Reports Feb 13, 2015 | 4:41 PMby Colin McGourty

Zurich Chess Challenge - Aronian wins blitz!

This year Vladimir Kramnik replaces Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin steps into the boots of Boris Gelfand | photos: official website 

Only days after the spectacular conclusion to the GRENKE Chess Classic we’ve got more top live chess action: the Zurich Chess Challenge. Fabiano Caruana, Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian have made the short trip from Baden-Baden to Zurich, where they’ll be joined by Vladimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura and Sergey Karjakin. The players started with blitz today to determine the pairings, with five days of classical and a final day of rapid chess to follow. The legendary Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann will also play a rapid match.

All the games from the Zurich Chess Challenge will be broadcast live with video commentary on chess24: Blitz | Classical and Rapid | Korchnoi-Uhlmann

Let’s take a quick look at the schedule:

Friday 13th February: Opening ceremony and blitz tournament

Five quick-fire rounds of blitz are used to determine which of the players get the advantage of playing three games with the white pieces in the main event. In last year’s tournament Magnus Carlsen started with a loss and two draws but still managed to come back and win, defeating Hikaru Nakamura in the final game:

This year, in the absence of Carlsen, Levon Aronian dominated the tournament, scoring 4/5, though it could easily have been 4.5. 

Is Levon Aronian back after an uninspired GRENKE Chess Classic? | photo: official website

He offered a draw after he sent a piece flying against Caruana in the following position in their Round 4 game

42...Rxf2+ is actually mate in 13, though that was far from the only move that wins.

In general, it proved to be an advantage to be battle-hardened by playing in Baden-Baden, with Aronian, Anand and Caruana all securing the main prize of an extra game with the white pieces with a round to spare. It was great to see the old Anand start with 2/2, dispatching fellow former World Champion Kramnik with 31.Qc8!:

It's less of a surprise to see Caruana doing well in general, but it was also almost a breakthrough blitz event for him (getting back over 2700...):

In Round 2 he didn't strictly need to sac his queen against Karjakin, but then again, why not!

In the final round he managed to outcalculate another Russian, Vladimir Kramnik, in a very entertaining struggle that could have gone either way. 22...Nb5! was one tactical shot that turned the tables (at least for a while):

So the final standings, with the top three gaining an extra game with the white pieces in the main event, were:

1Levon Aronian27774
2Fabiano Caruana28113.5
3Viswanathan Anand27973.5
4Hikaru Nakamura27762
5Vladimir Kramnik27831
6Sergey Karjakin27601

You can replay the commentary with GMs Jan Gustafsson and Ilja Zaragatski below:

Saturday 14th – Wednesday 18th February: Classical   

This is the centrepiece of the tournament – five rounds of classical chess starting at 15:00 CET each day. The players score double points for these games (2 for a win and 1 for a draw), and the usual “Zurich system” for discouraging draws before move 40 is in place. If the players do draw a game in under 40 moves they have to play a rapid game as well – some added excitement for the spectators, although the result doesn’t count for the final standings.

Thursday 19th February: Rapid

The tournament ends with another five rounds of rapid chess, starting at 11:00 CET on the final day. Wins and draws are scored using the normal system (1 point for a win, 1/2 point for a draw) and added to the classical results to produce the final standings.

As well as the main elite tournament there’s also a very special side event:

Sunday 15th – Monday 16th February: Korchnoi-Uhlmann rapid match

Viktor Korchnoi (83), arguably the strongest player never to become World Champion, will take on Wolfgang Uhlmann (79), an 11-time Champion of East Germany, in a 4-game rapid match held in the morning before the afternoon action begins. You can watch the match here.

You can spot Korchnoi just behind Carlsen at the opening ceremony of the 2014 event | photo: Maria Emelianova, official website 

Who will win the main event?

When it comes to making predictions for the 2015 Zurich Chess Challenge our task is made harder by the absence of World Champion Magnus Carlsen (in somewhat murky circumstances), who won in 2014 despite finishing only fourth in the rapid section. Since none of the players require much introduction let’s just take a quick look at their current form and prospects (live ratings have been given if they differ from the official February ratings):

Fabiano Caruana, 2811, world no. 2 (live: 2809.5, world no. 3)

Current form: It’s been a lean few months for Fabiano in the aftermath of his amazing result in St. Louis, with +1 in the Tata Steel Masters and the GRENKE Chess Classic respectable but below the expectations we’ve built up for the Italian no. 1. It’s symbolic that he’s no longer the world no. 2 on the live rating list, although that can change very quickly as he plays in Zurich while Alexander Grischuk will be in action in the FIDE Grand Prix in Tbilisi.

Prospects: In the absence of Magnus Carlsen it’s hard not to install Caruana as favourite – he did, after all, finish second behind Carlsen in the 2014 event. The recent trend to decide pairings based on blitz tournaments (also used by Norway Chess and the London Chess Classic) is something of a liability for Caruana, who surprisingly blitzes like a 2600 player, but it never seems to harm him too much in the main event. A lot will depend on how much deep preparation he can get in during the classical games.

Viswanathan Anand, 2797, world no. 6 (live: 2782, world no. 9)

Current form: Before last week we’d have reported that Vishy was in fine shape after his World Championship match, but three losses in Baden-Baden made the GRENKE Chess Classic the Indian’s worst result in a very long time.

Prospects: In many ways this is the kind of tournament that should suit Vishy. For years he was almost unbeatable in rapid and blitz chess, and the five-game classical sprint should prevent fatigue from becoming too much of a factor. The worry, of course, is what we saw only last week, but it’s worth recalling 2014 – Vishy had a miserable time in Zurich, losing a bad game in the blitz to Magnus Carlsen, but then played an almost perfect Candidates Tournament. Nowhere from first to last place would be a surprise in the circumstances.

Vladimir Kramnik, 2783, world no. 8

Current form: It’s hard to gauge Vlad’s “current” form, since he hasn’t played since the Qatar Masters Open ended on 4 December last year. We can only note that he looked very impressive there, going on a 6-game winning streak before falling to Yu Yangyi at the finish.

Kramnik cut through the field at the Qatar Masters, but couldn't quite prevent Yu Yangyi taking the first prize | photo: Maria Emelianova, official website

Prospects: The exhibition-like structure of the Zurich Chess Challenge may appeal to the outgoing and media savvy Kramnik, though his best result came in the first edition back in 2012, when he tied a 6-game match with Levon Aronian. He should be fresh after his break, but will he be rusty and require time to get back into the swing of an elite round-robin?

Levon Aronian, 2777, world no. 9 (live: 2774.2, world no. 11)

Current form: 50% somewhat flattered Levon in Baden-Baden, but if you take that together with his -2 in Wijk aan Zee you might at least conclude that the trend is positive. The question of what happened to the Aronian who was the undisputed world no. 2 for so long remains unanswered.

Prospects: At his best Aronian could easily win the tournament, but it’s a long time since we saw Levon at close to his best. If past results in Zurich are any guide we can note that he always finishes top or very close to the top.

‌Hikaru Nakamura, 2776, world no. 10 (live: 2792.1, world no. 6)

Current form: Hikaru is the one player indisputably in form going into the tournament, after he played with great control and determination to win the Gibraltar Masters with 7 wins and 3 draws.

Prospects: It will be interesting to see if form in an open tournament will transfer to the more rarefied atmosphere of an elite event, but the format – merging three different time controls – should appeal to Nakamura. He’s one player, though far from the only one, who won’t be disappointed Magnus Carlsen is not involved. He suffered a hard-to-take loss from a won position in last year’s event.

Sergey Karjakin, 2760, world no. 12

Current form: Another hard case to gauge. Karjakin’s last event was a very disappointing -1 in the Russian Chess Championship last year, with Sergey perhaps wishing he’d followed Kramnik’s example and headed to Qatar instead. More recently than that we have only the fact that Sergey conceded just two draws in 16 games in a simultaneous display on Thursday!

Karjakin not only trounced his opponents in the simul - he first showed them how he was going to do it! | photo: official website

Prospects: Your guess is as good as ours. Given his sheer ability, hard work and determination it’s a surprise that Sergey has failed to win more tournaments in his career, with Norway Chess an exception to the rule. A curiosity is that this will be Karjakin’s first ever Zurich Chess Challenge, so perhaps he can hope for some beginner’s luck! 

Update: We now know the pairings for Saturday's Round 1 of the classical tournament:

  • Viswanathan Anand - Vladimir Kramnik
  • Levon Aronian - Sergey Karjakin
  • Fabiano Caruana - Hikaru Nakamura

Watch all the action with commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Ilja Zaragatski live here on chess24 from 15:00 CET onwards!

You can also follow every move with our free mobile apps:


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