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SANDS: Nakamura soars in all-GM play in Wijk

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In one of the most impressive performances by an American player in decades, GM Hikaru Nakamura on Sunday won the 73rd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee premiere section over an all-grandmaster field that included world champion Viswanathan Anand, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

"YESSSSSS!" was Nakamura's succinct tweeted summary of his result after drawing with China's GM Wang Hao in the 13th and final round to finish at 9-4, a half-point ahead of Anand and a full point clear of Carlsen and Armenian star Levon Aronian. Nakamura's 2879-rated performance (marred only by a loss to Carlsen) cements his position among the world's elite and puts the 23-year-old St. Louis resident squarely in the mix for potential challengers for the world title.

Czech GM David Navara and English GM Luke McShane shared the honors in the B section, while young Italian GM Daniele Vocaturo overcame three losses to capture the C section by a half-point over 15-year-old rising Ukrainian star Ilya Nyzhnyk.

Critical to Nakamura's triumph in Wijk was his Round 10 win over French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, a bounce-back win after the American's loss to Carlsen and a shaky draw with Anand. In a heavily trafficked Grunfeld Exchange line, Nakamura as White takes a rarely traveled side street with 13. Bg5!? Qd7 14. Bh6 Bb7 15. Bxg7, using three bishop moves to eliminate Black's fianchettoed bishop.

The French GM quickly loses his way, as his intended 18...Qxd5? 19. fxg6 Rd7 runs into 20. Qe3! Qxd3 21. Qxe5+ Kg8 22. Qe6+ Kh8 23. Rad1 Qxd1 24. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 25. Kf2 hxg6 26. Nf4, with an overwhelming attack. But his rash 18...c4?! (if nothing else, this dooms the Black knight on a5 to irrelevance for the rest of the proceedings) 19. Bc2 gxf5 20. Rad1, all but forces the ugly 20...f4 just to keep the White knight out of g3.

Analyzing the game later, Nakamura said he considered White already positionally won, and the subsequent play bears him out. White's forces quickly take up dominating positions, and the payoff is not long in coming: 24. Rg1+ Kf8 25. Be4 Bc8 26 Nd4 Qf6?! (anticipating 27. Qg2, but Nakamura thought 26...Ree7 might have held out longer) 27. Ne6+!, when 27...Ke7 loses to 28. Nc7 Rd8 29. d6+ Rxd6 30. Nd5+.

Black's game collapses anyway on 27...Bxe6 28. dxe6 Qxe6 29. Bd5 Qh3 30. Bxf7 Qxf3+ 31. Rg2 Kxf7 32. Qd7+ Kf6 (Re7 33. Qf5+ Ke8 34. Qc8+ Kf7 35. Qg8+ Kf6 36. Qf8+ Rf7 37. Qd6+ Kf5 38. Rd5+ Ke4 39. Qe5 mate) 33. Qg7+, and Black resigns as 33...Ke6 (Kf5 34. Qf7+ Ke5 35. Qxe8+) 34. Re1+ Kd5 35. Rxe8 Qf1+ 36. Rg1 Qf3+ 37. Qg2 stops the checks and wins easily.

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Another choice illustration of the importance of the fianchettoed bishop comes courtesy of a major upset scored last week at the strong Gibraltar Masters open tournament.

Former women's world champ Antoaneta Stefanova was rocked on Gibraltar by unheralded Spanish master Francisco Garcia Jimenez, with the defender's missing long-diagonal bishop again critical to the final assault.

Black is the early aggressor in this Closed Sicilian, building up pressure on the queen-side and forcing White's knights into a defensive crouch. But 13. h3 h6 illustrates a nagging problem for Stefanova - she'd like to castle king-side but constantly must be wary of White's bishop-queen battery on the c1-h6 diagonal.

Having survived Black's first wave, White switches to the attack, and tactical melee quickly ensues: 17...0-0 18. f5!? (wasting no time opening lines to the Black king) exf5 19. Bxh6 c4+ 20. d4 bxc3 21. bxc3 Bxh6 (the fianchettoed bishop makes an untimely exit, as the White queen takes up a most menacing post) 22. Qxh6 Nxd4?!, the move Black clearly had been counting on.

Stefanova's combination picks up a rook but ends up costing her her king: 23. cxd4 Qxd4+ 24. Ne3 Qxa1? (losing, but 24...f4?! also appears to fall short to 26. Nd5!! Qxe1+ 27. Bf1 Qxg3+ 28. Kh1) 25. Nd5! (already with the threat of 26. Ne7 mate) Qe5 (see diagram; also insufficient was 25...f6 26. Ne7+ Kf7 27. exf5 Qd4+ 28. Kh2 Ke8 29. Nxc8+ Kd7 30. Re7+ Kxc8 31. Qxf8 mate) 26. exf5!!, offering a second rook - with check - to secure a crushing attack.

The finale: 26...Qxe1+ 27. Kh2 f6 (Qe5 28. f6! leads to mate) 28. Qxg6+ Kh8 29. Nxf6 Rxf6 30. Qxf6+ Kh7 31. Qg6+ Kh8 32. Qh6+, and Black gave up as 32...Kg8 33. Bd5+ cleans house.

73rd Tata Chess Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2011

White: Nakamura
Black: Vachier-Lagrave

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 c5 8. Ne2 Nc6 9. Be3 O-O 10. O-O Na5 11. Bd3 b6 12. Qd2 e5 13. Bg5 Qd7 14. Bh6 Bb7 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. d5 f5 17. f3 Rf7 18. exf5 c4 19. Bc2 gxf5 20. Rad1 f4 21. g3 Qd6 22. gxf4 exf4 23. Kh1 Re8 24. Rg1+ Kf8 25. Be4 Bc8 26. Nd4 Qf6 27. Ne6+ Bxe6 28. dxe6 Qxe6 29. Bd5 Qh3 30. Bxf7 Qxf3+ 31. Rg2 Kxf7 32. Qd7+ Kf6 33. Qg7+ 1-0

Gibraltar Masters, Gibraltar, January 2011

White: Garcia Jimenez
Black: Stefanova

1. e4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. d3 Rb8 6. Be3 d6 7. Qd2 b5 8.
Nge2 b4 9. Nd1 Qb6 10. O-O e6 11. a3 a5 12. axb4 axb4 13. h3 h6 14. c3 Nge7
15. Re1 Na5 16. Nc1 Nec6 17. f4 O-O 18. f5 exf5 19. Bxh6 c4+ 20. d4 bxc3
21. bxc3 Bxh6 22. Qxh6 Nxd4 23. cxd4 Qxd4+ 24. Ne3 Qxa1 25. Nd5 Qe5 26.
exf5 Qxe1+ 27. Kh2 f6 28. Qxg6+ Kh8 29. Nxf6 Rxf6 30. Qxf6+ Kh7 31. Qg6+
Kh8 32. Qh6+ 1-0

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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