02/23/2015 02:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chess Gems From Zurich

The Zurich Chess Challenge was a festive six-grandmaster extravaganza played this month in the posh Savoy hotel. The American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura benefitted from the last-minute change in the rules and blitzed his way to win the title.


The rules of the competition were confusing. Four different time limits were used. Levon Aronian, 32, won the blitz tournament, but it only counted to determine the colors for the most prestigious classical event eventually won by Vishy Anand.


Vladimir Kramnik, 39, won the rapid chess competition. Nakamura and Anand shared first place after the classical and rapid results were combined. The organizers could have used the blitz tournament results to brake the tie, but they decided to throw the two chess gladiators back into the ring. Nakamura had the last laugh, winning a single blitz playoff game against Anand to win it all.


Closing ceremony. From the left Anand, Nakamura, Kramnik

The different formats accounted for many great ideas as well as for unforgiving blunders and the chess fans enjoyed it. The main event belonged to Anand. At the age of 45, the former world champion erased a dismal performance in Baden-Baden this month with a sound victory in classical chess in Zurich.

It is impossible to imagine preparation for the games without computers today. But Anand does not follow the computer suggestions blindly. He maintains that you should ask the machines what you want to know, not to be their slave. His game against Aronian in the Moscow variation of the Grunfeld Indian defense is a good example. Anand injected new life into a known piece sacrifice with a little computer help. It was enough to throw the Armenian grandmaster off the track and he started to blunder.

Anand,Vishy - Aronian, Levon
4th Zurich Chess Challenge 2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0-0 7.e4 Na6

The invention of the Dutch master Lodewijk Prins is at least 75 years old. Prins played it in Dutch tournaments already in 1940. The knight supports the pawn advance c7-c5.
The line was heavily worked during the Karpov-Kasparov world championship matches in the 1980s. But it also found its way into the last year's Anand-Carlsen match.

8.Be2 c5 9.d5 e6 10.0-0 exd5 11.exd5 Re8 12.Rd1

Suppporting the passed pawn. In the game Anand - Carlsen, Sochi 2014, Vishy lost a tempo with 12.Bg5 h6 13.Be3.


12...Qb6 can be met with13.d6 Be6 14.Qb5.



Did Aaron Nimzowitsch say that the passed pawn is a criminal, who should be kept under lock and key? At least in this game, the criminal is running away, but also limits the knight on a6.


Kasparov's novelty from 1987. As he explained, Black has to play preventively because some active play backfires, for example 13...Ne4 14.d7 Re7 15.Nxe4 Rxe4 16.Bg5! and White has a big advantage.


A teaser, encouraging Black to win a piece. After 14.Bf4 the threat of 15.Be5 or 15.Ne5 is best covered by 14...Nd7.

14...Ng4 15.Bf4!?

A piece sacrifice not obvious even to chess computers. In the pre-computer era this sacrifice would have been considered the work of a genius. But Anand and his machine have everything worked out.


Aronian goes for it. White can't retake the bishop with the queen.


An important pawn now stands on c3, denying the knight on a6 the square b4.

16...Re4 17.Qb5 Rxf4 18.Qxb7

The knight lost its support, but Aronian can still protect it tactically.




A computer-generated move Anand had prepared some time ago. The Prins' knight on a6 is in serious trouble and White threatens 20.Qxa8. Recapturing the piece leads to Black's big advantage 19.Bxa6 Rb8 20.Qc6 Bd7. This line has been published already two decades ago, but Anand's new move 19.d7! perhaps escaped Aronian's attention.


A step in the wrong direction. The black pieces begin to hang. 19...Nc7! is the suggested defense, but White is not risking much:
20.h3 and now:

A. 20...Nxf2!? 21.Kxf2 Bxd7 22.Bb5 Nxb5 23.Rxd7 Qb8 24.Qd5 Qf8 25.Qb3 Ra5 26.Ne5 c4 27.Qxc4 (27.Qb4 Qxb4 28.cxb4 Ra6=; 27.Nxc4) 27...Na3 28.Qf4 Nc4!!


this amazing move equalizes, for example 29.Qxc4 (29.Nxc4? Rf5!) Rxe5.

B. 20...Nf6 21.Ne5 Nxd7 22.Nxf7! Kxf7 (22...Qf8 23.Nd6+-) 23.Qb3+ Kg7 24.Qxa4 Qe7 is roughly equal.;

After 19...Rb8 comes 20.Qc6±

20.Qb3 Bc6?

Losing. Black had only one way to defend: 20...Ra5 21.Nd2 Bxg2! 22.Bxg4 (22.Kxg2? Qh4!) 22...Qg5 23.c4 Qxg4 24.Qg3 Qxg3 25.hxg3 Rd8 26.Nb3 Ra4 27.Kxg2 Rxc4 with equal chances.



The double attack on the bishop on c6 and the pawn on g6 wins.


Other moves don't help: 21...c4 22.Qd1 Nb8 23.h3 Nf6 24.Rxf6+-; or
21...Rb8 22.Qd1 Bxf3 23.gxf3 Rf4 24.fxg4+-.

22.Rad1 Qb8 23.Rxd7 Qxb3 24.axb3 Ra2 25.Bc4 Rf8

After 25...Nxf2 26.R1d6 wins.


The rook steps again to the square d6 for a victory march. Anand attacks both knights: the one on a6 directly and the other on g4 with the threat 27.Rxg6+. Game over.

26...Kg7 27.Rxa6 Rxf2 28.Re1 Black resigned.


Nakamura used his computer to spring a little surprise on Sergey Karjakin in the symmetrical English. His idea was not winning, but it was sufficiently complicated that Karjakin did not find his way out of the maze. He knew there was a draw, but could not remember how to do it.

Nakamura,Hikaru - Karjakin,Sergey
4th Zurich Chess Challenge 2015

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e6 6.g3 Qb6

Although this attack along the diagonal a7-g1 was played in 1950, it was a big surprise for Donald Byrne during his game against Efim Geller, played in the match USA-USSR in Moscow in 1955. Byrne took 75 minutes on his next move!

7.Ndb5 Ne5!?

Now it was Geller's turn to think and he spent 30 minutes on his knight move, threatening not only 8...Nxc4 but also 8...Qc6. It had such a big influence on the opening theory that the variation has not been tried by White in two decades and only appeared in serious tournaments in 1989.

8.Bf4 Nfg4



It was only in 2008 when the Armenian players came up with this daring move, ignoring the threat to the pawn on f2.


This deflection became the main line. Other moves are risky: 9...Qxf2+ 10.Kd2, threatening 11.Nc7+ and 11.h3; or 9...Bc5 10.0-0-0! f6 11.b4! With White's advantage.

10.Bxe5 Qxf2+ 11.Kd1 Nxe5 12.Nc7+ Kd8 13.Nxa8 Qd4+ 14.Kc2 Nxc4

We have reached a critical stage. At this point the game Magnus Carlsen- Lenier Dominguez Perez, Linares 2009, was quickly drawn after 15.Kb3 Nd2+ 16.Kc2 Nc4 17.Kb3 Nd2+ 18.Kc2.



Karjakin didn't expect this move and it confused him. Black is already a rook down, but has to sacrifice the knight to equalize. Computers can deal with that but Karjakin falters.


Black had to play 15...Qd2+ 16.Kb3 Qxb2+! 17.Kxc4 and now Black has two ways to level the play, both already played:

A.17...d5+ Nakamura expected this move and prepared 18.Kd3!, for example 18...Bg7 19.Ne2 Qxa1 20.Bg2 Qe5 21.Qxa7 dxe4+ 22.Ke3 with White's edge.

B. 17...Bg7! 18.Qa5+ b6 19.Qxg5+ f6 20.Qb5 Ba6! 21.Qxa6 f5! 22.Qxa7 Qxc3+ 23.Kb5 Qc6+ leads to a draw by perpetual check.]

16.Kb3 Qd2 17.a3!

Black's attack is over. The white king will nest on the square a2.

17...Qc2+ 18.Ka2 Qxa4 19.Nxa4 Nxf1 20.Rhxf1 b5 21.N4b6!

Stronger than 21.Nc3 N8b6.

21...axb6 22.Nxb6 Bb7 23.Rxf7 Bc6 24.Rd1 Be7

24...Ke8 25.Rfxd7! should win for White.


The rook helps to hunt down the pawn on d7.



26.Nxd7! Rd8

After 26...Bxd7 27.Rc3+ Bc6 28.Rdc1 wins.


The final nail. After 27...Rxd7 28.Rdc1 Rd6 29.e5 wins.

Black resigned.


The rapid match between two legendary veterans Viktor Korchnoi, 83, and Wolfgang Uhlmann, 79, was part of the festivities. It ended 2:2.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.

Images by Eteri Kublashvili