Kortchnoi Zurich Challenge: Nakamura, Nepo take pole position

by Srinath Narayanan
4/17/2017 – At the end of the ‘new classical’ part of the tournament, Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniatchi are on top with 10 points each. They’ll have the edge, as play moves on into the blitz phase. In the blitz phase, however, we move back to the conventional scoring system. Illustrated report with grandmaster analysis.

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Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi take pole position

Photos by Eugeny Atarov

It comes as no surprise though, as  Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura are among the best players in the world in rapid chess, and are also two of the relatively younger players in this tournament.

The playing arena

Nepo has probably been the fastest player in this tournament, having more time than his opponent in almost all his games, and also showcasing the best preparation.

In his White games, he was winning against Svidler before he left him off the hook, was blemishless against Gelfand and won with 30 minutes remaining, and today he continued from where he left as he won a perfect game against Yannick Pelletier. He had 22 minutes remaining when the game ended.
Much like his game against Gelfand, Nepo modified the usual way of playing in the position in a subtle way. It was specifically aimed against his opponent’s playing in the usual, traditional plan, which concretely doesn’t work against what he played. Such a method was deadly especially in quicker time control, as by instinct, human beings are attuned to respond the way they naturally do.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Pelletier, Yannick"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2541"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. g3 e6 4. Nf3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O Be7 7. Re1 d6 8. d4 $5 (8. e4 a6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Qc7 11. Be3 (11. b3 Nbd7 12. Bb2 O-O 13. f4 Rfe8 14. Qf3 Bf8 15. Rad1 Rac8 16. Re2 Qb8 17. g4 h6 18. h4 g6) 11... Nbd7 12. Rc1 { Marin,M (2553)-Kovacevic,S (2417) Benasque op 28th 2008 (6) 1/2-1/2 is the mainline. Marin:A very aggressive setup, which, about 10 years ago, was supposed to refute the English Hedgehog. White has excellent development and can combine the threats f5, g4 and, sometimes, e5 in order to obtain a strong initiative. However, if Black manages to find adequate answers against all these threats, White's position may easily lose flexibility, leaving him overextended and exposed to Black's counter-blows ...e5, ...d5 or ...b5.}) 8... cxd4 (8... Ne4 $5 {is worth considering, exploiting the drawback of not playing e4.} 9. d5 (9. Bd2 Nxd2 10. Qxd2 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Bxg2 12. Kxg2 Qc8 13. b3 O-O {with a tiny edge for White.}) 9... Nxc3 10. bxc3 O-O 11. Nd2 Qc7 12. e4 Nd7 {appears more pleasant for White, but Black seems alright as well.}) 9. Nxd4 Bxg2 10. Kxg2 O-O (10... Qc8 {the old approach is met concretely with} 11. e4 {and Black can't play} Qxc4 {because} 12. Bg5 Nc6 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Ndb5 $36 {And Black gets into a very unpleasant position}) 11. e4 a6 12. b3 Qc7 13. Bb2 Nbd7 $2 (13... Nc6 $142 {appears better to me, exchanging pieces in a position with less space.} 14. f3 (14. Nde2 Nd7) (14. Nc2 Qb7 15. Qe2 Rab8) 14... Nxd4 15. Qxd4 Rfd8 16. a4 $132 {And Black can try for d5/b5.}) 14. f4 Rfe8 15. Qf3 Bf8 16. Rad1 Rac8 (16... e5 17. Nf5 b5 18. Ba3 $14) 17. Re2 Qb8 18. g4 e5 ( 18... g6 {is the traditional way to respond in the usual position with light square bishop. However, here it isn't possible due to} 19. e5 dxe5 20. fxe5 $18 ) (18... h6 19. h4 g6 20. h5 $1 $16 (20. e5 dxe5 21. fxe5 Nxe5 22. Qxf6 Nxg4 $44)) 19. Nf5 g6 20. Ng3 exf4 21. Qxf4 Re6 22. g5 Ne8 23. Nd5 {[#] White just has a crushing position. Black is doomed because there is simply no way he can defend the f7 pawn.} Ne5 24. Rf2 Rc7 (24... Qb7 25. Rdf1 b5 26. Qh4 {And f7 falls by force.}) 25. Nxc7 Qxc7 26. Ne2 {Even after sacrificing an exchange, Black has no respite. White's pieces continue to be more dominant and he also has superior force now.} Bg7 27. Nc3 Qb7 28. Nd5 Nc7 29. Ba3 Qb8 30. Ne3 Ne8 31. Ng4 Re7 32. Nh6+ Bxh6 33. gxh6 Re6 34. Bb2 f6 35. Rd5 Nf7 36. Qg4 Nc7 37. Rd3 Qe8 38. Rxf6 Nxh6 39. Rxe6 Nxe6 40. Qh4 Nf7 41. Qf6 Qd7 42. Kg1 Kf8 43. e5 1-0
Against Oparin, he showed that he is not just well prepared with White, as he directly seized the initiative with Black and never looked back.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "7"] [White "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2604"] [BlackElo "2751"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "56"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Qd3 $5 {Adventurous, but Nepo seemed well prepared against this too.} Nbd7 7. Be2 g6 8. Bg5 Bg7 9. O-O-O h6 {This pawn setup is extremely effective against the kingside pawn storm.} 10. Bh4 $6 (10. Bxf6 {was an alternative} Nxf6 11. f4 O-O 12. f5 Bd7 13. g4 b5 14. Kb1 Qb6 15. Rhe1 {with a game.}) 10... O-O 11. Kb1 Qc7 {White has no advantage here and has to be careful. The positioning of Qd3,Be2 seems very odd to me. White has to prepare against b5-b4.} 12. Qe3 b5 13. g4 Bb7 14. g5 hxg5 15. Bxg5 b4 16. Nd5 $2 {I think Grigory simply lacked the survival instinct/feeling in this sharp position.} (16. Bh6 $142 $8 Bh8 $1 {The bishop is too important.} (16... bxc3 17. Bxg7 Kxg7 18. Nf5+ gxf5 19. Rdg1+ $18) 17. Nd5 $8 Nxd5 18. exd5 Rfc8 19. Bf3 {again the only move} Bxd4 20. Rxd4 Qxc2+ 21. Ka1 Ne5 22. Be4 Nc4 (22... Qc5 {would run into series attack after} 23. Rg1) 23. Bxc2 Nxe3 24. Bxg6 fxg6 25. Bxe3 $11) 16... Bxd5 17. exd5 Nxd5 $17 { Black is just a pawn up, and also has better piece play.} 18. Qe4 N7f6 19. Bxf6 Nxf6 20. Qg2 Rfc8 21. h4 {desperation.} e5 22. h5 exd4 23. Bd3 Nxh5 24. Rxh5 gxh5 25. Rg1 f5 $19 {As Boromir once famously said about Mordor, You don't simply mate a king protected by dragon bishop like that.} 26. Bc4+ d5 27. Qxd5+ Kh8 28. Bb3 d3 {Black is a rook up, but he is the one who'll attack.} 0-1

Hikaru, on the other hand, continued to play quick and decent moves and was only too happy to prey on his opponent’s time trouble. 

He started off with this swindle against Gelfand from a completely equal position.  However, he ran into Vishy in the last round, who held very comfortably with Black.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2724"] [BlackElo "2793"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. a3 Nc6 9. Be2 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Qxd1+ 11. Rxd1 a6 12. Bd6 Bxd6 13. Rxd6 Rd8 14. Rxd8+ Nxd8 15. Bd3 Bd7 16. Ke2 Kf8 17. Rd1 Ke7 18. Ne5 Nc6 19. Nxd7 Nxd7 20. Ne4 Rc8 21. Rc1 Nd4+ 22. Kd1 Rxc1+ 23. Kxc1 Nc6 24. Kc2 f5 25. Nd2 g5 26. b4 a5 27. bxa5 Nxa5 28. Be2 Nf6 29. Kc3 Nd5+ 30. Kc2 Nf6 31. Kc3 {Boris had 8 minutes, Hikaru on the other hand, 32. Play on.} Kd7 32. h3 Kd6 33. Nc4+ Nxc4 34. Kxc4 b6 35. Kb5 (35. g4 {wouldn't allow Black to press the way he did.} Ne4 (35... Nd5 36. gxf5 exf5 37. Bd3 Ke5 38. Bxf5 Nxe3+ 39. fxe3 Kxf5 40. Kd5 h5 41. e4+ Kf6 42. Kd6 Kf7 43. Kd7 Kf6 $11) 36. f3 Nf2 37. Kb5 Kc7 38. Bc4 Nxh3 39. Bxe6 f4 40. exf4 Nxf4 41. Bb3 $11) 35... Kc7 36. Kc4 (36. g4 Ne4) 36... h5 37. Bf3 h4 38. Ba8 Nd7 39. f4 g4 40. Kd4 $4 {The decisive mistake, made with 1 minute remaining.} (40. Kb5 Nf6 41. Kc4 {would be a draw as the knight would've no way to 'enter'}) 40... b5 {Once the knight enters and starts preying on White's pawns, it'll be similar to the effect of water entering into a ship.} 41. hxg4 fxg4 42. Be4 Nf6 43. Bd3 g3 44. Bf1 Ng4 0-1

Vishy continued from where he left yesterday. He started off with yet another high-quality spectacular masterpiece against Peter Svidler, where the bishop on e6 stood out like Achilles.

In the second round, he played a solid, flawless draw against Hikaru. Vishy finished with 3.5 from his last 4 games, but perhaps if he had started off with the form he showed from the 3rd day, he would’ve probably won the tournament comfortably. Blitz will be a different ballgame, but in the last days, Vishy has played in such a way that makes me wonder if he has access to Nicholas Flamel’s elixir.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Svidler, Peter"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B80"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [BlackElo "2747"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Qe2 {'Vishy: I kind of decided to try something new'} a6 8. O-O-O Qc7 9. g4 b5 10. g5 Nd7 11. h4 Bb7 12. a3 {With the queen on d2, White always has Nce2 against b4, so this would probably not be necessary. But now this is a necessary prophylaxis. However, this is usually done after Black plays Bb7 as he isn't fast with Rb8, b4 now.} (12. Rh3 b4 13. Na4 Nxd4 14. Bxd4 e5) 12... Rc8 13. Bh3 b4 14. axb4 Nxb4 15. Nxe6 (15. Bxe6 fxe6 16. Nxe6 {wouldn't work because of} Qa5 17. Kb1 Rxc3 18. bxc3 Qa2+ 19. Kc1 Nc6 $17) 15... fxe6 16. Bxe6 {[#] The bishop on e6 is an amazing multipurpose piece. Apart from holding Black's king in the center, it also ensures that the White king never gets mated on a2.} Qa5 17. Kb1 (17. Bd4 {doesn't work due to} Qa1+ 18. Kd2 Qxb2 $19) 17... Rxc3 18. bxc3 Nc6 (18... d5 {doesn't work due to the brilliant} 19. Bxd7+ Kxd7 20. Qc4 $3 { [#]} Ke6 21. cxb4 $18) 19. Rh3 Be7 20. Bd4 Nc5 21. Bxc5 (21. Bxg7 Nxe6 22. Qh5+ (22. Bxh8 {runs into} Nf4) 22... Kd8 23. Bxh8 Nf4 24. Qf3 Nxh3 25. Qxh3 Ne5 $132) 21... Qxc5 22. f4 {White has so much space and his pieces are dominating Black's. Black is enormous pressure.} Kd8 23. Qe3 Qxe3 24. Rxe3 h6 25. c4 { In the post game, Vishy said that this was what Svidler had missed.} hxg5 ( 25... Kc7 26. c5 dxc5 27. Rd7+ Kb8 28. Rb3 $18) 26. hxg5 Rf8 $2 (26... Bc8 $142 $1 {was necessary. It is only logical to exchange off the monster that was causing Black so much grief.} 27. Bd5 (27. Bxc8 Kxc8 {And White has lost his main asset.}) (27. Bf5 Rh4 28. Rf3 Kc7 $11) 27... Nb4 28. Rg1 Bd7 29. f5 Ba4 $132) 27. f5 Ne5 28. Rg1 {the pressure tells.} d5 $2 {Black's position just collapses now.} 29. Rb3 (29. cxd5 Bc5 30. Rb3 Bxg1 31. Rxb7 {also wins!}) 29... Kc7 30. cxd5 Rh8 31. f6 Bf8 32. d6+ 1-0

I think Nakamura or Nepomniachtchi will continue to dominate in the blitz, and the trend will continue. With Vishy, it’ll depend on which Vishy turns up. Let’s see.


More Impressions


Which legendary comic actor does Gelfand remind you of?


Kramnik should seriously consider an endorsement deal with Fitbit. Or has he one already?!

Daniel King has been fantastic throughout, commentating with his trademark flair. You should have a look at his game of the day videos in our report here.

Two of the greatest of the sport that chess has ever produced.

Eugeny Atarov started journalism in 1992. He is a writer, photographer, bookmaker, graphic designer, etc. Two years ago he even started work with video and has the technical and production support to create the real TV-quality video. You can check his team Exciting Chess' channel on YouTube. He started to publish the videos just two weeks ago but already has 100 videos in the works now!


Please note that the winner gets 2 points while a draw earns the player 1 point.




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 gets half a point, and the loser gets zero points.

Link to Official site

Srinath 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.


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