Zurich: Caruana Wins The Rapid, Carlsen Overall Winner
As expected, world # 1 Magnus Carlsen won the Zurich Chess Challenge on Tuesday ahead of world #2 Levon Aronian. The rapid section didn't go so well for the World Champ, who scored only 2.0/5. Aronian finished on 3.0/5, but still a full point behind Carlsen in the overall standings. Fabiano Caruana played really well in the rapids today and won the event with 4.0/5 and a 3042 performance, while Vishy Anand ended last, with a disappointing 1.0/5.
The traditionalists were regretting the fact that only five rounds of “real chess” were played in Zurich, but most of the chess fans enjoyed another good day of excitement with, this time, fast chess. At a time control of 15 minutes + 10 seconds increment (“far more relaxing than the real deal 25-minute rapid games” - Aronian), the players faced each other for another five rounds, with reversed colors.
This extremely strong, one-day event started promising: the first round immediately saw three decisive games! Against Magnus Carlsen, Boris Gelfand missed a little trick in the opening, then decided to give an exchange but never got serious compensation:
Levon Aronian played the Czech Benoni, typically something he'd only play in a rapid game, and beat Vishy Anand with it. The Indian got a very promising position (Aronian: “I was very lucky”) but somehow White's attack didn't crash through, Black got a majestic knight on e5 and then he decided matters on the queenside.
A “real” Benoni was seen in Caruana-Nakamura and this time it was Black who got completely outplayed. 17.Nf5! was a nice shot, and an original way to get the knight to c4!
The second round saw the clash between the two 2800s (well, not in rapid ratings where Aronian is below 2800 but who pays attention to rapid ratings?). The World Champ went down in a Closed Catalan where he quickly lost an exchange. White's maneuver 14.Qb3 and 15.Qa3 were nice, playing against the knight.
Caruana continued with a draw against Gelfand, while Anand lost again. Just like in London in December, Nakamura decided to give Bent Larsen's 1.b3 a go, and before the game had really started, Anand dropped material - as early as move 12.
The day before he said “I'm looking forward to some good games,” but it wasn't meant to be. Anand had a really disastrous start as he also lost in the third round, to Caruana. It must be noted that the Italian played an excellent game, with machine-like precision and calculation.
Carlsen got a big advantage in an ending against Nakamura, but couldn't win as the American showed superb defensive skills:
Anand got his first half point in the leader board by drawing with Gelfand. In that penultimate round, the Caruana-express just kept on rolling and even the World Champion had to step aside. It seems like Carlsen simply made a calculation error, and at the end he just blundered.
Aronian couldn't keep up with Caruana; the Armenian lost to Nakamura, who again played 1.b3. Black played one of the most solid setups possible, with ...d5 and ...Bf5, but as Jobava showed last month in Wijk aan Zee, White can still play creatively with an early g4. What followed was an amazing series of tactics (that even the traditionalists could enjoy!) and so this encounter was clearly the game of the day.
Nakamura also won in the last round and so he finished just behind Caruana, who scored a superb 4.0/5.
A truly remarkable game was the one between Carlsen and Anand. The Norwegian only needed a draw to secure overall tournament victory and duly copied one of the draws from the match in Chennai!
The points scored in this rapid event were added to the points from the classical games (which counted double), and this meant that Carlsen won the tournament with 10 points out of 10 games (and out of a possible 15 points). Thanks to the rapid section, Caruana caught Aronian and both finished on 9 points. Nakamura got 7.5, Anand 5 and Gelfand 4.5.
At a final press conference, Carlsen said about his disappointing score on the last day: “I was not feeling so great today. I was outplayed by Levon, I was outplayed by Fabiano. Fortunately I had enough of a lead to win, but it would have been nicer to finish the tournament on a good note. I've felt in other tournaments that when I play well, and then I play badly in the last couple of rounds, it always leaves kind of a bad after-taste. But nevertheless I cannot complain too much.”
Aronian cannot complain either. Both in Wijk aan Zee and in Zurich he showed some very good chess, and this level of play might just be enough to win the Candidates’ tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk next month. But when Yannick Pelletier asked him about his preparation, the Armenian said: “The Candidates and like any match that you play, it's just a different level of preparation. I'm afraid my level of preparation currently will not suffice.”
It seems that if the Armenian can keep his relaxed mood, he can do very well in March. “I'm happy with what's happening. I think I'm playing some decent games but we'll see. It's going to be fun. I love playing in Khanty-Mansiysk so I look forward to it!”
At the press conference Anastasiya Karlovich asked about Nakamura's remark in a recent interview that he might be Carlsen's “biggest threat”. The World Champion reacted: “Hikaru has his opinions about his strength, my strength... I have mine. To be fair he outplayed me in the classical chess this time so there might be something to it, I don't know.”
Zurich Chess Challenge 2014 | Rapid Results
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Zurich Chess Challenge 2014 | Rapid, Final Standings
Zurich Chess Challenge 2014 | Overall Final Standings
Photos © Maria Emelianova. The Zurich Chess Challenge consisted of five rounds of classical chess, played from Thursday to Monday (30 January to 3 February), followed by a rapid tournament with reversed colors on the last day (4 February). Find the official website here.