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17 Feb

The Fast and the Furious

Chess is getting set for a tennis-like speedup.  Fans are getting bored by games that last six or seven hours and want to see more fast and furious encounters, so says Oleg Skvortsov, the Russian business tycoon sponsor and organizer of the annual Zurich Chess Challenge extravaganza in Switzerland.

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Skvortsov believes that chess should emulate a two- to three-hour tennis match. And after the fun of the opening blitz tournament to determine the draw order, it was down to the real business as the 5th edition of the Zurich Chess Challenge got underway proper,  as it debuted this innovative new time control with each player getting only 40 minutes a game, with a bonus 10 seconds per move.

In contrast, the standard “classical” time limit allows more than twice as much thinking time. Skvortsov compared his proposed “new classical” format to trimmed down tennis matches that are limited to three sets and shorter “champions tiebreaks.” We’ll have to see if the new time control becomes popular by being adopt by other tournaments and accepted by governing body Fide.

The new format that was adapted for the rapid tournament, certainly met with the approval of five-time ex-world champion Viswanathan Anand, who has history of being no slouch at fast time controls. He went from a rocky performance in Gibraltar to a Rocky Balboa-like comeback performance to jointly win the rapid event in Zurich. It also had a scoring system of 2-points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss - and Anand scored 7/10 to finish on the same number of points as US champion Hikaru Nakamura, the defending Zurich champion.

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But kudos to Anand for a great fighting comeback after his recent disaster in Gibraltar, that will only serve to boost his confidence ahead of next month’s Candidates Tournament in Moscow.  One day you're shedding 20+ rating points in an open and falling out of the top 10 for the first time in your career, next thing you know you are checkmating Levon Aronian in 20 moves.  

Opposite Photo © Official Photographer David Lada

Final rapid standings: 1-2. Viswanathan Anand (India), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 7/10; 3. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 6; 4. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 4; 5-6. Alexei Shirov (Latvia), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3.

GM Viswanathan Anand - Levon Aronian
5th Zurich Chess Challenge, (1)
Spanish Four Knight’s
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Nc3 The Spanish Four Knight's is yet another way to avoid the notorious Berlin 'Wall' Defence. The Four Knight's was a relic of a bygone age in master chess that was rehabilitated in the early1990s by the English GM John Nunn, that led to it suddenly being back in vogue for a period in the upper echelons of the elite circuit. 4...Bd6 And for a second successive column here with the Anti-Berlin, we see Aronian putting his bishop on what looks like the awkward square of d6. As we explained in the previous column, it goes there to anticipate a possible Bxc6; and it doesn't really lose a move, because in these lines, it is common for the bishop to later retreat to f8 or go to c5 after e5 is defended. 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 Re8 7.a3 This little move has a purpose. White may want to retreat the bishop all the back to a2 - but more importantly, White prevents Black playing ...Na5 followed by ...c6 ....b5 and ...Nxb3 to exchange off the white-squared bishop; ...Na5 now being answered with b4. 7...h6 8.Bc4 Bc5 Both players now have 'wasted' a move with their bishops and we're back to an even keel. 9.Be3 Bxe3 10.fxe3 d6 11.Nh4! The knight is heading for the menacing f5 outpost. If it can lock itself there, Black will be in serious trouble. 11...Be6 Now, if 11...Na5 12.Bxf7! Kxf7 13.Qh5+ Kf8 14.Rxf6+ is devastating. 12.Nf5 Bxc4?! While it looked tempting to ease the pressure by exchange off the bishop, Black leaves himself vulnerable on the white-squares on the kingside - a scenario that soon comes back to haunt him. 13.dxc4 Kh7? Aronian is looking to kick the knight from its dominating f5 outpost with ...g6. Instead, he could have tried 13...Re6 to better protect the kingside - but White nevertheless would have stood better. 14.Qf3! Now if ...g6 White has Nxh6 winning with the double attack on f6. 14...Nb8 Aronian is hoping to bolster his defences by playing …Nbd7 - but Anand beats him to the punch.  And if 14...Ng8 15.c5! dxc5 16.Rad1 is also very strong for White. 15.Nxh6! (See Diagram) 15...Kxh6 The alternative would have lasted longer, but it would have just been torture: 15...gxh6 16.Qxf6 Qxf6 17.Rxf6 Kg7 18.Raf1 Rf8 19.Nd5 Nd7 20.R6f3 and White is clearly winning. 16.Qh3+ Kg6 17.Rf3 Nh5 18.Rf5! Nf6 If 18...Rh8 19.Qg4+ Kh7 20.Qxh5+ Kg8 21.Qxf7+ is mating. 19.Qh4 1-0 Aronian can't successful defend against Rg5 mate - "It was over before it kind of got anywhere," commented Anand after his miniature.  

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