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    Entries in Zurich 2016 (4)

    Tuesday
    Feb162016

    Zurich, Finale: Nakamura Takes First Over Anand on Tiebreak

    It was an exciting three-man race in Zurich, with Hikaru Nakamura, Viswanathan Anand, and Vladimir Kramnik all finishing the tournament undefeated. The first five rounds were "rapid-classical": 40' + 10", and the games counted double: two points for a win, one for a draw, and the usual zero for a loss. This was followed by a blitz round-robin with traditional scoring. Anand started 2-0, but drew his last three rapid games and was caught in round five by Nakamura. Their +2 scores gave them 7/10, good for a one-point lead over Kramnik, who only won one game.

    In the blitz, both Anand and Kramnik went +2 in the first four rounds, while Nakamura only went +1. Going into the last round, therefore, Anand led Nakamura by half a point and Kramnik by a full point, and with Kramnik getting White against Anand in the last round a three-way tie for first was a possibility, provided that Kramnik won and Nakamura drew with Levon Aronian. It didn't happen. Kramnik had White, but Anand was better prepared and equalized with ease, while Aronian was unable to hold a difficult double rook ending against Nakamura.

    So just like last year, Anand and Nakamura finished tied for first. Last year, the tournament was supposed to end at that point, and had it done so they would have been co-champions or Anand would have won on tiebreak. Instead, Anand was cajoled into an Armageddon playoff with Nakamura, which he lost, and Nakamura took the title. This time it was Nakamura who wound up with the better tiebreakers, and while there were some rumors about another last-minute playoff getting set up, Anand was apparently not interested and settled for silver.

    They both finished with 10.5/15, a point ahead of Kramnik. After that there was a yawning abyss of a gap, with Anish Giri and Aronian finishing with 5.5 points apiece and Alexei Shirov coming in last with just 3.5.

    The games (unannotated, alas) are here.

    What's next in super-GM land? The pickings are pretty slim for the next month: there are some leagues and the Aeroflot Open at the start of March, but the next really big tournament is the biggest of them all: the Candidates' tournament starting March 10. Four of the players from Zurich (Nakamura, Anand, Giri and Aronian) will be participating there, but it would be a mistake to draw any serious conclusions based on this event, with the possible exception of Anand's performance. To my mind, this shows that Gibraltar was a one-off, and he will be psychologically ready next month.

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    Zurich, Day 1: Anand Starts 2-0; Gelfand Wins the Sideshows

    Mark Twain famously wrote, "the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated", and Viswanathan Anand could say the same. Given up for dead - again - in the wake of his poor performance in Gibraltar a week or two ago, he has shown - again - that he remains a top player, and must be considered a legitimate contender to win the Candidates' tournament in March.

    Anand won both games today, crushing Levon Aronian with White in the opener and defeating Anish Giri with Black in round 2. All the other games in both rounds were drawn except for the round two matchup between Alexei Shirov and Hikaru Nakamura. Shirov's attempt to create his trademark "fire on board" backfired (pun intended); in particular, his exchange sac on move 36 was a lemon or involved a serious miscalculation (possibly in serious time trouble). Both 36.a5 and 36.Rh1 - two moves which avoid going a pawn down - sufficed to maintain equality. I'll draw your attention to one other game from round 2: Vladimir Kramnik's wild battle with Levon Aronian. Kramnik played the dynamic, sacrificial chess characteristic of his play the past several years, and while it wasn't good enough for a win the game was highly entertaining.

    There was an "undercard" of sorts: a two-game match between Boris Gelfand and Alexander Morozevich. Gelfand drew the first game with Black and won the second with White. Afterwards he played a second exhibition, this time a single game with chess sponsor (and very strong amateur) Oleg Skvortsov. Gelfand had White and Skvortsov was busted early, but the latter managed to make a very exciting game of it. The game had a nice touch near the end, when Gelfand played 42.Bc1! It wasn't the only winning move in the position, but it was certainly the prettiest.

    All the games are here, and I've annotated Anand-Aronian from round 1.

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    Zurich Blitz: Blitz Recap and Day 1 Pairings, Plus Gelfand-Morozevich

    The main event in Zurich starts today, Saturday, but before that the organizers had the players compete in a blitz tournament. This was entertaining for the spectators (both those on scene, including Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi[!], and the rest of us watching on the internet), of course, and it had the additional purpose of determining the pairings. Placement determined one's pairing number, and so the top three players will all have an extra game with the white pieces in the main event.

    Hikaru Nakamura won his first three games in this six-player round-robin before Alexei Shirov (barely) pulled out a draw in round 4 and Viswanathan Anand beat him in the final round. Those three finished with plus scores, and thus get the extra white game in the rapid round robin to follow. Nakamura (obviously) finished with 3.5/5, while both Anand and Shirov wound up with 3 (Anand took second on tiebreak). Vladimir Kramnik was next with 2.5, Levon Aronian scored only two points (but defeated Anand in their game), while Anish Giri brought up the rear with a winless 1/5.

    Because it's a rapid event (G/40' + 10"/move), there will be two games per day. (At least for the first two days; on day 3 there will be a rapid game followed by another blitz round-robin. Strange, but entertaining.) Here are the pairings for rounds 1 and 2; round 1 starts at 3 p.m. local time in Zurich (= 9 a.m. ET).

    Round 1:

    • Shirov - Kramnik
    • Nakamura - Giri
    • Anand - Aronian

    Round 2:

    • Kramnik - Aronian
    • Giri - Anand
    • Shirov - Nakamura

    There's an added bonus: Boris Gelfand and Alexander Morozevich will concurrently play a two-game match with the same time control.

    Hopefully the quality of the games will be high; whether it is or not, however, they're sure to be entertaining.

    Thursday
    Feb042016

    Nakamura Wins Gibraltar, Defeating Vachier-Lagrave in a Playoff (Plus a Zurich Preview)

    My fantasy of a 13-way tie for first in Gibraltar didn't come to pass, as Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won their games against David Anton and Sebastien Maze, respectively, to finish tied for first with 8/10. The result was a playoff, and after four consecutive draws (of which Nakamura had winning positions in two of them, albeit very briefly in the second) it came down to an Armageddon game. Nakamura won the coin toss and took black, and when he neutralized Vachier-Lagrave's pressure (that was convincingly achieved with 35...Kg7) the latter was forced into some serious risks. Nakamura was up to the challenge, and soon he was up the exchange while MVL was forced to trade queens or lose a knight. He chose a third option - resigning - and Nakamura won the event for the second straight year and the third time overall. (He first won in 2008.)

    Tied for third through eighth places with 7.5 points were, in tiebreak order, Etienne Bacrot, S. P. Sethuraman, Pentala Harikrishna, Gawain Jones, Li Chao, and Emil Sutovsky. The women's prize went to Anna Muzychuk with 7 points, which was a fine score for just about anyone. (By comparison, Viswanathan Anand and Nigel Short wound up with 6.5 points, and Anand had to win his last two games to achieve that. Admittedly, his tournament was a disaster, but there were 2700+ players who, like Muzychuk, scored 7/10 and had perfectly respectable performances.)

    Congratulations to the winners and condolences to the losers. I was going to engage in some speculation about what Anand's performance here might mean for the Candidates' tournament next month (the short answer: I'm inclined to think it doesn't mean much), but since he'll be in action about a week from now in Zurich we should look towards that event, which will feature three other candidates as well - Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, and Anish Giri. They will be joined by Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov in a "slow rapid" (G/40' + 10") and blitz competition from February 13-15.

    The Zurich organizer, Oleg Skortsov, is hoping that this time control (or something close to it) will become the new classical time control. Speaking for myself, I would like to see more tournaments with rapid time limits, but I don't want to see slower time controls go extinct, either. It isn't a pleasure playing back-to-back six hours games in Swiss system events, but the value of depth shouldn't be scorned. It too has a place in our chess world. But what say you? Please answer both as a chess fan (what do you like watching when you're watching top grandmasters in action?) and as a chess player.