Kortchnoi Zurich Blitz: A day of Sacrifices

by Srinath Narayanan
4/13/2017 – The Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge 2017 began with legendary grandmasters and Russian talents in the fray, promising entertaining chess for the fans. The opening day saw an exhibition match between the chief sponsor Oleg Skvortsov and Viswanathan Anand. The Indian legend made it a showstopper with a queen sacrifice. A seven-round blitz tourney followed to determine the pairings for the main event, which was led by Boris Gelfand until the sixth round, but as has become traditional in Zurich now, it was Hikaru Nakamura who won the tournament on the tiebreak!

Photos by Frederic Friedel

It has long been a tradition in many human races to begin an important event with a sacrifice. On the first day in Zurich, there was no shortage of this. There were sacrifices in almost every round in the opening blitz, in some cases one’s own pieces, and in some cases, the opponent's.

It all began with Vishy’s exhibition match against the main sponsor of the Zurich Chess Challenge, Mr Oleg Skvortsov. Vishy exhibited a masterpiece against Skvortsov, who in his active playing days was known to be a great attacker in his chess circle.


[Event "ZCC 2017 - Exhibition Match - Skvortsov"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Skvortsov, Oleg"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. b4 Bb6 7. e5 d5 8. exf6 dxc4 9. Qe2+ Be6 10. b5 Nb4 $1 11. fxg7 Rg8 12. cxb4 Qf6 13. O-O Qxg7 14. g3 O-O-O 15. a4 d3 16. Qb2 Qxg3+ $3 17. hxg3 Rxg3+ 18. Kh2 Rxf3 19. Bg5 $2 ({ Prophylaxis was called for here.} 19. Qg7 Rh3+ 20. Kg2 Bd4 21. Qg5 f6 22. Qg7 Rh4 23. Kg3 Rh3+ 24. Kg2 Rh4 $14 {Komodo calls the bluff. But fortunately, chess is not about computers.}) 19... Bd4 20. Qd2 Rg8 21. Ra3 h6 22. Rg1 Rh3+ 23. Kg2 Rxg5+ {And the mate shall arrive without any more delay. Skvortsov resigned without waiting for} 24. Kf1 Rxg1+ 25. Kxg1 Bd5 0-1


The seven round blitz tournament turned out to be a race between Hikaru Nakamura and Boris Gelfand who was playing zestfully, more like his younger self. Boris, in fact, had been leading the tournament until the final round.

Gelfand started his campaign with the following entertaining game where he delivers a Greek Gift, only to see Yanick Pelletier do a king walk, like Forrest Gump, that should have ended up mating Boris!

But the former World Championship Finalist survived:

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Pelletier, Yannick"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2541"] [BlackElo "2724"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3rr1k1/pb2qppp/1pp2n2/3Pb3/4p3/1PN1P3/PBQ2PPP/3RRBK1 w - - 0 17"] [PlyCount "18"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 17. dxc6 Bxh2+ $2 (17... Bxc6 18. Rxd8 Rxd8 19. h3 {would've lead to an approximately balanced game.}) 18. Kxh2 Ng4+ 19. Kg3 (19. Kg1 {wins as well, as after} Qh4 {White has} 20. Bb5 $1 Qh2+ 21. Kf1 Qh1+ 22. Ke2 Qxg2 23. Nxe4 $18) 19... Qe5+ 20. f4 Qh5 {White had about a minute here. Like Forrest Gump, his King instinctively had to drop everything and just run, run as far as possible} 21. Rxd8 $4 (21. Nxe4 $142 {creating route for the king to run.}) ( 21. Qxe4 $142) 21... Qh2+ 22. Kxg4 h5+ $4 23. Kg5 $4 {running towards the wrong direction.} (23. Kf5 g6+ 24. Kg5 Qg3+ 25. Kh6 Rxd8 26. Nxe4 $18 {This king march works!}) 23... Qg3+ 24. Kxh5 g6+ 25. Kh6 Qh4# {not all king marches to h6 end up in a masterpiece.} 0-1

Nepomniachtchi scored 50% and Svidler was at the bottom of the table with 2.5/7.

It all boiled down to who blundered less in this time control with 4 minutes+2 seconds increment. Svidler and Pelletier were guilty of many such errors and hence, they finished last.

Anand was also stranded on 50% despite winning against his one-time nemesis Vladimir Kramnik. And this was mostly due to games such as these...

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "2"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B53"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [BlackElo "2751"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r1k1/p3qp2/1pn1r1pp/3Q4/3P1BP1/7P/PP3P2/R2R2K1 w - - 0 25"] [PlyCount "16"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 25. Rac1 $2 (25. Qg2 Qf6 26. d5 Re2 27. dxc6 Qxf4 28. Rac1 Rc8 29. Qg3 $16) 25... Qf6 26. Bg3 $2 {it's hard to guess exactly what Vishy had missed.... } (26. Bc7 $142) 26... Rd8 27. Qg2 Nxd4 28. Kh1 Rde8 29. b3 Nf3 {Now Black has a dominant position.} 30. Qf1 h5 31. gxh5 gxh5 {White's position is hopeless, but the next move ends it in one move.} 32. Rc4 $4 Re1 0-1

Grigoriy Oparin was also solid for the most part, but started blundering in time trouble towards the end. In most of the games, the Russian had a time deficit, which probably explains why despite playing fine, he could only notch up 3.0/7.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "2"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2811"] [BlackElo "2571"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. d3 Nd7 5. O-O e5 6. h3 Bh5 7. c4 dxc4 8. dxc4 Ngf6 9. Nh4 Bc5 10. Nc3 O-O 11. Qc2 Re8 12. a3 a5 13. e3 Qc7 14. Rb1 Bf8 15. b4 axb4 16. axb4 Nb6 17. g4 Bg6 18. Nxg6 hxg6 $16 {White has a big positional advantage. The g2 bishop is especially strong in this position, with none to oppose on the light squares. Moves just flow naturally to Vlad in such a position...} 19. g5 Nh7 20. Ne4 Be7 21. h4 Qd7 22. b5 Rac8 23. bxc6 Rxc6 24. c5 Qc8 25. Qb3 Nd7 26. Qxb7 Nxc5 27. Qxc6 Qxc6 28. Nf6+ Qxf6 29. gxf6 Nxf6 $18 { Despite being down on time with a lost position, Oparin fights on with all his skill} 30. Rb5 Nd3 31. Bd2 Ng4 32. Bc6 Rf8 33. f3 Nh6 34. Rd5 $6 (34. Bd5 Bxh4 35. Bc4 Rd8 36. Ba5 Rd7 37. Rd1 Nc5 38. Rxd7 Nxd7 39. Rd5 Nf6 40. Rxe5 g5 41. Kg2 g4 $18) 34... Nb4 35. Bxb4 Bxb4 {The opposite colour bishops makes conversion a little trickier as White struggles to defend weaknesses on the dark squares.} 36. Rxe5 Nf5 37. h5 $2 (37. Rd1 Nxh4 38. Re4 Be1 $1 39. Kf1 Bg3 40. Ke2 $18 {And White should probably break through in a matter of time.}) 37... Nxe3 $1 38. hxg6 $2 (38. Rb1 Bc3 39. Rxe3 Bd4 40. Kf2 gxh5 {Black has excellent chances to draw.}) 38... Nxf1 39. Bd5 Ng3 40. Kg2 Bd6 41. Rg5 Kh8 ( 41... Rd8 $1 {and perhaps Black can try to win here.}) 42. gxf7 Kh7 43. Rg4 g6 44. Rxg3 Bxg3 45. Kxg3 Kg7 46. f4 Rxf7 1/2-1/2

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "6"] [White "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B92"] [WhiteElo "2571"] [BlackElo "2751"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r1rk/5p1p/p2p3P/1p1PbQ2/2q1p3/P1PnB3/1PB2P2/3R2RK b - - 0 38"] [PlyCount "15"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 38... Qxd5 {Oparin was better for most part of the game, but with just 10 seconds remaining, he loses his composure here.} 39. Rg2 $2 (39. f4 $142 $1 exf3 40. Bxd3 f2+ 41. Be4 fxg1=Q+ 42. Rxg1 Rxg1+ 43. Bxg1 {would win Black's queen}) (39. Rxg8+ Kxg8 40. f4 exf3 41. Qxd3 {also wins}) 39... Rg6 40. Rdg1 ( 40. f4 {is simply met by} Bxf4 {now, as taking the queen with} 41. Qxd5 Rxh6+ 42. Kg1 Bxe3+ 43. Kf1 Nf4 {And black threatens mate with Rh1 or to take the Queen.}) 40... Reg8 41. Rg5 Rxh6+ 42. Rh5 Nxf2+ {And White's position collapses everywhere.} 43. Bxf2 e3+ 44. Be4 Rxh5+ 45. Qxh5 Qxe4+ 0-1

Gelfand played very interesting chess overall, including a brave, but completely wrong, sacrifice against Pelletier that we discussed in the beginning. He also played two technically correct games against Vishy and Oparin. Interestingly, Boris is playing as a last-minute replacement for Maxime-Vachier Lagrave who had to withdraw due to personal reasons.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "5"] [White "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B81"] [WhiteElo "2571"] [BlackElo "2724"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1r1r1bk1/2q2p1p/2bpp1pP/ppn3P1/4P3/P3BP2/NPPQB3/1K1RR3 b - - 0 21"] [PlyCount "23"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 21... d5 22. Bxc5 $1 {A good move in a difficult position} Bxc5 23. Qc3 Bf8 24. exd5 exd5 25. Qb3 $2 {traps the queen. Oparin was undefeated and well placed at 2.5/4, however this move traps his Queen and contributes towards his first loss in the tournament.} (25. b4 $142 {A fairly typical defensive move in this variation.} Qd6 26. Qd4 {would still be a little upleasant for White, but objectively equal and balanced.}) 25... d4 26. c4 (26. Qd3 b4 {also opens up and exposes White's defences.}) 26... bxc4 27. Qxc4 Bxa3 28. Rd2 Qb7 29. Rc1 Bxb2 30. Qxc6 Bc3+ 31. Qxb7 Rxb7+ 32. Kc2 Rb2+ 0-1

Nakamura was stable and played decent chess throughout. There was not anything extraordinary in his games, but he played good and fast moves without major blunders, which is remarkable with just 4 minutes for each game.

Of course, that included creative positions such as this one.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "4"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B53"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2571"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "124"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nf6 5. Bg5 Nc6 6. Bb5 Qa5+ 7. Nc3 Qxb5 8. Nxb5 Nxd4 9. Nfxd4 Nxe4 $5 10. Nc7+ Kd8 11. Nxa8 {is the knight trapped?} Nxg5 12. Nb5 {I don't think so....} a6 13. Na7 $2 {The piece placement instinctively feels wrong.} (13. Nc3 h5 14. Nb6 Bf5 {the knight is out safely, but Black has good compensation.}) 13... Bd7 14. b4 d5 15. b5 axb5 16. Rb1 e6 17. Nxb5 Bc5 18. Nc3 Ke7 19. Nb6 Bc6 20. Nba4 Bd6 {The knights are out, but in the meantime, Black has developed and controls the center. The White knights are still woefully uncoordinated.} 21. Nb5 Ra8 22. Nac3 {'superfluous knights' as Mark Dvoretzky used to remark...} Bc5 23. O-O Ne4 24. Nxe4 dxe4 25. a3 Ra5 26. c4 Ra4 27. Rb3 (27. Rfc1 e3 {would also concede material. White has just too many weaknesses and the rooks aren't completely suitable for this terrain.} ) 27... Rxc4 28. Nc3 e3 29. fxe3 Bxe3+ 30. Kh1 Rg4 31. Rb2 Bd4 32. Rc1 h5 33. Rbc2 h4 34. h3 Rg3 35. Kh2 Bxc3 36. Rxc3 Rxg2+ 37. Kh1 Rd2+ 38. Kg1 g5 39. R1c2 Rxc2 40. Rxc2 f5 41. a4 Bxa4 42. Rc7+ Kf6 43. Rxb7 Bc6 44. Rh7 Kg6 45. Re7 Bd5 46. Re8 g4 47. Rg8+ Kh5 48. hxg4+ fxg4 49. Kh2 Be4 50. Rh8+ Kg5 51. Rg8+ Kf4 52. Rh8 g3+ 53. Kg1 Kg4 54. Rg8+ Kh3 $2 {the decisive mistake} (54... Kf4 55. Rh8 Kg5 56. Rg8+ Bg6 {is clearly winning. The plan is to advance the e-pawn. The g8 rook cannot defend from e8. If White goes towards the e-pawn, then he can't stop the h passer.} 57. Kg2 e5 58. Kh3 e4 59. Kg2 e3 60. Kf3 h3 $19) 55. Rg5 Bf5 56. Rg8 Bg4 57. Rg5 g2 {White's king is in a stalemate position, so the rook becomes invincible now. The result might be completely different if Malcolm Pein had been in power.} 58. Re5 Kg3 59. Rxe6 h3 60. Rh6 h2+ 61. Rxh2 Bh3 62. Rxg2+ Bxg2 1/2-1/2

While Gelfand had been leading after six rounds, he lost his final round game to Nepomniachtchi, and Nakamura held Anand to a draw. Both the American and the Israeli were tied at 4.5/7, but Naka took the title on the tiebreak (Sonneborn-Berger). However, if you look at the head to head encounter between them, it was Hikaru who had come out on top.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Opening"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.12"] [Round "3"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2724"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3B4/8/3p1nk1/3Pb3/5p2/3K1B2/5P2/8 w - - 0 58"] [PlyCount "27"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 58. Kc4 {Black's defense posture is perfect and he probably has to just move his king.} Nh7 $6 (58... Kf5 59. Kb5 Ne4 60. Bb6 Bb2 61. Kc6 Ba3 $11) 59. Be4+ Kh6 60. Kb5 $2 (60. Bxh7 Kxh7 61. f3 $1 {wins as Black can't defend against Kb5,Kc6,Bc7} Kg6 62. Kb5 Kf7 63. Kc6 Ke8 64. Bc7 Ke7 65. Bb8 {and it's zugzwang as both the Black pieces have only one optimal square...}) 60... Ng5 61. Bf5 Nf3 62. Be4 Nd2 63. Bd3 Bd4 $2 {Black goes towards the wrong course, but with less than 10 seconds, it's perfectly normal.} (63... Kh5 64. Bc7 Kg4 65. Kc6 Bd4 66. Bxd6 Bxf2 {would've bought Black more time.} 67. Be7 Nb3 68. d6 Nc5 69. d7 Nxd7 70. Kxd7 f3 $11) 64. Bc7 Bxf2 65. Bxd6 Be3 66. Bf8+ $1 { the extra tempo, as compared to the variation with the king on g4. Black doesn't have Nb3,Nc5 defense anymore.} Kh5 67. d6 f3 68. Be7 Bf4 69. d7 Bc7 70. Kc6 Ba5 71. Bb4 1-0


Rk Name ELO Pts SB
1. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2793 4.5 18.00
2. Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2724 4.5 16.25
3. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2811 4.0 15.75
4. Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS) 2751 3.5 13.50
5. Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2786 3.5 12.00
6. Grigoryi Oparin (RUS) 2604 3.0 9.75
7. Peter Svidler (RUS) 2747 2.5 7.25
8. Yannick Pelletier (SUI) 2543 2.5 6.25

Note: The Opening Blitz has, however, no effect on the final rankings; it was held only to determine the pairings for the main tournament.

Impressions from the Opening Ceremony

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhiov was present at the Opening. The recent special board meeting essentially makes Kirsan chess' Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, whose Wiki describes him as: 'He was briefly the President of the Galaxy (a role that involves no power whatsoever, and merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge, a role for which Zaphod was perfectly suited).'

Ilya Gringolts, one of the most inspirational violinists today, Boris Adrianov, a multiple international prize winner for his amazing cellist talents, Dmitry Illarionov, probably the most talented guitarists of modern Russia, and Leonard Schreiber, a Belgian violinist with a reputation of being a preeminent soloist, who has had the honour to play for several Heads of States and Royalties even in private concerts.

Nepo, Svidler with the guest of honour, Anatoly the 12th, and the chief sponsor Oleg Skvortsov and his better half.

Karpov discussing chess affairs with Frederic Friedel and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam of New in Chess.

Anna Burtasova was taping the action with professional equipment and will provide us with embeds.

Enjoy her work from the opening day. If you click on the Event Posts icon on the far right, you can replay the video from the first day.

Anna is a WGM (2009) from Russia who has a nice list of achievements, including under-14 Russian vice champion and under-16 champion, as well as a winner of tournaments like Mondariz, Kharkov and Jakarta. But she has devoted most of her 30 years to chess journalism. She graduated as a lawyer from Vladimir State University, moved to Moscow and worked as an editor and reporter for the Russian Chess Federation website. Later she joined the FIDE Cess in Schools Commission as General Coordinator. Her articles have been published in chess magazines like "64 Chess review", "New in Chess", "Schachmagazin 64", "Schach", etc. and of course she did a few articles for ChessBase. In May 2013 Anna joined ChessTV team as an editor and reporter.



2017 Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge


Video of Opening Ceremony and Blitz


Date Wed, 12 April 2017 - Mon, 17 April 2017
Venue Opening: Hotel Savoy Baur en ville (Grand Ballroom),
Paradeplatz, Zürich Tournament: Kongresshaus (Gartensaal)

GM Kramnik Vladimir (RUS), Elo 2811
GM Anand Viswanathan (IND) Elo 2786
GM Nakamura Hikaru (USA) Elo 2793
GM Nepomniachtchi Ian (RUS) Elo 2751
GM Svidler Peter (RUS) Elo 2747
GM Gelfand Boris (ISR) Elo 2724
GM Oparin, Grigoryi (RUS) Elo 2604
GM Pelletier Yannick (SUI) Elo 2541

Format/Time Control
  • 7 rounds New Classical, 45min + 30sec, April 13 to 16
  • 7 rounds Blitz, 10min + 5sec on 17 April
Program 12 April: 6 p.m.: Opening ceremony, concert and Opening Blitz
13 April: 5 p.m.: New Classical, 1st round
14 April: 12:30 p.m.: 2nd round, 5 p.m. 3rd round
15 April: 12:30 p.m.: 4th round, 5 p.m. 5th round
16 April: 12:30 p.m.: 6th round, 5 p.m. 7th round
17 April: 11 a.m.: Blitz tournament, 5 p.m.: Closing ceremony

According the rules of the Zurich Chess Challenge 2017 the winner of a classical game is awarded two points for the overall standings. A draw gives each player one point, and the loser gets zero points. In the final Blitz tournament on Monday, 17 April, the winner is given one point, a draw gest agetsyer half a point, and the loser gets zero points.

Srinath Narayanan is a 23-year-old Indian Grandmaster. A former World Under 12 champion, at the age of fourteen he became an IM and had shown surprising and unswerving loyalty to the title ever since, until March 2017, when he crossed the 2500 mark and completed the requirements to become a grandmaster. He loves chess and likes to play in tournaments all around the globe. He is a critical thinker and enjoys to think deeply not only about chess but life itself.
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pewter pewter 4/13/2017 04:10
Nice [auto?] biography of the reporter.
Steven E DuCharm Steven E DuCharm 4/13/2017 04:59
go nakamura!
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 4/13/2017 09:02
I am always pleased to see someone older performing well in blitz, like Boris in this tournament. Blitz is supposed to favour younger players, because of the normal decline of the brain with age, which should be even more perceptible when quick reactions are requested. Seeing an older chap being competitive against much younger chaps in blitz is thus encouraging.

Especially if you're older...
perec007 perec007 4/13/2017 09:06
I love the Beeblebrox comparison!