Kortchnoi Zurich Challenge: Nakamura scores a hat trick

by Srinath Narayanan
4/18/2017 – They were tied for first in the New Classical games but the battle went in a different direction in the final blitz phase. Nakamura played good, fast chess and dominated the proceedings while Nepomniachtchi finished with a loss. We have beautiful pictures by Eugeny Atarov and grandmaster analysis by Srinath Narayanan.

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Hikaru Nakamura scores a hat trick

Photos by Eugeny Atarov

Hikaru Nakamura won the Zurich Chess Challenge for the third time in a row, although it was no stroll in the park. Going into the last round, Nepomniachtchi was trailing Hikaru by just half point. Hikaru had the better Sonneborn-Berger score even if Nepomniachtchi was to catch up.

He made a solid and comfortable draw against Vishy and secured his championship.

Hikaru continued to be in his element and was undefeated throughout. Although there were a few rare moments when his opponents had chances, overall he was too fast, too strong.  He started off with a couple of victories over two of the lower ranked players in the tournament – Yannick Pelletier and Grigory Oparin. He was particularly brutal against Grigory.

He then just won one more game from the next five against Vlad, but that was more than enough for him to coast through to the championship comfortably.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A05"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2604"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "41"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 b5 3. Bg2 Bb7 4. Na3 a6 5. c4 b4 6. Nc2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. d4 Be4 9. a3 bxa3 10. b3 O-O 11. Bxa3 d6 12. Ne3 c6 13. Qd2 Nbd7 14. Nd1 Qb6 15. Nc3 Qxb3 {[#]} 16. Ne5 $1 dxe5 17. Bxe7 exd4 (17... Bxg2 18. Rfb1 $1 Qxc4 19. Rb4 {is the point, for Black this was the lesser of two evils.} Qxb4 20. Bxb4 c5 21. Bxc5 Nxc5 22. dxc5 Bc6 23. Qd6 Rfc8 24. Qxe5 $16) 18. Nxe4 {Black is just a piece down now.} Nxe4 19. Bxe4 Rfe8 20. Bxc6 Ra7 21. Qxd4 1-0


Nepomniachtchi would have still liked to catch up with Hikaru and become the joint winner, but he couldn’t get past Grigoriy in this game.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.17"] [Round "7"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2604"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "117"] [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 {In the 'new classical version of the event, Grigory had been trounced by Nepo, who was Black in the same opening. Time for revenge?} 6. Nb3 $5 {Pioneered and popularised by the Polish GM Bartel,Mateus.} e6 7. g4 {Bartel: One of the main ideas of 6.Nb3. With the knight on b3 e6-e5 is now unsound.} b5 {Bartel: This is probably not a correct move, as the game shows that Black gets into trouble.} 8. a3 $5 { A rare move in this position.} (8. Bg2 Bb7 (8... b4 9. e5 d5 10. exf6 bxc3 11. O-O $132 {is a complicated position.}) 9. g5 b4 10. Nd5 {Bartel,M (2625) -Wojtaszek,R (2713) POL-ch Poznan 2016 (5) 1-0 was analysed in detail in CBM 172 by Bartel}) 8... Bb7 9. Bg2 Nfd7 10. g5 Nc6 11. h4 {White has developed his position in a way similar to the 'Keres Attack'. However, the knight on b3 is not necessarily an improvement of the knight's position from d4. In many such Sicilian structures, Black often deliberately sacrifices a tempo to drive the knight away from d4 to b3 with Qb6.} Be7 12. f4 h6 {A typical pawn break against this structure.} 13. Qg4 b4 14. Ne2 bxa3 15. bxa3 {White's king is stuck in the center now. He can neither castle on the kingside, nor on the queenside. Black's king doesn't have a safe haven either, however, his position has relatively less weakness.} Qc7 16. Bb2 hxg5 17. hxg5 Rxh1+ 18. Bxh1 g6 (18... Nce5 19. fxe5 Qxc2 {is an attractive combination} 20. exd6 Qxb2 21. dxe7 Qxb3 22. g6 Kxe7 $17) 19. Qh3 Na5 20. Qh8+ Nf8 21. Nxa5 Qxa5+ 22. Bc3 Qc5 23. Qh3 e5 $1 24. Rb1 Bc6 25. Bb4 Qc4 26. Rb3 Bb5 27. Bf3 a5 28. Bd2 Bd7 { The c2 pawn falls by force. Slowly, White's numerous weaknesses tell and his position begins to fall apart.} 29. f5 Qxc2 30. Rc3 Qb1+ 31. Rc1 Qb3 32. Nc3 Rc8 {[#]} 33. Qf1 $4 {The decisive mistake, and the defining moment. White loses too many pawns.} (33. Bg4 $142 gxf5 34. Bxf5 Qxa3 35. Bxd7+ Nxd7 36. Rb1 Rxc3 37. Bxc3 Qc5 38. Bd2 Qc2 $15) 33... Bxg5 34. Bxg5 Rxc3 35. Rxc3 Qxc3+ 36. Kf2 gxf5 {Black is a clear three pawns up. The rest is a matter of technique.} 37. Qb1 Ne6 38. Bf6 Nd4 39. Be2 Qc2 40. Qxc2 Nxc2 41. exf5 Bxf5 42. a4 Bd7 43. Bd1 Nb4 44. Bg5 Nd3+ 45. Kg3 Nb2 46. Be2 Nxa4 47. Bd2 Nc5 48. Bxa5 Ke7 49. Bb4 f5 50. Ba3 Kf6 51. Bc4 Be6 52. Bb5 f4+ 53. Kf3 Kg5 54. Bc6 Bg4+ 55. Kg2 e4 56. Bxc5 dxc5 57. Bxe4 Kf6 58. Kf2 Ke5 59. Bg6 0-1

Vishy continued from where he had left, with a solid performance. He was firm with black, and took his opportunity against Yannick.

With the White pieces, he continued to play like in his olden days, sticking to 1.e4. He managed to play fast and maintain a decent level, and when his opponent’s made mistakes like 19…h5 in the following game, it took him only a few seconds to pounce savagely.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.17"] [Round "5"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B67"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [BlackElo "2724"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "107"] [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 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Bd7 9. f4 b5 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Kb1 Qb6 12. Nce2 (12. Nxc6 Bxc6 {is the mainline.}) 12... Rc8 13. h4 Rg8 14. f5 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 e5 16. Ne2 b4 17. Rh3 d5 $6 18. Rg3 Rh8 19. Rf3 h5 $2 (19... d4 $142 20. g4 a5 21. g5 a4 $132 {with a comfortable position for Black.}) 20. exd5 Rc4 21. Ng3 $1 Rxh4 22. Qe1 Rg8 23. Ne4 {[#]} Rxe4 (23... Rhg4 24. d6 Bg7 25. g3 $18) 24. Qxe4 Rg4 25. Qe1 Bd6 26. Bd3 Rxg2 27. Rg3 {Simplest way: Exchange opponent's most active piece.} Qf2 28. Rxg2 Qxg2 29. Qh1 Qg4 30. Rg1 Qd4 31. Rf1 (31. Rg8+ Ke7 32. Qxh5 {just wins the pawn.}) 31... a5 32. Qe4 {Again, just chop off opponent's most active piece.} Qb6 {Black has to keep the queens on the board at any cost.} 33. Be2 a4 34. Bxh5 a3 35. Be2 axb2 36. Kxb2 Qc5 37. Bc4 Ke7 38. Kb1 Ba4 39. Bb3 Bb5 40. Rh1 Qf2 41. Bc4 Ba4 42. Bd3 Bd7 43. Rf1 Qc5 44. Qc4 Qe3 45. Rh1 Qf2 46. a3 bxa3 47. Ka2 Bxf5 48. Bxf5 Qxf5 49. Rh8 Qd7 50. Qb3 Qc7 51. Qa4 f5 52. Re8+ Kf6 53. Qh4+ Kg7 54. Qh8+ 1-0

The final blitz was of a much better quality than the opening blitz. Apart from the fact that the players had warmed up, the time control was also much higher – 10+5. In the ‘new classical’ version, initially the quality of play was impacted by time, but the play only got better as the tournament progressed.

I think this sort of reduced time control should be experimented more with and would be especially ideal for events that are traditionally organised with two rounds per day, a format that is held in many parts of the world.

More Impressions

Vishy paying homage to the great Viktor?

Oh my God! Naka already drew?!

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!

(Readers should note the Gallery at the top of the article where we introduce you to Marie-Laure Kramnik!)

Replay all the blitz games

Final blitz standings

Replay all the New Classical games (45 min. + 30 sec increment)

Final New Classical standings

(Note: the New Classical games are worth double the blitz, which is not reflected in the crosstable above)

According to 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 a player half a point, and the loser gets zero points.

Combined scores

Rk Name ELO Pts SB
1. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2793 15.0 44.25
2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS) 2751 14.0 40.75
3. Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2786 13.5 39.25
4. Peter Svidler (RUS) 2747 12.0 38.25
5. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2811 11.0 37.75
6. Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2724 9.0 24.25
7. Grigoryi Oparin (RUS) 2604 5.5 16.75
8. Yannick Pelletier (SUI) 2541 4.0 12.25


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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lajosarpad lajosarpad 4/21/2017 01:16
@Petrarlsen you have convinced me this is classical in contrast of the previous edition, nonetheless we could see more inaccuracies than with slower time controls. So I absolutely do not object against the term classical in this case. Yet I am conservative about the longer time controls, since it supports better game quality overall. Adjournment is a long nice memory of beautiful endgames, but with the advent of the engines that is no longer an option. I see no reason of further value loss by making this new classical the standard, however, since it fits into the definition of classical chess, it is normal that it is called classical and it modifies classical ratings.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 4/20/2017 05:19
@ lajosarpad and peterfrost : I quite agree with you that if "New Classical" means that the goal is to replace "normal" classical games by these "New Classical" games, it would not be a good thing at all. But, nonetheless, this time control, in itself, really seems to me to be interesting, if it isn't used to replace the "normal" classical time controls.

For the definition of the rapid and blitz games, the source is the Laws of Chess (http://www.fide.com/fide/handbook.html?id=207&view=article), Appendix A (A.1), for the rapid games, and Appendix B (B.1), for the blitz games (you can also find it in the glossary that follows the Laws of Chess, at "blitz" and "rapid chess").
ex0 ex0 4/20/2017 01:33
I don't care about engine analysis.. i just want the website to stop loading that playchess java app and showing me ppl playing chess. I don't wanna kitibz chess games on here.. and also sometimes it makes some weird noises that i don't know how to turn off. Same as the game player. I'd rather have those 2 things turned off, along with other UI functions returning to sanity, before any complaints about engine analysis. But yeah, i don't see any reason why the other posters suggestion can't be implemented if it's as easy as he claims it is.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 4/20/2017 08:41
@peterfrost, actually it should be easily achievable. They just need to add a CSS (Cascading Stylesheet) class to the comments and variations beside their cbline and/or cbcomment classes and then the checkbox would trigger their hiding/showing. This should not take more time to do than a few hours if the leader of the development team wants to do this. While @Petrarlsen is probably right when he tells us the time controls used here are classical, I share your concern that they want to replace classical with "new classical".
peterfrost peterfrost 4/20/2017 04:38
@lajosarpad, I really like your idea! I too cringe at counting lengthy variations which are clearly computer generated, and not practical for a human to contemplate over the board. Your idea of a "check box" to opt out of such variations would be great if it was able to be easily achieved in practice.
peterfrost peterfrost 4/20/2017 04:35
Thanks @offpister and @petralsen for your constructive responses to my post. I would agree with most of what you both said, and particularly with petralsen's point that this year's 30 second increment is a big improvement on last year. I would also agree there is a place for this time format. However, my issue is with the nomenclature. The term "new classical" implies that it is a "replacement" of the "old classical", and that in the future, this new time format will be the most common one for tournament chess generally. I believe that would be detrimental to the game. I accept that one's perspective on this is influenced by whether one is more attracted by the "sporting" aspect of chess, or by the "aesthetics" of the game. I hope that those who value aesthetics/quality over drama/viewing convenience will join me in resisting any push for the time control used in Zurich to "supersede" existing classical time controls.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 4/19/2017 06:58
A slight inaccuracy on my behalf in my last post : a rapid game is a game with a time control of LESS than an hour. So a one hour game (or equivalent, for example 30 mn. + 30 s., or 45 mn. + 15 s.) is already a "classical" game...

Incidentally, a 10 mn. + 5 s. game (the time control used in the "blitz" phase of this tournament) is a rapid game and not a blitz game, so, in fact, this tournament featured classical and rapid games, and not classical and blitz games (following the organizers) or rapid and blitz games (following peterfrost) !!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 4/19/2017 06:41
@ peterfrost : Last year, for this same tournament, I was the first to say that it was completely absurd to call "classical" a time control that, at this time, WAS a rapid time control (it was 40 mn. + 10 s.).

But this year, I don't agree at all : 45 mn. + 30 s. IS classical chess according to the rules (even if such a game can't be rated at all, neither in "rapid", nor in "classical", but this is another problem...). Above 1 hour or equivalent (for example, 30 mn. + 30 s.), a chess game IS a "classical" chess game.

And, furthermore, replacing last year's 10 s. increment by a 30 s. increment is a big improvement in terms of game quality (a mad scramble where each player is playing on a 10 s. increment is impossible with this new time control).

I wouldn't like at all that such a time control would replace normal "classical" time controls, but, for me, such games are nonetheless interesting ; the game quality is in my opinion "correct", thanks to the 30 s. increment (even if the games, obviously, can't be of the same level than a normal "classical" game), and, in any case, much higher than in a typical rapid game. And the increased presence of the "time element" in these "new classical" games gives an interesting "mixture".

So, in general, I really find this new format quite interesting.
offpister offpister 4/19/2017 08:52
@peterfrost: while I respect the nostalgic yearning for old style "classical" chess, the fact is that computers have long since changed the way chess is played, including so-called "classical chess". I am sure 30 years ago if someone had suggested abandoning adjourned games that a similar battle cry would be heard. But today we don't have adjourned games, and we rarely see endgame masterpeices anymore. Meanwhile, how many times do we have to see games where noone is turning their brains on because the computer has already done the work. I am certainly not for getting rid of "classical" time controls. But I think it is wrong to decry these faster tournaments simply because for marketing reasons it is called "new classical". It matters not a bit what it is called. It is what it is--call it rapid, call it classical, call it a rose. It's chess; and damn exciting at that. Even the WCC was decided this time by rapid games--a virtual necessity in this world. Lastly, some of these "classical" tournaments are utterly outrageous for their lack of sporting content. Look at the Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix--last round MVL and Grishuk draw in 23 moves to share a tie for first not to mention all the other lifeless draws. Is that "classical chess". If so, count me out.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 4/19/2017 07:36
I am a daily reader of Chessbase, this is a wonderful website. Lately the site has a reduced user-experience level for me due to the presence of engine-annotated games. I prefer to see only human analysis where it was done and the naked games with no analysis at all instead of engine-annotation in lack of human analysis. If I am not alone with my preference, then Chessbase might want to consider the option of putting a checkbox to control the users' desire to see or not to see engine analysis. Other readers, if you share the same feeling as me, then please, let your voices be heard and your opinion count. I would also like to see the comments of users who disagree with me, maybe they have a good reason to disagree.
peterfrost peterfrost 4/19/2017 06:16
Let's get one thing straight. This is NOT classical chess. It is rapid chess. To suggest, as the author does, that this format is suitable for tournaments with two games in a day, is effectively suggesting that such tournaments abandon their classical chess format and instead become a rapid event, which has consequences for the status of the event, and for the quality of the games. I have no problem with tournaments such as that played in Zurich being organised and promoted for what they are...a rapid tournament. I get angrier and angrier whenever I see the words "new classical". There is nothing wrong with the "old classical". The alternative is rapid chess. That's fine, but don't call it something it is not.