Let’s take a quick look at the schedule:
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.
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:
You can replay the commentary with GMs Jan Gustafsson and Ilja Zaragatski below:
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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.