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On Chess: American Hikaru Nakamura wins Grand Chess Tour against top players in the world

Hikaru Nakamura smiles after winning the Grand Chess Tour in London on December 17, 2018.
Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour
Hikaru Nakamura smiles after winning the Grand Chess Tour in London on Dec. 17, 2018.

Hikaru Nakamura won the 2018 Grand Chess Tour after defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a nail-biting finale on Dec. 17.

The American collected $120,000 for his efforts, bringing his overall winnings for the tour to $225,000. With the last-round victory, his live blitz rating crossed the 2,900 mark.

The new tournament format offered a mixture of classical, rapid and blitz chess, assigning a higher value to wins in longer time controls. 

Unstoppable

Once again, there were no decisive results in the classical chess, reminiscent of the Magnus Carlsen-Fabiano Caruana match played in London in late November. The faster time controls, however, produced all the excitement and the eventual winner.

Nakamura faced his countryman Caruana in the semi-finals of the Grand Chess Tour. After drawing their classical games, Nakamura was unstoppable in the rapid and the blitz. He scored four wins, one loss and one draw, thus qualifying for the finals. Frenchman Vachier-Lagrave earned his spot in the finals with the same result over Levon Aronian of Armenia.

Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave met in the finals with $120,000 and the title of the winner of the tour on the line. The No. 1 French player was well-prepared for the classical games and was able to obtain an edge in both games. In fact, Nakamura had to find a brilliant defensive resource in the second classical game to hold a draw, which was highly praised by the commentators.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura at the Super GM event in Norway in June, 2017. Nakamura got second place in the event.
Lennart Ootes | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

The tables turned on the final day, when Vachier-Lagrave had to be on the defensive side. After five consecutive draws, Nakamura delivered a beautiful tactical blow to clinch the title and avoid entering the Armageddon playoffs. Vachier-Lagrave earned $80,000 for his efforts and a qualification spot to the 2019 Grand Chess Tour.

Caruana faces Aronian

The battle for third place between Caruana and Aronian was also heated. The Armenian grandmaster made a quick draw in the second classical game, explaining that his higher rating in rapid and blitz made him the clear favorite.

This tactic of luring Caruana into shorter time controls where he seems less comfortable worked out quite well for both Carlsen in the World Championship match and Nakamura in the semi-finals. However, the plan backfired for Aronian.

Caruana took the early lead by winning the first rapid game and then finished his opponent off by winning the last two blitz games after losing the first two. The win earned him $60,000 and the final qualification spot to next year’s tour. Aronian collected $40,000 and expressed disappointment in his chess performance in 2018.

New year, new events

On the final day, the expansion of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour was announced. The tour will include another classical event in Croatia, along with two more rapid and blitz events in India and Cote d’Ivoire, which will replace the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz.

The addition of faster time control events on the chess calendar will surely attract more fans to the game and open avenues for new faces to join the tour.

Tatev Abrahamyan is an Armenian-born American chess player holding the title of woman grandmaster.

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