Kortchnoi Zurich Challenge: Survival of the fittest

by Srinath Narayanan
4/16/2017 – Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand was struggling to get going in the first two days, but the third day saw him regain his flow as he disarmed and destroyed Grigoriy Oparin and Boris Gelfand like the Vishy of the lore. Hikaru Nakamura also was at his peak as he won both the games today to join Peter Svidler in the lead. Illustrated report with grandmaster analysis.

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Charles Darwin once remarked “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. The top guns in Zurich showed why exactly they were among the best, as Day 03 saw a much better handling of the clock, and therefore the games.

Vishy has played three decent games so far, but has only 1 point to show for his efforts, having lost two due to having too little time towards the end phase of his game. Today, however was different. It was vintage Vishy as he outplayed Grigory comprehensively in the White side of a classical Spanish. He had 14 minutes remaining on his clock when the game ended.

He seized initiative right from the opening against Boris Gelfand and converted the game with flawless technique, again having a comfortable 8 minutes when the game ended. Today was probably the first day Vishy got into his flow, and if he can keep it up the next day, it might just prove to be enough.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "4"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoryi"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C95"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 {The Classical Spanish! About 9 years ago, when I was a teenager, I remember how Indian IM Venkatchalam Saravanan remarked that 'If Vishy is playing white and it's a Spanish, then it's 1-0.'} Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. a4 c5 (15... Bg7 16. Bd3 c6 {is an alternative and an altogether different way of handling this system.}) 16. d5 c4 17. Bg5 h6 {It's hard to criticise a move that has been played so often. However, Pavel Eljanov suggests 17...Be7 in his Breyer DVD, and personally, I don't feel comfortable about creating a kingside weakness like this.} (17... Bg7 18. Qd2 Rb8 19. Nh2 Bc8 20. Ng4 Nc5 21. Nh6+ Bxh6 22. Bxh6 $14 {Anand,V (2804)-Carlsen,M (2876) Norway Chess 3rd 2015 (4) 1-0 okay, remember what IM Saravanan said? I guess even Magnus isn't an exception.}) (17... Nc5 18. Qd2 Be7 19. Bh6 Nfd7 20. a5 Bc8 21. Ra3 Nb7 22. Rea1 Ndc5 $11 {Mista,A (2616)-Giri, A (2776) Qatar Masters op 2014 (2) 0-1 I think is a model game for Black in the line. Also, I think it's always wise to trust and follow Anish when you're in doubt in openings.}) 18. Be3 Nc5 19. Qd2 h5 20. Kh1 (20. Bxc5 $5 {is another possibility which as far as I remember, was considered problematic for Black.} dxc5 21. Reb1 Nd7 22. b3 Nb6 23. Qe2 cxb3 24. Bxb3 c4 25. Bd1 $14 { Adams,M (2743)-Baramidze,D (2616) Dortmund SuperGM 42nd 2014 (7) 1-0}) 20... Qc7 21. Ng5 Bg7 22. Nf1 bxa4 $6 {I think it is still a little premature to release the tension.} (22... Nfd7 $142 23. Qe2 Nb6 24. a5 Nbd7 {is a typical operation in Breyer, provoking a5 and closing White's queenside possibilities. I think it wiser to show more restraint.}) 23. Qe2 a5 24. Nd2 Ba6 {The c4 is well defended, but White has a little operation that allows him to plant his bishop in a prickly spot.} 25. Bxc5 Qxc5 26. Bxa4 Reb8 27. Bc6 Ra7 28. Ra2 {[#] } Bh6 29. Ngf3 Nd7 $2 {The decisive mistake. Black's position begins to fall apart from here.} (29... a4 $142 $1 {Black threatens a3.} 30. Rea1 {preventing a3, which leaves the queen on e2 hanging...} (30. Bxa4 Bb5 31. Rea1 Rba8 $19) 30... Bb5 31. Bxb5 Qxb5 {And now c4 can't be taken because, e2/e4 is hanging.} 32. Kg1 {Threatening to take Qc4 Qc4 Nc4 Ne4 Re1} (32. Qxc4 Qxc4 33. Nxc4 Nxe4 $11) (32. Nxc4 Rc8 33. b3 axb3 34. Rxa7 Qxc4 35. Qxc4 Rxc4 36. Rb7 Nxe4 $44) 32... a3 $1 33. Rb1 $14 (33. Rxa3 Rxa3 34. bxa3 Rc8 $11)) 30. Bxd7 Rxd7 31. Rea1 {Now, Black loses a pawn by force.} Rb5 32. Qxc4 Qxf2 {Black equalizes, but only temporarily.} 33. Qc6 Ra7 34. b4 $1 Bxd2 35. Nxd2 Qe3 36. Nc4 Qxe4 37. Nxd6 Qxd5 38. Qxd5 Rxd5 39. Ne4 Kg7 40. Rxa5 {After a series of fantastic tactical moves, White wins material by force.} Bd3 41. Rxa7 Bxe4 42. Re1 1-0

Things only got worse for Gelfand as he lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi as well.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "5"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2724"] [BlackElo "2786"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. d4 Nxd4 7. Bf4 {A completely unheard of move. Over the board inspiration?} ({Popular theory goes: } 7. Nxd4 cxd4 8. Nb5 (8. Ne4 d5 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Qa4+ Kf8) 8... Qb6 9. e3 Ne7) 7... Ne7 8. Nxd4 cxd4 9. Nb5 e5 10. Nd6+ Kf8 11. Bd2 $2 (11. Qb3 $142 $1 { was absolutely necessary} Nf5 $8 12. Nxf5 gxf5 13. Bd2 d6 14. e3 {And now, White has compensation as Black's center isn't menacing and his pawn structure is compromised.}) 11... Qb6 {pretty accurate response by Vishy. Black is a pawn up, and has a strong center.The king's position isn't really a big factor as Black manages to just play f5,Kf7 and develop the rook.} 12. Nxc8 {When you're forced to exchange a piece that has already moved 3 times to an undeveloped piece, it is logical that the position develops problems.} Rxc8 13. Qb3 f5 $1 (13... Rc7 14. e3 f5 15. exd4 {breaks Black's center.}) 14. Bxb7 Rc7 15. Bg2 e4 {Black has a brilliant center, and White's g2 bishops is just shut out.} 16. O-O Kf7 17. Rfc1 Rhc8 18. Bf4 Qxb3 19. axb3 Rb7 {[#] Black's active pieces against White's passive pieces pretty much paint the story.} 20. Bd6 Ke6 21. c5 Rxb3 22. Rxa7 Nc6 23. Ra2 Be5 {exchanging White's best and only active piece.} 24. Bxe5 Kxe5 25. f3 d3 26. exd3 Nb4 27. d4+ Kxd4 28. Ra7 d5 $1 { each of Black's pieces, including the king is empowered. White's troops are woefully uncoordinated.} 29. fxe4 fxe4 30. Rd1+ Rd3 31. Rda1 Rxc5 32. Bf1 Rd2 33. Rxh7 Nd3 34. b4 Rcc2 35. b5 Ne5 36. Ra4+ Kc5 {perfect, flawless game.} 0-1

On the lower part of the table, Yannick also displayed a marked improvement in his time handling. He was rewarded for this with two solid draws, although there were moments where he was slightly worse in both the games against Svidler and Vlad.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "4"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B92"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2724"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "73"] [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. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Qd3 Be6 10. Bd2 $5 {A different way of operating a well kwell-knowna. Nepo had played this against Grischuk a couple of months ago.} (10. Nd5 Bxd5 11. exd5 Nbd7 12. Be3 {is the mainline tabiya here.}) 10... Nbd7 {The traditional way of operating in this structure, played after a 5 minute thought. I am not sure about this, as it seems to me that 10.Bd2 is specifically aimed against Black's traditional way of playing here. I am curious as to what was Boris's preparation in this variation.} (10... a5 11. a4 (11. Be3 a4 12. Nd2 a3 $11) 11... Na6 12. Nd5 Bxd5 13. exd5 b6 14. Rfd1 (14. c3 Nc7 15. c4 Nd7 16. Qh3 Na6 17. Bd3 g6 18. f4 $132) 14... Nc7 15. Bf3 Nd7 16. Bg4 Nf6 17. Bf3 Nd7 18. Bg4 Nf6 19. Bf3 {Nepomniachtchi,I (2749)-Grischuk,A (2742) Sharjah FIDE GP 2017 (4) 1/2-1/2}) 11. Nd5 Bxd5 12. exd5 Nc5 $2 (12... Ne8 13. c4 (13. Bg4 Nef6 14. Bh3 Re8 15. c4 Bf8 16. Na5 Qc7 17. b4 e4 18. Qd4 Ne5 $132 {Wang,Y (2718)-Dominguez Perez,L (2732) China Elite Mind blitz 2016 (15) 0-1}) 13... Bg5 14. Bxg5 Qxg5 $11 {Li,C (2755)-Giri,A (2790) Norway Masters blitz 4th 2016 (4) 0-1}) 13. Nxc5 dxc5 14. c4 {White's plan is pretty simple here. To prevent Black from advancing his central pawns by controlling e5 and e4.} Qc7 15. Rae1 Bd6 16. Qh3 Rfe8 17. Bc3 g6 18. Bd3 Nh5 19. g3 Re7 20. Re2 Rf8 21. Rfe1 f5 22. f3 {[#] White has effectively carried out measures against e4. Now he can freely improve his position while Black struggles to find a plan.} Nf6 (22... f4 23. g4 Nf6 {is just pointless.}) 23. Qh4 { improving the queen, preventing e4.} Nd7 24. Qg5 Ref7 25. Qd2 {Nepo was so well prepared in this position that he had 40 minutes remaining in this position.} Qd8 (25... b5 $5 26. b3 b4 27. Bb2 a5 {was a possibility, preventing White from seizing space on the queenside.}) 26. Kh1 Re8 27. a4 h5 28. a5 Kh7 29. Bc2 b5 30. axb6 Nxb6 31. Qd3 {White prepares the missile launcher to nuke the Black king.} Qb8 32. g4 {lock and load.} Nd7 33. gxf5 (33. gxh5 g5 {is perhaps a little less accurate.}) 33... gxf5 34. f4 e4 35. Qh3 Kh6 36. Rg2 Bxf4 37. Bd1 {simple and powerful. I believe Black got a worse position from the opening, and instead 10...a5 played by Grischuk is probably better.} 1-0

Apart from Vishy, Hikaru was the other brilliant performer in the day. In the round 4 game against Vladimir Kramnik, it was business as usual for Vlad. He got an innocuous looking position from White and then just kept pressing and applying pressure in a very unpleasant manner.

However, Hikaru is probably one of the best defenders in the world any day and he showed exactly why today. He gave Vlad very little chance, and is maybe one of the handful of people in the world who can get away like that.

In the afternoon game, the only one inaccuracy from Nepomniachtchi on the 16th move was more than enough got Hikaru, who sent the Russian packing with pristine precision.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "5"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D94"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2751"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. e3 Bg7 4. c4 O-O 5. Be2 b6 6. O-O Bb7 7. Nc3 d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bd2 Nd7 10. Nxd5 Bxd5 11. Bc3 c5 12. Rc1 e6 13. Qa4 a6 14. Qa3 Qb8 $6 { This move allows White to create a pawn structure where Black has three islands, as Black is forced to take back on c5 with the pawn.} (14... Re8 15. dxc5 Bxc3 16. Qxc3 Rc8 $11) 15. dxc5 Bxc3 16. Qxc3 {[#]} bxc5 $2 (16... Nxc5 17. Ne5 $14 {creates some unpleasant threats to Black based on the holes on f6, h6, the long diagonal, and the fork on d7.}) (16... Rc8 $142 $1 17. b4 bxc5 18. bxc5 Rxc5 19. Qd4 Rxc1 20. Rxc1 Qb7 $11) 17. Nd2 {Now, White has a very pleasant structural advantage. Nakamura said that this was prophylaxis against Bxf3.} a5 18. a4 Qb7 19. e4 Bc6 20. b3 {White has a huge strategic superiority, and the rest was just a matter of technique.} Rfb8 21. Qe3 Qc7 22. Rfd1 Rb4 23. Nc4 Rab8 24. Rc3 Nf6 25. f3 Nd7 26. Qd2 Nb6 27. Qg5 Nxc4 28. Bxc4 e5 29. h4 Kg7 30. h5 h6 31. Qe3 Rd8 32. Rxd8 Qxd8 33. hxg6 fxg6 34. Qxc5 Qb6 35. Bb5 1-0

Grigory had a bad day in the office as he lost both the games. While he was clearly outdone against Vishy, things were not as clear against Peter. However, Peter kept his nerve and was the better player in the tense, middlegame stage.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "5"] [White "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Black "Svidler, Peter"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2604"] [BlackElo "2747"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "80"] [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. h4 {wait, whaaat? Chess is finite, but for all human intents and purposes, it's endless...} e5 7. Nb3 Be6 $6 {I think this move loses flexibility. The c8 bishop can develop to b7/ e6, the knight to d7/c6, whereas, the f8 bishop's optimal square is e7. Therefore I think this is the move to be played first.} (7... Be7 $142) 8. f4 g6 9. Be2 Nbd7 10. g4 h5 11. g5 Ng4 12. Rf1 exf4 13. Bxf4 Nde5 {Prima facie, it seems that White is better here, as his kingside attack is already through, while's Black's counterplay hasn't even begun However, it's not as simple as it looks. White's pawns are blockaded for the moment, and Black's pieces are excellently placed in the centre.} 14. Qd2 Qc7 15. O-O-O Rd8 16. Nd5 Bxd5 17. Qxd5 $6 (17. exd5 Rc8 (17... Bg7 18. Qa5 Rc8 19. Qxc7 Rxc7 20. Nd2 {would've been a simple, yet solid strategic advantage I think.}) 18. Bxg4 $1 hxg4 (18... Nxg4 19. Nd4 Bg7 20. Rfe1+ Ne5 21. Nf3 O-O 22. Nxe5 dxe5 23. d6 Qc4 24. Bxe5 Qxa2 25. c3 $18 {The d-pawn is bound to queen.}) 19. Bxe5 dxe5 20. c3 $16) 17... Bg7 18. Nd4 O-O 19. Kb1 Rfe8 20. c3 Rc8 21. Bxg4 hxg4 (21... Nxg4 22. Bxd6 Qc4 {was also possible, as the e4 pawn isn't too strong. But of course, pawn is a pawn.}) 22. h5 gxh5 23. Nf5 $2 (23. g6 $142 $5 {would've been more energetic.}) 23... Re6 $1 {possibly missed/underestimated.} 24. Rh1 {[#]} Ng6 $2 {A complicated position with mutual time scramble.} (24... Nc4 $142 $5 { would've been an interesting pawn sac.} 25. Bc1 Na3+ 26. bxa3 Re5 27. Qd3 Rb5+ 28. Kc2 Qxc3+ 29. Qxc3 Rxc3+ 30. Kd2 Be5 $44) 25. Bg3 $2 (25. Bxd6 $142 Qc6 ( 25... Qb6 26. Rdf1 $14) 26. Bg3 $14) 25... Qb6 26. Nxg7 $6 {The knight actually controls a lot of important squares, and the exchange doesn't feel right.} (26. Rxh5 $142 Rxc3 27. Rh2) 26... Kxg7 27. Rxh5 Qe3 28. Bxd6 $2 { The decisive mistake.} (28. Qxb7 Qxe4+ 29. Qxe4 Rxe4 30. Bxd6 $132 {would've made the difference of one important pawn.}) 28... Qxe4+ 29. Qxe4 Rxe4 30. Rhh1 {Now, Black is better due to the g4 pawn, who is a soldier way above his peers. ...} Nf4 31. Rdf1 (31. Bxf4 Rxf4 32. Rd5 Rf3 33. Kc2 g3 $19) 31... Nh3 32. Rf5 Rc6 33. Rd1 Re6 34. Bg3 Kg6 35. Rff1 Re3 36. Bb8 Rf3 37. Rxf3 gxf3 38. Rf1 f2 39. Bg3 Rc5 40. Kc2 Rxg5 0-1

Peter has shown amazing defensive skills and resourcefulness and has deservedly shot into the joint lead.

With just two more Classical games and the whole of Blitz tournament to go, it can be anyone’s tournament.


Please note that the winner gets 2 points while a draw earns other 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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