A dominant Hikaru Nakamura capitalized on Daniil Dubov's nightmare start to storm ahead in the first leg of the $150,000 Rapid Challenge final today.
The American, fresh from toppling World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the semi, showed all his cool, calm skills to race into a 2-0 lead almost without breaking a sweat. Dubov, meanwhile, appeared nervy and left himself a mountain to climb.
The Russian has been in fantastic form going into the final but, as in the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial event last month, he has so far struggled in the final. This time, however, Dubov has a chance to get back into it tomorrow. He must win against Nakamura to take the match into a final day or fall at the final hurdle for a second consecutive online super tournament.
Game 1 was immediately unpleasant for the 24-year-old Dubov as he appeared to get punished for pushing too hard. Nakamura, world's top-rated blitz player who boasts an army of fans online, then made Game 2 look easy as he gave Dubov no chances and rolled over him in the endgame. With a 2-0 lead in the bag, obtained in a brutal fashion, Nakamura then tried to shut up shop in the third to grab the half-point needed to secure the mini-match.
Meanwhile, Dubov, having shaken himself into action, had other ideas and went up a gear to take the must-win third game in style. Yet Daniil needed to repeat the feat and beat Nakamura with the Black pieces in Game 4 - no easy task. The Russian pushed hard again in the final game to send it to a tiebreak, but Nakamura was super-steady and held to take the day 2.5-1.5.
"I made it a little bit more messy than I would have liked but obviously it all worked out." Nakamura said in a quick interview after the match.
He added: "I think the match, like most of the other matches, hinged on the first game."
Tomorrow, Dubov, the former World Champion in this "rapid" format, will be back gunning to turn the match around.
The event, which runs until June 3, is being put on in association with the Lindores Abbey Heritage Society, which maintains the historic site.
Coverage begins with commentary in 10 languages at 16.00 CEST.
You can watch it live here
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