On the way to a fourth title
Hikaru Nakamura no longer appears as an active player in the latest FIDE ranking list. The American, a five-time champion of the United States who won the Tata Steel Masters and played in the Candidates Tournament, mainly focused on online chess and streaming. A lot can be said about his decision, but there is no doubt that he was successful in the online world.
In February 2021, Naka’s channel on Twitch hit the incredible milestone of having one million followers. Viewers love to watch an elite Grandmaster challenge himself and others while playing fast-paced online chess. The American, who has often mentioned that playing blitz and bullet is an important part of his chess development, doesn’t disappoint as he scores great in online tournaments taking place at chess.com.
The main event of the year organized by the aforementioned online platform is the Speed Chess Championship. After Magnus Carlsen won the first edition in 2017, Naka showed his speed and ingenuity to win the next three events, and is now aiming for a fourth consecutive title after beating none other than world number 3 Ding Liren.
Ding louder in the first two sections
Much like Wesley So in the first semi-final, commentators believed Ding needed to enter the balls section of the game with an advantage. A more classic player, it seemed unlikely that the Chinese could stop Nakamura in one-minute games.
However, despite securing better late-game positions on more than one occasion, the Chinese lost 5-4 in the 5-minute game section. Nakamura showed his incredible defensive skills to get ahead on the scoreboard in what should be the most difficult part of the game for him. But beating Ding is never easy.
In the 3-minute games, the Chinese rebounded and were even able to enter the 1-minute section with an advantage. After securing a 6-4 victory in the second half of the game, the 29-year-old from Wenzhou had a real chance of beating the tournament favorite.
Ball games were filled with tension, understandably, with Nakamura scoring a full final point in an inescapable situation to lead the tiebreaker game. After again drawing in the deciding 4-game match, the match went to Armageddon, where Naka had the best nerves and took the momentous victory with the black pieces.
Nakamura later told commentators Daniel Naroditsky and David Pruess:
I thought it was the toughest game I had played – and that includes the game I lost to Magnus, by the way. Obviously Ding couldn’t convert to the same degree as Magnus, but after today’s game I’m just going to try to play chess well and hope good things happen.