Going for a fourth title
Hikaru Nakamura no longer appears as an active player in the latest FIDE ratings list. The American, a 5-time United States champion who has won the Tata Steel Masters and played in the Candidates Tournament, has put most of his focus on online chess and streaming. Much can be said about his decision, but there is no doubt he has succeeded in the online world.
In February 2021, Naka’s channel on Twitch reached the incredible milestone of having one million followers. Viewers enjoy watching an elite grandmaster challenging himself and others while playing quick-paced online chess. The American, who often mentioned that playing blitz and bullet was an important part of his chess development, does not disappoint, as he gets excellent results in the online tournaments taking place on 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 back in 2017, Naka has shown his speed and resourcefulness to win the next three events, and is now going for a fourth consecutive title after beating none other than world number 3 Ding Liren.
Ding stronger in first two sections
Much like regarding Wesley So in the first semifinal, the commentators thought Ding needed to go into the bullet section of the match with an advantage. A more classical player, it seemed unlikely that the Chinese would be able to stop Nakamura in the 1-minute games.
However, despite getting better positions in the late middlegame more than once, the Chinese went down 5-4 in the 5-minute games section. Nakamura showcased his incredible defensive skills to get ahead on the scoreboard in what should be the toughest phase of the match for him. But beating Ding is never easy.
In the 3-minute games, the Chinese bounced back and even got to enter the 1-minute section with an advantage. After getting a 6-4 victory in the second portion of the match, the 29-year-old from Wenzhou had a real chance of beating the tournament favourite.
The bullet games were filled with tension, naturally, with Nakamura getting a final full point in a must-win situation to take the match to tiebreaks. After drawing again in the 4-game decider, the match went to Armageddon, where Naka had the better nerves and got the all-important victory with the black pieces.
Nakamura later told commentators Daniel Naroditsky and David Pruess:
I thought this was the hardest match I’d played — and that includes the match I lost to Magnus, by the way. Obviously Ding couldn’t quite convert to the same degree as Magnus did, but after the match today, I’m gonna just try to play good chess and hopefully good things will happen.