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On Chess: Second place finish for Nakamura in London

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 14, 2011 - St. Louis resident Hikaru Nakamura captured second place in the recently finished London Chess Classic. This stellar result catapults Hikaru back in the top 10 after his less-than stellar performance in the Tal Memorial in Moscow, where he finished in last place. Another player, Vladimir Kramnik, had a similar turnaround. Kramnik finished next to last in Moscow, but he came back to win the London Classic.

The tournament in London had a fantastic format, and it featured a little twist in scoring as well. Typically, a win is worth one point, and a draw is worth a half point. For years, however, many spectators (and organizers) have been complaining about all the draws at the top level.

Since chess is a draw with perfect play, and since the world's best play pretty close to perfect in many games, some people would rather see "bad play" so that there are more decisive results. Many organizers, including the organizers of the London Classic, have switched to the soccer scoring system in top-level events, whereupon a win is worth three points and a draw is worth one point. This ensures a lot of fighting chess, as a win and a loss equals three points and two draws equals only two points. Another idea, also used in London, is to not allow draw offers. These ideas worked well, as there were many decisive results in London, especially compared to the draw-fest we saw in Moscow.

Another important reason we saw so much fighting chess in London was the composition of the tournament field. In Moscow, and in most super-grandmaster tournaments, the organizers invite the best of the best. In London, the organizers invited the four best players in the world, the four best British players and Nakamura. This meant that most of the world's best would press a little harder for a win against the British players, who are not quite in the top echelon.

Hikaru played uncompromising chess and, as a result, was the only player to win even one game against the world's top four. In fact, he won two, beating World Champion Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian. Kramnik, on the other hand, punished the four Brits, winning all four games against his English hosts. World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen was undefeated, but he gave up too many draws to fight for first place, as he had three wins and five draws for a solid finish.

Nakamura will try to leap into the top five at the end of the year in the annual Reggio Emilia tournament in Italy. He will be one of the favorites for sure and hopefully will finish the year with a win in this super-strong event.

Final Standings - London Chess Classic:

  1. Vladimir Kramnik
  2. Hikaru Nakamura
  3. Magnus Carlsen
  4. Luke McShane
  5. Viswanathan Anand
  6. Levon Aronian
  7. Nigel Short
  8. David Howell
  9. Michael Adams{jcomments on}

Ben Finegold is the GM in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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