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19 Feb

The Need For Speed

In the 1980s, when rapid and active time controls were officially recognised, Fide had an ill-fated experiment to allow ratings established in rapid play to be applicable at classical controls. It was a failure, but in 2012, Fide recognised there was indeed a need for speed, so began rating players in three categories rather than one: “Classical” time limits, such as 40 moves in two hours; those played at a “blitz” speed, such as five minutes per player per game; and those played at a “rapid” tempo, somewhere in between.

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The change recognises that the world’s top players now spend as much time in rapid and blitz tournaments as they do in traditional “classical chess”. And while tournaments are normally one of the three, the 5th Zurich Chess Challenge, hosted by the Zurich Chess Club, the world’s oldest chess club, and sponsored by their Russian business tycoon member, Oleg Skvortsov, is a twofer with rapid - although the sponsor would like to think of this more as being “Neo-Classical” - and blitz.

In the rapid, US Champion Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand, the Indian five-time ex-world champion, shared first place - and it was déjà vu all over again in the blitz, where both again tied for first place on 7/10. However Nakamura, by the narrowest of tiebreak scores, edged out Anand to claim overall victory at Zurich.

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Everything hinged on Nakamura’s last round endgame win over Levon Aronian to seal the deal.  And the result now not only means that the US No.1 has successfully defended his Zurich title, but he also moves up to second place close behind World Champion Magnus Carlsen in both the unofficial live rapid and live blitz rating lists.

Opposite Photo © Official Photographer David Lada

GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Levon Aronian
5th Zurich Chess Challenge, Blitz (5)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Berlin
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 Back to the Berlin - how many times now have we covered this defence to the Lopez in this column already this year? Also, for the third successive column, we see Levon Aronian on the losing side with each opponent opting to eschew the technicalities of the dreaded Berlin 'Wall' ending with the early exchange of queens, and instead opting for an anti-Berlin system. 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nbd2 Be6 7.0-0 Bd6 8.d4 Nd7 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Nxe5 Bxe5 Aronian may have the bishop-pair, but Nakamura has the mobile pawn centre that gains him space. 11.f4 Qd4+ 12.Kh1 Bd6 13.Qe2 0-0-0 14.f5 Bd7 If Aronian can find a way to pen up the game to activate his bishops, he would stand well - but Nakamura deftly keeps the bishops confined. 15.Nf3 Qa4 16.b3 Qa5 17.Bd2 Bb4 18.Bxb4 Qxb4 19.Qf2! Nice. Not only attacking a7 with tempo, but also getting the queen off the e-file and any possible tricks after a ...Rhe8, and also setting up a possible winning endgame scenario with a forced queen exchange. 19...b6 20.Ng5 Qe7 21.f6! (See Diagram) Nakamura is quick to see that he stands a good chance of winning the endgame with this move, that not only wins the pawn on f7, but also weakens h7. However, there is that old chess adage that says all rook and pawn endings have a tendency to be drawn. 21...gxf6 22.Qxf6 Qxf6 23.Rxf6 Be8 24.Nxf7 Bxf7 25.Rxf7 Rd2 Aronian's only salvation lays in activating his rooks - and this is a lesson for all to learn, because even if you go one or two pawns down, an active rook(s) can make the difference between drawing and losing. 26.Rc1 Rg8 27.Rg1 The most obvious move looks like 27.g3, but after 27...h5! 28.Rh7 Re8 Black has his rooks as active as he can, and could well save the game by doubling rooks on the seventh. Obviously Nakamura doesn't like the prospect of this, so he jettisons the c-pawn to go for quickly pushing his g- and h-pawns up the board as quickly as he can now. 27...Rxc2?! Such endings are never easy to play in blitz, even if your name happens to be Levon Aronian! However, I have a feeling that after 27...h5!?, Aronian would have offered better resistance and more of a chance of Black keeping both his rooks active. One example being: 28.Rh7 Rg5! and those active Black rooks could well be the difference between losing and drawing. 28.Rxh7 Rxa2 29.g4! And now we see another golden rule of rook(s) and pawn endings - regardless if you have the extra pawn and trying to win, or perhaps a pawn down and trying to draw, the key is to have your rook behind the passed pawn. And here, Nakamura's g-pawn swiftly moves up the board supported by his rook on g1, not giving Aronian any time to activate both his rooks. 29...Ra5 30.h4! This stops Aronian playing ...Rag5 - now both of Nakamura's passed pawns are mobile and very quick. 30...Re5 31.g5 The e-pawn is an irrelevance here - the g- and h-pawn decide the game; and Nakamura expertly executes the win even in a blitz scenario. 31...Rxe4 32.g6 Ree8 33.h5 a5 34.g7 Kb7 35.Rh6 If Aronian keep his rooks on e8 and g8, Nakamura quickly wins with Rh-g6 followed by pushing h6 and h7 etc. 35...Re5 36.Rh8! The rest of the game is academic - Aronian gives up the rook in the blitz finish, but he is lost both on the board as well as the clock. 36...Rxg7 37.Rxg7 b5 38.Rg3 c5 39.h6 Rh5+ 40.Kg2 c4 41.bxc4 b4 42.Rh3 Rg5+ 43.Kf3 b3 44.Kf4 a4 45.Kxg5 1-0

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