Hikaru Nakamura showed few signs of jetlag as he won the Zurich Chess Challenge blitz opener without losing a game. He was joined by Boris Gelfand, Vladimir Kramnik and Ian Nepomniachtchi in winning the prize of four games with White in the “New Classical” section of the tournament that starts today. The hero of the day was arguably, however, Vishy Anand, who played an exquisite queen sacrifice to win a time odds game against the main organiser Oleg Skvortsov.
The 6th edition of the Zurich Chess Challenge got underway in the Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville on Wednesday with the 8-player field, topped by Kramnik, Anand and Nakamura, joined by a star-studded audience. The 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov and his rival Jan Timman were both in attendance for an event dedicated to the memory of another legend, Viktor Korchnoi. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was also present, making his first official appearance as FIDE President since retaining that position in an extraordinary board meeting in Athens on Monday.
Kirsan was among friends, with Vladimir Kramnik having recently given an interview in which he hit out at the officials in FIDE who had attempted to push through Ilyumzhinov’s resignation, saying they, “have nothing behind them – neither law, nor money or authority” and that if they continued on this course, “their career in chess politics will be over for sure”.
The following question and answer also suggested that Zurich could become FIDE’s powerbase rather than Athens, where FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos reigns supreme:
Zangalis: Oleg Skvortsov suggested an idea to move FIDE Headquarters from Athens to Zurich. All major sports organizations are based in Switzerland. How do you like this idea?
Kramnik: I support it very ardently. Zurich is a city with rich chess tradition, unlike Athens. The world's oldest chess club is located in Zurich – it is more than 200 years old, and I often hold lectures in it. Oleg Skvortsov, who is a friend of mine, organizes a big tournament in Zurich for sixth straight year, and is a honored member of the aforementioned club. Also, Switzerland is ideally suited for the base of FIDE Headquarters. The country has always been perfectly neutral, and the fact that it hosts the IOC Headquarters speaks for itself. In the past FIDE was also based in Switzerland – in Lucerne and Lausanne. Perhaps one could start changes in FIDE with that.
So there was chess politics in the air, but instead the show was stolen on the first day by what might have been expected simply to be a curious mismatch – Oleg Skvortsov, a strong amateur, took on former World Champion Vishy Anand. There were time odds, with Oleg having 30 minutes to Vishy’s 15, but for a player renowned for his speed that was unlikely to trouble the great champion.
In a way, that’s how it turned out, but the game – which you can replay here with computer analysis - was magnificent!
The opening soon turned wild, as Skvortsov adopted a sacrificial line that got the Lawrence Trent seal of approval:
It made for a great spectacle, with Anand relishing the chance to respond to fire with fire:
The knight is attacked, so what does Vishy do? Move it to another square where it’s attacked! 10...Nb4! The moment the game will be remembered for, though, was the stunning queen sacrifice 16...Qxg3+!!
Oleg was so stunned he thought for over two minutes on his reply 17.hxg3, even though the only alternative was 17.Kh1 and the instant mate 17…Qxf3#.
After 17…Rxg3+ 18.Kh2 Rxf3 computers tell us White is surviving after e.g. 19.Qg7!, but it was a hugely complicated position and no surprise that Skvortsov soon succumbed to the Indian star.
We now have analysis of the encounter from Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca, who approaches it with the enthusiasm it deserves!
After a game like that Oleg had earned the right to say at
the opening ceremony that followed, "Save chess, please, play for a
win!" There was also a minute’s silence in honour of Viktor Korchnoi, more
speeches, and a musical performance by a quartet of top musicians, Ilya
Gringolts, Boris Adrianov, Dmitry Illarionov, and Leonard Schreiber. You can
rewatch the whole show below:
Chess fans, of course, had come for the chess, and this year’s Zurich Chess Challenge has the same format as a year ago. The most important section, from today to Sunday, is played at the “New Classical” time control of 45 minutes for all moves, plus a 30-second increment from move 1, a time control roughly twice as quick as normal classical chess. Points scored in those games count double compared to the 10 minutes + 5-second increment blitz games to be played on Monday.
Thursday’s blitz opener, meanwhile, didn’t count towards the overall standings but instead determined the pairings in the New Classical games, with the top four players getting four Whites instead of three. The time control was the fast and furious 4 minutes + a 2-second increment, producing a lot of fun encounters. You can replay them all using the selector below:
Two players stood out in the tournament, Hikaru Nakamura, who lived up to his reputation for speed chess, and Boris Gelfand, who at 48 is still not a player to underestimate at any form of chess.
It helped that he started by winning a lost position against Yannick Pelletier!
Boris, with Black, has just menacingly moved his queen into the vicinity of White’s king, but after 21.Nxe4 or the flashier 21.Qxe4 it turns out Black has nothing and is simply busted. Instead Yannick went for 21.Rxd8? and after 21…Qh2+ Kxg4 it was mate-in-3. Boris took one more move than that, but the local player’s king couldn’t escape execution.
Pelletier’s woes continued in the next round against Nakamura when he missed a simple pin in playing 39.Rc4?
39…Rcd7! meant the d6-knight was lost, since after 40.Rc6 a third black piece attacked d6: 40…Ke7. That set up an early showdown between the top two, where Nakamura demonstrated impressive technique with the bishop pair to win a drawish ending against Gelfand. The final move was pretty – 71.Bb4!
Oddly enough that was the last game Hikaru won, with +2 proving enough for him to take first place. The closest he came to a loss in the remaining games was in Round 4, against the dangerous 19-year-old Russian Grigoriy Oparin. The opening was extraordinary, with Hikaru’s putting the second knight on a7 apparently a new move:
Don’t try this at home, though Nakamura initially seemed to get back into the game before slipping into a hopeless position. That wasn’t the end of the story, though!
Almost anything Oparin does here is winning, but not paralysing his king and pawns with 54…Kh3?, when suddenly it seems all but impossible to avoid the stalemate that followed 8 moves later.
As in any blitz tournament there were brilliancies and blunders wherever you looked. For instance, Peter Svidler has just played 23…Nd8? against his compatriot Vladimir Kramnik (23…Nd4! was the only good choice):
24.Bg5! was an unusual piece-winning pin of a knight against a knight.
Kramnik lost to an impressive performance by Anand, who gained an edge and then slow-played it rather than releasing the tension and giving his opponent chances to get back in the game.
Vladimir did well overall, though, finishing third and turning on the style to beat Nepomniachtchi:
Kramnik had won the opening battle to create a passed a-pawn by move 16, but how can he save the knight? (the g7-bishop is pinned, so 22…Nc3 is simply met by 23.Bxc3) The answer to that question is the same as the one Mikhail Tal came up with after contemplating how to pull a hippo out of a swamp… "let it drown!" 22…Qf6!! After 23.Rxa2 Qxf2+ 24.Kh1 Ne4! Black was so dominant that resignation came two moves later.
The main sporting significance of the final two rounds was that Ian Nepomniachtchi just edged out Vishy Anand to get the four Whites in the main event. He did so by beating Oparin with a nice finish in the penultimate round and then beating Gelfand in the final round.
Boris was wrong to give up an exchange in a defensible position, as Nepo showed when he returned it!
45.Rxd8! and after 45…Bxb7 Boris was left with a very bad bishop – no match for the white rook. The final standings looked as follows:
On the basis of those standings we now have the pairings for the rest of the event in Zurich:
As you can see, Thursday’s single round features Kramnik-Anand, with subsequent days seeing two New Classical games played in a day. Don’t miss the games live here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST, with commentary in English by Grandmaster Danny King.
As if that wasn't enough, today also sees the start of two major opens: the Korchnoi Zurich Open (including Shirov and Van Wely) and the GRENKE Open (Wojtaszek, Vitiugov, Matlakov, Rapport, Bacrot, Kamsky...). You can also watch all the action for free in our mobile apps: