Zurich Blitz: Aronian crushes

by Alejandro Ramirez
2/13/2015 – Perhaps a difficult blitz tournament to predict! Karjakin and Nakamura, known for being great blitz players, finished easily on the bottom half of the table. Caruana, not known for his blitz skills, comfortably clinched at least third before the final round while Aronian and Anand were the ones duking it out for clear first! We bring you impressions and highlights from the blitz.

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Karjakin Simul

The festivities started in Zurich with a lecture and simul by one of the participants, Sergey Karjakin. After a brief lecture he played against guests from the Savory Chess Corner and from Bank Vontobel. In sixteen games the amateurs were only able to achieve two draws.

Sergey Karjakin is the 12th rated player in the World

A small lecture...

Followed by crushing people in the simul

The Blitz

Vladimir Kramnik with his daughter Daria and Nigel Short

Levon Aronian shaking hands with the man that makes the event possible: Oleg Skvortsov

The legend! Viktor Kortschnoj will be playing his own match in Zurich

Yanick Pelletier, the strongest Swiss player, with the sponsor and organizer

Natalia Skvortsov is one of the strong forces behind the tournament

A little musical performance before the battles...

The first round robin in Zurich pitched the grandmasters in a blitz event to determine their pairing order for the Classical. In such a small tournament, only five rounds, it is quite important to be able to have more whites than blacks, and this is the reward for finishing in the top half of the blitz portion. Today's blitz was not a close competition: three players dominated, and after four rounds it was already mathematically impossible for Karjakin, Kramnik or Nakamura to finish in the top half.

Round One

Round 01
Karjakin, Sergey
Anand, Viswanathan
Caruana, Fabiano
Nakamura, Hikaru
Aronian, Levon
Kramnik, Vladimir

The first round started Anand's early domination of this tournament. He started out strong by defeating Karjakin in a long opposite colored bishop endgame. Karjakin clearly thought too much of his chances in the following position:

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Anand, V."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C47"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2797"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/2Pk1K1p/8/2Bp1P1P/p5P1/2P5/4b3 b - - 0 51"] [PlyCount "15"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 51... Bxg3 52. f5 $2 {Risky, and objectively losing. It was not too late to switch back and make a draw.} (52. h5 $1 Bxf4 53. Kf5 Bg3 (53... Be3 54. Bd5 Bg5 55. Ke4 {and even though White will lose c6 eventually due to zugzwang, the resulting endgame is a draw as he can comfortably defend all of his pawns.} ) 54. Ke4 $11) 52... Bxh4+ 53. Kg7 Kxc6 54. Kxh6 (54. f6 Bxf6+ 55. Kxf6 Kc5 56. Bf7 Kb4 57. Kg6 (57. Ke5 Kc3 58. Be6 h5 {the h-pawn simply marches forward, eventually causing the king to go and catch it. Black captures on c2, pushes his d-pawn, forcing the bishop to sacrifice itself for the pawn, leaving the a-pawn alone to queen.}) 57... Kc3 {is losing for White. He cannot play Bb3 as d3 is crushing.} 58. Bb3 d3 $19) 54... Kc5 55. Be6 Kb4 56. Kh5 Bd8 57. Kg4 Kc3 58. Kf3 Kxc2 0-1

With two draws in the games Caruana-Nakamura and Aronian-Kramnik it was the Indian ex-World Champion that came out half a point ahead from the first set of fights.

Round Two

Round 02
Nakamura, Hikaru
Aronian, Levon
Anand, Viswanathan
Kramnik, Vladimir
Karjakin, Sergey
Caruana, Fabiano

Three decisive games, and in what style! First Anand turned a bad position around very quickly:

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "2"] [White "Anand, V."] [Black "Kramnik, V."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A09"] [WhiteElo "2797"] [BlackElo "2783"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1r3r1k/1ppq2pp/5p2/2Pnp3/3p2PP/RQ1P1PN1/1P2P1K1/5R2 w - - 0 23"] [PlyCount "17"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 23. Rfa1 Ne3+ (23... h5 $1 24. Nxh5 f5 $1 {and Black crashes through, though this continuation is far from obvious - sacrificing a pawn doesn't seem so logical, especially after White can close the position with 25.g5, but that is not where his problems end.} 25. g5 f4 $1 26. Kf2 Qf7 $1 $19 {Suddenly the knight on h5 is trapped!}) 24. Kf2 Qe7 25. Ra7 f5 $6 26. g5 e4 27. Rxb7 Rxb7 $2 (27... Rbd8 $1 $19) 28. Qxb7 exd3 29. exd3 Nc2 $4 {Perhaps overlooking White's defensive resources.} 30. Ra8 Re8 31. Qc8 (31. Qc8 $1 Qe1+ 32. Kg2 {and the knight on e2 is very securely protecting his king!} Ne3+ 33. Kh3 {and Black is getting mated, while Black has no immediate threats.}) 1-0

Aronian convincingly outplayed Nakamura, showing that even in blitz simple concepts like pawn islands are very important. He cleanly won a superior endgame and relegated the American player back to 0.5/2, despite being one of the pre-tournament favorites to take the blitz event!

Finally Caruana finished off Karjakin in brutal style with a beautiful (though unnecessary) queen sacrifice:

Caruana showed that the pair of bishops is not always an advantage

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "2"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Caruana, F."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A88"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2811"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4r1k/2q3bp/1np3p1/1p2p3/1P2Pp1P/1QB2BP1/P4P2/3R1RK1 w - - 0 22"] [PlyCount "20"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 22. h5 {The pair of bishops is only an advantage when those bishops have long diagonals to breathe in. Here it is clear that they are shut out, and Black has a powerful knight to coordinate with his a-rook!} Nc4 23. hxg6 Ra3 $1 { It's not necessary to take on g6! Caruana pushes his initiative forward.} 24. Qc2 fxg3 25. Rd3 (25. fxg3 Ne3 $17 (25... Qa7+ $1 $19)) 25... Qa7 $1 {The coordination of Black is impressive. His attack on the kingside is very strong, even though he only has one rook on that side of the board! (The bishop doesn't really count as it is not part of the attack yet).} 26. Qd1 Rxa2 27. Rd7 Qxf2+ $1 {Flashy but not the only way to win...} (27... gxf2+ 28. Kh2 Qe3 $19) 28. Rxf2 gxf2+ 29. Kh1 Ne3 {Attacking the queen and threatening f1} 30. Bxe5 Bxe5 31. Rxh7+ Kg8 {White is out of resources, for example:} (31... Kg8 32. Qb3+ Nc4 33. Kg2 Rb2 $1 $19 (33... Rxf3 34. Qxf3 f1=Q+ 35. Kxf1 Nd2+ {is also very good.})) 0-1

Round Three

Round 03
Aronian, Levon
Karjakin, Sergey
Caruana, Fabiano
Anand, Viswanathan
Kramnik, Vladimir
Nakamura, Hikaru

Aronian kept strong pace in round three

Caruana-Anand finished rather suddenly, but was still an interesting fight:

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "3"] [White "Caruana, F."] [Black "Anand, V."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C26"] [WhiteElo "2811"] [BlackElo "2797"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "32"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. d3 c6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 d6 7. Nf3 Nbd7 8. Bb3 Bb6 9. d4 g5 10. Bg3 g4 11. dxe5 $5 (11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. dxe5 Nh7 13. e6 $1 fxe6 14. Qxg4 {is very, very unclear.}) 11... gxf3 12. exf6 fxg2 13. Bxf7+ $5 { Exposing the king to checks by sacrificing a piece!} (13. Rg1 {is logical, with a position that is very difficult to evaluate.}) 13... Kxf7 14. Qh5+ Ke6 ( 14... Kxf6 {keeps the game going, and even though Black is up a bishop it looks extremely risky. A computer might win this game, but in blitz it seems suicidal as it is difficult to find the necessary defensive resources.}) 15. Qf5+ (15. Qg4+ Kf7 $11) 15... Kf7 16. Qh5+ Ke6 1/2-1/2

Aronian continued an excellent pace by winning his second game in a row. He beat Karjakin in a long, drawn out endgame in which again he entered with a slight advantage. With a draw in Kramnik-Nakamura the lead went to Anand and Aronian, both with 2.5/3.

Nothing more natural than a brief analysis after a blitz game

The big surprise, possibly, was that Karjakin started with 0.0/3! Caruana's 2.0/3 was a comfortable position for him to fight for more whites in the tournament, as from a practical point of view the reward for finishing third or first is the same.

Round Four

Round 04
Karjakin, Sergey
Kramnik, Vladimir
Caruana, Fabiano
Aronian, Levon
Anand, Viswanathan
Nakamura, Hikaru

Karjakin put himself back into the fight by beating Kramnik... well, it was at least a morale victory as it would have taken a miracle for him to finish in the top three after his disastrous start.

Karjakin getting a small victory

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "4"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Kramnik, V."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C47"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2783"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2q1r1k1/p4ppp/1r1Bb3/2p5/2Pbp3/1P2N1QP/P2R1PP1/5RK1 w - - 0 25"] [PlyCount "27"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 25. Rxd4 $1 {A very nice positional sacrifice. White, by giving up a rook, destroys the pair of bishops, creates threats against his opponent king, creates a passed pawn and obtains a strong dark-squared initiative. Who needs a miserable rook when you can have all that for it!?} cxd4 26. Be5 f6 27. Bxd4 (27. Bxf6 Qd7 {is not so clear.}) 27... Ra6 28. Bxf6 Qb7 29. Be5 Rxa2 30. Rd1 Rf8 31. c5 Qf7 32. Rf1 $6 (32. Rd6 $1 {is very strong as Rxe6 is a far more serious threat than anything on f2, that being said it is not the easiest move to see in blitz.} Bxb3 (32... Rxf2 33. Rxe6 $18) 33. Nf5 $1 $18) 32... Bxb3 33. Ng4 Ra6 34. Bd6 $1 Qe6 35. Bxf8 Kxf8 36. Qb8+ Kf7 37. Ne5+ Kf6 38. f4 {The attack is clearly decisive.} 1-0

Anand beat Nakamura in a great example of transformation of advantages in a rook endgame:

A nice finishing touch in a winning rook endgame

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "4"] [White "Anand, V."] [Black "Nakamura, Hi"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B52"] [WhiteElo "2797"] [BlackElo "2776"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2R5/8/1p1r2p1/1Pp1k2p/2P4P/4K1P1/5P2/8 b - - 0 52"] [PlyCount "20"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 52... Re6 53. Rc6 $1 {World Champion technique: even in blitz Anand is able to quickly evaluate that this is a winning pawn endgame. Black has no choice but to take.} Rxc6 54. bxc6 Kd6 55. f4 $1 Kxc6 56. g4 $1 Kd6 (56... hxg4 57. f5 Kd7 58. fxg6 Ke7 59. Kf4 {is hopeless as Black cannot break through on b5:} b5 60. cxb5 c4 61. g7 Kf7 62. b6 c3 63. b7 c2 64. g8=Q+ Kxg8 65. b8=Q+ {a typical technique: The pawn promotes with check and wins the race.}) 57. gxh5 gxh5 58. Ke4 Ke7 59. Ke5 Kf7 60. f5 Ke7 61. f6+ Kf7 62. Kf5 {the pawn endgame is completely hopeless.} 1-0

The Caruana-Aronian game had quite the incident! Despite being up a rook in the final position, Aronian grabbed a piece... and flung it across the room by accident! Seeing as this disturbed the peace of the game, a draw was agreed - which guaranteed that both Aronian and Caruana would start with more whites in the classical; it became mathematically impossible for Kramnik, Nakamura or Karjakin to catch Caruana or Aronian, much less Anand.

Round Five

Round 05
Aronian, Levon
Anand, Viswanathan
Kramnik, Vladimir
Caruana, Fabiano
Nakamura, Hikaru
Karjakin, Sergey

Round five was necessary to play, of course, because the exact order of the pairings could not be determined until every result was counted, but it was already clear which players would finish in which half of the table.

After drawing his very first game, Aronian continued his winning streak by beating Anand and finally overtaking him in the standings. He showed, yet again, fantastic understanding of a very technical endgame, converting a slight advantage in the form of two bishops into a clean victory.

Anand lost to Aronian in the last round, but still had a great showing

Caruana continued with his excellent shape and defeated Kramnik, proving that there are no "unlosable positions" in blitz.

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "5"] [White "Kramnik, V."] [Black "Caruana, F."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A88"] [WhiteElo "2783"] [BlackElo "2811"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 1. Nf3 g6 2. g3 Bg7 3. Bg2 f5 4. d4 Nf6 5. O-O O-O 6. c4 d6 7. Nc3 c6 8. Rb1 Na6 9. b4 Ne4 10. Nxe4 fxe4 11. Nd2 d5 12. b5 Nc7 13. e3 Bf5 14. bxc6 bxc6 15. Qa4 Rf6 16. Ba3 Bd7 17. Qa5 Bf8 18. cxd5 cxd5 19. Rb7 Rc6 20. Rc1 e6 21. Nb3 Bxa3 22. Qxa3 Nb5 23. Rxc6 Bxc6 24. Rxb5 Bxb5 25. Nc5 Qd6 26. Bh3 Bd7 27. Qa5 Bc8 28. Qb5 Kf7 29. Bxe6+ Ke7 30. Bxc8 Rxc8 31. Qb7+ Rc7 32. Qb3 Rc6 33. Qa4 Qc7 34. Kg2 Qb6 35. h4 Rc7 36. Qd1 Qf6 37. Qb3 Qc6 38. Qb8 Rc8 39. Qxa7+ Qc7 40. Qa4 Qc6 41. Qa7+ Qc7 42. Qa6 Qc6 43. Qe2 Ra8 44. h5 Kf7 45. a4 Qf6 {By all means it is clear that White is the one pushing for a win. He has two pawns for his exchange, and the safer king. However Black should be ok as White's knight must stay on c5 to defend the a4 pawn and there is no clear way to add pressure on the kingside.} 46. Qg4 Kg8 47. hxg6 hxg6 48. Nd7 Qf5 49. Qxf5 gxf5 {With the treate of bishops a draw is the most likely result.} 50. Nb6 (50. Nf6+ Kf7 51. Nxd5 Rxa4 $11) 50... Ra5 51. g4 Kf7 52. gxf5 Kf6 53. Nd7+ $6 (53. f3 {it was about time to settle down for the draw. Exchanging some pawns makes the draw trivial.}) 53... Kxf5 54. Nc5 Kg4 55. Kf1 $2 {Too passive! This gives Black excellent winning chances by swinging his rook to the kingside.} Kf3 56. Ke1 (56. Nd7 {was necessary, with the small threat of 57.Ne5 mate!} Kg4 57. Kg2 $1 $11) 56... Ra8 {Now it is all over. The White king must abandon f2 and the a4-pawn provides no counterplay.} 57. Kf1 Rb8 58. Ke1 Rb1+ 59. Kd2 Kxf2 60. a5 Ra1 61. a6 Ra2+ 62. Kc3 Kxe3 {The rest is trivial.} 63. Kb3 Ra1 64. Kb2 Ra5 65. Kc3 Kf2 66. Kb4 Ra1 67. Kb5 e3 68. Nd3+ Ke2 69. Nf4+ Kf3 70. Nd3 e2 71. Kb6 Ke3 72. Nb4 Rb1 73. Kc5 Rxb4 0-1

Nakamura was able to get a morale victory by beating Karjakin:

[Event "4th Zurich CC Blitz"] [Site "Zurich SUI"] [Date "2015.02.13"] [Round "5"] [White "Nakamura, Hi"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2776"] [BlackElo "2760"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2b1r1k1/r3q2p/2pb4/p1p1np1N/2Pp1p2/1P1P3P/P2B2PN/R2QR2K w - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "9"] [EventDate "2015.02.13"] 26. Bxf4 Qh4 $2 (26... Qf7 $13 {The game continues with a very unclear position.}) 27. Bg3 $2 {Nakamura doesn't see the blow at first...} Qg5 28. Bf4 Qh4 $2 (28... Qg6 $1 29. Nf3 Qxh5 $11) 29. g3 $1 {Now it is clear that the queen cannot take on h3 because of the fork on e8, and it must retreat to a losing square.} Qd8 (29... Qxh3 30. Nf6+ Kh8 31. Nxe8 Ng4 32. Re2 {is not even close to compensation for the "sacrificed" rook.}) 30. Nf3 $1 {The ping down the e-file is lethal!} (30. Nf3 {There is no good way of defending the e5 knight.} Rae7 (30... Nxf3 31. Rxe8+ Qxe8 32. Nf6+ $18) 31. Nf6+ $18) 1-0

Interestingly second was shared between Caruana and Anand (with the tiebreak going to Caruana based on more blacks), who finished 1.5 points ahead of Nakamura, who was fourth, which is a massive difference in a five round event.

Photos from the blitz tournament and opening ceremony by Eteri Kublashvili

Blitz Final Standings

Replay All Blitz Games

Select from the dropdown menu to replay the games

Brief impressions from Zurich by Frederic Friedel

Pure elegance and charm: Natalia Skvortsova with Marie-Laure Kramnik, wife of the former World Champion

And presenting: Daria, the daughter of the two

So how old are you, Dasha? This many! (To an English-speaking foreigner – Daria speaks French and Russian)

With Daddy Vadimir. We watched Dasha puzzle over the fact that her father had not
won his game, so had he lost? She is still struggling to understand "draw".

At dinner with the Skvortsovs: Oksana Lobinsh, wife of Oleg's
college mate Edvins, sharing iPhone pictures with Natalia

Frederic recorded some of the musical performances, which we will bring you in the next few days...


With the blitz finished the pairings are as follows in the classical portion of the tournament, which starts tomorrow:

Round 01 - February 14, 2015, 15:00
Anand, Viswanathan 2797 - Kramnik, Vladimir 2783
Aronian, Levon 2777 - Karjakin, Sergey 2760
Caruana, Fabiano 2811 - Nakamura, Hikaru 2776
Round 02 - February 15, 2015, 15:00
Kramnik, Vladimir 2783 - Nakamura, Hikaru 2776
Karjakin, Sergey 2760 - Caruana, Fabiano 2811
Anand, Viswanathan 2797 - Aronian, Levon 2777
Round 03 - February 16, 2015, 15:00
Aronian, Levon 2777 - Kramnik, Vladimir 2783
Caruana, Fabiano 2811 - Anand, Viswanathan 2797
Nakamura, Hikaru 2776 - Karjakin, Sergey 2760
Round 04 - February 17, 2015, 15:00
Kramnik, Vladimir 2783 - Karjakin, Sergey 2760
Anand, Viswanathan 2797 - Nakamura, Hikaru 2776
Aronian, Levon 2777 - Caruana, Fabiano 2811
Round 05 - February 18, 2015, 15:00
Caruana, Fabiano 2811 - Kramnik, Vladimir 2783
Nakamura, Hikaru 2776 - Aronian, Levon 2777
Karjakin, Sergey 2760 - Anand, Viswanathan 2797

The Rapid portion will be on February 19th.

Schedule of Commentary

Date   English
13.02.2015 Blitz Daniel King
14.02.2015 Round 1 Oliver Reeh + Dorian Rogozenco
15.02.2015 Round 2 Mihail Marin
16.02.2015 Round 3 Daniel King
17.02.2015 Round 4 Daniel King
18.02.2015 Round 5 Mihail Marin
19.02.2015 Round 6 Daniel King


The games will be 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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