Nakamura completes comeback to win Chessable Masters

Nakamura completes comeback to win Chessable Masters


Hikaru Nakamura has won the 2023 Chessable Masters after beating Fabiano Caruana in two matches on a wild final day that saw six black wins in seven games. Nakamura prevailed in Armageddon to take the title, $30,000, and a place in the Champions Chess Tour Playoffs in December. Meanwhile 18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to win Division II and book a Division I spot for the next Tour event.

Just two days after Hikaru Nakamura blundered mate-in-1 to lose the Chessable Masters Winners bracket final to Fabiano Caruana, the two players faced off again in the Grand Final. Fabiano still had his two lives intact, so that if Hikaru was going to win the tournament he’d need to do it the hard way, winning not one but two matches. You can’t say he didn’t come prepared!

The 4-game Grand Final set the tone for the day, with three black wins and no draws.

“The match started off terribly — this first game I should have lost”, said Hikaru, who by move 20 simply found himself a full pawn down. In hindsight there were a lot of things Fabiano could have done differently, such as eliminating one of his opponent’s tricky knights.

Caruana was still completely winning by move 43, but in the end Hikaru somehow found a way to win, finishing off with a knight fork.

That was a heavy blow for Fabiano, but he hit straight back in a wild second game where 18…Nd4!? may not even have been the best move in the position, but was a dramatic shot that ultimately led to complete dominance.

Game 3 was more of the same, with Fabiano by the end three pawns down but within touching distance of safety. 52.Be5! and there was only a draw, but 52.Qe8? allowed Hikaru to regain the lead.

52…Qb2+! 53.Kg1 Qd4+! 54.Be3 Qg7+! and, needing to give up material even to delay checkmate, Caruana resigned.

What would Hikaru do now, needing a draw to clinch the Grand Final? He played the Smith-Morra Gambit with 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3!?

Fabiano could only smile, with Hikaru later giving an unusual explanation for his decision.

I came up with the idea to play it against Magnus. I was hoping to get a 1 or 2-million-view video with a great title, “I beat the World Champion with the Smith-Morro Gambit,” but Magnus didn’t do it, so I ended up using it today. I’m very pleased, because I won the first game, I had a much better position — I’m not 3500 so I can’t prove the advantage — in the 2nd game, but I’m very pleased that I showed you can play gambits, you don’t have to play proper chess and you can still have a great time and win games.

On paper the gambit was just what Fabiano needed to get winning chances, but his attack never really got going and Hikaru went on to score the only white win of the day to win the Grand Final.

That first match loss for Caruana in the main events of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour meant we got a 2-game Grand Final Reset, since the principle of double elimination is that everyone can lose one match but still win the tournament.

Normal service resumed with Black dominant as Nakamura took the lead for the first time on the final day. He correctly judged that he could grab a pawn, since Caruana’s attack was going nowhere.

Once again, however, there was nothing smooth about what followed, with Hikaru briefly losing his way.

Here Fabiano trusted his opponent that you can’t allow Qf3+ and played 52.Bd1?, but in fact after 52.Bxd7 Qf3+ 53.Kh2! Black has nothing better than forcing a draw. In the game, however, Hikaru made no more mistakes and went on to wrap up victory.

Once again Hikaru only needed a draw to clinch a match, and once again he played the Smith-Morro, but this time things didn’t go to plan. 17.Qxb7?, opening a path to the white king, was not the way.

Why had Hikaru played it?

The simple answer? I’m not Stockfish! I confused a move order.

Fabiano got to finish in real style, with the queen sacrifice 27…Qa3+!

28.Kxa3 Nd3+! and White has a choice of how to get mated in three moves. Hikaru instead played 28.Ka1, but after 28…Bxd1 he’d seen enough and simply resigned.

That meant, perhaps fittingly, that the 2023 Chessable Masters would come down to a single Armageddon game. Nakamura undercut Caruana’s bid by 52 seconds to get Black and draw odds.

Hikaru felt getting Black, and “who’s best at game theory and guessing what is the lowest time you need”, was the decisive factor, since “it seems like Black won every single Armageddon”.

That wasn’t quite true, since Vladislav Artemiev (vs. Carlsen!) and Fabiano Caruana (vs. Le) had both won with White on the first day of Division I, though Black did win the remaining six Armageddons.

For Hikaru personally it was 3/3, but although he built up a big edge early on he encountered serious turbulence. Not for the first time in the Chessable Masters, Fabiano managed to trick his opponent and create counterchances, though it seems here it was even stronger to capture with the other knight.

The final turning point came on move 38.

38.e5! would have kept real winning chances, with 38…Rxe5 met by 39.Rxe5 Qxe5 and 40.f4, or 40.Qg6+ and only then pushing the f-pawn.

Hikaru would still have had chances to hold, but in the game after 38.Rd2!? Ngf7! Black had everything under control and Hikaru went on to win.

That victory meant that Hikaru Nakamura became the 4th winner of the Chessable Masters title after Magnus Carlsen (2020), Wesley So (2021) and Ding Liren (2022).

Hikaru picked up $30,000 and, after also finishing runner-up to Magnus in the Airthings Masters, took over as the leader in terms of points and prize money.

More importantly, Hikaru joined Magnus in securing a spot in the 8-player Champions Chess Tour Playoffs that will take place in December. That will decide the 4-player Finals, where the winner will pick up an additional $200,000.

The remaining action on the final day of the Chessable Masters was in Division II, where 18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2.5:1.5 to clinch victory, $10,000 and a spot alongside Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen in Division I of the next tour event.

Nodirbek was simply unstoppable, defeating Anish GiriArjun ErigaisiDenis Lazavik and then Maxime Vachier-Lagrave… twice. The first time was a 3:0 whitewash, so that Maxime must have had a sinking feeling when he lost the first game of the Grand Final as well. 

Maxime did manage to hit back after that, however, winning Game 2 with the crunching final move 36.Qxe8+!

36…Kxe8 would be met by 37.Nf2+, picking up the black queen.

That was only a brief respite, however, since Nodirbek outplayed Maxime in an endgame in Game 3 and then held a draw without difficulty in the final game to clinch the match. On this form the 2021 World Rapid Champion will fit right in to Division I in May.

Replay all the Chessable Masters games here on chess24:

All eyes now, however, turn to Astana, where Ian Nepomniachtchi starts the World Chess Championship match with the white pieces on Sunday against Ding Liren! Tune in to all the action here on chess24 from 15:00 local time (5am ET, 11:00 CEST, 2:30pm IST)

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