Streaking Nakamura tops Zurich Challenge chess tournament

Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura ZURICH CHALLENGE PHOTO

Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura ZURICH CHALLENGE PHOTO

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – It was a shot Wesley So fired across the bow – and Hikaru Nakamura heard it. Loud and clear.

The 21-year-old Bacoor, Cavite-born So, took the top spot in American chess shortly after transferring from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) late last year, but Nakamura, the long unchallenged top dog of U.S. chess, came roaring back to recapture his lofty perch.

Over the past two weeks or so,  the 27-year-old Nakamura has been on a tear, winning prestigious tournaments with emphatic results.

On Friday, Jan. 19, Nakamura outplayed former world champion Vishy Anand of India in a blitz game called Armageddon, to capture the Zurich Challenge chess tournament in Switzerland to finish the fortnight with flourish.

A showdown with So at the U.S. Championships next month will surely create fireworks, an exciting prospect not seen in the past several years in the annual competitions among the top chess players of America.

“The return of Nakamura and the threatening arrival of Wesley So is shaping the 2015 U.S. Championship to be one for the ages: two world top-10 players who headline arguably the strongest field in the history of our national title,” the chess journalist Brian Jearauld said.

Skill and fierce determination propelled Nakamura to victory, but luck was with him as well.

In the Zurich Challenge, he managed to overcome the narrow lead Anand took from the opening and ultimately prevailed.

In the Armageddon, the time control is 15 minutes plus 10-second increment.

Nakamura and Anand finished with identical nine points at the end of the classical games. The American, acknowledged as one of the  best blitz players in the world, benefited when organizers decided that a blitz playoffs would decide ties.

In addition, only one knock-out match was played – and Nakamura prevailed.

Even though world champion Magnus Carlsen failed to show up, the Zurich Challenge, traditionally one of the toughest in the world, was a strong Category 23 tournament.

Aside from Nakamura and Anand, the high-profiled participants included Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana.

In the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival that took place Jan. 27 to Feb. 5, Nakamura topped another strong field that included Vaselin Topalov, the emerging chinese star Wei Yi and women’s world champion Hou Tifan.

Nakamura won the event with an undefeated 8.5/11.

Grandmaster Wesley So TATA STEEL PHOTO

Grandmaster Wesley So TATA STEEL PHOTO

That should be enough answer to So, who made waves with a sterling performance in the Tata Steel Open chess championship in Wijk ann Zee, the Netherlands in January.

So joined the world’s elite chess players, placing second with three others, half-a-point behind Carlsen, who won the tournament with nine points.

The Filipino finished tied with Anish Giri of the Netherlands,20; Maxine Vachier-LaGrave of France, 24 and Ding Ligrin of China, 21.

Considered the “young guns” of the game, they are likely to challenge Carlsen for the world title in a few years.

So is currently competing in the Bunratty Chess Festival in Ireland, which is not a FIDE-rated tournament and will not impact his live rating.

After four rounds, he is among the leaders with 3.5 points. The tournament ends Sunday.

So and Nakamura, who are creating all the buzz in U.S. chess, actually met in January in a blitz series called Death Match 30.

With Nakamura in Italy and So in the United States, the two battled online in five-minute blitz and 2 1/2 minute bullet games. Nakamura pulled an emphatic victory, 21.5 to 11.5.

But many considered that not “real” chess. The rreal one will be the encounter in March in St. Louis, where all the marbles are at stake.

Up for grabs is not only the No.1 ranking in the U.S., but perhaps even their world ratings, which will determine their ability to challenge for the world championship down the road.

With 2797.8 points, Nakamura is ranked No. 6 in the world while So is at No.8 with 9788.0, with Anand, the Indian former world champion sandwiched between the two U.S. players with 2790.9 points.



U.S. chess championships: ‘One for the ages’

Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – It’s nearly two months yet before the 2015 U.S. Championships, but already, there’s a big buzz around this year’s competition.

Some are even calling it “one for the ages,” while others say this is the most interesting chess tournament in years.

The arrival of Grandmaster Wesley So, who transferred to the US chess federation from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines in October is responsible for the heightened interest.

Specifically, it’s his growing rivalry with long-time top American GM Hikaru Nakamura that’s causing chess fans to anticipate the championships.

The 21-year-old So and the 27-year-old Nakamura, are battling for the No.7 world ranking and the No. 1 spot as U.S chess player – and the back-and fort is creating excitement to fans of both players.

Right now, in the official rating of international chess federation, or FIDE, So occupies the No.7 spot and No. 1 American with a 2788 point, while Nakamura has 2776.

However, in the live rating, which is the updated ranking based on the latest tournament results, Nakamura is on top with 2792.1, thanks to a 16.point increase from the recently-concluded Gilbraltar Masters tournament.

Nakamura drew with Pentala Harikrishna in the 10th and last round and clinched first place with seven wins and three draw.

His 8.5/10 result is an emphatic signal that he’s not ready to give up the stage to So just yet.

“At this point, I’m only truly concerned with one title and not much else,” Nakamura said in an interview lat year..“I consider rating to be a far-more accurate measure than being champion of a single tournament. Your rating, and how you consistently perform in every single event you play, is a much better description of a player.”

Nakamura has stayed away from the U.S. championhips since winning the title in 2012, but the arrival of So has rekindled his interest.

“After many years alone at the top, there was a second flag waving stars and stripes down the neck of Nakamura — and that reality got worse immediately,” said chess journalist Brian Jearauld, who thinks So impact was big and immediate.

So’s first tournament as an American came in the prestigious Tata Steel tournament in January, where he turned in an outstanding performance, finishing only a half-point behind the winner, World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

He joined the world’s elite chess players in the company of three others in their 20s, who are considered the “young guns” of the game.

Anish Giri of the Netherlands,20; Maxine Vachier-LaGrave of France, 24; Ding Ligrin of China, 21, and So are likely to challenge Carlsen for the world title in a few years.

Although just a few years older than those in that group, you can add Nakamura’s name to the list of likely world champions now that he has found a new motivation for the pursuit.

Nakamura and So actually met in January in what dubbed “Death Match 30.”
With Nakamura in Italy and So in the United States, the two battled online in five-minute blitz and 2 1/2 minute bullet games. Nakamura pulled an emphatic victory, 21.5 to 11.5.
“The return of Nakamura and the threatening arrival of Wesley So is shaping the 2015 U.S. Championship to be one for the ages: two world top-10 players who headline arguably the strongest field in the history of our national title,” Jearauld said.
Meanwhile, the cast for the 1015 U.S. Championships is complete.Twelve grandmasters will compete in the men’s side, from March 31 to April 14 in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Gata Kamsky (2671) is the defending champion. So (2788) and Nakamura (2776) will meet head-to-head, with a possible wild card for the 2016 Candidates Tournament.
The other players are Conrad Holt (2539) the U.S. Open champion, and Kayden Troff (2541), the U.S. junior champion, made it to the 12-man field because of their victories in USCF-designated tournaments, just like Kamsky.
Six others got in by virtue of their ratings: Alex Onischuk (2665), Sam Shankland (2661), Ray Robson (2656), Daniel Naroditsky (2622), Varuzhan Akobian (2612), and Timur Gareev (2606). Sam Sevian (2531), at 15, the youngest American GM in history, got a wild-card entry.
Grandmaster Wesley So

Grandmaster Wesley So

Suspected killer of Fil-Am clerk may get death penalty


Jin Ackerman in court

Jin Ackerman in court

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS — Prosecutor may seek the death penalty and a jury trial against the man accused of a deadly robbery at a Walgreens store the day after Christmas in which a Fil-Am clerk was killed.

Jin Ackerman, 25, is facing charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and burglary. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, but on Thurday, Feb. 5, Clark County court Judge Jennifer Togliatti denied his bid for bail.

Togliatti has set a March 5 meeting to set a 2016 date for Ackerman’s trial. In the meantime, the former Walgreens employee and father of three will be under custody in county jail.

Tom Pitaro, Ackerman’s attorney, had sought his client be set free pending his trial. He argued that Ackerman, a Las Vegas resident all his life, has no criminal record and is not a flight risk.

But in denying bail, the judge gave weight to prosecutors’ argument that evidence of guilt was strong, and the death penalty is being considered.

Ackerman is charged with robbing Walgreens stores at gunpoint Dec. 24 and Dec. 26, and shooting 58-year-old Isnit as many as 11 times in the second robbery.

Evidence against Ackerman include a store receipt and the discovery by police of money believed to have been stolen from the pharmacy.

Police presented security videos showing a man witnesses recognized as Ackerman in the Dec. 24 and Dec. 26 Walgreens robberies.

“There are four different positive identifications of this suspect,” said Prosecutor Michelle Fleck argued during the bail hearing. “The question in this case is not now and will never be whether or not the defendant is guilty.”

“The question is, what is the appropriate penalty,” Fleck said.

According to the prosecutor, the store receipt showed Ackerman bought surgical masks and latex gloves at a Walgreens store just minutes before the alleged robbery.

Police investigation showed that Ackerman robbed the Walgreens pharmacy on Cheyenne Avenue and Durango Drive during the early morning hours. of Dec.26, 2014.

Isnit, who was working the graveyard shift, reportedly knew the robber, who worked at the store before.

Another employee, a female, was forced to open the store’s safe, but was not hurt. Ackerman shot Isnit, “because he knows me,” according to police reports.

Detectives who arrived at the scene found 11 9mm shell casings near Isnit’s body.

Ackerman, who reportedly was fired in another Walgreens store in 2013, took between $5,000 and $7,000 in cash, police reports said.

Death penalty cases in Las Vegas routinely take up to a year to complete.