ICC (chessclub.com) website has long been considered the top choice for all Grandmasters and beginners alike, who would like to play, study and learn chess on line.

With their brand new addition- the ICC Open (May 2011), they tapped a whole new field of tournaments on line that include cash prizes. It was a 3-minute per game tournament and drew hundreds of Grandmasters and players of every level. In average, each tournament had about 700 participants. There were 4 Qualifiers and the top two seeds would claim the spots for the Final 8.

By beating 4 Grandmasters, 3 International Masters and 2 Masters, I was able to clinch the spot at the prestigious Final 8 group. Along the way making GM A. Ramirez very upset, because had I not won the last game against a very strong Russian GM (who blundered a queen), most likely Alejandro would get the spot based on tie-breaks. I still have his immediate ICC comment about my game saved in my notes!

And then the adventures started. I was originally scheduled to play a fellow Armenian Grandmaster (best of 4 games), but the person who had to play H.Nakamura was forfeited ( I am sure it had to do with some kind of cheating issues, though ICC did not disclose why exactly  that person  was disqualified for). By the morning of the match date I learned the pairing switched and I am playing Nakamura. In a sense it was an exciting change but also made it much tougher for me (Nakamura became the winner of the tournament). After all, beating a Super-GM or beating GM Nakamura for many people is not the same thing.

Round 1: Very quickly I was able to reach an upper hand (he misplayed the Kasparov’s line), got a winning position, won an exchange, lost an exchange and got a position where I cannot lose (guaranteed perpetual check). Nakamura offered a draw, which I declined and chose a wrong spot for a queen. Checking on f5 with a queen would win, but I thought how can a check even closer to his king (checking on f6) be wrong? Turns out it was and then the most I had was a perpetual check. What is really interesting is that RYBKA (one of the best computers nowadays) even then gives me a decisive edge (+4.5 points- almost up a rook!) yet can only find a draw. A very strange glitch for this computer.The rest of it after I declined the draw and chased his king- didn’t work out well at all- his king hid and I slowly lost.

Round 2: Hikaru played his favourite 1b3 and having learned my lesson previously, I didn’t play the “best” line with 1…e5 (see Nakamura-Ponomariov 2011 and numerous blitz games between Hikaru and Aronian on ICC) but instead opted for a solid Kings Indian structure. Incidentally, that preparation gave fruit 2 weeks later in the Las Vegas tournament, when I got a crushing position against GM Blatny, using the same exact system.Something didn’t go as well as I would have hoped as I lost a pawn but then got back in the game and completely equalized. Somehow after it I was able to infiltrate with Rooks on the 2nd Rank (oh-oh- scary) and Hikaru immediately offered a draw. Once again, I declined but moved the knight the wrong way towards his king and instead of a decisive advantage, somehow got pinned and pretty much got mated myself.

Round 3: This was the highlight of the match because after checkmating him in 21 moves, Hikaru immediately started asking me if I am cheating. To paraphrase Kasparov’s words about Anand- I am not that bad a player to think I have to lose every game!

In Petroff defense, I played a line first shown to me by Armenian GM Minasian and got a great attack against his King. At some point I was not sure how to proceed but what I did was enough to create a crashing attack and checkmate Hikaru in the middle of the board!

Round 4: I played my old system of French against his 1 e4, got an upper hand (monsterous 2 Bishops) but missed some tactic and it fizzled to a dead draw with opposite bishops but down a pawn. After another 100 moves (no kidding- 3 minute game, no time delay, making 3 moves a second in average), I was almost winning! But it was a draw and Nakamura advanced, despite some of the anti-Naka fans who immediately flooded the screen with comments like why didn’t I try to flag him since he was not at his home but somewhere in Europe.

One of the wonderful things about matches like this is it builds confidence. If you can beat (and almost beat Nakamura) in every single game- then all other players after him are not that scary. That little boost helped me do very well in the next event- the Las Vegas Chess Festival 2 weeks later.

It was fun!

Levon Altounian