Ian Nepomniachtchi - Hikaru Nakamura

Round 11
Tata Steel 2011


1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 Karo Kann defense by Nepo and Nakamura

3.e5 Bf5 The advance variation where Nakamura had also the option 3...c5

4.h4 This is usually followed by players who seek early strong opening advantage with white. h5 is a standard reply, and some traps are on the way after e6 or 4...h6 5.g4 Bh7? 6.e6! if black is not careful.

4... h5 5.c4 e6 6.Nc3 Still theory by both players.

6... Ne7 7.Nge2 The knight is placed to enter the attack on the kingside pressuring the h pawn

7... Bg4 Nakamura does not like the previously mentioned option and pins the knight. General opening theory recommends not to move a piece twice in the opening and lose tempo, but Nakamura avoids a concrete plan of Nepo. With this move he also provokes a weaking f3 (instead could have been avoided with direct Bg6

8.f3 Bf5 9.Ng3 Bg6 After Nakamura provoked f3 and Nepo pressured on h5, both players can continue their development.

10.Bg5 Qb6 11.Qd2 Nd7 12.a3 Nakamura is considering to play the natural O-O-O castling or to start the aggressive approach now with ...f6. White on the other hand pland to soon start a queenside assult via cxd5, Na4, and Rc1 and control on the c file. Another option for black to stop the queenside advance is to take counter measures 12. ... dxc4 13. Nge4 Bxe4 14. Nxe4 Nf5 15. O-O-O and try to pressure with ...Qb3

12... f6 13.Be3 Multiple options ahead of Nakamura and all seem fine for black: Qb3, O-O-O, etc. Nakamura is carefully considering and investing his time, he knows a full point is going to be good for him at this late stage of the competition, and that Nepo is not going for a draw either. A large battle is ahead and a plan is needed.

13... Qb3 Nepo will want to resolve the situation on the kingside 14. exf6 gxf6 and then play 15. Be2. His bishops lack mobility in this stage of the game. A line like 14. Be2 fxe5 15. dxe5 Nxe5 16. cxd5 exd5 17. O-O shows why Nakamura provoked f3.

14.cxd5 Nepo prefers to resolve first the center. The complications arising were not according to plan for him and he is looking for simpler game.

14... Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Qxd5 16. exf6 gxf6 still is valid, but then what? White's pieces are not placed in the most desired way, simple improvements like Ng3-Ne2-Nc3 might help.

16.Rc1 Nb6 Black takes the control in the center. Difficult plans ahead for Nepomniachtchi, which explains his long thinking.

17.Ne2 Just as suggested White starts shifting the focus of the knight and eyeing more squares. It now also aims at f4, so black needs to exchange via fxe5

17... fxe5 18.dxe5 Another option white had is to maintain the pressure some more 18.Nc3 Qb3 19.Be2 it deserved attention in view of the advancing clock and the psychological play on the board.

18... Qxe5 19.Bd4 Qc7 Nakamura feels he is better, but only as material, and retreats to security. White's pawn structure is not great, nor is the king, but still Nepo is gaining momentum in the center and it is time for some offensive thought. White has good compensation for the pawn.

20.Qg5 Bf5 21.g4 Now this is an all out attack by Nepo, 21. Rd1 looked more solid

21... hxg4 22.fxg4 Be4 A computer line that eliminates the pressure for black and leaves only material advantage 22. ... Be7 23. Qxg7 Rh7 24. Qg8+ Kd7 25. Bxb6 Rxg8 26. Bxc7 Be4

23.Rh3 Be7 This is the necessary insertion that prevents the total attack for white. It would have come much better on move 22... Again a computer suggestion here 24. Qe3 Bd5 25. h5 Bd6 26. Nc3 Qe7 27. Rc2 Rf8 28. Bxb6 axb6 29. Bd3 Bc5 30. Nxd5 exd5, the natural for Nepo is to continue with the plan and take Qxc7

24.Qxg7 Rh7 25.Qe5 The only place for white to retreat. Now any material reduction via queens exchange (or even Bxh4 first) leaves black in superior position

25... Qxe5 26.Bxe5 Bxh4+ 27.Ng3 Nd7 Bg5 would have been more material reduction, and thus more value to the pawn

28.Bd4 Now that is a mistake, giving one more pawn without a fight after Bf3

28... Bf3 29.g5 With that white is losing the exchange 29. ... Bg4 30. g6 Rh6 31. Rxh4 Rxh4

29... Bg4 30.g6 Rh6 g7 would be easily stopped by Kf7

31.Rxh4 Rxh4 32.Rc3 Bf3 Another invite for material exchange, other option was Bh3. Now this creates a small difficulty for black, after 33. Rxf3 Rxd4 34. Bh3 there is no more Kf7 available and the pawn on e6 is under attack.

33.Rxf3 Rxd4 34.Bh3 Ne5 Resolves the attack with counterattack! The more passive Rd5 is not Nakamura's style.

35.Rf6 Inaccuracy, bulding pressure on the e pawn would have been stronger 35. Re3 Nd3+ 36. Kf1 Nf4 37. Bxe6

35... Nd3+ 36.Ke2 Nf4+ 37.Ke3 e5 38.Rf7 The resulting endgame is totally winning for black. With the time control coming Nakamura will have enough time to calculate the concrete winning path.

38... Rd3+ 39.Ke4 Rxg3 40.Bd7+ Kd8 41.Bf5 Nxg6 42.Rg7 Rb8 43.b4 b5 44.Bxg6 Rg5 Hikaru Nakamura wins! In a fantastic game Nakamura showed the best of his attacking and defending skills and fully deserved the full point. With Anand's game ending in a draw, Nakamura is the sole leader of Tata Steel 2011 two rounds before the end. Thank you for following with and see you tomorrow for more live commentary! 0-1