Kortchnoi Zurich Challenge: Vintage Kramnik

by Srinath Narayanan
4/14/2017 – As in the blitz, Yannick Pelletier and Peter Svidler were put under serious pressure, on the board as well as on the clock. While Peter managed to bring about a rearguard, not without some generosity from Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura gave his opponent no such chance. Vladimir Kramnik scored a trademark victory over Viswanathan Anand. Report with grandmaster analysis.

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Photos by Frederic Friedel

The Zurich Chess Challenge began with a blitz opener to decide on the pairings and follows a unique format and pattern of play for a super-tournament. Although there was only a single round of play on Day 2, there will be double rounds from Day 3 onwards, culminating with a blitz tournament, this time with the points being added to the total score.

The trend from the opening blitz seemed to continue in the ‘new classical’ (45+30) phase of Zurich.

The games about to begin

Boris Gelfand chose the solid 7.Be2 in the QGD against Grigoriy Oparin. This is the line in which he had got an advantage against Kasimdzhanov three years ago. However, Oparin was well prepared and neutralised without many problems.

Boris is seriously motivated this year, with clear intentions to play a lot and a goal to qualify to the candidates next year. Looking at the field in Zurich, clearly ‘age is just a number’.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Oparin, Grigoriy"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2724"] [BlackElo "2604"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "61"] [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 Nbd7 7. Be2 dxc4 8. O-O ({Marin:The idea of the last move is to avoid exposing the king's bishop to ...Nb6 in view of White's intention to meet ...c5 with d4-d5:} 8. Bxc4 a6 9. a4 c5 10. d5 $2 Nb6) 8... a6 9. a4 c5 10. d5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 exd5 12. Qxd5 Nf6 13. Qe5 Be6 {A sensible improvement, as it seems to me that the whole point of White's play until this point has been to get the bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal. } (13... Qe8 $146 14. Bxc4 Bd7 15. a5 Bc6 16. b3 Ne4 17. Qb2 Nd6 18. Bd3 Bb5 19. Rfd1 $14 {Gelfand,B (2748)-Kasimdzhanov,R (2706) Baku FIDE GP 2014 (7) 1/ 2-1/2 and White had a more pleasant position in}) (13... Ng4 14. Qc3 Be6 15. Bxc4 Bf6 16. Qb3 Bxc4 17. Qxc4 {Gupta,A (2606)-Neverov,V (2519) New Delhi 2014 (1/2-1/2, 34)}) ({Frankly speaking, I do not understand why Black started with the queen move since his intention was to play ...Bd7 anyway.} 13... Bd7 { looks more natural and only if} 14. Rfd1 {then} Qe8) 14. Ng5 Bd7 15. Bxc4 { goal phase I achieved, but after...} Qe8 16. a5 (16. b3 $5 Bc6 17. Rfd1 (17. a5 {is maybe another direction for White, but Black neutralises the c4 bishop by} h6 18. Nf3 Ne4 {with an interesting position, but objectively I think Black holds the balance.}) 17... Rd8 18. a5 {is a possibility, again objectively equal.}) 16... Bb5 17. b3 h6 18. Nf3 Rd8 {Both the players had played almost instantly until this point.} 19. Qf5 Qc6 20. Qc2 ({Gelfand had seen} 20. Ne5 { but it doesn't work due to} Qe4 21. Ng6 (21. Qxe4 Nxe4 22. Rfd1 Bf6 (22... Nd2 {might possibly be even stronger, because of} 23. Bxb5 axb5 24. a6 Nxb3) 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Bxf7+ Kf8 25. Bg6 Nd2 $15) 21... Rfe8 $1 (21... Qxf5 22. Nxe7+) 22. Nxe7+ Qxe7 {And White has nothing much. For example} 23. f3 Bxc4 24. bxc4 { and now maybe even} g5 $11) 20... Nd5 $1 {Black has managed to completely neutralise the c4-bishop, and I think Gelfand at this point thought White doesn't have much, and decided to liquidate.} 21. Rad1 (21. Ne5 Qe6) 21... Nxf4 22. exf4 Qc7 23. Ne5 Bxc4 24. Qxc4 Bf6 25. b4 {everything gets exchanged, and it's a logical draw.} Bxe5 26. fxe5 Rxd1 27. Rxd1 Rd8 28. Rxd8+ Qxd8 29. h3 cxb4 30. Qxb4 Qc7 31. f4 1/2-1/2

Hikaru has already played three tournaments this year but has shown no signs of slowing down. Like in the blitz, he kept whipping about decent, quick moves. Yannick kept up for the first 18 moves, but then, the pressure began to tell.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Pelletier, Yannick"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2541"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. O-O Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 (5... Bxf3 {Hikaru had recently played the same variation against Akobian in the US Championship and the game went on} 6. Bxf3 Nbd7 7. d4 e6 8. Nd2 Be7 9. e4 dxe4 10. Nxe4 Nxe4 11. Bxe4 {Nakamura,H (2793)-Akobian,V (2645) ch-USA 2017 Saint Louis USA (11.2) 1-0 which Hikaru considered a slight advantage.}) 6. d3 Nbd7 7. Qe1 e5 8. e4 dxe4 9. dxe4 Be7 (9... Bc5 {is more often played here. White continues} 10. a4 a5 11. Nbd2 O-O 12. Nc4 Qc7 13. Bd2 b6 14. Nh4 {with a similar position to the game, but Black doesn't have the c5 square vacant for the knight yet. But the c5 bishop goes to f8 in any case} Rfe8 15. Kh1 Bf8 {with a position similar to the game.}) 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. Nh4 Re8 12. Nc4 Bf8 13. a4 Qc7 14. Bd2 Nc5 15. Ba5 {HN: Taking away the b6 square from Black's pieces.} ({HN:} 15. Bc3 Nfd7 16. f4 exf4 17. gxf4 {and maybe Black has options like} Nb6) 15... b6 {HN:on the other hand, this allows Black to play a5} 16. Bc3 Nfd7 17. f4 f6 (17... exf4 18. gxf4 b5 {was stronger} 19. axb5 cxb5 20. Ba5 $8 (20. Nd2 Ne6 $1 21. f5 Nf4 $19 {once the g2 bishop is exchanged, e4 will soon fall apart, and Black's way towards White king will be opened up.})) 18. fxe5 fxe5 19. Ne3 Ne6 20. Nef5 Rad8 21. Kh1 {Black has held the balance till this point on the board, but had just 16 minutes remaining compared to Hikaru's 40. I think all these factors make a telling difference...} Nf6 $2 ({HN:} 21... a5 22. Nf3 Bc5 23. Rd1 $14 { with a slightly more pleasant position for Black.}) 22. Nh6+ {According to Hikaru, Yannick probably just missed this move..} gxh6 (22... Kh8 {isn't possible due to} 23. g4 Bg6 (23... Bf7 24. Bxe5 $18) 24. Nxg6+ hxg6 25. Bxe5 $16) 23. Rxf6 Nd4 24. Rf2 {Black's knight is well placed, but White has the simple plan of moving the bishop away and playing c3 at some point. Whereas, f5 is an outpost.} Bg6 25. Qe3 Qg7 26. Raf1 Be7 27. Nxg6 Qxg6 (27... hxg6 { here, Hikaru was intending the powerful} 28. Qd3) 28. Be1 (28. Bxd4 Rxd4 29. Qb3+ Kh8 30. Rf7 $16 {is another approach, however, the text continuation is much more simpler.}) 28... Rf8 29. b4 (29. Qd3 {White has a huge advantage on the light squares. Th classical rule is to place pieces on the light squares, pawn on the dark squares.}) 29... Rxf2 30. Rxf2 Rf8 (30... Qg5 31. Qa3 (31. Qxg5+ Bxg5 32. c3 Be3 $1 {would've generated some serious counterplay}) 31... c5 32. b5 {is just better for White, but was possible.}) 31. c3 Rxf2 32. Bxf2 Ne6 {White has a huge technical advantage.} 33. h4 Nc7 34. Qd3 Qd6 35. Qc4+ ( 35. Qe2 {Maybe it was simpler to keep the queens on?} Ne8 (35... Qe6 36. Kh2 Kh8 37. Bh3 Qf7 38. Kg2 {And I think White'll just penetrate on the light squares. Black has no counterplay.}) 36. Bh3 Nf6 37. Bf5 h5 38. Kg2 {And White should crash through one way or the other.}) 35... Qe6 36. Qxe6+ Nxe6 37. Be3 Bf8 38. Bh3 $6 {Hikaru thought this was pointless as he went Bf1 a move later. He had intended Bf5 after Kf7 but...} Kf7 39. Bf1 (39. Bf5 c5 40. Bxe6+ (40. b5 c4) 40... Kxe6 41. bxc5 bxc5 {And it's not clear where White's king's entry point is.}) 39... Nc7 $2 {But Black had only 30 seconds here...} (39... c5 $142 {was Black's last chance and it's not entirely clear after} 40. b5 Nc7 41. Bc4+ Kg7 42. Kg2 Ne8 43. Kf3 Nd6 44. Bd5 Be7 {I think White should be able to break through here, eventually.}) 40. Bc4+ Kf6 41. Kg2 Ne8 42. Bg8 Kg7 43. Be6 Nf6 44. Kf3 Kg6 45. Bf5+ Kg7 46. Ke2 h5 47. Kd3 Kf7 48. a5 1-0

Ian Nepomniachtchi uncorked powerful preparation and could’ve won under 20 moves. However, he let things slip, and after Svidler’s 18…g5! the game got complicated. White still had the upper hand, but Black was sufficiently resourceful and managed to save half a point.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Svidler, Peter"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B46"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2747"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "97"] [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 a6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Qc7 8. Bf4 {not the most played move.} (8. f4 {is played more often.} d5 9. exd6 Bxd6 10. Ne4 Be7 11. Bd3 {is a more popular position.}) 8... f5 $6 9. g4 $1 Ne7 { played after a brief thought, 7 minutes. In this time control, that's almost 15% of the total time.} 10. gxf5 Nxf5 11. Bd3 {A difficult position for Black already.} Be7 (11... Rb8 $142 12. Bxf5 exf5 13. Rg1 g6 14. b3 {with a much more comfortable position for White.}) (11... g6 12. Bxf5 gxf5 13. Qh5+ Kd8 14. Bg5+ Be7 15. Bxe7+ Kxe7 16. Qg5+ Ke8 17. O-O-O $18) (11... Qa5 12. Bxf5 exf5 13. Qh5+ g6 14. Qf3 Bb4 15. O-O-O Bxc3 16. Qxc3 Qxc3 17. bxc3 a5 18. Rd6 { is also just much better for White.}) 12. Bxf5 exf5 13. Rg1 O-O {walking into the fire...} 14. Qh5 d5 15. O-O-O {Black's king is bound to be doomed.} Kh8 16. Rd3 Be6 {With a 20 minute time advantage and an overwhelmingly better position, I wonder if Nepomniatchi got complacent here...} 17. Rdg3 $2 (17. Rh3 Bg8 18. Ne2 $1 $18 {White has deadly threats and 5 pieces piled up against Black's king. I don't think Black stands a chance.}) 17... Rf7 18. Rh3 $2 (18. Ne2 { was still pretty powerful, bringing the last piece into the attack.}) 18... g5 $1 {possibly underestimated by Nepomniatchi} 19. Bxg5 f4 20. Bxf4 Raf8 21. Ne2 Bxh3 22. Qxh3 Qc8 {Now, things are far less clear and Black latches on.} 23. e6 Rxf4 {very accurate defence by Svidler.} 24. Qg3 Rg8 25. Qxf4 Rxg1+ 26. Nxg1 Qxe6 27. Nf3 Bd6 28. Qe3 Qf6 29. Kb1 Kg7 30. a3 a5 31. h3 h5 32. Qd3 $2 (32. Nd4 $142 Bf8 33. f4 $18) 32... Bc5 33. Qe2 Kh6 (33... Qf5 $1) 34. h4 Qf5 35. Qa6 Qxf3 36. Qxc6+ Kg7 37. Qxc5 Qh1+ 38. Ka2 Qxh4 39. Qxd5 Qg4 40. c4 h4 41. c5 Kf6 42. Qd8+ Kf7 43. Qc7+ Kf6 44. Qd8+ Kf7 45. Qd3 Qe6+ 46. Kb1 Qe1+ 47. Ka2 Qe6+ 48. Ka1 Qe1+ 49. Ka2 1/2-1/2

Vlad just got a position and kept applying pressure.  With 10 minutes each, his position was more to comfortable play with, and Vishy eventually cracked.

[Event "Kortchnoi ZCC 2017"] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2017.04.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A34"] [WhiteElo "2811"] [BlackElo "2786"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbq1rk1/p4pbp/1p4p1/3p4/3P4/1PB2NP1/P4PBP/R2Q1RK1 b - - 0 13"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] {[#]} 13... Nc6 {The position looks symmetrical and equal, but White's position is slighly more pleasant to play.} 14. Ne5 Nxe5 (14... Bb7 15. Re1 Rc8 16. Qd2 Re8 {was another possibility, retaining the symmetry. White has a very slight edge, and a more pleasant position.}) 15. dxe5 Be6 {The d5 pawn is a weakness, but so is e5. I think the position is balanced.} 16. Re1 Qd7 17. Qd2 Rac8 18. Bd4 Rc7 19. a4 Rfc8 20. Bf1 {I think Black chose to play too passively in the game. I feel that Black could've played more proactively, like for example, Rc2.} Bf8 $5 (20... Rc2 21. Qe3 (21. Qf4 Qe7 22. Ba6 R8c7 $11 ) 21... Bf8 22. Ba6 R8c7 $5 23. Bd3 R2c3 $1 24. Bxc3 Rxc3 {And it seems to me that Black has full compensation here. At least Black seems to make optimum use of his assets in this position, the d5-paser and the dark square bishop. The rook is also pretty powerful now.}) 21. Ba6 Rd8 22. h4 {The computer shows (0.00) consistently, but having prevented Black rooks from playing on the c-file, White proceeds to create weaknesses on Black's queenside.} Bc5 23. b4 Bxd4 24. Qxd4 {Strategically, this is a favourable exchange for White.} Qe7 ( 24... Bf5 $5 {taking away d3 from White's bishop.} 25. Bf1 h5 {White probably has some pressure in practical play, but computer shows (0.00) and I completely agree with it.} 26. a5 b5 27. a6 Rdc8) 25. Bd3 Kg7 (25... Rb8 { the point is to reply to} 26. a5 ({White would probably play slowly with} 26. Kg2 h5 27. Reb1 {with some pressure.}) 26... bxa5 27. bxa5 Rb4 28. Qe3 Rc3 $17) 26. a5 Rdc8 27. axb6 axb6 28. Bf1 {Black has been resisting slight, unpleasant pressure for a while now, and with 10 minutes remaining, Vishy begins to crack. } b5 $2 (28... h5 {would've maintained the balance. For example} 29. Ra6 { would be met with} Rc1 30. Rxc1 Rxc1 31. Kg2 Qc7 32. Rxb6 Qc2 {And Black has serious counterplay against White's king.}) 29. Bd3 Rc4 {Not an atypical idea, but not the right moment concretely.} (29... h5 30. Kg2 Rb7 {is still quite okay for Black.}) 30. Bxc4 Qxb4 ({I think ideally Black should be able to take } 30... bxc4 {but here after} 31. b5 {White's b-pawn is too strong.}) 31. Rab1 Qxc4 32. Qd2 {Here, Black just doesn't get counterplay. The pieces aren't advancing and the passers are too unadvanced and completely unmenacing.} h5 33. Rbc1 Qb3 34. Rxc8 Bxc8 35. Qf4 {Vlad ends the game in a concrete and powerful manner.} Bf5 36. e6 Bxe6 37. Qe5+ Kh7 38. Ra1 1-0

More Impressions

Alongside the main event, there is also a seven-round Kortchnoi Open in progress. The tournament is divided into two sections--Masters and Main.

The Masters sections has stars such as Alexei Shirov in the house. Shirov, though, was held to a draw by Reinwald Patrick (2155),

10-year-old Simon Koeller, rated 1230, is not really happy with his game in the Main section.

Meanwhile, second seed Gilda Thode rated 1969, did not face too many problems.

The Zurich Eye

The Limmat River




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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