Nakamura wins National Open!

The National Open has always been somewhat of a novelty tournament with its location in "Sin City" and all the excitement it exudes. Fred Grunberg has built a tradition based on treating the attendees with memorable treats and celebrity guests. This year, all eyes were on the legendary Viktor Korchnoi, the former World Championship candidate from the 70s and 80s who is a bit of a marvel since he continues to play at a high level into his 70s. However, Korchnoi got a rude re-introduction to the American Swiss system and almost lost to unheralded Master Erkin Gurbauzade of Azerbaijan.

In that game, Korchnoi appeared to lose the string on the middlegame position and dropped a piece to a two-move combo. With no compensation in sight, the Korchnoi bore down and traded off as many pawns and pieces as he could. Usually this is a bad idea, but the ensuing R vs. R+2 pawns resulted in a drawn ending after Gurbauzade showed no technique whatsoever to convert the point. Korchnoi would escape, but the first round "upset" would unsettle him. He would not be able to keep pace with the freight train of
IM Renier Gonzalez.

GM Hikaru Nakamura shows off 1st place smile. He also won the Blitz tournament. Photo by Betsy Dynako.

GM Hikaru Nakamura shows off 1st place smile. He also won the Blitz tournament. Photo by Betsy Dynako.

After beating four Grandmasters (Nikola Mitkov, Jaan Ehlvest, Merab Gagunashvili, Atanas Kolev) and tallying a perfect 5-0 score, Gonzalez played Hikaru Nakamura in a long 84-move finale lasting until 1:00am. Apparently fatigue got the best of the Cuban-born player and he allowed Nakamura to wrest the winning initiative after accepting a pawn sacrifice with 64Nxe3? (see game) Despite the loss, Gonzalez was the star of the tournament after having led throughout. He settled for joint 2nd with five other players on 5-1. Unfortunately, he could not qualify for a GM norm in the six-round tournament, but it will give him momentum as he prepares to travel to Spain to get his 3rd and final norm.

Nakamura emerged victorious after coming off of subpar showings at both Foxwoods Open and the U.S. Championship. It appeared as if he would stumble once again after being held in a wild battle with
IM Enrico Sevilliano. Going into the last round against Gonzalez, he needed a win and showed his mettle by playing for a win in a roughly equal position. The game drew a crowd of spectators since it would decide on the prize allocation. After Nakamura won the marathon battle, he quipped that he finally played "real" openings this tournament, a divergence from his 2.Qh5 and Alekhine openings. He was surprised that his fans were in firm support of him despite his apparent lack of fire in the two tournaments aforementioned. According to a report at uschess.org, Nakamura stated that he is more determined and will come to the World Open with a will to win.

Standings
Coverage, Photos, Games (Monroi)

Jennifer Shahade, "Hikaru takes Vegas," uschess.org, 12 June 2007.
Jennifer Shahade, "Kolev and Gonzalez lead in Vegas," uschess.org, 10 June 2007.
Jennifer Shahade, "National Open heats up," uschess.org, 9 June 2007.

Varuzhan Akobian battles Hikaru Nakamura in a fierce battle during the Blitz tournament. Nakamura can be heard uttering, "Are you kidding?" when Akobian grabs the queen from Hikaru's side of the board. Merab Gagunashvili is playing Amon Simutowe on board 2.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 13 June 2007

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