Reports Jun 3, 2020 | 7:01 PMby Colin McGourty

Dubov wins the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge

Daniil Dubov has beaten Hikaru Nakamura in Armageddon to win the 2020 Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, claiming not just the $45,000 top prize but also a place alongside Magnus in the $300,000 Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Grand Final. After losing on the first day of the final the Russian grandmaster hit back on Day 2 and then took the lead in the second game of the final day. Hikaru Nakamura bounced back in the next but was doomed to defeat after falling into a trap on move 12 of the decisive Armageddon game.

We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting knockout stage of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, and we couldn’t have asked for a more exciting final day (replay the games here):

You can replay all the drama in our live commentary by Peter Leko, Peter Svidler and Tania Sachdev, who were also joined by Peter Heine Nielsen and Jan Gustafsson:

Pascal Charbonneau later recapped the day's action:

And here’s Daniil Dubov, whose first reaction on winning the tournament was perhaps not what you would expect!

First of all it’s a relief, obviously, and secondly it’s some small disappointment. It has been a wonderful journey, actually. I don’t mind having one or two rest days, but in general I would be ready to play more games. But yeah, today’s a good day, of course!

Let’s take a look at the day game-by-game:

Game 1: Dubov ½-½ Nakamura | A good start for Hikaru?

On paper Hikaru Nakamura began the day well. He had the black pieces and, facing the English Opening line in which Daniil had scored a win on Day 1 of the final, he achieved a comfortable 25-move draw with a pawn sacrifice. Daniil remembered analysing it with his coach Boris Gelfand, but went astray and was worse when the game ended abruptly after 23.Ba6:

Black repeated moves with 23…Qd7 24.Bb5 Qc8 25.Ba6 and it was a draw. Daniil commented:

It’s quite significant that he decided not to play on in the end. Qa8 - he’s just slightly better. In general, throughout the match, I had this feeling he’s absolutely sure he will win the Armageddon with Black. It was actually weird. I had a feeling he’s probably a favourite, but still, if you’re that sure, you can actually lose, in fact. He basically didn’t try to play in Game 4, he was also slightly better in Game 1 and decided to repeat the moves.

Dubov said Black’s position would be much easier to play after Qa8, noting that the engine agrees: “it’s not even a bluff!” 

So Daniil felt the game gave him some information about his opponent’s mood, and later he’d talk about how the 3-day match system suits his approach. On the first day of the match he’d begun with two losses to Hikaru, eventually losing 2.5:1.5, but felt it was about himself not his opponent: “There are 200 people, at the very least, who will beat me when I’m playing like an idiot, so you don’t need to be Hikaru for that”. And he’d learned something from the day:

When you play these matches Day 1, obviously you try to win, but it’s also very important to get some information. In these terms I was sort of satisfied with Day 1. So I realised what he’s doing, it was obvious. He’s going to play it simple, he will play fast and he will just wait for me to do something sharp and then blunder in time trouble, or try to trick me, but he will not play something very sharp himself. Then it was also obvious that he will repeat this English Opening with Nb6 forever, which has always been mysterious to me, but ok, if he plays it he plays it.

So in terms of getting information it was actually sort of a decent day. I normally tend to improve my play against someone when I play more games against him, so I feel these long matches basically suit my, not even chess style, but in general my way of thinking of chess. I think in general I try to understand what’s going on in the match, what my opponent is doing, and it’s not only in terms of moves but also in terms of his match strategy and if he plays fast or he tries to be more sharp or not, and then after Day 1 of course you have much more information and feel more confident and ready.

Hikara suffered the same fate he'd inflicted on Magnus in the semi-finals - after winning the first mini-match he lost the next two

Game 2: Nakamura 0-1 Dubov | Daniil strikes first

Daniil felt that it wasn’t his day in terms of the opening:

He came very well prepared, basically, so today I think in general it was not like our typical matches. Normally it’s him who plays slightly better and I’m better prepared, but today I think it was exactly the opposite! What he did was extremely smart and I didn’t remember what to do, and then I think I was much worse.

Hikaru repeated the 3.Nc3 Sicilian line he’d played the day before but varied on move 9 and managed to get a very good position that all our Peters approved of…

…until 25.Rd2? was a serious inaccuracy (25.Rc4! is strong):

25…g5! suddenly put Black right back in the game, and then after 26.Rd5!? gxf4 27.Rxc5 Daniil was further able to blow open the position with 27…f3!

After 28.gxf3 Bxh3 29.Rxa5 it was clear that Black’s h-pawn was the most dangerous passed pawn on the board and when one chance to eliminate it was missed (34.Ra5!) the only question remaining was whether Dubov would safely navigate a complicated position with little time left on his clock. He did, and for the first time in the final Daniil was ahead.

Game 3: Dubov 0-1 Nakamura | “I’m not Magnus”

Hikaru Nakamura managed to strike back straight away with the black pieces, with Daniil commenting:

I’m not Magnus! It’s sort of normal. He just went for something sharp and won… It was an interesting game, I felt I was better at some point, but then I got outplayed.

This time Hikaru met the English by playing f5 on move 3 and soon there was chaos on board. It didn’t seem what you’d want in Dubov's position…

…though in a way Daniil welcomed it:

In this game I felt c4 obviously allows all kinds of sharp lines for Black, it’s not that solid, but I thought on the other hand it was basically obvious if I will make some safe draw then he will go kamikaze mode in the last game, and he has White there, so I thought if he will go kamikaze mode anyway then probably it’s better for me to allow him to do it with Black. At least I’m White, I’ll be slightly better… but it didn’t go according to plan.

Once again, however, despite trouble in the opening a g-pawn break saw Dubov right back in the game:

Daniil confessed to feeling “very safe” after 25…fxg4 26.Bxg4, and that assessment looks correct, but he let his guard down and, while briefly playing for a win, allowed a strong Nh4-Nf3-Nd2 manoeuvre that escalated quickly into the loss of the entire white queenside. The last clear chance for White to equalise required finding 32.Bc2! Na1 (the move that stopped Dubov playing Bc2) 33.Ng6! Kf7 34.Nh8! Dubov:

If I would play it, it would be the end of my career! They would never believe I’m not cheating.

There was no miracle escape, however, and Hikaru had levelled the scores with one game to go.

Game 4: Nakamura ½ -½ Dubov | With a little help from my friends

This was a repeat of Game 2 until Daniil varied with 11…Rd8 12.Qf3 c5!

He credited 2016 Russian Chess Champion Alexander Riazantsev:

Game 4 was actually a very important moment, and first of all I want to praise my friend and coach Sasha Riazantsev, who managed, while I was losing like an idiot with White, to come up with this completely new idea of c5, so it was just prepared by him between the games and I think he did a brilliant job. I didn’t have time to check it myself yet, but there was a big number of lines and it looked very convincing, although the engine doesn’t get it originally… It was very typical of me that you have 30 minutes and then you or one of your friends prepares something brilliant and it’s just in time. So I’m lucky to have Sasha around, obviously!

Hikaru spent a minute on 13.e5 which was met by 13…c4!, and after 14.exf6 Bxf6! 15.Ba4 Qa5 Black went on to win back the piece with, if anything, a slightly better position. The game fizzled out into a quick draw and we were headed for Armageddon.

Armageddon: Dubov 1-0 Nakamura | Karma?

Hikaru Nakamura had beaten Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen in Armageddon with Black already during the knockout, and he knew he would have Black again since winning the preliminary stage earned him the right to choose. That meant he had 4 minutes to Dubov’s 5, but only needed a draw to win the tournament. What could go wrong? Well, Daniil felt Hikaru was tempting fate:

In general there is some, you can believe it or not, but I think in general there is some sort of justice. In general all the stuff Hikaru was doing was a little bit over-optimistic. Because first of all, when he played Magnus he said that the winner of that match is a very big favourite to win the whole thing. Why do you say it, normally? I mean, probably you are, but just why do you say it? It only gives me motivation! It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then again, the way he played yesterday and also today it was just obvious that he wants this Armageddon so much. He will pick Black and he will just play. Ok, I understand everything, he’s obviously a favourite, but it felt like he’s a little bit too confident. So I thought I just need to play something a little bit sharp and something strange, I have to make him think early, and then we’ll see.

The plan worked like a dream, since in an offbeat structure Daniil got to play 12.Bxd5!

“Nobody falls for this somehow,” said Peter Svidler of the position with colours reversed, to which Daniil responded, “You should probably try it against Hikaru!” Daniil was puzzled afterwards why Hikaru hadn’t gone for 12…fxg3+! 13.Nxg3 (the point is distracting this knight) 13…Bxd5 14.Qh5 Ne7 15.Nxd5 Qxd5 16.Qxd5 Nxd5 17.Rf5 0-0-0 18.c4 Nb4 19.Rxc5 Nxd3 and Black has two pawns for the piece. White is better, but the game goes on.

However, that chance was gone in a flash as Hikaru played 12…Bxd5? after 239 milliseconds, and was already dead lost. Play continued 13.Nxf4 Ne7 14.Qh5 (14.Nfxd5 was a prosaic but even more convincing way to win) 14…c6 15.Ncxd5 cxd5:

16.Ne6! was a move that Dubov admitted he’d got excited about as soon as he’d seen it a few moves earlier. He half-expected Nakamura to resign on the spot, but instead the game went on with 16…Qd6 17.Nxg7+ Kd7 18.Rxf7 Raf8 19.Bf4 and here, already two pawns down, Nakamura gave up his queen with 19…Rxf7. Hikaru played on until move 45, but Dubov stayed calm and was also comfortably up on the clock when resignation came.

It had been a fantastic tournament for 24-year-old Daniil Dubov, who beat Sergey Karjakin, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura to win not just $45,000 but qualify automatically for the $300,000 Magnus Chess Tour Grand Final this August.

Dubov will be joined there by Magnus (who won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational) and the winners of the next two events on the tour. If Carlsen or Dubov were to win again then there would be a place for the top-performing non-winner, which is currently almost certain to be Hikaru Nakamura after he reached the final of both events so far. Hikaru can of course also qualify directly if he wins a future event, so that his runners-up spot leaves him well-placed as well as $27,000 better off:

But let’s return to the man of the hour! How does this success rank among Dubov's career achievements?

It’s obviously a very nice moment, so what do you expect me to say? I don’t think after winning the World Rapid I can say it’s my biggest achievement. Obviously winning the World Rapid is still much more important, but it’s a very strong tournament and I’m obviously happy that I managed to win.

I actually had the same feeling after this World Rapid that basically it’s a bit of a weird feeling when you win a tournament with Magnus participating without beating Magnus, to be honest. It always felt a little bit unfair to me. Even in this World Rapid I felt he will probably win the last game and then we’ll play a tiebreak and then if I win, then it’s brilliant, I managed. But then he didn’t win, and I finished in clear first, but still I failed to beat him and it didn’t feel like a real win. Here as well, obviously Hikaru is a brilliant player, but the one who beats Magnus gets all the respect, I guess.

There were a couple of ways to counter that. You could start by pointing out that Daniil did actually beat Magnus, at least in a single game, and it was a crucial win with the black pieces that enabled him to qualify for the knockout section by the finest of margins! (Grischuk, who shared 5.5 points, missed out) 

The other way is to ask, as Peter Svidler did, “So we are now announcing Hikaru as the winner of the Lindores Abbey?” Daniil first joked, “You can do whatever you want, Peter, to be honest”, before elaborating:

I think in general it kind of makes sense. Not too many people have beaten Magnus in a match. It’s very, very impressive by Hikaru, so if you had asked me what would I prefer - to win the Lindores Abbey or to win a series of matches against Magnus - I would definitely think about it. Definitely! And in terms of my own, the way I see things, I would probably prefer to win against Magnus, to be honest.

What was Daniil’s highlight from the tournament?

I think I played a very, very interesting match against Karjakin. I think it was just a brilliant match, 0 draws, as I remember. It’s pretty remarkable, especially against Karjakin... There were a lot of strange ideas, I played many different openings. I played many cool moves - even in the game I lost I was very proud of this Ke8-d7. I thought it’s probably my best move of the tournament. 

I was sort of very excited about it. I think it was the most enjoyable match for the viewers and for all the rest. And the match against Hikaru I think it was exactly the opposite. He basically decided to limit my options and I was not allowed to play these fancy games as often as I normally do. It was a little bit worrying in terms of moves. There was a lot of pressure, but those were not the games you will remember for years, for sure - so it’s just sport.

Daniil’s next tournament will be the next event on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, starting in just over two weeks’ time on June 20th. Once again the top four finishers get automatic invitations so he’s likely to be joined by Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Liren and Magnus Carlsen. More names and details will be announced soon, but where will Daniil play from? Will he still be in the Yekaterinburg, where he initially only travelled for the Candidates Tournament?

I’ll actually have to make that decision. I don’t know. It’s sort of tricky because the problem is that the situation in Moscow hasn’t really improved, I’m afraid. I will think about it. In a way I will have to think, but my prediction is that I will probably play the next thing from Yekaterinburg again, to be honest.

In any case, we'll see Daniil and co. in action again very soon! Meanwhile, in case you missed it, check out Daniil Dubov: From Russia with Ideas, an in-depth profile that looks almost prophetic after what we witnessed. 

See also:

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