Nakamura Runs Over Aronian In Quarterfinals

Nakamura Runs Over Aronian In Quarterfinals

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The 2022 Speed Chess Championship continued on Monday with an electric quarterfinal performance from GM Hikaru Nakamura as he overcame GM Levon Aronian with a 15.5-8.5 score.

Nakamura gained a two-point lead early, which he never let go, and was dominant in time scrambles throughout the match. The defending champion will progress to play against GM Nihal Sarin in the semifinals and is still on track for a potential showdown with world champion GM Magnus Carlsen in the final on Friday. 

The eagerly anticipated quarterfinal between Carlsen and 2018 challenger GM Fabiano Caruana will take on December 13 at 10 a.m. PT / 19:00 CET.


Blitz 5|1: Nakamura-Aronian 5.5-2.5

After discombobulating GM David Paravyan in their round of 16 match with a variety of unorthodox openings, Nakamura returned to his usual online repertoire and played the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack in game one. The position transposed into the Bird’s Opening on move 11 and then Aronian went into the think tank for over a minute and a half.

Nakamura was predicted to be the heavy favorite based on his ability to deal with time pressure.

In what would become a key theme of the match, the Armenian-born GM found himself low on time and very much in his opponent’s comfort zone, eventually flagging in a slightly worse position.

Another win would follow for Nakamura in a position that you could likely pull straight from IM Mark Dvoretsky‘s “Endgame Manual.” The streamer was able to perfectly utilize his rook, d-pawn, and g-pawn against Aronian’s rook to secure the result on the 73rd move.

Feeling confident with his 2-0 lead, the defending champion moved off the beaten path once again and played the Polish Opening, which he had been testing out on Twitch last week (this author was one of the victims of this opening). Aronian showed his class though and found a way to win his first game of the match.

A draw in the fourth game was the calm before the storm and, soon after, several decisive results opened up the match to close out the segment. Nakamura’s second loss was largely due to his failed experiment playing the Frankenstein-Dracula Variation against White’s Vienna Game, which is considered dubious at higher levels. However, Nakamura was well practiced, having also played a viewer arena featuring the opening in 2021.

An astonishing victory for the blitz legend occurred in game seven where he was able to outplay Aronian using the bishop pair while down an exchange. The game, which was the catalyst for a healthy three-point lead heading into the 3+1, was our deserving Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

The final game of the segment was a firm reminder of why Nakamura has dominated the blitz and bullet leaderboards for so many years, bamboozling his opponent from a completely lost position and flagging him once more.

Blitz 3|1: Nakamura-Aronian 5.5-3.5

Brilliant tactics weren’t enough to snap Nakamura’s momentum in the 3+1 games, and although Aronian built several promising positions, he continued to fall just short of converting.

By the start of the 12th game, Aronian faced a five-point deficit and needed to turn things around quickly. An aggressive variation of the London System was his weapon of choice. Luck finally spun his way as a topsy-turvy middlegame ended in favor of the world number-17 with a rare Nakamura oversight giving him a small window of opportunity to work his way back into the match.

The resurgence was short-lived though and Nakamura tightened the screws in the 13th and 14th games. The latter of these would become the shortest game of the match, a 20-move miniature where the Chess960 world champion trapped Aronian’s bishop out of the Vienna Game: Reversed Spanish Variation.

The trailing super-GM never lost his composure and won a fine game in the 15th but couldn’t dint the seemingly insurmountable five-point gap that had opened up during the 3+1 games. Now one of the most decorated online match players in chess history, Nakamura knew exactly how to close out the match and began playing solidly and drawing out each game as long as possible. 

Bullet 1|1: Nakamura-Aronian 4.5-2.5

Nakamura’s vice-like grip on the match carried over into the 1+1 games where a record for the least bullet games in an SCC match was easily broken. Despite only seven games being played, more bullet was played on Monday than in either blitz section.

Four draws that collectively totaled exactly 300 moves were responsible for this and the games drained the match clock as it became clear that Aronian would not have enough time to rebound.

No super-GM is more experienced at closing out an online match than Nakamura. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess India.

In what Nakamura would describe in his interview as a “sloppy” finish to the match, he still managed to dominate every time scramble that arose, sometimes even swindling Aronian from equal and worse positions.

Even the single game that his opponent won in the 1+1 section was considered a win for the defending champion as he managed to stretch out the game to the six-minute mark after forcing play for 140 moves!

As the dust settled what remained was a breathtaking scoreline over one of the world’s chess players, a statement piece indicating Nakamura’s title defense capabilities. He cooly underplayed his performance in the post-match interview and remarked that playing Nihal in the semifinal “should be a fun match.”

For his victory on Monday, Nakamura collected $4,920 while Aronian received $3,560 in consolation.

All Games – Quarterfinals

Speed Chess Championship 2022 Bracket

The 2022 Speed Chess Championships Main Event started on November 23 and will conclude on December 16. Top speed-chess players are competing at three different time controls in a 16-player knockout as they vie for a share of the $100,000 prize fund along with the most prestigious title in online chess.

The likes of GMs Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Ding Liren, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and many more battle it out to determine the 2022 speed chess champion.


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