Reports Feb 20, 2015 | 12:45 PMby IM David Martínez

Hikaru Nakamura (barely) wins the Zürich Chess Challenge

Hikaru Nakamura managed to overcome the narrow lead Anand took from the classical games and ultimately prevailed, to general surprise, in an Armageddon blitz tiebreak which had not been announced beforehand. It's the second consecutive tournament victory for the American and came after a hard fight annotated below.

In 2015, Nakamura has every reason to be proud. First, he won in Gibraltar and now in Zürich. | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website

If you prefer to re-live the action in real-time, check out our Shows page, where you'll find archived live commentary from all the rapid games!

 Round 1: Nakamura closes the distance

Nakamura started with a win against Fabiano Caruana in a very closed game:


The American with White, has the a-file available, but it's difficult to put it to good use. But Caruana rushed things with the exchange sacrifice 31...Ra8?, trusting his two minor pieces can keep the position closed. Instead Nakamura managed to open the game by starting with a well-timed g5 advance and took over the initiative. This brought him to within striking distance of Anand who drew against Kramnik

Round 2: Slip-up for both leaders

Nakamura pressed Kramnik after the opening with White, but a failed attempt to attack combined with precise defence by the Russian turned the tide and gave Kramnik the advantage. In a still unclear position, Hikaru committed a grave error.


The American player had just taken on b4 with the bishop, but only after 45...Nxb4 did he notice that he coudln't recapture since the b4-rook falls after 46.Rxb4 Re1 47.Rxe1 Qxe1+. Sometimes it's hard to spot backward moves with the queen! Meanwhile, Anand was completely lost in the opening against Aronian... I don't need to tell you that the former World Champion prefers not to show his weapons in rapid games and therefore suffers these mishaps from time to time.

Round 3: Anand leading, Kramnik lurking

Vishy Anand defeated a completely disoriented Caruana in only 22 moves and maintained the sole lead. Although the game wasn't very interesting from a technical standpoint, it was aesthetically pleasing. Take a look at the complete dominance of the white position and the elegant ensnarement of the knight on g4.


Kramnik on the other hand managed to create problems for Aronian's pair of bishops with his own pair of knights to take one point.

GM Jan Gustafsson picked this fight as his Game of the Day:

Nakamura drew and was one point behind Anand and half a point ahead of Kramnik.

The spectators are captivated by the rapid games. | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website


Round 4: Nakamura defeats Anand and catches him

It was all or nothing for the American and he used this opportunity well. Anand emerged from the opening in fine shape, but Hikaru didn't let that stop him and began to press, achieving a strong passed c-pawn. After a few exchanges, we soon arrived at the following position:


Nakamura has a theoretical advantage of material with the Queen against bishop and rook, but Black's position is very solid. Hikaru's technique was magnificent; he pestered the black pieces and then broke through at an opportune moment. A well-deserved victory at a key moment in the tournament.

Kramnik wasn't able to hold a long ending against Karjakin and missed the chance to close in on the two leaders.

 Round 5: Draw and then tiebreak?

Nakamura played very solidly with Black against Aronian and drew, while Anand also tried to exert pressure with White and shared a point with Karjakin. The ranking after all the rapid games can be seen at right.

Rapid games used standard scoring compared to double points of the classical ones.

Perhaps the organisers were inspired by the GRENKE Chess Classic, which saw an emotional rapid tiebreak, but in any case, before the fifth round, they announced that if there would be a tie for first place, it should be broken by a blitz playoff.

The playoff came as a surprise to many observers, and was initially planned to include two games of normal blitz, followed by a single sudden death (so-called Armageddon) game if tie remained. This was accepted by Nakamura, but Anand raised an understandable objection to the late change of the regulations. After a delayed start, he agreed to play a single Armageddon game for the tournament title (the prize fund was split evenly).

To the spectators' regret, the game wasn't up to standard. The Indian's attitude is understandable though: he works very hard on his openings and knows that they are simply worth more in classic games. Anand repeated an opening choice from his repertoire for classic games and after barely 15 moves, he was practically lost. Nakamura didn't leave any options for his opponent and came out on top, thus becoming the overall winner of the Zürich Chess Challenge.

The tournament podium... Although from his size, Kramnik could certainly deceive everyone :-) | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website

To wrap up, let's take a look at GM Jan Gustafsson's "Game of the Tournament", the crucial encounter between Anand and Nakaura from the classical portion of the event. Enjoy!

See also:

IM David Martínez

David is the current coach of the Spanish Women's National Team and GM David Antón Guijarro. He's responsible for chess24's Spanish site. You can watch his series "Entrenamiento de Grandes Maestros" and "Estrategia de Alto Nivel" as well as a lot of other videos on our YouTube channel.




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