf4) 45... bxc4 46. Kf4 $1 c3 47. Ke3 Ke5 48. Kd3 f5 49. Kxc3 f4 50. b5 f3 51. b6 f2 52. b7 f1=Q 53. b8=Q+ $11) 44. Rc5 Kf6 45. Kf4 Ke6 46. Ke4 Rd8 $2 {Giving up the b-pawn far too cheaply.} (46... Rh3 $11) 47. Rxb5 Rd1 48. Rb6+ Kd7 49. Rf6 Ke7 50. Rf3 Ke6 51. Rd3 f5+ 52. Kd4 Rb1 53. Re3+ Kf6 54. Re8 f4 55. Rb8 Kf5 56. b5 f3 57. Ke3 $2 Rb3 ({The draw is also held via the similar } 57... Ke5 58. Kxf3 Rb3 $1 59. b6 Rxc3+ 60. Kg4 Rb3 $11) 58. Kd3 Kg4 (58... Ke5 $5) 59. Kc2 f2 $2 ({There's one tactic left to save Black. He had to play} 59... Ra3 60. b6 f2 61. Rf8 Ra8 $1 62. Rf7 Kg3 {and it's a miracle save for Black.}) 60. Rf8 Rxb5 61. Rxf2 Rc5 {With the king cut off so far away from the pawn, this is a trivial win for White.} 1-0 [/pgn]

Faced with a must-win situation, Aronian did his best to complicate matters, but ultimately fell to a neat tactic in the endgame.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Grand Prix 1 Playoff"] [Site "Berlin GER"] [Date "2022.02.17"] [Round "2.4"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2736"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "100"] [EventDate "2022.02.12"] [EventType "k.o."] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. Re1 d6 6. c3 a6 7. d4 Ba7 8. h3 O-O 9. Be3 {Taking the game out of the very limited theory, although of course these are somewhat 'theory-resistant' positions.} h6 10. Bb3 Re8 11. Nbd2 Bd7 12. Qb1 {Seems slightly strange.} Qe7 13. a3 Qf8 {Hikaru repays some dodgy queen moves with two of his own.} (13... exd4 14. Bxd4 (14. cxd4 Nxe4 15. Bxh6 $1 {gets a little sharp but ultimately peters out to an equal position}) (14. Nxd4 Ne5) 14... Ne5 15. Bxa7 Rxa7 {and now White has nothing better than to play} 16. Qd1 {(aimed against a possible ...Nf6-h5)}) 14. Qd3 b5 15. Rac1 Na5 16. Ba2 c5 17. b3 Nc6 18. d5 Ne7 19. c4 Ng6 20. b4 {Aronian goes maximal in a must-win game, but this allows the following simplyfing line.} cxb4 21. axb4 bxc4 22. Bxc4 Bxe3 23. Rxe3 Reb8 24. Qa3 Qd8 25. Bf1 Bb5 26. Qa5 Bxf1 27. Qxd8+ Rxd8 28. Kxf1 Rdb8 29. Rb3 Rb5 ({The engines (and spectators) were clamoring for} 29... a5 $5 30. b5 (30. Rcb1 Rxb4 31. Rxb4 axb4 32. g3 (32. Rxb4 $2 Ra1+ 33. Ke2 Nf4+ $19) 32... Ra4 33. Ne1 $11) 30... a4 31. Rb4 Nd7 {when both sides have passers, while White has space but Black has outposts.}) 30. Ne1 Ne8 31. Nd3 f5 32. f3 fxe4 33. fxe4 Nf4 34. Nxf4 exf4 35. Ke2 Rab8 36. Rcb1 Nf6 37. Kf3 g5 38. Nc4 Ne8 39. h4 Rc8 40. Na5 Nf6 41. hxg5 hxg5 42. Nc6 Re8 43. Nd4 g4+ 44. Kxf4 Rxe4+ 45. Kf5 Rxd4 46. Kxf6 Rdxd5 47. Rf1 Rh5 48. Rf4 $4 {[#] A tough way to lose, but kudos to Nakamura for a deserved match and tournament victory!} Rh6+ 49. Ke7 Rb7+ 50. Kd8 Rh8 0-1 [/pgn]

With this victory Nakamura is in the driver’s seat for one of the two spots in the 2022 Candidates that are up for grabs in this Grand Prix series. Each of the 24 players in the Grand Prix play in two of the Legs, accumulating points according to their finish. The well-known “Chess by the Numbers” Twitter account crunched the numbers before today’s playoff, giving both Aronian and Nakamura excellent chances of advancing.
 

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But it’s not clear that the extensive preparation and time commitment required for the Candidates are what Nakamura is looking for at this point in his career — after all, he has a “real job!”
 


Would he really give up a seat in the Candidates so that Ding Liren (who had to withdraw from the Grand Prix due to travel restrictions) could take his shot at the title? Only time will tell.

Leg 2 of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix kicks off in Belgrade on Feb. 28, with American GM Sam Shankland taking his place among the competitors. CLO will cover the event.

Berlin Grand Prix Crosstables

 

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Group A Cross Table

 

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FIDE Grand Prix Cross Table B

 

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FIDE Grand Prix Cross Table C

 

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FIDE Grand Prix Cross Table D

 

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FIDE Grand Prix Playoff

 

 

 

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