Chess: Nakamura swaps barbs with Carlsen after 27-game unbeaten run

Hikaru Nakamura, the five-time US champion, has a flourishing online presence with more than a million followers to his Twitch stream, where he demonstrates his high-level skills while passing on expressively phrased nuggets of wisdom.

At age 33, Nakamura’s hopes for the classical world title are remote, and he now rarely plays one game a day tournaments. His supremacy is geared to speed games, where he and the world No 1, Magnus Carlsen, have stratospheric ratings around the 2900 mark.

Nakamura is a deadly performer at time rates ranging from 25-minute rapid right down to online ultrabullet, where each player has 15 seconds for the entire game. Last weekend at the St Louis Grand Tour he was unbeaten in 27 games of rapid and blitz, and was sure of the $37,500 first prize with three rounds to spare.

His magic ingredient is his exceptionally quick reactions to rapidly changing situations on the board, plus the dexterity, control and instant hand-brain coordination needed to make long sequences of correct moves with just two or three seconds increment on the clock.

At the end Carlsen sent a barbed congratulatory tweet to the “World No 2 rapid and blitz player”, a reference to how the Norwegian’s rival had started St Louis as No 1 in the blitz rankings, but had slipped back due to his draws. Nakamura missed a late chance in the final round to regain top spot, then referred to Carlsen’s comment as “some ridiculous tweet”.

One day later Nakamura produced an impressive reply to the taunt by becoming the first player ever to win Chess.com’s highly competitive Titled Tuesday, in which more than 500 master players compete every week, with an 11/11 maximum.

There is a long standing needle between the pair, dating back to a decade ago when Nakamura referred to Carlsen as “Sauron”. In Moscow 2010 at the conclusion of the World Blitz, they got together and played a late night informal 40-game match well into the small hours, as recounted by Macauley Peterson for Chess Life magazine.

Could they now agree on a return one-to-one series, this time in public and with Carlsen’s world blitz title at stake? As a highly watchable event, it would be sure to attract a huge audience of online viewers and would be a natural for major sponsors.

The last official Fide world blitz championship was at Moscow in 2019, when Carlsen won and Nakamura was runner-up, confirming their superiority shown by the rankings. So far no renewal of the championship tournament has been announced for 2021, and in its absence a match between the two would be a very credible substitute.

The $325,000 Sinquefield Cup at St Louis is the most important event in US chess. Its 2014 renewal featured a historic achievement when Fabiano Caruana won his first seven games and drew the rest for a 3103 performance rating. It was the highest ever in a single tournament, eclipsing Carlsen’s 3002 at Pearl Spring 2009 and Anatoly Karpov’s 2978 at Linares 1994, and comparable to Bobby Fischer’s 20-game winning run in 1970-71, made before performance ratings were officially calculated.

Caruana, the current world No 2 and a St Louis resident, is again the Sinquefield Cup favourite, helped by the absence of major rivals Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk who were unable to reach the US due to travel and/or visa problems. In Tuesday’s opening round Caruana gave notice of his intentions by defeating Sam Shankland, the 2018 US champion, in a classic attacking game complete with the queen sacrifice 28 Ng4!

However, it was another game from round one which should be of most interest to players who like to be up to date with the latest opening ideas. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler are both specialists in the Grunfeld 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5, so their game began 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 and now 3 h4!? the trendy advance of Harry the h-pawn which has been gaining popularity in recent events.

Svidler replied 3…Bg7 4 Nc3 0-0 (d6 5 e4 Nc6!? was Carlsen’s choice in his World Cup brilliancy against Vladimir Fedoseev) 5 e4 d6 6 Be2 c5 7 d5 and now Svidler chose the Benko Gambit style 7…b5?! which is a logical counter to White’s early attack on the other flank. Vachier-Lagrave eventually won in style with the key move 25 b4! but only after Black missed chances. The Sinquefield Cup is viewable daily until 26 August (rest day Sunday 22 August) , live and free with grandmaster commentary, at kasparovchess.com (9pm start).

After three rounds (of nine) of the Sinquefield Cup, Caruana and Wesley So (both US) and Vachier-Lagrave (France) lead on 2.5 points.

Over-the-board chess in England is reviving well from the pandemic, despite venue problems and arguments over wearing masks during play. The 10-12 September 4NCL congress at Leamington Spa, where entries have already topped 100, offers a half-point bye option to mask wearers who are paired against unmasked opponents.

Next week’s Northumbria Masters at the Marriott Metrocentre in Gateshead expects a full house of nearly 200 players headed by GMs and IMs, while the Wood Green Invitational at Stafford which started on Thursday evening also gives young talents the chance to qualify for international titles.

Online chess remains the preferred choice for many. English Chess Federation membership opens the door for internet players of all standards from strong to weak to take part in individual and team national, and even international, contests.

3777 1…Rg1+! 2 Kxg1 Ne2+ 3 Kf1 Ng3+ and 4….Nxf5 wins.