Deja Vu For Hikaru, Champion In Zurich
If you missed the 2015 Zurich Chess Challenge, that's OK, the 2016 edition had pretty much the same finish.
GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Viswanathan Anand tied, again, this time in both rapid and blitz, but unlike 2015 there was no Armageddon playoff, although the idea was proffered! More on that proposal later.
Instead, the arbiters defaulted to cumulative Sonneborn-Berger (rapid and blitz combined), which allowed Nakamura to keep the trophy by one point.
"You should let me have this one after last year," Anand joked to Nakamura as they exited the playing room.
Hikaru Nakamura has now successfully defended his Gibraltar and Zurich titles from 2015. In April, he'll try to do it again at the U.S. Championship!
"It's only tiebreakers," Nakamura said later. "Both Vishy and I played well. But March is what matters." He has been referencing the Candidates' Tournament for more than half a year, and he will now go to Moscow with more recent momentum that other players (counting Gibraltar, Nakamura already has two wins on this calendar).
"We were both kind of trying to play good moves but not show anything," he told Chess.com.
Anand and Nakamura seemed destined to end this way. They finished one-two in the opening blitz, both scored seven points in the rapid, and both earned 3.5/5 in the final blitz. Neither man lost a game among those that counted for the final standings, and they simply couldn't shake the other.
GM Viswanathan Anand again settled for second, once again by the narrowest of margins. (Photo: David Llada for Zurich Chess Challenge.)
Just when it seemed that the tournament crowned a champion, the repeat of last year became possible. Having been congratulated on air, Nakamura was about to exit from the live commentary. Tournament sponsor Oleg Skvortsov approached and asked if he wanted to play another tiebreak game!
Once Nakamura realized it was a serious offer, he immediately accepted. After all, in 2015 the playoff superseded Anand's apparent better tiebreaks, so this time Nakamura thought that the benevolence was his to offer.
More chess anyone? Oleg Skvortsov joins the broadcast to ask Hikaru Nakamura if he'd like to reprise last year's finish. IM Werner Hug smiles, thinking that the tournament winner had been settled!
"After what happened last year, it's the right thing to do," Nakamura told Chess.com later. "Fair play is quite important. I know a lot of people think I don't show that, but this was an opportunity to show that I do."
In the end, the extra game never came to fruition, and that was that.
Nakamura began the day trailing by one point, but he made up that ground in the afternoon's fifth and final game of "schnellschach" ( "rapid chess" has more flavor in German). Two boards played it relatively safe while Nakamura's opponent, GM Levon Aronian, overpressed.
The Armenian tried too hard to break the symmetry, and this allowed Nakamura to win a pawn in all variations. Aronian went into the tank for more than 15 minutes, an eternity in the 40+10 time control, and decided to keep all the pieces on the board rather than suffer through a pawn-down ending.
As Nakamura promised to do in his first day's interview with Chess.com, he pressed on the clock even with an easier position. Eventually this meant a material advantage, more activity, and a 19-1 advantage on time. That trio would have been enough to beat nearly any human or computer around.
Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov:
Games via TWIC.
GM Vladimir Kramnik lurked only one point back after the rapid.
The sextet had a 90-minute break and returned at 6 p.m. local time for the second all-play-all blitz. Unlike Friday's opening ceremony, this one counted for final standings. Players used the opposite color from the rapid against their respective opponents. This wasn't necessarily bad news for Nakamura, whose two wins in the 40-minute came with Black, while he got three worse positions as White (he held them all).
In the evening, Nakamura's plight became worse. He told Chess.com that "most of the games today I was probably losing." Let's see how he avoided any defeats.
In round one, all three leaders took care of business, so there was no movement at the top of the standings. Nakamura was significantly worse against Giri before battling back on the strength of one move.
With little time on this clock, Giri said he blundered 40...Be4. GM Ian Rogers pointed out that still possible would be 41. Rxh4 Qxh4 42. Qxe4!
"I didn't see ...Be4, how do you expect me to see Qe4?" Anish said.
So what's it like to face one of the best speed demons in the world? Giri told Chess.com that it's not too fun.
"He's so fast. Every move he makes he wins like three seconds. Every move I make in five (seconds) he makes in two (seconds)."
Also frustrating for the top Dutch player was Nakamura's stoicism during Black's clearly losing position.
"It's so annoying," Giri said. "He just sits there like nothing's happened. I'm not stupid, I know I'm better, but I wish he'd show it!"
GM Anish Giri found out what the entire Chess.com staff knows -- playing Nakamura in blitz is tough.
When asked about the remarks, Nakamura had a laugh, and said that essentially there's no time to show emotion. In contrast, Nakamura is one of the more demonstrative players with facial expressions in classical chess.
"At times I can be very robotic," Nakamura said. "I don't let it bother me in blitz. I just kept finding moves to keep the game going."
The two chatted and laughed before the closing ceremony, so Giri's observation about his colleague wasn't meant to be a personal attack.
Chess.com asked Giri about plans before Candidates'. "This was supposed to be fun," he said. "But it's not fun when you lose all of your games." He won his final game against Shirov, his only win of the 15 weekend contests.
There's roughly a 50 percent chance that the next challenger to the world championship is in this picture.
The next round, Nakamura was worse but drew again, this time to GM Alexei Shirov. Kramnik beat Aronian to momentarily make it a three-way tie.
Those two have quite a joined history in Zurich. It was here in 2011 that they played the then highest-rated match of all time. At the time they were numbers two and three in the world, and the match was a vital precursor to the tournament that exists today according to organizer and Zurich Chess Club President Christen Issler.
Chess.com sat down with Issler and with sponsor Oleg Skvortsov for extensive interviews. Those will be published later this week as a standalone article, where Skvortsov will discuss his reasoning behind the time control, his work to get FIDE's acceptance, and the reason that GM Magnus Carlsen was not invited this year.
A lengthy private interview with Oleg Skvortsov will be published on these pages later this week.
Nakamura's thoughts on the experiment: He said he had a problem all event after the first new move appeared. He would think for five minutes and "start to panic." He also said he saw a benefit down the road. "At the moment I still think classical chess is more important. At some point chess will get to 80-90 percent of games are draws and this time control will be more important."
Back to today's action, in round three Anand nosed ahead of the field once again. Shirov tried to make some fire but the Indian came armed with baking soda. In the final position, there is no perpetual due to ...Nh7.
Just before the conclusion of Anand's game, Nakamura and Kramnik agreed to terms, meaning they both fell one-half point off the pace.
Round four was momentous for the final standings. Another career sportsman must have sensed this -- suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter showed up and sat on the front row. Skvortsov told Chess.com that the two had never met before, but Blatter was staying at the Hotel Savoy Beau en Ville and heard about the chess tournament. He decided to come down.
"Football is like chess," Blatter said to Skvortsov. "Some figures to defend and some to attack."
Blatter is only two months in to his eight-year ban by the FIFA Ethics Committee. The organization is based in Zurich.
When the chess began, Anand acted more like Messi and curved his pieces toward the black king. Nakamura said after the tournament that he was "close to resigning" if 24. Bh6 occurred instead of the equally tempting 24. Qxf6.
Still, the situation was dire, and when Nakamura's repetition was rebuffed with the sly 25. Kh1, there was an open shot on goal via the g-file. The American said he was fine with giving away his queen, since at least he could continue the game.
Red Bull doesn't actually give you wings, but apparently it does help stave off attacks on the wing.
Somehow White couldn't break through -- perhaps activating his rook or h-pawn sooner would have netted Anand this Zurich title. Another game, another improbable save for Nakamura, whose title hopes would have been dashed with a loss.
In the final round, Anand got worried about the safety of his e-pawn and decided to repeat in the middlegame against Kramnik. This protected the Indian's lead over the other world champion, but all eyes then turned to Nakamura-Aronian.
Once play reached the double-rook ending, Nakamura's connected passers made the chess amusingly uncomplicated. For six consecutive moves they advanced toward pay dirt, leaving Aronian to offer up both rooks to stop them. But this was no McDonnell-La Bourdonnais; the black pawns could not defeat the heavies!
The arbiters quickly conferred and informed Nakamura that his tiebreaks were better, which he said he knew was the case. Essentially his win over Giri added two more Sonneborn-Berger points to his tally than Anand's win over Shirov, and that was the difference.
During the commentary, GM Yanick Pelletier was about to wrap up and Nakamura began to rise from his chair. Skvortsov stepped in and asked for more chess, and Nakamura consented, but this never got organized. There would be no penalty shootout this year.
As for next year, Skvortsov announced another novelty. His Zurich Chess Challenge has changed formats every edition, and next year will bring about another drastic alteration. The event will be split up between Zurich and Moscow. The time control has not been decided.
Mark Glukhovsky of the Russian Chess Federation (left) oversees the signing of the 2017 agreement with Zurich Chess Club President Christen Issler (center) and sponsor Oleg Skvortsov (right).
After the announcement, GM Vladimir Kramnik rose and gave an impromptu speech, thanking the organizers and expressing his joy that the tournament will be half on native soil next year. According to organizer Christen Issler (left), Kramnik's on somewhat native soil in both places -- he moved to Geneva, Switzerland 18 months ago with his French-speaking wife.
2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Main Event | Final Rapid Results
2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Main Event | Final Blitz Results
2016 Zurich Chess Challenge | Final Combined Standings
You can see all the games, extra photos, and more information at the official tournament page.