Hikaru Nakamura Wins Fischer Random World Championship

GM Hikaru Nakamura was crowned the FIDE Fischer World Chess Champion on Sunday after winning a thrilling Armageddon final against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Splitting points in their four-game mini-match, Nakamura went all out for the draw and honored the exploits of the format’s namesake, GM Bobby Fischer, by claiming his first world title in Reykjavík 50 years after his comrade. The American defeated GM Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War.

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Nakamura won $150,000 for winning the event, with the remaining $400,000 prize pool split between the other contestants.

In the consolation games, GM Magnus Carlsen beat World Sprint Champion GM Nodirbek Abdusatorov to round out the podium after coming back from a 1-0 deficit.

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For Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi Fischer, the final day of the world championships will culminate in a first world title for one of the players, and tension was high from the moment the clocks started ticking at 3pm local time.

The starting positions in the first two games were relatively simple. The main features were the queen in the corner and the bishops remaining on the common squares.

Nakamura, playing with the black balls, quickly took control of the center and pushed back Nepomniachtchi. Unable to counter Nakamura’s initiative, Nepomniachtchi eventually succumbed to a tactic that resulted in him losing the ball.

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

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

In the second game, Nakamura was able to transpose into a position reminiscent of his trusty Nimzovic-Larsen opening, which he has used to great effect in online tournaments for years. By move 40, Nakamura had a +2.5 lead, but instead of pushing for a win, he chose to re-move.

Pushing hard on his shoulders, Nepomniachtchi struck at the perfect time in the third game to hand Nakamura his first (and only) loss of the entire tournament. Nepomniachtchi was clinical with the black balls and convincingly sacrificed the exchange in the 20th move to open the attacking lines on the queen side to level the score in the final game of regulation.

Nakamura stunned the crowd in the fourth game by offering a draw on the 15th move after making an early draw with the black balls, prompting commentator Hess to ask, “They’re allowed to offer draws?!” Both players were clearly happy to settle things with an Armageddon tiebreaker, but the loser would inevitably regret the unfinished business in the fourth round.

There was a bidding process to decide who would play which color in a tiebreaker. Nepomniachtchi won the contest to play black with a draw and 13 minutes after Nakamura’s 15. The final starting position was announced soon after and the players had five minutes to strategize.

Nepomniachtchi looked like Armageddon would be in control early on after a counter-suited bishop midgame was replaced, but Nakamura muddied the waters and stormed home to claim his first world title. GM Rafael Leitao has commented on our match of the day below.

Nakamura celebrated the historic win, as many have been waiting for by now, with an instant YouTube video of his matches! At the end of the video, he mentioned that he will soon be traveling to Toronto to compete in the finals of the Chess.com Global Championship. Given his astronomical performance rating of 2924 (calculated based on FIDE rapid ratings) in this tournament, Nakamura is undoubtedly one of the favorites to win in Toronto as well.

Aside from the title race, three consolation matches were played in Reykjavík on Sunday to determine the order of finish for the rest of the field. After a disappointing semi-final loss, Carlsen found himself in early trouble against Abdusatorov and lost the first game after the Uzbekistani GM cleverly trapped his bishop.

Carlsen eventually fought back and got on the podium with a 3-1 win over Abdusatorova. Overall, the world champion was clearly not at his best, but he will have two more chances to win world titles in December at the world blitz and speed skating championships.

Carlsen still finished third, despite a lackluster performance by his lofty standards. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Vladimir Fedoseev continued to beat his mark and sent defending champion GM Wesley So two points behind in fourth place, while GM Matthias Blubaum and local Hjorvar Gretarsson finished seventh and eighth respectively.

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

The Fischer Random World Championship, brought to you by the Government of Iceland and the City of Reykjavík, brought together the best 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 FIDE Fischer Random World title. Champion. Fischer Random (also known as Chess960) is a chess variant in which all the standard chess rules are the same except for the starting position of the pieces, which can be in one of 960 semi-random settings. Backed by 11th World Champion GM Bobby Fischer, the variation shifts away from initial preparation to emphasize players’ true understanding of chess.

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