Reports Apr 14, 2017 | 8:13 AMby Colin McGourty

Zurich Challenge 1: Kramnik & Nakamura strike

Vladimir Kramnik beat Vishy Anand and Hikaru Nakamura overcame local hero Yannick Pelletier as the New Classical section of the 2017 Zurich Chess Challenge began on Thursday. It looked as though we would get three decisive results but Peter Svidler, playing the Sicilian, somehow managed to survive after castling into a withering attack from Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Kramnik found a sting in the tail against his old rival Anand | photo: Russian Chess Federation

There was only one round of 45-minute games on Thursday, but it didn’t disappoint!

You can rewatch GM Danny King’s live commentary, including some player interviews, below:

Vladimir Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura brought their good form from the opening blitz into the main event. Kramnik was facing his old rival Vishy Anand in a symmetrical English that looked roughly equal until Vishy took a fateful decision. Recalling the final game of his 2014 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen, he went for a positional exchange sacrifice with the preparatory 28…b5?! and then 29…Rc4?!

Kramnik accepted the challenge and then won the game with the elegant 36.e6!

Black can’t prevent disaster on the dark squares, with the game ending: 36…Bxe6 37.Qe5+ Kh7 38.Ra1! and, since almost the only resistance Black can put up to Ra8 and the mate threat on h8 is a single check, Vishy resigned.

Tournament organiser and Chairman of the Zurich Chess Club Christian Issler explains the rules before the event began | photo: Russian Chess Federation

Kramnik is joined on 2/2 (wins in “new classical” chess count double in Zurich) by Hikaru Nakamura, who comprehensively outplayed Yannick Pelletier. The Swiss GM’s 21…Nf6? essentially cost him the game:

Hikaru pounced with 22.Nh6+! when, since 22…Kh8 runs into tactical trouble after 23.g4 and the threat of, for instance, 23…Bf7 24.Bxe5!, Pelletier had to accept a crippled pawn structure. The main issue, as Hikaru pointed out afterwards, was that if Black did nothing White would eventually put his other knight on the now gaping hole on f5.

Pelletier had little choice but to head to a difficult ending where Nakamura had the bishop pair and a big advantage on the clock, with Nakamura describing his win as “pretty smooth”. He said the 45-minute time control probably suits him more than rapid, since he has some time for a serious think in the early stages of the game before needing to blitz out moves.

Nepomniachtchi and Svidler together at the opening ceremony | photo: Russian Chess Federation

It seemed to all the world that there would be three leaders after the first round, but Ian Nepomniachtchi couldn’t convert a huge attack against Peter Svidler’s Sicilian. The key move he missed looks to have been the quiet Ne2 in some variations, and it would have been strong on move 18 instead of 18.Rh3!?:

18…g5! may have been an only move born of desperation, but it worked! After 19.Bxg5 f4! 20.Bxf4 Raf8! Black suddenly had counterplay and managed to bail out into a position a mere pawn down. Later they reached a queen ending where Svidler was two pawns down but could give perpetual check.

That leaves Gelfand-Oparin as the one relatively quiet game of the day. 19-year-old Grigoriy Oparin seized the initiative in the middlegame, but Boris safely neutralised the danger. Afterwards Gelfand talked to Danny King about various topics, including whether he was dreaming of getting into the next Candidates Tournament. “It’s not a dream, it’s a goal!”, was Gelfand’s reply, with Boris playing in the FIDE Grand Prix series and World Cup.

Boris Gelfand has lost none of his passion for chess, as coming so close to winning the opening blitz showed | photo: Russian Chess Federation

He also reminisced about his encounters with the man the tournament is named after, Viktor Korchnoi, and how in the 2001 Biel tournament, marking his 70th birthday, the legend finished clear first ahead of Svidler, Lautier, Grischuk, Pelletier and Gelfand himself. Boris mentioned in particular two “model games”, which we’ve added so you can play them through with computer analysis: Gelfand 0-1 Korchnoi and Korchnoi 1-0 Grischuk.

In case you missed it (why not subscribe to our YouTube channel?) here’s analysis by Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca on Vishy Anand’s beautiful exhibition game win over Oleg Skvortsov from last Thursday:

The other event that started in Zurich on Thursday is the Korchnoi Zurich Open. Early mini-surprises included a draw for top seed Alexei Shirov:

The most memorable game, though, was probably Loek van Wely’s! 

Loek in Zurich with New in Chess Editor-in-Chief Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam | photo: Russian Chess Federation

All his recent experience of playing 24 hours of Banter Blitz on chess24 kicked in after he blundered away a winning position with 23…b5??

24.Rd2! was the slight fly in the ointment, trapping the queen (if 24…Qc4 then 25.Bb3). A weaker man might have resigned, but Loek continued on as though nothing had happened with 24…Qxd2+ and, when his opponent returned the favour, actually went on to win in some style!

On Friday the Zurich Open resumes at 11am CEST, while the first games of the day’s two rounds of new classical chess in the Zurich Chess Classic start at 12:30. You can also watch the action in our free mobile apps:   


See also:

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