Expectations for Hikaru Nakamura, the top seed in the Speed Chess Championship, were high against Hou Yifan, the world’s highest-rated female player. Even so, he shattered those expectations, scoring 27.5-2.5, continually putting pressure on Hou Yifan on both the clock and the board and even securing wins from seemingly dead drawn and inferior or completely busted positions.
For her part, Hou Yifan produced continually interesting chess, rarely backing down from a fight. While the match score quickly felt non-combative, the chess never did.
The Chess.com SmarterChess Pre-match Predictions.
Nakamura Wins The Scraps: 5|1 Time Control
The first game illustrated well the sort of problems that would plague Hou Yifan throughout the match. She got a good position and was even much better, but in the endgame she made some inaccurate moves, seemingly a little too confident of the draw. As time pressure increased, decisions became more difficult and finally she cracked deep into the endgame.
While game two was a smooth victory with a nice …Nxb2! sacrifice for Nakamura, game three followed a similar narrative as game one. After Nakamura overpressed, Hou Yifan won a pawn and was pressing in the endgame before she fell victim to a classic breakthrough with 73.g5!
Nakamura was the master of “little” tactics in this match. Constantly finding small tricks and ideas.
Then came the astonishing events of game four… Nakamura had outplayed Hou Yifan in an exciting rook endgame and had a mate in three available with 43…Rg2+! Instead, he hastily (rarely his speed doesn’t pay off…) played 43…Rg3+?? and after 44.Kh4 Rh2, Hou Yifan resigned. Seemingly mate was forced on h3. However, Hou Yifan could queen and defend h3 with 45.c8=Q! Nakamura did not realize this until about 10 seconds into the next game. His reaction was instantly viral.
Not realizing her missed opportunity, Hou Yifan continued unphased, and perhaps Hikaru’s knowledge of the blunder lead to some errors. The next two games were drawn, but in both Hou Yifan was winning or near to it.
Nakamura won the following two games in relatively clean fashion before another disaster struck Hou Yifan. In a dead-equal endgame with only one rook-pawn remaining, Hou Yifan sought the draw button but accidentally clicked on the resign button! Her reaction might best be classified as shocked and bemused.
By the rules, the unintentional resignation was fully valid, but as the only legal way for Hou Yifan to lose was manual resignation (timing out and disconnection would result in a draw as Nakamura had no material to checkmate), Nakamura generously agreed to score the game as a draw.
Score: 5|1 Time Control
Nakamura “Adopts” Hou Yifan
Adoption: “An achievement in which a player scores ten consecutive wins against the same opponent.”
With a perfect 10-0 score in the 3|1 time control, Nakamura “adopted” Hou Yifan. Probably no top grandmaster has adopted so many grandmasters as Nakamura. He regularly refers to the achievement on his Twitch streams and has adopted such skilled players as grandmaster and Chessbrah Eric Hansen.
Among the ten wins, Nakamura’s prettiest finish was likely the following.
Hou Yifan certainly missed some opportunities, but none was more dramatic than this chance to weave a gorgeous mating net in the middle of an open board.
Opportunities like the above often came when Hou Yifan had mere seconds left.
Score: 3|1 Time Control
Hou Yifan bettered her score slightly in the bullet time control, scoring two draws. Unfortunately, these came only after eight consecutive losses. Having averted the possibility of a “double adoption,” Hou Yifan conceded one more loss in the final game to end the bullet portion with an 11-1 defeat.
Your author’s favorite win by Nakamura was the following in which he sacrificed an exchange for a pair of the most beautiful steeds you will ever see.
Finally, one can never miss an opportunity to show a smothered mate.
Score: 1|1 Time Control
No matter the match score, fans were rooting enthusiastically for Hou Yifan who is often said to be one of the nicest grandmasters at elite super-tournaments and whose combative chess is always a joy to watch. One fan in the Spanish community even took the time to draw a portrait to show her fandom.
With this win, Nakamura has advanced to the #speedchess quarterfinals where he will play the winner of the Vachier-Lagrave vs. Dominguez match. To the surprise of many, Nakamura called Dominguez a slight favorite but said he expects the match to be close.
You can rewatch the full match with commentary from IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess on twitch.tv/chess.
Watch Nakamura vs Hou Yifan – 2018 Speed Chess Championship #speedchess from Chess on www.twitch.tv
For his overwhelming victory, Nakamura earned $1,981.51 and Hou Yifan earned $148.18. 129.69 was donated by the chess community on Twitch.