Zurich Chess Challenge Changes Name, Lineup, Time Control

Zurich Chess Challenge Changes Name, Lineup, Time Control

| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

The Zurich Chess Challenge will add a word, more players, and switch both the venue and time control for the 2017 event. The Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge, to be held April 13-17, 2017, will honor the recent passing of the chess legend.

The tournament will move from the Savoy Hotel to the Congress House. The venue is one half-kilometer away and overlooks Lake Zurich. Why should this location be known to chess enthusiasts? The famed Zurich 1953 Candidates' Tournament was held there, subject of David Bronstein's seminal book of the same name.

In some of his final public appearances, the late GM Viktor Korchnoi attended the opening ceremony of the the last two Zurich Chess Challenges. The next iteration will bear his name. (Photo: David Llada for Zurich Chess Challenge.)

The field will expand from six to eight players, and while the time control will still be rapid, it will go from last year's experimental 40+10 to 45+30 for this year. There will also be a blitz portion, and just like last year, wins in rapid count for two points while wins in blitz count for one.

Already committed are GMs Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Peter Svidler, and Swiss number-one Yannick Pelletier. In addition, GM Boris Gelfand has replaced GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The eighth player will be the player with the best result in the Nutcracker Tournament next month.

"It's boring to watch six to seven hour games," organizer Oleg Skvortsov told Ever the staunch believer in capturing the audience's attention, Skvortsov remained certain that shorter games are the only way to market the game to the next generation. (See his long interview with from earlier this year.)

Oleg Skvortsov and wife Natalia while they visited New York City earlier this month.

The modest increase in time is meant to "give a little bit more room for thinking," according to Skvortsov. He also wants to let the players write down their moves, something they did not do last year. "It's an important habit," Skvortsov said.

The 2016 edition was the first to abandon classical time controls completely, although blitz or rapid has been a part of the event for years. 

Another "habit" from 2015 and 2016 was the winner. Nakamura is the defending two-time champion as he has beaten Anand in both years, once in a last-minute organized tiebreak game and a year later on regular tiebreaks. Should he grab a third title, either this year or in the future, Skvortsov has promised a special but unnamed prize. He would only say that his intended gift would be "unique and expensive."

2015 and 2016 winner, GM Hikaru Nakamura. What will he walk away with if he wins his third in a row?

Skvortsov said that the substitution from Vachier-Lagrave to Gelfand was done "for private reasons." According to him, the decision makes sense since Gelfand was personally close to Korchnoi.

The chess benefactor also explained that he didn't want to add the word "Memorial" to the title. 

"There's a lot of memorials," Skvortsov said. "[The word] is a little bit sad. Korchnoi was a fighter." He added that there will be a classical open tournament with 100-200 players held in conjunction with the Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge. "We decided to combine two events in memory of him, not memorial."

These decisions were made with the input and help of Dr. Christian Issler, Chairman of the Zurich Chess Club and Chief Organizer of the Korchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge.

Gelfand tops the list of the four experienced "Kings" in December's Nutcracker event. He will be joined by GMs Alexey Dreev, Alexei Shirov, and Alexander Morozevich (average age 44.5). The four "Princes" will be the younger GMs Grigoriy Oparin, Vladimir Fedoseev, Daniil Dubov, and Vladislav Artemiev (average age 19.5). In the event that Gelfand returns the best individual score at the Nutcracker, the second-place finisher will receive the final Zurich invite.

Whoever qualifies to attend Zurich will be treated to an expanded opening concert. Last year's dual violinists and one cellist will all return, and one additional concert violinist, Leonard Schreiber of Belgium, will join them. (The opening will still be at the Savoy.)

The length of the opening concert, like the rapid time control, will get slightly longer according to Skvortsov (but will still be under one hour!).

"It's like a cultural event now," Skvortsov said. "It adds more class for the event." He added that at least 30 percent of the organizational work is being done by his wife Natalia. Skvortsov also took pride that playing chess in Zurich was named one of the "top 10 healthiest things to do" in Switzerland

The large outdoor chess boards in Zurich's Lindenhof. Directly opposite is an elevated view of the city.

Skvortsov and his wife are big fans of the arts. While in New York City last week, they attended the Museum of Modern Art and other museums.

Back to the time control: "If we consider the future of chess, we need to speed up," Skvortsov said. "New generation can find anything in Google in a few seconds. [Without this] next generation will forget chess." What about chess purists who may balk at the plan? "We create new traditions," he said.

The changes are not unlike those in other sports that have introduced measures to shorten play. Cricket long ago abandoned "timeless Test" matches, while a modern-day equivalent would be the multitude of changes that Major League Baseball has implemented.

Skvortsov remarked that he was very happy that the Champions Showdown in St. Louis also used a one-hour time control. He said he had not been in touch with organizers there.

"We're not asking to change the classical time control," Skvortsov said. He said he had chatted with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov about adding the ability for one hour games to be rated in classical (this year's Zurich event will not be rated; it is too long for rapid and too short for classical). Skvortsov wants more volatility in the rating system. He views this as more interesting that the same players occupying roughly the same posts in the top of the tables. 

"Now you can play only one or two tournaments a year and keep your position," he said. "Chess needs more stars. We need to find our newcomers."

Skvortsov said one of his favorite artists to see in New York was Henri Matisse. His "Piano Lesson" is on display at the Museum of Modern Art. (Image courtesy MoMa.) asked Skvortsov what he hoped people will say about his innovations in 10 years?

"We realized on time that winds of change came," he said. "We found the courage to change our system. Most of the sponsors and organizers doubted us. It was a bridge between the old and the new.

"Change is inevitable."

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