Hikaru Nakamura played with the white pieces in the first match. However, it was Levon Aronian with domination at the beginning phase of the game. It seemed like Hikaru was outplayed after the Armenian won a won on the 22nd move.
Aronian’s opening repertoire with Black against 1.e4 is constructed around 1…e5, with the Marshall Attack and Moeller/Archangelsk complex of the Ruy Lopez and the Petroff as the mainstays of his openings. Against 1.d4, he seems to employ a much broader repertoire. When Nakamura, who has a wide repertoire with White, chose to play 1.e4 in the game, it was assumed that he had a particular game-plan in mind.
Although Levon kept up the pressure, Hikaru was the first one to deviate and found a new move 12.Nh2. The answer came fast and accurate from Levon still maintaining the advantage.
Daniel Naroditsky: “Hikaru has demonstrated a tremendous ability to wheel his way out of high-pressure situations, but this is starting to get a tiny bit concerning. 17 moves [and] Hikaru dropping now below an hour on the clock, Levon preserving an hour and 20 minutes—he has only spent 10 minutes of thinking time [so far]. Now, if that doesn’t demonstrate supreme confidence then I don’t know what does.”
A fantastic fight broke out by move 30 when Aronian’s extra pawn seemed to be thoroughly neutralized by Nakamura’s classic queen-and-knight combo against Black’s queen-and-bishop. And that was when Aronian decided to go for glory rather than recalibrate himself and settle for a draw.
The American though found the perfect counterplay at the end and it was the Armenian who has to find a move to save the game for a draw.
The second game only took 29 moves for a threefold repetition thus pushing the finals to tiebreaks. A Giuoco Piano game that eventually reached an equal position.
Nakamura’s 1.e4 e5 wasn’t a surprise as well, as it is his mainstay with the black pieces. Aronian’s choice of the Giuoco Piano sidestepped the Ruy Lopez Berlin, a favorite choice of Nakamura’s. Thereafter, the game went into known waters.
12.a5 is one of those crucial positional moves that set the tone of the game. For example, after such a “fix” on the queenside, White would always be better in positions after advancing d3-d4, followed by a mutual pawn-swap on e5.
A turning point in the game came when Hikaru Nakamura took almost 30 minutes for 15…Qc7. Daniil Dubov: “15…Qc7 is sort of a pause. In general, it is logical… [But] if you start playing like this, you will keep suffering… Waiting is suffering, in general!”
“…Very, very impressive defense by Naka. He was clearly outplayed from the opening, but he handled it very, very well… You can only beat Hikaru by playing very well. He is not the guy who will just give it up—you have to do everything (to beat him).”