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Nakamura Can't Stop, Crosses Ocean To Win Zurich Blitz

Nakamura Can't Stop, Crosses Ocean To Win Zurich Blitz

GM Hikaru Nakamura can't stop playing chess. Even an ocean can't hold him back.

Just after the closing ceremony of the U.S. championship, he played in Chess.com's Titled Tuesday from the airport (and the plane!), then took off and a few hours after landing in Switzerland he won the opening blitz tournament of 2017 Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge.

He's attempting to win the main event for the third year in a row.

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The presence of GM Viktor Korchnoi hangs over the event this year. He was present for the opening ceremony in 2016, the final year of his life. Swiss Chess Federation president Peter Wyss called Korchnoi's move to Switzerland in 1978 a "lovely punch" for his nation's chess culture. Korchnoi was still winning the Swiss championship at the age of 80.

By his own admission, Nakamura will have an even busier 2017 than last year. But it seems the inveterate traveler could only be stopped these days by an oversold flight, which didn't happen, although he did fly United!

"It's just travel, I've been doing this since I was like 12 years old," he told Chess.com a few days ago. "It shouldn't make that big of a difference."

And it didn't.

Nakamura went undefeated among the eight-player field with a "modest" +2 winning score, even with GM Boris Gelfand but winning on tiebreaks to take home a special and unexpected "Viktor 2017" trophy. The tournament is not a memorial, but is dedicated to the man who moved to Switzerland in the late 1970s. GM Viktor Korchnoi died in June 2016.

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The opening blitz only counted for posterity and opening seed in the rapid/blitz combo event (another all-play-all blitz tournament will conclude the event Monday). 

The afternoon began with a bolt by a former world champion. The tournament's benefactor, Oleg Skvortsov, is on record as wanting to revolutionize chess by speeding up the time control.

He put his own rapid skills to the test at 3 p.m. in a single exhibition game against GM Viswanathan Anand. Skvortsov estimates his own rating as 2300, and previously told Chess.com he has scored the occasional upset (after many games) in an offhand game against some of the world's elite.

This game was played at 30+10 for Skvortsov and 15+10 for Anand. Skvortsov didn't shy away from complications. Perhaps more appropriately, they found him.

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Oleg Skvortsov reacts to GM Viswanathan Anand's unexpected queen sacrifice.

Anand's ...Qxg3+!! shot reminds one of Frank Marshall's masterpiece, a move so famous even ChessKids know about it. (This reporter didn't see any gold coins thrown on the board, although Skvortsov is in the gems business!)

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Skvortsov and Anand in their post mortem. Skvotsov told Chess.com that he saw a possible repetition with 19. Kg2 Bd5 20. Kh2 Be6, but since draws are about the most abhorrent thing in chess to him, he chose to play on with 19. Bg5.

The game attracted even more attention after it concluded. Not only did Skvortsov and Anand debate the final moves, but they were also joined by several other chess power-players.

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Sponsor/player Oleg Skvortsov (blue jacket) chats with GM Viswanathan Anand about the game, while GM Jan Timman (far left) and FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (far right) weigh in as well.

Shortly after the game, the luminaries in the above photo donned more formal attire for the annual concert. Skvortsov and his wife Natalia invest a lot of time planning the music that opens the festival. Although the four musicians were erratic in the organization of the playlist, when the bows hit the strings their mastery was clear.

Violinist Ilya Gringolts, cellist Boris Andrianov, modern guitarist Dmitry Illarionov, and violist Leonard Schreiber entertained for about one hour while introductory speeches filled in the gaps. 

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The opening concert. Violinist Leonard Schreiber (far left) represented the performance opposite of Ilya Gringolts (far right). Schreiber's style is bold and histrionic whereas Gringolts remained more in control but both are world-class musicians and got the loudest applause during their duet.

Skvortsov reminded the players and the audience of his guiding chess mantra: "Save chess please, play for a win," he said. "Like they say, 'Drink wine, save water!'"

Drinking the metaphorical wine early (and often -- only one draw total) was Gelfand. The Israeli began with two quick wins in the 4+2 round-robin event. The first, against the lone Swiss player GM Yannick Pelletier, was particularly pleasing, even if not sound.

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GM Ian Nepomniachtchi (left) and GM Peter Svidler can barely hold it together before the opening round. 

Gelfand won again in round two to become the sole leader, but then faced Nakamura in round three. The American's speed and bishops won out after more than 70 moves. Gelfand's pieces just couldn't find a way to grab Nakamura's final pawn.

Round four was busy. GM Vladimir Kramnik and GM Peter Svidler renewed their decades-old friendly rivalry. In an equal middlegame, Svidler suffered another one of the incomprehensible "full piece" blunders that he lamented recently on his Perpetual Chess Podcast interview.

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The competition and opening festivities inside the Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville, the same setting as last year. However, all of the remaining games will be played in the Kongresshaus Zurich, in conjunction with the open event.

Also in that round, Pelletier used one of the strongest sequences you'll ever see to outplay GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, one of this year's Speed Chess Championship invited players. Every one of the Swiss player's dozen moves from 21-32 were captures, checks, or threats.

Slowly, like the country's famous raclette, Black's position melted under the heat lamp.

Still in round four, Nakamura survived what seemed to be a completely hopeless position against GM Grigoriy Oparin, who qualified for the event by winning the automatic spot available in the 2016 Nutcracker tournament

After the game, Nakamura said he thought the unique bind brought about by keeping the rook on the g-file was no big deal.

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Former world champion GM Anatoly Karpov (left) sat beside FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov for the opening blitz. Ilyumzhinov is only days removed from being officially stripped of his powers, and had to hurry back to Zurich after leaving the FIDE presidential board meeting in Athens on April 10.

Svidler tried to drink some fortified wine against Pelletier. Everyone seemed to be trying to mate the home player's castled king yesterday, but Pelletier was up to the challenge this time.

Gelfand still led by a half-point over Nakamura going into the last round. After the American shook Anand's hand and drew an equal middlegame, all Gelfand had to do was hold his worse position against Nepomniachtchi.

The Russian's extra pawn was converted with decent technique and a late but understandable slip from Gelfand. If the U.S. championship playoff taught us anything, it's that knights should be feared as the clock ticks away.

The opening tournament counted for initial tournament seeding, and the coveted spots were the top four since they will earn more turns with White than Black. Besides Nakamura and Gelfand, third place was Kramnik and fourth was Nepomniachtchi.

The seven-round rapid event (45+30 and requiring notation; up from 40+10 last year) will count wins for two points. The first round is tonight at 5 p.m. CET. The final day's concluding blitz tournament will count each win for one point.

Besides the round-robin rapid chess and ending blitz tournament, there is also an open tournament held alongside the invitational. More than a dozen 2600s will compete, including GMs Alexei Shirov (the runner-up at Nutcracker 2016), Alexander Motylev, Eltaj Safarli, Eduardo Itturizaga, and Loek van Wely.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

Zurich Chess Challenge | Opening Blitz

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1 Nakamura,Hikaru 2865 2762 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.5/7 15.25
2 Gelfand,Boris 2745 2778 0 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 4.5/7 13.50
3 Kramnik,Vladimir 2744 2727 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 4.0/7
4 Nepomniachtchi,Ian 2793 2670 ½ 1 0 1 1 0 0 3.5/7 13.25
5 Anand,Viswanathan 2766 2674 ½ 0 1 0 ½ ½ 1 3.5/7 11.50
6 Oparin,Grigoriy 2571 2651 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 3.0/7
7 Svidler,Peter 2797 2568 ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½ 0 2.5/7 9.00
8 Pelletier,Yannick 2541 2652 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 1 2.5/7 8.00

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