15 Feb

Historic Zurich

The echoes of history, as my school history teacher was fond of saying, tells us that in 1809, Robert Fulton was granted a patent for the steamboat, Abraham Lincoln, William Gladstone and Charles Darwin were born and Napoleon’s armies marched across Europe.  He could though have caught my full attention by adding that also in that year, several residents of a Swiss city founded a chess club called ‘Schachgesellschaft Zurich.’


It was not the first - there were already clubs in London, Paris and other cities at the time - but Schachgesellschaft has survived, and 207 years later, it now holds the chess record as being the oldest in the world. The Zurich club was also instrumental in organising several historical tournaments on their home turf, notably the famous Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament.

And in 2009 when it celebrated its 200-year jubilee, they again organised a prestigious tournament with the top elite stars to mark the occasion - and this seemed to have sparked the club into organising an annual extravaganza, sponsored by one of their members and business tycoon, Oleg Skvortsov, head of the Russian International Gemological Laboratories that authenticates diamonds.

The 5th edition of the Zurich Chess Challenge 2016 features a stellar six-player field with Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Levon Aronian (Armenia), and elite blast-from-the-past Alexei Shirov (Latvia). Main sponsor Skvortsov is a big chess fan and is outspoken in his views about having to speed-up chess, and he came up with a new time control for the main competition (more of which on Wednesday’s column).


But the tournament got underway with a blitz tournament - and that’s sort of speed-up chess that favours US champion Nakamura, who indeed went on to win the first of the three-tournaments.  

Despite comfortably winning on 3.5/5, Nakamura found a resurgent Anand making a comeback after his disaster in Gibraltar, as the five-time ex-world champion trounced him in their last round game; a crucial win that allowed Anand to take second place on tiebreak ahead of Shirov, after both finished on 3-points.

Opposite Photo © Official Photographer David Lada


GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Levon Aronian
5th Zurich Opening Blitz, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bd6 The bishop looks strange here, but it aims to capitalise on being on its best square if White captures Bxc6 - and later, the bishop in anyway drops back to its natural square of f8, a usual retreat in such Lopez positions. 5.c3 0-0 6.0-0 Re8 7.Nbd2 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bc2 Bf8 And after from the retreat to f8, Black also has the option of playing 9...Bc5. 10.Re1 d5 11.a4 Bb7 12.h3 h6 13.exd5 Qxd5 14.b4 Qd7 15.Ne4 Nd5 Exchanging on e4 does not give Black equality: 15...Nxe4 16.dxe4 Qxd1 17.Rxd1 and White stands better, as not only is Black's b5-pawn weak, but also there's ideas of Bc2-b3 and the possibility of going to d5. 16.Bb3 Rad8?! It looks as if it falls into a hidden tactic from Nakamura - not the sort of thing you would like to face at blitz. 17.axb5 axb5 18.Bxh6! Spectacular, and certainly a typical Nakamura blitz move he'd normally flick out with a relish. But it isn't crystal clear he's actually winning - but it clearly does enough to induce a panicked response from Aronian. 18...Nxc3 The only choice, as taking on h6 loses the queen to a knight fork after 18...gxh6 19.Bxd5 Qxd5 20.Nf6+ winning. 19.Nxc3 gxh6 20.Ne4 Be7? It looks scary with all of Nakamura's pieces poised to jump in for the kill, but Aronian had to play 20...Kg7 21.Nh4 Nd4! 22.Re3 Bxe4 23.dxe4 Nxb3 24.Qxb3 Qe6 25.Nf5+ Kh7 where White retains an advantage going into the endgame with his better rooks and wonderful knight on its dominating outpost f5 - but at least Aronian isn't being killed here, as he does in the game. 21.Nh2! Clearing a path for Re3-g3 and also threatening Qh5 and Ng4 crushing. 21...Nd4? But Aronian cracks under the relentless pressure. His only way to try to hang on in this bad position now was with 21...Qf5 22.Re3! Rf8 (If 22...Nd4 23.Ra7 and White just brings another major piece into the attack along the seventh) 23.Ng4 Kh7 24.Rf3 Qg6 25.Ngf6+ Bxf6 26.Rxf6 Qg7 27.Rf3! (threatening Rg3) 27...Ne7 and White is much better - though this is blitz, and anything can happen. 22.Ng4! One knight move, and three major threats to defend! There's h6, and e5 en prise now, and there's the little matter of a Nf6 family fork to contend with. 22...Kg7 23.Nxe5 Qf5 24.Ng3 Qg5 25.Nxf7 This is turning into something of a 'knightmare' for Aronian; and not unsurprisingly, he soon resigns. 25...Qg6 26.Nxd8 Bxd8 27.Rxe8  1-0 After 27...Qxe8 28.Qg4+ also picks up the knight on d4.

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