Nakamura Wins Zurich Opening Blitz; Anand, Shirov Second

Nakamura Wins Zurich Opening Blitz; Anand, Shirov Second

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

There's two speeds to the Fifth Annual Zurich Chess Challenge: fast and faster. Actually, the event will be faster, fast, faster -- two blitz events bookend the main event, which will not quite be classical either.

GM Hikaru Nakamura, fresh off a win via rapid time controls in the Gibraltar playoff, picked up where he left off by winning the opening blitz event (more on those games and the tournament points structure later on). He's seeking to defend his title from last year, which also came through a playoff.

GM Hikaru Nakamura is at his best when the rate of play increases. Like Gibraltar, he's attempting a successful title defense in Zurich.

The tournament is back at the Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville, one of the grander sites for chess. The playing room is adorned with golden wallpaper, neo-classical columns, and six crystal chandaliers.

But that's where tradition ends. Organizer Oleg Skvortsov decided that 40+10 would be new time control for the main event, a six-player round robin.

"We will see how it works, but I wish you to play reasonably fast but furious chess," he said at the opening ceremony Friday night. (If he wants to beat the other "Fast and Furious" he'll need to keep the tournament going -- that endless Hollywood franchise is up to seven editions).

Oleg Skvortsov and his wife Natalia discuss the action.

The previous gatherings in Zurich had some car chases but also featured some "Driving Miss Daisy" with the middle portion of classical chess. That's not to say there weren't notable features -- in fact the 2014 event was briefly the highest-rated tournament in history until the Sinquefield Cup narrowly surpassed it the same year.

This year's field is two-thirds the same as last year. Returning: Nakamura and GMs Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik. Newcomers: GMs Anish Giri and Alexei Shirov replace GMs Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin. GM Magnus Carlsen has not played since winning in 2014.

Shirov is quite a bit lower these days than the rest of the field, but he did play every game for Zurich in the recent European Club Cup, surely helping to ingratiate himself with the host!

A quick chat by some players about the Super Bowl and the U.S. Presidential Election.

So how will the event run this year? It's both complicated and simple:

Friday night there was a round-robin blitz event that counted only for the drawing of lots. In this sense, finishing in the top three was nearly as important as winning, as it guaranteed more Whites than Blacks in the main event.

GM Viktor Korchnoi isn't playing this year, but he stayed for all the opening games, as did...
...GM Judit Polgar, and...
...GM Anatoly Karpov.

Wins in the 40+10 segment (two games Saturday, two Sunday, one Monday) count for two points; draws one. Monday night there will be another all-play-all blitz tournament, with points counting for the "traditional" amount of one for a win and one-half for a draw.

Players will switch colors for the second blitz from the colors they have in the main event. 

Back to today's action (played at 4+2). Nakamura peeled off three wins at the outset to create some space in his rear-view mirror. 

Round one saw another pleasing bishop sacrifice against the enemy king (recall Nakamura's Bxh7+ Greek Gift against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the opening game of the Gibraltar playoff). This time Aronian was the victim, and unlike the last iteration, Nakamura was able to finish this one off:

In round two, Shirov made his presence known by moving to 1.5/2 after beating Aronian as Black. No, it wasn't "Fire on Board," but rather a poking and prodding type of technical win. Aronian likely would have held with more time, but the game proved the old adage that it's easier to play with the queen in blitz.

Shirov smiled and shrugged as he got up from his chair.

In a "don't try this at home kids" moment, Nakamura went down 4-1 in development just to win the bishop pair, and later opened the center to boot. Kramnik seemed justified in sacrificing to rip things open, but the defense held without too much effort.

In both rounds three and four, the audience struggled to hone in on which game to follow. All six players were below 30 seconds at the same time in both rounds.

Because of the small lag between a player's quick movements and the move appearing on the overhead display, viewers in person and in the back of the audience were treated to a sort of reverse fireworks show. Normally, light appears in the sky and the bang is heard a few seconds later, but in Zurich, much of the audience heard a player hit his clock, and the mysterious move appeared visually a few moments afterward!

A look at the players and the display that the audience followed.

Nakamura eventually converted his extra pawn in round three despite Giri's annoying pressure, while Aronian's king also surived a full piece sac by Anand.

GM Levon Aronian was amused during the post-mortem with GM Viswanathan Anand.

Round four could have ended the race for first, but Nakamura couldn't convert his connected passers against second-place Shirov. The missed chance on move 43 bothered the American despite winning the blitz.

Nakamura dropped the final round to convincing play by Anand, but won outright since Shirov was not able to win (or perhaps wasn't trying too hard since top three nets you the same thing -- three Whites in the main event).

In a game that mattered much less for the standings, Aronian's 31. Rd7 was a nice touch. But he followed up with a doozy, hanging his queen with four seconds remaining.

So in the end Nakamura (3.5), Anand (3.0) and Shirov (an undefeated 3.0) got the three best seeds for the weekend. Kramnik (2.5), Aronian (2.0) and Giri (1.0) must endure three Blacks, but will get more Whites for Monday night's blitz. caught up with the opening blitz winner right after his victory:

2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Opening Blitz | Final Standings

Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pt SB
Hikaru Nakamura ** 0 0.5 1 1 1 3.5 6
Viswanathan Anand 1 ** 0.5 0.5 0 1 3 7.25
Alexei Shirov 0.5 0.5 ** 0.5 1 0.5 3 7
Vladimir Kramnik 0 0.5 0.5 ** 1 0.5 2.5 5.5
Levon Aronian 0 1 0 0 ** 1 2 4
Anish Giri 0 0 0.5 0.5 0 ** 1 2.75

Here's the pairings for the main event (the closing blitz tournament will begin at 18:00 CET on Monday, February 15).

2016 Zurich Chess Challenge Main Event  | Pairings

Round 1 13 February 15:00 CET Round 2 13 February 18:00 CET
Shirov - Kramnik Kramnik - Aronian
Nakamura - Giri Giri - Anand
Anand - Aronian Shirov - 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

Prior to the opening cermony and super-GM clashes, the host tried his hand at a game himself. Often referred to as master-level ("about 2300 in his active days" according to the tournament web site), he was aided by a 40-20 minute time advantage.

Skvortsov didn't show any mercy to his guest and went all-out against Boris Gelfand. Naturally, the Israeli GM didn't show any mercy either and rebuffed the attack. In the final position, Bh6+ leads to forced mate.

Gelfand's time in Zurich is not done. Tomorrow he will play a two-game mini match against GM Alexander Morozevich, with the same starting times and clocks as the main event.

You can't tell it was an exhibition game by GM Boris Gelfand's expression (photo: David Llada for the Zurich Chess Classic).

For Zürchers not terribly interested in chess, the opening evening also featured three highly-reknowned musicians. A cellist and a Spanish guitarist were joined by a Stradavarius player, who adapted a Bach piano piece to his world-class instrument.

***Update -- According to Skvortsov, the instrument was actually a "Guarneri" of which there are only about 140 remaining. Niccolo Paganini made the instrument famous, and one of the pieces was composed by Paganini in an homage to this history. Skvortsov estimated the value of the violin to be $8 million.

A solo by violinist Ilya Gringolts, a past collaborator with Itzhak Perlman.

You can catch all the games live at the tournament web site. will be bringing you daily reports and first-hand accounts of the action.

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