An encounter worth remembering, as Hikaru and Liren went back and forth. The American GM was up to any task he was faced and his pre moves proved unmatched. The Chinese GM also played extremely well but wasn’t able to convert some winning endgames.
GM Daniel Naroditsky, a commenter at Chess.com, said many times “It doesn’t matter how winning you are [against Nakamura]—it really doesn’t!” That is the name of Hikaru in the shorter format of the game. He will be facing his fellow countryman GM Wesley So in the finals. So also had to work hard against Indian GM Nihal Sarin in the first semifinals of Speed Chess Championship 2021.
The longest Blitz format 5+1: Hikaru Nakamura led 5-4.
It was nothing but chess you would ideally see at the top level. Both players playing well-known openings and consistent repertoire. IM David Pruess commented: “He’s giving me, like, classical chess vibes so far in this blitz match… aiming for super-high quality, really focused, willing to think hard, use mainline openings,” on the 5+1 Blitz.
Hikaru Nakamura was opting for Grunfeld and closer to that structure while Ding Liren went for Catalan in every game except one where chose Nimzo-Indian.
Had Ding Liren taken his winning chances and converted it he would be led by two or three points. Although Hikaru struggled in the opening phase of the games, he was finding some top engine moves whenever Ding let it loose.
A fightback to take the lead from Ding Liren, Blitz 3+1: Ding led 6-4.
Gaining some cushion ahead of the bullet section is the key to winning against GM Hikaru Nakamura. Well, Ding Liren certainly wanted that to happen and nearly got it but again couldn’t close on some winning moments.
The first three games were drawn, and Ding with Black fought his way to open his account and tie the match. The next game too was in Ding’s favor the whole time until the time scramble took it away.
Ding was charging with full power winning games six and seven. The seventh game featured another QGD with 5.Bf4 and was one of the best games of the match—it ended in only 24 moves.
Nakamura opened his 3+1 winning account and drew the next game. Sensing Ding Liren is not troubled by his Grufeld anymore, Hikaru played the Ruy Lopez as White which he managed for a draw.
Liren was at that point leading 10-9. Most of them watching said that it will be very difficult for the Chinese GM to overcome Nakamura in the 1+1 Bullet section.
Ding resisted in Bullet 1+1: Nakamura 4.5 – Ding 3.5. (Speed Chess Championship)
The most exciting section of the whole match so far was the bullet one. There was an early surprise when Liren won the first game. A four-knight endgame bit shaky but never doubted for a win.
White wins in the next three games as the players each exchanged proverbial punches. However, the American GM picked up his momentum by winning two in a row in Game five as Black. It was an opposite-colored bishop middlegame. Ding Liren had to stay aware of the fact that Hikaru Nakamura can turn the match around in a blink of an eye especially in the Bullet.
The Chinese GM won as a Black and he followed it with a draw as White. That makes the equation for the match clear. Ding Liren only needed a draw in the last game to see off the match.
Hikaru Nakamura needed a victory and he delivered it in style. Thus sending the game to tiebreaks.
Tiebreakers ends in a tie: 2-2
Hikaru wins the first game as Black playing quickly and setting problems for the opponent. He was favorite to continue winning the next game as White.
However, Ding Liren stayed strong and defused the Italian for a draw. As Nakamura did it in Bullets, Ding delivers a must-win and thus making it interesting.
The last match was a draw that could have gone either way. Ding failed to generate a plan to attack White with under 20 seconds left, ending the game with a three-fold repetition of moves.
(Speed Chess Championship) Armageddon: Winner takes it all.
Ding had the white pieces and five minutes against Nakamura’s four—with no increment this time. Only needing a draw, and while playing some top moves in the middlegame, Ding blundered an exchange on move 16.
That was it for the match.
Hikaru Nakamura on recovering mentally: “Yeah, I mean, I think the main thing is you have to keep going, believing in yourself.”
Hikaru Nakamura on this match: “You just try to hang in there, try to believe that good thing will happen. But it obviously was a very tough match and a lot of credit goes to Ding for playing so well.”
Ding Liren on has he expected the match to be this close: “Of course I did not prepare [for] a tiebreak… Today’s game was very tense… I had more better positions than Hikaru, but he defended well and sometimes he played very very quickly in very complicated positions. That’s his skills.”so well.”
Nakamura on playing So in the finals: “I mean, I don’t know; I have to say, out of all the Speed Chess Championship matches… 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. Today was an epic match and it was a lot of fun to play.”