Anand Reverses Course, Streaks To Early Lead In Zurich

Anand Reverses Course, Streaks To Early Lead In Zurich

| 30 | Chess Event Coverage

Is it possible to play better chess at faster time controls in worse weather against stronger opponents? The life of GM Viswanathan Anand over the last month poses that exact question.

After a massively underwhelming performance in Gibraltar against lower-tier opposition, he has righted the ship quickly at the 2016 Zurich Chess Challenge by winning both games today and jumping out to an early lead.

Anand followed up his second-place finish in the opening blitz yesterday with essentially round six of the same event on Saturday afternoon. Sure, the time control was upped to 40+10, but Anand won before his chair cushion got warm. He needed only 12 minutes for his 19 moves.

"It was over before it kind of got anywhere," Anand said. The victim was GM Levon Aronian.

Anand followed up with a win in the evening over another man he will face in next month's Candidates' Tournament, GM Anish Giri.

GM Viswanathan Anand was congratulated on his round one blitzkrieg by tournament sponsor Oleg Skvortsov.

In the opening game, the Armenian's king felt more heat than a fondue pot. He most likely did not anticipate the strength of 15. Nxh6!

The game was also instant payback for the opening blitz — Anand suffered his only defeat to Aronian when his piece offering didn't pan out (the game is in our previous news report).

"I could not sac a piece again and not have it work!" Anand joked.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov.

Games via TWIC.

Despite the celerity, Anand did not have everything on his computer. "It's very hard to pin people down these days," he said of his preparation for Aronian. "Even when I played [Qf3] I didn't realize how strong it was."

GM Levon Aronian has been uncharacteristically playing much of the tournament with his glasses off...

...The glasses came back on, but they didn't help him spot the sacrifice on h6. (Photo: David Llada for the Zurich Chess Challenge.)

The next game to finish was certainly not a continuation of yesterday's blitz. The previous day's winner, GM Hikaru Nakamura, didn't get anything as White against yesterday's tail-ender, GM Anish Giri

Nakamura had just defeated Giri the previous day en route to winning Friday's round-robin. "It's a big upgrade against my game yesterday against Hikaru," Giri said.

The Dutchman played the Najdorf, and when the two discussed which line Black was expecting, Nakamura insinuated that he could not play 9. Qd3 since he used it against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave "like 20 times in our Death Match." It wasn't quite that many, but it was certainly Nakamura's main White weapon that helped him win the recent match.

Giri paused after the explanation, and asked him afterward if he had in fact studied those games.

"Life is too short to be checking every Death Match," he said, then changed course. "Before the Candidates' I'm going to check all the Death Matches of my opponents!"

"Najdorf on my mind"?

Of the eight players competing in Moscow for the right to challenge GM Magnus Carlsen, the only ones to have played in a Death Match are the two Americans, Nakamura and GM Fabiano Caruana. They've both won two Death Matches.

The game went so well that Giri joked, "He's tempting me to play the Najdorf against him in the Candidates'."

The post-match discussion between the players centered around 23. g4!?

Nakamura thought he absolutely had to make the move or else suffer a slow death. Giri insisted that White's position was unpleasant but not as dire as its owner suggested.

"I just played it because I didn't see anything better," Nakamura said. "It's not like it was brilliant."

The third game to finish was also a draw, and generated less adrenaline than the other two games. GM Alexei Shirov and GM Vladimir Kramnik presented a mainline Berlin Defense.

The former World Champion repeated his ill-fated idea against GM Wesley So in last year's final round of Dortmund, but Shirov chose not to see what Black had prepared in case of 11. Ng5 (as So played).

Instead Shirov played with much more restraint, and rough parity was never challenged.

In the evening's second round, Anand went to 2-0 with a little center-pawn trickery against Giri.

GM Anish Giri is the only player who hasn't won a game in either the blitz or the rapid, and that didn't change against GM Viswanathan Anand.

"He missed ...d5 twice!" Anand said, explaining why White didn't play 32. Qxe6. On his eventual advance ...e5, he said, "This is just a neat trick." Later, Black achieved ...d5 anyway, after which "the position just collapsed" for White according to Anand.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov.

Nakamura stayed close by playing robot-fast chess at the outset against Shirov. The American gained 1:49 on his clock after 13 moves. Since there's only a 10-second increment, that means he was averaging only 1.61 seconds per move in real time in that span (none of the six players is notating).

GM Alexei Shirov barely retracted his hand from pressing the clock before Nakamura pounced.

Did he feel pressure to beat the tournament's lowest seed?

"As Black at least it's the same as playing any other top player," Nakamura told "Even though he might be a little bit past his prime, Alexei is still a very strong player. I wouldn't classify him in the normal group of high 2600s because he has been there, he has beaten Kramnik in a match."

Nakamura also said that his days of competing in large Swiss tournaments in the U.S. may give him a small benefit.

"For me it's probably easier playing more than one game a day simply because I've had a lot more experience with it."

Back to his game with Shirov, Nakamura gained a small edge in the opening. The game then leveled off on the board and the clock. Nakamura then sped up his play and saw the clock tilt back in his favor, 15 minutes to two minutes, when Shirov mistakenly sacked the exchange. asked Nakamura about this tactic — switching the battle from the pieces to the clock.

"Actually that's probably the hardest thing to figure out. In the first game I was moving much too quickly to gain time on the clock and it didn't really work out. In both of these games I've been moving quicker than normal. It's a little bit hard to judge what the right tempo is. When you have a position that's easier to play, you certainly want to press on the clock as well."

GM Hikaru Nakamura also beat GM Alexei Shirov en route to winning Wijk aan Zee, 2011.

"When you play standard rapid, which is 25 minutes, you move much more quickly," Nakamura said of adjusting to the experimental time control. "When it's 40 minutes, it doesn't feel like it's that much more, but somehow it is quite a bit more time. It's still just a little bit hard to judge. 

"I'll get better as the event goes on. I think everyone will."

Anand told that this isn't at the forefront of his thinking.

"To be honest I've been more observed in the positions than with the time control, which means it's probably fine," he said.

Is this hot start important psychologically following his struggles in Gibraltar, and with the upcoming World Championship qualification?

"I think it's better not to start analyzing these things," he said.  "It's nice to play well and that's all I'm hoping for. Obviously everyone's head is in the Candidates' but you don't want to start viewing everything through that prism.

"This is an important tournament. I'd like to do well here. Let's take it step by step."

GM Viswanathan Anand happily checks the computer after his round two win. (Photo: David Llada for the Zurich Chess Challenge.)

When asked about his colleague's poor results in Gibraltar, Nakamura had this explanation: "It's much easier to play against top players than it is against slightly weaker grandmasters. There's not the same pressure. When you're playing these weaker players there's this pressure. I don't know if it's psychological or from a ratings perspective. You have to try and beat them with both colors. Somehow if we had to play [against] lower-rated players, but we didn't actually think they were lower-rated, we'd probably do just as well."

In the final game for the main event, Kramnik also offered the exchange and drew Aronian. A small incident preceded the game: Kramnik arrived and paused when reaching the boards. He was expecting to play Giri. The arbiter informed him that Aronian was his opponent.

GM Vladimir Kramnik gets confirmation of the mistake. The photo looks more threatening than the scene played out; he laughed it off right away.

The two checked the pairings sheet, whereupon Kramnik smiled, ordered some tea and sat down to play his proper opponent without complaint.

Zurich also hosted a two-game mini-match at the same time control. GM Boris Gelfand and GM Alexander Morozevich drew in round one but Gelfand took the sprint with this win in game two:


GM Boris Gelfand with the chess version of an "Allen Iverson crossover dribble."


2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Main Event  | Results After Round Two

Round 1 13 February 15:00 CET Round 2 13 February 18:00 CET
Shirov 1/2-1/2 Kramnik Kramnik 1/2-1/2 Aronian
Nakamura 1/2-1/2 Giri Giri 0-1 Anand
Anand 1-0 Aronian Shirov 0-1 Nakamura
Round 3 14 February 15:00 CET Round 4 14 February 18:00 CET
Nakamura - Kramnik Kramnik - Giri
Anand - Shirov Shirov - Aronian
Aronian - Giri Nakamura - Anand
Round 5 15 February 13:00 CET
Anand - Kramnik
Aronian - Nakamura
Giri - Shirov

2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Main Event | Standings After Round Two

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts SB
1 Anand,Viswanathan 2784 3184 phpfCo1l0.png 2 2 4.0
2 Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 2941 phpfCo1l0.png 1 2 3.0
3 Kramnik,Vladimir 2801 2738 phpfCo1l0.png 1 1 2.0
4 Giri, Anish 2798 2586 0 1 phpfCo1l0.png 1.0 1.5
5 Aronian,Levon 2792 2593 0 1 phpfCo1l0.png 1.0 1.0
5 Shirov, Alexei 2684 2594 0 1 phpfCo1l0.png 1.0 1.0

Keep in mind that the rapid counts double (two points for a win, one for a draw), while the blitz tournament Monday reverts to traditional scoring. Final standings will be determined by cumulative points across both disciplines.

You can follow tomorrow's rounds four and five live at the official tournament page.


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