Article by FM Mike Klein
The battle all chess fans waited to see at the 2012 U.S. Championship did not disappoint. GM Hikaru Nakamura beat GM Gata Kamsky for the first time ever in classical chess to take over the lead by one-half point with one game to go. Nakamura has 7.5 points to Kamsky’s seven.
Playing Black in round ten, Nakamura chose the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense because he wanted a volatile position. During their last encounter, at the Tata Steel Tournament in January, Nakamura’s Dragon Variation did not produce any winning chances. Today, he needed more from the opening.
Kamsky uncharacteristically labored in the opening, spending more time than his opponent for one of the first times in the event. He spent 30 minutes after 11…Na5. Lacking his usual confidence, he was down 45 minutes on the clock a few moves later.
Later, Nakamura won a pawn, but refused to go for more. In the post-game press conference, Nakamura said that he was not sure of the complications arising from 25…Nxc3 26. bxc3 Qxc3 27. Ng4 Qxa5 28. Nxh6+ gxh6 29. Qg4+ Kh8. While it seems Black is simply up an armada of pawns, white can chase the black queen around the board until she gives herself away for two rooks.
Nakamura said he thought it was still technically winning, but he was worried about his king’s safety. The alternative plan from the actual game left Nakamura up the exchange, but with a different set of difficulties ahead.
“Optically the knights are very strong, but at the same time, they don’t have very many squares,” Nakamura said. He wanted to avoid an endgame where one of Kamsky’s knights would sacrifice for his lone queenside pawn, as an ending with pawns on only one side can often reduce winning chances.
The defending champion’s lack of time came back to hurt him on the 40th and final move of time control. According to Nakamura, 40. Kh4 is an unrecoverable mistake. The forcing sequence beginning with the pinning of one knight and the sacrifice for another led to Kamsky searching fruitlessly for counterplay against the inexorable march of his opponent’s a-pawn.
While Kamsky attempted to conjure an attack with his limited material, Nakamura did not need any moves to rebuff the plan, and simply marched onward with his pawn.
“A lot of moves Gata played in this game surprised me,” Nakamura said, adding the opinion that neither he nor Kamsky is playing his best at the championship.
Nakamura thought that he was due for some good fortune, as he had better positions in several of the games that he drew.
Tomorrow, Nakamura assured everyone that he was out to win, as he gets white versus GM Yasser Seirawan. If he is able to do so, he will clinch the title, his first since 2009.
Kamsky meanwhile needs some help to win his third consecutive championship. He will likely need to win as black against GM Robert Hess, then get some help from Seirawan. Should there be a tie at the end of the 11th round, the playoff will be Sunday at noon Central time.
Tomorrow’s final day for the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship will begin at 1 p.m. Central, 2 p.m. Eastern. Tune in to www.uschesschamps.com for live commentary from GM Ben Finegold and WGM Jennifer Shahade.