Hikaru Nakamura Wins Fischer Random World Championship

GM Hikaru Nakamura was crowned FIDE Fischer Random World Chess Champion on Sunday after winning the final of an exciting armageddon match against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.

After splitting the points in their four-game mini-match, Nakamura saved his best efforts for the decider and paid tribute to the heroics of one of the format’s greats, GM Bobby Fischer, by claiming his first world championship title in Reykjavik 50 years after his American colleague defeated GM Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War.

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Nakamura won $150,000 for winning the event while the rest of the $400,000 prize pool was split among the other participants.

In the consolation games, GM Magnus Carlsen defeated world speed champion GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov to round out the podium, recovering from a 1-0 deficit in the process.

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For Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi, the final day of the Fischer Random World Championship would end with the players’ first ever world title, and tensions were high from the moment the clocks started at 3 pm local time.

The starting positions of the first two games were relatively simple. The key features included a queen in the corner and the bishops staying on their usual squares.

Nakamura, playing with the black pieces, quickly took control of the center and pushed Nepomniachtchi back. Unable to contend with Nakamura’s initiative, Nepomniachtchi eventually succumbed to a tactic that saw him lose a piece.

Although an early loss hurt his chances of taking the title, Nepomniachtchi knew all too well that a comeback was possible after his stunning comeback against Carlsen in Saturday’s semi-final.

One of the most expressive players on the circuit, Nepomniachtchi doesn’t always give away the strength of his positions with his facial expressions. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the second game, Nakamura was able to convert to a position similar to his trusty Nimzowitsch-Larsen opening, which he has used to great effect in online tournaments for years. By move 40, Nakamura had gained a +2.5 advantage but instead of pressing for victory, he chose to repeat moves.

With the pressure firmly on his shoulders, Nepomniachtchi struck at the perfect time in game three and dealt Nakamura his first (and only) loss of the entire event. Nepomniachtchi was clinical with the black pieces and confidently sacrificed a change on move 20 to open lines of attack on the queenside to level the score in the final regulation game.

Nakamura shocked the spectators in the fourth game when he offered a draw on move 15 after equalizing early with the black pieces, leading commentator Hess to question: “They get a draw offer?!” Both players were clearly happy to settle things with an armageddon tie breaker, but the loser will inevitably regret the unfinished business in round four.

A bidding process was held to decide who would play with which color in the draw. Nepomniachtchi won the bid to play with black with draw odds and 13 minutes on the clock to Nakamura’s 15. The final starting position was announced shortly afterwards, and the players had five minutes to strategise.

Nepomniachtchi looked to get the armageddon game under control early after trading into the bishop midgame of different suits, but Nakamura muddied the waters and went home to claim his first ever world championship title. GM Rafael Leitao has annotated our match of the day below.

Nakamura celebrated the historic win, as many have come to expect by now, with a timely YouTube video covering his matches! At the end of the video, he mentioned that he will be going to Toronto soon where he will compete in the Chess.com World Championship Finals. Given his astronomical performance rating of 2924 (calculated based on FIDE rapid ratings) for this tournament, Nakamura is undoubtedly one of the favorites to win in Toronto as well.

Apart from the title clash, three consolation matches took place in Reykjavik on Sunday to decide the final order of the rest of the field. Following a disappointing semi-final loss, Carlsen found himself in early trouble against Abdusattorov and lost the first game after the Uzbek GM cleverly held his bishop.

Carlsen fought his way back into the match and onto the podium in the end, defeating Abdusattorov 3-1. All in all, it is clear that the world champion was not in his best form but he will have two more chances to take the world championship titles in the world blitz and speed championships in December.

Carlsen came third despite a lackluster performance by his high standards. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Vladimir Fedoseev continued to outperform his score and sent defending champion GM Wesley So at least two points to move into fourth place, while local GMs Matthias Bluebaum and Hjorvar Gretarsson finished seventh and eighth respectively .

This year’s Fischer Random World Championship has reignited the debate about the future of chess and provided a refreshing step aside from the near-perfect performances of the world’s elite in classic events. As Nepomniachtchi graciously tweeted after losing his match on Sunday, the chess world “hopes) to see more Fischer Random tournaments in the future.”

The Fischer Random World Championship, presented by the Government of Iceland and the City of Reykjavik, gathered top players from around the world to compete in a series of classic Fischer Random games for their share of the $400,000 prize pool and the title of FIDE Fischer Random World Champion. Fischer Random (also known as Chess960) is a chess variant where all the standard chess rules are the same except for the starting point of the pieces, which can be in one of 960 semi-random sets. Highly endorsed by 11th world champion GM Bobby Fischer, the variation sides the opening preparation to highlight players’ true understanding of chess.

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