Nakamura, Svidler Lead After Fighting Chess In Zurich

Nakamura, Svidler Lead After Fighting Chess In Zurich

19 | Chess Event Coverage

If one prerequisite to a great sporting event is the lead changing hands several times, then the 2017 Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge is for you.

Consider: After the opening round, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Vladimir Kramnik led. One more round, then just Nakamura. Round three made a mess of things, and it was then Nakamura, Kramnik, GM Peter Svidler, and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. This morning's round four left only Nepomniachtchi, and then the evening came, and it was back to Nakamura and Svidler.


GM Hikaru Nakamura, the on-again, off-again leader, is back on again.

That's five different leading groups after five rounds. Tomorrow the "new classical" of 45+30 will end after two more rounds, and the entire event will close after Monday's blitz, which counts for half as much to their final combined score.

How can the lead keep changing? There's been 11 decisive games out of 20; a draw rate of 45 percent is paltry at this level.

"Even Vlad's been playing a little bit looser," Nakamura said about his first opponent today, Kramnik.


GM Peter Svidler, who's not often asked to play two serious games in one day, yawned several times before the evening round, but still won.

The two leaders disagreed about how much the time control or the "two points for a win" system contributed to the fighting play. Nakamura: "I think it's a combination of both." Svidler: "I don't think they're necessarily connected."

Nakamura compared the accelerated rate of play to society as a whole.

"In general, everything's quicker," he told "You can look at baseball and try to shorten the game, which is truly a travesty in my opinion." (The hardcore baseball fan will want elaboration: He's referring to the "no-pitch" intentional walk but not to the curtailment of things like visits to the pitchers mound.)

"You just really need to quicken the pace of the game if you're going to attract the casual fan."

But they did agree that the conditions and the standalone nature of the event both help immensely.

With no tour points, world championship cycle, or national title up for grabs, they can just play chess and enjoy the tournament on its own.

"It's quite nice to play an individual event where it's just best of one," Nakamura told "Many decisive games is always a good thing."

"Most players come here to just enjoy and express themselves," Svidler said. "It's just a clearly fighting lineup."


Some players at a public park in Zurich took longer to play their game than the pros!

Round four began shortly after noon today with two wins from four games, the same fraction as the first trio of rounds. Nepomniachtchi punished GM Boris Gelfand's Najdorf after, in his view, Black needlessly pushed too many pawns in front of his king.

"...h5 was just a serious weakening of the king," Nepomniachtchi said. "There was no need for this." Instead, he favored Black finding a timely moment for a ...b5, ...b4 plan.

"In general, Boris is always willing to fight," Nepomniachtchi said. "It's very hard for him to stay and wait for execution." He didn't specify if he meant "execution" as in the "completion of a plan by one's opponent," or as in "death." In a way, it didn't matter, since both meanings applied.


"This was a strategic masterpiece, an absolutely brilliant game," said commentator GM Daniel King.

Nepomniachtchi also weighed in on the time control.

"I believe this is more like rapid chess," he said. (Sponsor Oleg Skvortsov despises the word and prefers "new classical" which he hopes will be eponymous someday.) "The 30 seconds is the difference. You can't really mess up a winning position."


GM Ian Nepomniachtchi takes a rest while GM Boris Gelfand intensely scrutinizes the board (Gelfand even looks like this before the clocks begin).

The other winner from the opening session was GM Viswanathan Anand over GM Grigoriy Oparin. Yours truly joined King on the broadcast and neither could explain 20. Kh1, but that became a footnote to the game as Oparin's decision to weaken his queenside structure ultimately cost him the game versus the veteran.

Normally we'd skip over the draws to get to an even more battling round. Round five had 75 percent decisive games, and you just don't see that often at the highest levels.

So why the pit stop? Kramnik and Nakamura played a truly fascinating endgame. After the contest ended, you might think they'd retire to lunch immediately since they so rarely play two games in one day. Not so -- the two engaged in at least 15 minutes of post-mortem discussions. Just when it looked like a consensus had been reached, Kramnik would go further back in time, adding pieces, and analyzing even more.

First the moves, then a timeline of the game's conclusion.

"Hikaru is an awesome defender," Nepomniachtchi said while watching.

Now here's the closing moments of the action in pictorial form, along with discussion afterward. Kramnik and his expressions tell the entire story.


The projector isolates and enlarges the only remaining game as Kramnik's posture becomes more demonstrative.


With only six seconds left, Kramnik decides on a quick knight move. The move is completed with four seconds remaining.


Kramnik "prays" he has more than a repetition.


Seconds after the game, Kramnik eagerly wants to hear his opponent's thoughts on the ending.


Here, maybe if I take two pieces at once I can win!


Both Kramnik and Nakamura show variations.


Even after the real moves ended, still a nail-biting affair.


Maybe if I put my elbows on the board I can get a clearer picture?


Kramnik pounds the board in jest, frustrated there's not a win.


Then he mimics boxing, showing it was a fight. First a right jab...


...Then a combination, decidedly unlike most of his other "combinations."

Round five convened the action at 5:00 local time. The octet increased their work from earlier, producing three wins from four games.

Gelfand's Saturday troubles continued after he tried an early attack against Anand that simply backfired. The former world champion was relentless after getting control of the center.

Svidler dispatched Oparin despite the qualifier playing a sort of four-pawns attack, but on the wing instead of the center.

The final, and most important, game of the round was Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi. The two are also both playing in the Speed Chess Championship, and are in the same half of the draw. If both blitz specialists win their first two matches, they would meet in the semifinals.


Nepomniachtchi's look of surprise is actually a common expression for him and is not usually indicative of his position.

But instead of "what-ifs" today there was certainty.

"It wasn't anything special," Nakamura said about the game.

You can watch the conclusion of the "new classical" portion (rounds six and seven) live. They will take place at 12:30 p.m. CET and 5:00 CET Sunday. The closing blitz tournament begins at 11 a.m. CET Monday. The commentary can be found at the official site or at

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