19 Apr

Viktor Victor

Chess-wise, the United States has possibly never had it so good. Not only does the US have three players in the top-10 for the first time, but two of those elite players seem to be on winning streaks.  While all the focus has been rightly on newly-crowned US champion Wesley So - who has won every classical event in the past year - not to be outdone in the winner's circle has been four-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura, who seems to be building a reputation this year of being a ‘trifecta’ winner.

After 16.Ne5!

Back in February, we told how Nakamura won a third successive Tradewise Gibraltar Masters title - and now, in Switzerland over the Easter holiday period, yet again Nakamura has become a ‘three-peat’ winner, this time emerging as the victor of the  Zurich Korchnoi Chess Challenge title for a third successive year.

There was a subtle title change to the Zurich Chess Challenge though this year, with the historic Swiss club and its chess-mad sponsor, Oleg Skvortsov, dedicating the tournament to the memory of the great Viktor Korchnoi, the legendary chess fighter, Soviet defector and two-time world championship challenger, who sadly died aged 85 last year after a long battle with illness in his adopted Swiss hometown of Wohlen.

However, the format remained the same with it being an eight player, seven round double event starting with a blitz tournament, followed by the main event of the sponsor’s favorite quasi-classical time control of a rapid/45, with a 30-second increment. The field comprised of headliners in former world champions Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand; a supporting cast of defending champion Hikaru Nakamura, Peter Svidler, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Boris Gelfand; and last but not least GMs Grigoriy Oparin (a strong Russian teenager) and Yannick Pelletier (representing the host country).

Zurich CC three-peat winner, Hikaru Nakamura!

While Nakamura ended the main event tied with Nepomniachtchi, the US speed king took the overall title by virtue of just nudging out former speed king Anand, by half a point in the opening blitz battle.

Final (combined) standings
1. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 15/21; 2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), 14; 3. Viswanathan Anand (India), 13½; 4. Peter Svidler (Russia), 12; 5. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), 11; 6. Boris Gelfand (Israel), 9; 7. Grigoriy Oparin (Russia), 5½; 8. Yannick Pelletier (Switzerland), 4.

GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Grigoriy Oparin
Zurich Korchnoi CC Blitz, (2)
Reti/KIA, Spassky Variation
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5 A hybrid of the Polish Defence with 1.d4 b5, the ever-inventive, and always enterprising Boris Spassky pioneered playing this way against 1.Nf3, most famously using it to draw with World Champion Tigran Petrosian during his failed first title match in 1966. 3.Bg2 Bb7 The idea behind Spassky's 2...b5 is that with White first playing 1.Nf3, Black can set-up a sort of Queen's Indian-type position but preventing White from easily playing the more normal c4. 4.Na3 The knight looks a bit funny developed on a3, but the idea is to try to entice Black into an early ...b4 and then play Nc4-e5 with a typical Reti-like strategy. 4...a6 5.c4 b4 6.Nc2 e6 7.0-0 Be7 8.d4 Be4 9.a3 bxa3 10.b3! The Black pawn is going nowhere, so Nakamura takes his chance to bolster his own c4-pawn, whilst at the same time looking to recapture on a3 with his bishop, in an attempt to exchange off the dark-squared bishops to put pressure on his opponent's own weak pawn on a6. 10...0-0 11.Bxa3 d6 12.Ne3 c6 13.Qd2 Nbd7 There's nothing much in the position; in fact, if anything, an equal position - but there lurks the danger of an unassuming big tactic missed by the young Russian. 14.Nd1 Qb6 15.Nc3 Qxb3? With the benefit of hindsight, Oparin would no doubt now opt for 15...c5 16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.Bxc5 dxc5 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.Qc2 Nf6 20.Ne5 Bd6! with an equal game. But unfortunately, he's been 'seduced' by what looks like an easy pawn, only to find himself heading deep down the rabbit-hole of an imaginative Nakamura tactic. 16.Ne5! The subtlety of Nakamura's clever tactic can only be seen in the next note if Black opts for 17...Bxg2. 16...dxe5 17.Bxe7 exd4 And here's the rub...because now, if 17...Bxg2 18.Rfb1! Qxc4 19.Rb4! Black's queen is lost with not quite enough compensation for it, as 19...Qxb4 20.Bxb4 c5 21.Bxc5 Nxc5 22.dxc5 Rfd8 23.Qg5 Bc6 24.Qxe5 and White is winning. However, this is far better than what happens in the game, but by this stage probably the young Russian's resolve is well and truly broken by Nakamura's clever winning tactic. 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.Bxe4 Rfe8 20.Bxc6 Black is simply a piece and a position down and shortly resigns. 20...Ra7 21.Qxd4 1-0

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