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On Chess: Nakamura crushing competition

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 4, 2012 - St. Louis' own Hikaru Nakamura is crushing the competition at the Super-Grandmaster tournament being held in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Hikaru has been playing often of late and has more than made up for his bad performance in Moscow at the Tal Memorial (last place) with back-to-back fantastic results!

Last month, Hikaru was able to clinch clear second at the London Chess Classic, ahead of world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen. Hikaru is doing even better in Reggio after starting out with a scintillating score of five points out of six games against the world's best. After a draw against Fabiano Caruano of Italy in round seven, Hikaru had a slight misstep in round eight as he lost to Alexander Morozovich, the player just behind him in the standings.

With just two rounds to go, Hikaru's lead has narrowed to just one point. The tournament in Reggio Emilia features the new scoring system where a win is worth three points (rather than one) and a draw is worth one point (rather than point).

The tournament is a double round robin, whereupon each player plays all the other participants twice, once with each color. This method is considered the fairest, as having the white pieces is considered a distinct advantage at the top level. If he can finish strong in the final two rounds, Hikaru will likely have his highest rating ever after this event.

He has won many games this tournament by complicating matters, then watching his opponents crumble under the pressure. Many followers of Hikaru wonder why he did so badly in Moscow just two months ago, and now is crushing everyone in his sights. I was with Hikaru in Moscow, and I felt his play was too passive and solid, very un-Hikaru-like. Hikaru prefers wild tactical positions that have little chance for a draw, so he can use his calculating skills to beat his confounded opponents.

With this strong performance, Hikaru most likely will be in the world top five on the FIDE (World Chess Federation) live rating list. The tournament will finish by the end of the week, and then Hikaru gets a bit of a rest before his next event.

In just two weeks, Hikaru will go to Wijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, and compete in another Super tournament, the Tata Steel Championship, where most of the world's top players will be participating, Hikaru won that event in 2011 (breaking into the world's top 10 as a result), and would obviously like to repeat as champion, and break into the top four with an exalted 2800 rating.

Ben Finegold is the GM in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.