Rapid Chess Championship Week 5: Nakamura Bests Aronian

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GM Hikaru Nakamura seized first place in the fifth week of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship presented by Coinbase, holding his nerve after a series of close matches against a number of the world’s best players.

Nakamura finished second in the Swiss to qualify for the knockout and fought the winner of the Swiss tournament, GM Levon Aronian, in the final after dispatching GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the semifinal and quarterfinal respectively. 

Joining these players in the knockout tournament were an illustrious group of players, including GM Wesley So, GM Daniil Dubov, GM Anton Demchenko, and GM Gata Kamsky who all played ambitious chess in this week’s edition.

Participating in the event were 37 elite players on the FIDE top 100 list, top 10 women, and top 10 juniors in the world, alongside 10 wildcards. The event will continue next weekend, March 19-20, starting at 9 a.m. Pacific / 17:00 Central European.


The Rapid Chess Championship is a weekly tournament held by Chess.com. It is a nine-round Swiss event with a 10+0 time control held every Saturday, followed by a knockout event on Sunday between the top eight finishers and a 10+2 time control. If players draw, they play another 3+2 game; if drawn, they play a 1+1 game; and if that is drawn, a single armageddon game is played.


Swiss

Aronian looked to be at his brilliant best for the second week running, taking first place on 7/9 with a half-point margin ahead of his compatriot, Nakamura. 

Winning with the Black pieces against the likes of Vachier-Lagrave on a good day is no mean feat; however, Aronian seemed to want to prove that his recent form, as well as class, is permanent. 

Second-place Nakamura’s score was in part due to some resolute defense demonstrated against GM Arjun Erigaisi, where he made the astute observation that Erigaisi’s probing rook had ventured too far into Black’s camp.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, the reigning women’s world rapid champion and Chess.com’s director of Russian content, participated once again in this week’s event, and although she struggled to make headway against super-GM opponents, she managed to score a fine win over GM Vladislav Kovalev.

All players have been consistently bringing their best to each week’s Swiss event and the concentration levels are peaking. The players, who customarily joined a Zoom call during the tournament, were shown throughout the course of the first day.

Saturday Swiss | Final Standings (Top 20) 
























Number Rk Fed Title Username Name Rating Score SB
1 5 GM LevonAronian Levon Aronian 2850 7 31.25
2 2 GM Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura 2883 6.5 30
3 21 GM Parhamov Parham Maghsoodloo 2667 6 30
4 1 GM FabianoCaruana Fabiano Caruana 2887 6 29.75
5 8 GM GMWSO Wesley So 2725 6 28.5
6 7

GM Duhless Daniil Dubov 2745 6 27.75
7 9 GM mishanick Alexey Sarana 2693 6 26.5
8 37 GM TigrVShlyape Gata Kamsky 2382 6 22.25
9 3 GM LyonBeast Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2775 5.5 25.25
10 25 GM Anton_Demchenko Anton Demchenko 2612 5.5 23.25
11 30 GM Msb2 Matthias Bluebaum 2575 5.5 21.5
12 14 GM jefferyx Jeffery Xiong 2658 5 23.75
13 4

GM lachesisQ Ian Nepomniachtchi 2762 5 19.5
14 23 GM Indianlad S.L. Narayanan 2635 5 18.75
15 29 GM amintabatabaei Amin Tabatabaei 2579 5 17
16 12 GM BillieKimbah Maxim Matlakov 2664 4.5 23.75
17 6

GM dropstoneDP David Paravyan 2750 4.5 21
18 32 GM GMBenjaminBok Benjamin Bok 2510 4.5 17
19 26 GM champ2005 Raunak Sadhwani 2596 4.5 14
20 17 GM Oleksandr_Bortnyk Oleksandr Bortnyk 2605 4.5 11.25

(Full final standings here.)

Knockout

Off the back of significant triumphs in leg one of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix and progression in the 2022 Chess.com Bullet Chess Championship, Nakamura was able to survive several tough pairings to take this week’s edition. The event reached an all-American semifinal, with Aronian’s replacement of GM Jeffery Xiong being the only difference in players compared to week three.

The first matchup of the quarterfinal was a one-sided affair between week four’s winner, Aronian, and the 2021 European chess champion, Demchenko. On the White side of a King’s Indian Defense, Aronian opted for the Fianchetto Variation, an opening often employed by the late GM Victor Korchnoi, who was mentioned several times by Sierawan, who had been his coach previously, in the live broadcast. 

Photo: Korchnoi was a world championship finalist and is pictured here playing in Amsterdam in 1976. Photo: Dutch National Archive.


With immense central control and, in particular, the dominance of the d5-square resembling a Maroczy Bind, Aronian was able to tighten the screws and comfortably convert to book his semifinal spot.

So was able to demonstrate great preparation, taking advantage of a misplaced a7-rook against Dubov in a Sicilian Kan miniature. 21 moves were all So needed after winning a clean pawn and playing a timely f-pawn break, ripping open the kingside, and highlighting the dark-squared weaknesses around Black’s lonely king.

In this position, So finds the damaging f5!, opening up Dubov’s dark squares.



—GM Aman Hambleton


The only quarterfinal match that almost went the distance was between Nakamura and the reigning World Blitz Chess Champion Vachier-Lagrave. Nakamura’s match strategy was made clear after brief draws in both their rapid and blitz encounters.

Nakamura must have fancied his chances in the bullet tiebreaker and never gave up the one-pawn advantage he garnered, despite “creative defense,” as commentator Belenkaya put it, from Vachier-Lagrave. 

In the last quarterfinal of the day, Kamsky came to fight with the black pieces against the RCC leaderboard frontrunner Caruana, playing the rarely seen Jaenisch Gambit and certainly creating the kinds of imbalances he was seeking.

Caruana was calm and collected amid the complications and managed to maneuver his minor pieces better than his opponent to gain some initiative in the middlegame. Kamsky, however, found some key resources to liquidate into a tablebase-drawn endgame. The endgame was still filled with ideas for White, though, and anything short of absolute precision would prove costly for Black.

Alas, time pressure got to Kamsky, and he eventually succumbed to Caruana after 63 moves.

Aronian’s imperious form continued into his semifinal, where he dispatched Chess960 World Champion So by virtue of a surprise tactic to take advantage of the fact that Black’s queen had wandered too far from the king.

So was crowned the first FischerRandom World Champion in 2019. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana would not prove as fortunate in the semifinals this week, as Nakamura bested him in a thrilling match that was taken to the bullet portion. After a quiet draw in their sole rapid game, the blitz tiebreak brought the match to life and Nakamura took a page out of Kamsky’s book, meaning that for the second time today, Caruana had to face the Jaenisch Gambit.

The bullet tiebreaker marked yet another hard-fought victory for Nakamura where both players seemed to tango on the edge of a cliff. The nature of bullet chess reared its tumultuous head in this instance and Caruana was stunned to lose his knight, the game, and the match after a blunder in time pressure.

The final between Aronian and Nakamura was decided in the first game after an interesting version of the Giuoco Piano, Pianissimo Variation, being the weapon of choice for the winner of last week’s knockout. Aronian adopted a unique defensive structure on the kingside, allowing his opponent to gain space and attack early in the middlegame.

On move 17, the players diverted from the only database game following this setup, Hracek-Prusikin, 2021.

On his stream, Nakamura cited tiredness as the reason why he missed several winning combinations. However, he still prevailed in an endgame that proved too tricky for Aronian with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock.

Standings, Results, Prizes

With Aronian winning the Swiss tournament and Nakamura eclipsing the field in the knockout, four American players, including Caruana and So, hit the front of the overall leaderboard of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship.

Sunday Knockout | Final Standings












# Fed Player Place Prize
1 Hikaru Nakamura Winner $7,500
2 Levon Aronian Finalist $3,500
3-4 Fabiano Caruana Semifinalist $2,500
3-4 Wesley So Semifinalist $2,500
5-8

Daniil Dubov Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8 Gata Kamsky Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8

Anton Demchenko Quarterfinalist $1,000


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