Zurich 2016 : Nakamura does it again!

by Alejandro Ramirez
2/15/2016 – Twice today he needed to defeat Aronian, in the new classical game to tie for first in that format and the second time to win the whole tournament, and he managed both times! Even though Anand had the same combined score as Nakamura (both players finished on 10.5) it was the American that edged him in tiebreaks due to a relatively unimportant match... or one would have thought!

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5th Zurich Chess Challenge 2016

Photos by Frederic Friedel for ChessBase

From 12 to 15 February 2016 the world chess elite will arrive again in Zurich for the fifth edition of the Zurich Chess Challenge at the Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville.

The oldest chess club in the world and its honorable member Oleg Skvortsov have suggested a most important innovation for the future of new classical chess: a new time control of 40 minutes per game with additional 10 seconds for each move.

Round Five

The two draws of the fifth round were somewhat similar: White obtained a small edge in both Anand-Kramnik and Giri-Shirov but it was nothing too significant. In both cases the game quickly turned into an endgame after rapid trades. With these results, the door was open for Nakamura to catch Anand, and that he did.

Anand was unable to really press against Kramnik

Aronian played one of his pet variations, but somehow things went very wrong for him:

[Event "5th Zurich CC 2016"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2787"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2016.02.13"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. c5 {At some point people wanted to call this the Aronian variations, as Levon had quite a bit of success with it.} c6 8. h3 b6 9. b4 a5 10. a3 h6 11. Bd3 Ba6 12. O-O Bxd3 13. Qxd3 Qc8 14. Rfc1 Qb7 15. Rab1 axb4 16. axb4 Rfc8 17. Nd2 Bd8 18. Nb3 Bc7 19. Bxc7 Qxc7 20. Ra1 Qb7 21. b5 $2 {This is where thing start going wrong for Aronian. Thinking about it I'm not entirely sure what the Armenian missed as the lines are pretty straight forward.} Rxa1 22. Rxa1 bxc5 23. Na5 Qa8 24. Nb3 (24. bxc6 Rxc6 {does not recover the pawn, and obviously taking with the knight on c6 is impossible due to the pin down the a-file.}) 24... Qb7 25. Na5 Qa8 26. Nb3 Qb8 {Black is after all up a pawn, and even though conversion should be technically difficult it is only Black that is playing for a win now. } 27. dxc5 cxb5 28. Qd4 (28. Qxb5 Qxb5 29. Nxb5 Nxc5 30. Rc1 Nfd7 31. Nd6 Rc7 32. Nxc5 Rxc5 33. Ra1 {was the best practical chance: here even though Black is a solid pawn ahead he has to contend with some immediate threats, such as Ra8+ or Ra7.}) 28... b4 29. Na4 Qb5 30. Qb2 Ne4 31. f3 Nexc5 32. Naxc5 Nxc5 { Now it is two pawns for Hikaru, and there is very little to show for it.} 33. Rc1 Rc7 34. Qe5 Qb6 35. f4 (35. Qd4 Nd7 36. Rxc7 Qxc7 37. Qxb4 {would have required Nakamura to show some endgame technique as the pawn advantage is reduced to only one.}) 35... Na6 36. Ra1 Rc3 37. Nd4 Nc7 38. Rb1 f6 39. Qh5 Rxe3 {White is down too much material and his knight on d4 is hanging.} 0-1

An extremely important result for the tournament

With this the final tally of the rapid was:

With the rapid portion counting for double of what the blitz does, the tournament really had only three heavy favorites, with Nakamura's prowess on blitz (he is, after all, the second highest rated player in blitz in the World), giving him perhaps an edge.


Round One

With the tournament on the line, the leaders came out with smoking guns. Anand, Kramnik and Nakamura all won their games!

A forgettable tournament for Giri didn't start well in the blitz either

Kramnik outplayed Shirov from an equal position, and the Latvian decided to sacrifice a pawn for compensation. He got into even deeper trouble as his pieces were tangled up and he ended up losing one of them.

Nakamura meanwhile keeps showing just how tenacious he is, while Giri kept showing how bad his form was in Zurich:

[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2798"] [BlackElo "2787"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 c6 5. O-O Nf6 6. b3 O-O 7. Bb2 Bf5 8. c4 Nbd7 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. Nc3 Qa5 11. Qd2 Rfd8 12. Rfc1 Qa6 13. e3 Ne4 14. Qe1 Nxc3 15. Bxc3 Be4 16. Bf1 Qf6 17. Nd2 Bf5 18. Bg2 Nb8 19. e4 Be6 20. Ba5 Nc6 21. Bxd8 Rxd8 22. e5 Qg5 23. Qe3 Qg4 {In a normal game, White is just totally winning since he is up the exchange. In blitz, anyhing can still happen.} 24. f4 (24. Nf3 $1 {is simpler, as Black doesn't have any of the light square blockade he manages in the game.}) 24... g5 25. Rf1 gxf4 26. gxf4 Bh6 27. Rf3 Kh8 28. Raf1 {So far so good, Black keeps some compensation but he is slowly being contained.} Qh4 29. Kh1 (29. Rg3 {seemed normal and good.} Bf5 30. Qf2 $1 {is annoying for Black.}) 29... Bf5 30. Rg3 e6 31. a3 {Not a bad move, but it serves little purpose.} (31. Nf3 Qe7 32. Ng5 $16 {seemed like a better try.}) 31... Rf8 32. b4 f6 33. b5 $6 Ne7 34. exf6 Qxf6 35. Bh3 Bg7 36. Re1 Qh6 (36... Qxd4 37. Qxd4 Bxd4 {gives Black some compensation}) 37. Bg4 (37. Rc1 $1) 37... Bf6 38. Reg1 Bh4 39. Rh3 Qf6 40. Nf3 $2 {The start of the real problems} (40. Bxf5 Nxf5 41. Qe2 $1 {seems winning, with Nf3-e5 to follow.} (41. Qe5 $14)) 40... Be4 41. Rg2 (41. Rf1 $1 $14) 41... Ng6 42. Kg1 $2 (42. f5 $1) 42... Nxf4 {and now all of White's pieces are under attack.} 43. Rd2 Nxh3+ 0-1

Meanwhile Aronian was unable to save a worse position against Anand


[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2784"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "70"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. e3 Bb4 4. Nge2 c6 5. a3 Ba5 6. b4 Bc7 7. Bb2 O-O 8. Ng3 Re8 9. c5 d5 10. cxd6 Bxd6 11. Qc2 a5 12. b5 Bf8 13. Bd3 cxb5 14. Nxb5 Na6 15. O-O Bd7 16. f4 e4 17. Be2 Rc8 18. Qb1 Nc5 19. Bd4 a4 20. Bc4 Ng4 21. h3 Nh6 22. Nc3 Nf5 23. Nxf5 Bxf5 24. Qa2 Be6 25. Bxe6 Nxe6 26. Ne2 Nxd4 27. Nxd4 Bc5 28. Nb5 Qd3 29. Rab1 Red8 30. Rf2 Rd5 31. Nc3 Bxe3 32. Qxd5 Rxc3 33. Rxb7 $2 (33. Qxd3 Bxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Rxd3 35. Rxb7 f5 {is a difficult endgame for White, but if it is lost is beyond my chess knowledge.}) 33... Bxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Qg3+ { Unfortunately for Aronian, even though his threats are strong, he is getting mated first} 35. Ke2 (35. Kf1 Rc1+ 36. Ke2 Re1#) 35... Qxg2+ {With mate next move} 0-1

Round Two

Nakamura was probably close to lost against Shirov in their blitz game, but the Latvian did not find a way to convert and the American escaped with a draw.

Kramnik defeated Aronian with black. In this game the Armenian decided to sacrifice an exchange but it was only good for a perpetual. He did not find how to force the draw and Kramnik emerged up material. After a series of mutual mistakes the Russian player was able to reach an endgame and converted his win.

Giri was able to neutralize Anand with the black pieces in a Najdorf and the game ended in a draw.

With these results, even though Kramnik took the lead in the blitz, he still remained behind in the overall score.

Round Three

Kramnik and Nakamura drew in an uneventful 25 move game, which suited them both. Anand took advantage of this and struck out against Shirov:

[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Shirov, Alexei"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2684"] [BlackElo "2784"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. b3 O-O 8. Bb2 e5 9. h3 e4 10. Nh4 Re8 11. g4 h6 12. Rg1 Nf8 13. O-O-O a6 14. f4 exf3 15. Nxf3 Rxe3 16. Ne5 Be6 17. Qd2 Rxe5 18. dxe5 Bxe5 19. Bd3 d4 20. Ne2 c5 21. g5 hxg5 22. Qxg5 N6d7 23. Qh5 {The position has a material imbalance and it seems that White's position on the kingside is menacing, but Anand shows it is just an illusion and that Black is much, much faster on the queenside.} b5 $1 24. Rdf1 bxc4 25. Nf4 {Way too optimistic} (25. Bxc4 Bxc4 26. bxc4 Qe8 {will lead to positional doom as Black threatens the simple Rb8 or Nb6.}) 25... cxd3 26. Nxe6 fxe6 27. Qf7+ Kh8 {and realizing that He has but a check, Shirov resigned.} 0-1

Giri was a pawn up against Aronian for most of the game, but the Armenian's counterplay was too strong and he saved a draw after 69 moves.

Round Four

Giri pushed against Kramnik but was unable to create any real winning attempts. This game also finished in a draw. In the game between two players not quite in title contention anymore, Aronian tricked Shirov:

[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Shirov, Alexei"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2684"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 d4 5. O-O c5 6. e3 Nc6 7. exd4 Nxd4 8. Nxd4 Qxd4 9. d3 Be7 10. Nc3 O-O 11. Be3 Qd6 12. Qe2 e5 13. h3 Be6 14. Rfe1 Rfd8 $2 ( 14... Rab8 {was simple enough for about equality, but Shirov overlooks a tactic.}) 15. Bxb7 Rab8 16. Bg2 Qxd3 17. Nd5 {Perhaps the Latvian forgot about this move} Qxe2 18. Nxe7+ Kf8 19. Rxe2 Bxc4 (19... Kxe7 20. Bxc5+ Ke8 21. Bxa7 {is hopeless}) 20. Rc2 Bd3 21. Rxc5 Kxe7 22. Rxe5+ Kf8 23. b3 {White's up a pawn, this combined with his pair of bishops and safer king makes his position winning.} a6 24. Rc1 Rbc8 25. Rec5 Rxc5 26. Bxc5+ Kg8 27. Rd1 Rd7 28. Bc6 Rd8 29. Be7 Rd4 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Bg2 Rd7 32. Bf1 1-0

The most important game of the round, however, was a save by Nakamura, yet again!

[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "4.3"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C67"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2787"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nf5 8. Nf3 O-O 9. d4 d5 10. c3 Bd6 11. Bd3 Nce7 12. Nbd2 c6 13. Nf1 Ng6 14. Qc2 Nfh4 15. Nxh4 Qxh4 16. g3 Qh3 17. f4 Bg4 18. f5 Ne7 19. Ne3 {Nakamura has overextended with his kingside attack, and now some of his pieces are in trouble. He is king of stuck on the kingside and some of his pieces might be in danger of being trapped.} Bf3 20. Qf2 Qh5 21. Rf1 Bg4 (21... Be4 22. Be2 Qh6 23. Nxd5 $18) 22. f6 $1 gxf6 23. Nxg4 (23. Qxf6 {was perhaps easier, as the queen still doesn't have good squares. For example:} Be6 (23... Rad8 24. Nxg4 Qxg4 25. Bh6 $18) 24. Rf2 $1 {Threatening the simple but crushing g4.}) 23... Qxg4 24. Qxf6 (24. Bh6 $1 Rfe8 25. Qxf6 {with impending mate}) 24... Bxg3 25. Kh1 Bh4 26. Bxh7+ $1 Kxh7 27. Qh6+ Kg8 28. Rg1 Qxg1+ 29. Kxg1 Ng6 30. Bf4 (30. Bg5 Bxg5 31. Qxg5 {followed by h4 seems crushing}) 30... Bf6 31. Be5 $6 Bxe5 32. dxe5 Rae8 33. Kh1 $6 Rxe5 34. Rg1 Rfe8 {Suddenly Black is actually doing ok. Anand decides to force the draw.} 35. Rxg6+ fxg6 36. Qxg6+ Kh8 1/2-1/2

Round Five

In the decisive round Anand was putting strong pressure on Kramnik, but he was simply unable to find a way through. Kramnik defended passively but tenaciously and the game ended in a draw.

A quiet draw in the rapid and in the blitz: Anand-Kramnik

Giri beat Shirov in an exciting game, but it was relatively irrelevant as everything hinged on Nakamura vs. Aronian:

[Event "5th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2016.02.15"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C65"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2792"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "89"] [EventDate "2016.02.15"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nbd2 Be6 7. O-O Bd6 8. d4 Nd7 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Nxe5 Bxe5 11. f4 Qd4+ 12. Kh1 Bd6 13. Qe2 O-O-O 14. f5 Bd7 15. Nf3 Qa4 16. b3 Qa5 17. Bd2 Bb4 18. Bxb4 Qxb4 19. Qf2 b6 20. Ng5 Qe7 21. f6 gxf6 22. Qxf6 Qxf6 23. Rxf6 Be8 24. Nxf7 Bxf7 25. Rxf7 Rd2 26. Rc1 Rg8 27. Rg1 Rxc2 28. Rxh7 {Black has to be careful here. The amount of pawns is not as important as their quality, and White has two connected passers already.} Rxa2 (28... Rg4 $1 {makes it hard for Nakamura to push forward.} 29. h4 Rxa2 30. Kh2 Rb2 {is rather slow.}) 29. g4 Ra5 30. h4 {Now Black is in deep trouble, if not simply lost.} Re5 31. g5 Rxe4 32. g6 Ree8 33. h5 {If you have passed pawns, push them.} a5 34. g7 Kb7 35. Rh6 {Aronian clearly has no counterplay. Nakamura threatens to move the rook away and push h6-h7.} Re5 36. Rh8 Rxg7 37. Rxg7 {The game is over.} b5 38. Rg3 c5 39. h6 Rh5+ 40. Kg2 c4 41. bxc4 b4 42. Rh3 Rg5+ 43. Kf3 b3 44. Kf4 a4 45. Kxg5 1-0

The re-match from the morning was again in favor for the American

With this victory Nakamura tied the overall score with Anand, but due to better tiebreaks he was able to win the tournament! What was the tiebreak, you may ask? Well, according to the official website:

  1. Total points
  2. Sonneborn-Berger
  3. Number of wins
  4. Number of wins with black
  5. Result of the direct encounters
  6. Ranking in Blitz

Oh, do you remember the unimportant Shirov-Giri we just casually mentioned? Marc Lang explains how that affected the final standings:

"Meanwhile, Giri mated Shirov - a seemingly unimportant result, as they both were at the bottom of the table. However, as Nakamura had won against Giri and drawn with Shirov, while Anand had scored opposite, a win against Giri was now worth 2 points more than a win against Shirov! Therefore, if Nakamura scored a full point versus Aronian, he would be the winner of the competition!"

Who knew that both this, and their blitz counterpart
game, would have such an effect in the final standings!

And so it was! Nakamura crowns himself as the winner of Zurich again!

We will bring you the impressions from the closing ceremony in a separate report, but for now checkout the videos at the official website.

Final Combined Standings

Rk Name ELO Pts SB
1. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2787 10.5 22.75
2. Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2784 10.5 21.75
3. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2801 9.5 20.25
4. Anish Giri (NED) 2798 5.5 11.75
5. Levon Aronian (ARM) 2792 5.5 9.25
6. Alexei Shirov (LAT) 2684 3.5 9.75

Blitz Standings

New Classical Standings

Note: Rapid results count for double (two for a win, one for a draw, none for a loss).

Opening Blitz Standings

Note: Opening Blitz standings only count towards determining who has more whites than blacks

Replay Today's New Classical Games

Replay Today's Blitz Games


Friday February 12 6 p.m. Opening Ceremony, concert, Blitz
Saturday February 13 3 pm first round, 6 pm second round
Sunday February 14 3 pm third round, 6 pm. fourth round
Monday February 15 3 pm. fifth round, 6 pm. blitz, closing

Round 1 - Sat, February 13th, 3:00 pm

White   Black
Alexei Shirov 1-1 Vladimir Kramnik
Hikaru Nakamura 1-1 Anish Giri
Viswanathan Anand 2-0 Levon Aronian

Round 2 - Sat, February 13th, 6:00 pm

White   Black
Vladimir Kramnik 1-1 Levon Aronian
Anish Giri 0-2 Viswanathan Anand
Alexei Shirov 0-2 Hikaru Nakamura

Round 3 - Sun, February 14th, 3:00 pm

White   Black
Hikaru Nakamura 1-1 Vladimir Kramnik
Viswanathan Anand 1-1 Alexei Shirov
Levon Aronian 1-1 Anish Giri

Round 4 - Sun, February 14th, 6:00 pm

White   Black
Vladimir Kramnik 2-0 Anish Giri
Alexei Shirov 0-2 Levon Aronian
Hikaru Nakamura 1-1 Viswanathan Anand

Round 5 - Mon, February 15th, 3:00 pm

White   Black
Viswanathan Anand 1-1 Vladimir Kramnik
Levon Aronian 0-2 Hikaru Nakamura
Anish Giri 1-1 Alexei Shirov


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.


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