Vladimir Kramnik beat Viswanathan Anand while Hikaru Nakamura bested Yannick Pelletier in Round 1 of the Kortchnoi Chess Challenge.
Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States got off to fast starts in the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge by winning their Round 1 games.
Nakamura, the two-time defending champion in the event, who earned the top seeding by winning Wednesday’s blitz tournament, opened the scoring. Nakamura is renowned for his speed and that was on full display as he finished with 22 minutes on his clock. Nakamura pressured Yannick Pelletier, the representative of the host country, both on the clock and on the board, first shattering Pelletier’s kingside pawn structure and then obtaining the two bishops. Pelletier capitulated in an endgame where his queenside was collapsing.
1. Nf3Nf62. g3d53. Bg2c64. O-OBg45. h3Bh56. d3Nbd77. Qe1e58. e4dxe49. dxe4Be710. Nbd2O-O11. Nh4Re812. Nc4Bf813. a4Qc714. Bd2Nc515. Ba5An interesting decision by Nakamura; his idea is to weaken Black's queenside pawns. 15... b616. Bc3Nfd7
( 16... b5Black should have considered this move, though pushing the pawn would be committal. )
17. f4f6?Instead, Pelletier should have opted for the more adventurous:
( 17... exf418. gxf4b519. axb5cxb5The position is complicated, but Black seems to be holding his own. )
18. fxe5fxe519. Ne3Ne620. Nef5Nakamura chose to reroute his knight from c4 to f5, leaving his second one on h4. This seems odd but he wanted to keep the g6 square covered. 20... Rad821. Kh1Nf6This move is not losing, but it walks into Nakamura's trap.
( 21... a5With the idea of preventing b2-b4 and supporting Bc5 was likely a sounder approach. )
( 22... Kh823. g4Invites an attack, not to mention that the pawn on e5 would fall because of tactics. )
23. Rxf6Nd424. Rf2Bg625. Qe3Qg726. Raf1Be727. Nxg6Qxg6White is clearly much better as he has the two bishops and the Black pawn structure is compromised. Yet how to break through isn't obvious. The Black knight on d4 is a pesky piece, but capturing it could eventually lead to an opposite-colored bishop ending, which is always a potential problem for the aggressor as those are mostly draws. 28. Be1
( 28. Rf5!Was enticing, but Nakamura likely saw no need for it. His position and time advantages were already quite large. )
28... Rf829. b4Rxf230. Rxf2Rf8
( 30... Qg5Doesn't help because there is no way White is going to exchange queens at this point. After: 31. Qc3Nakamura's initiative continues. )
31. c3Rxf232. Bxf2Ne633. h4!An obvious and very strong multi-purpose move. White stops all of Pelletier's pieces from activating via the g5 square and provides the bishop on g2 another diagonal on which to operate. 33... Nc734. Qd3Qd6Pelletier had little time and his position was already lost from a practical standpoint. Now Nakamura has no qualms exchanging the queens. 35. Qc4+Qe636. Qxe6+Nxe637. Be3Bf838. Bh3Kf739. Bf1Nc7With minimal time remaining, Pelletier misses an opportunity.
( 39... c5Was the last real chance. If Nakamura pushes b5, then Pelletier can cling onto the hope that the White king can't penetrate. If White plays Bd2, then an exchange on b4 followed by Nd4 isn't so bad for Black. )
40. Bc4+Kf6Sadly the king can't move closer to the center because it is needed to defend the pawn on h7.
Hikaru Nakamura, left, got off to a good start by beating Yannick Pelletier.
Kramnik outplayed Viswanathan Anand of India, the man who wrested the world championship title from Kramnik in 2007. The opening was a calm, symmetrical English. But in the quiet style for which he is known, Kramnik began to take control. He forced Anand to accept an isolated queen pawn, stifled Anand’s counterplay, and then expanded on the queenside. Under duress, Anand sacrificed an exchange. But with 36. e6!, Kramnik broke through Anand’s defenses. He resigned soon after as he faced inevitable mate.
( 5... O-OAppears to be the much more frequently played move. )
6. d4cxd47. exd4O-O8. Nf3d59. b3This looks like a new plan, though the idea is pretty straightforward: Defend the c4 pawn and give the bishop the opportunity to fianchetto. 9... Ne410. Bb2Nxc3
( 10... Nc611. Nxe4dxe412. Ne5Must be investigated. If Black is not careful, the pawn on e4 might be taken. The pawn structure certainly is favorable for White, so if Black does not react quickly, White will have a long-term advantage. )
11. Bxc3b612. cxd5exd513. O-ONc614. Ne5Nxe5
( 14... Bb7Is the more natural continuation, leaving both sides with an isolated pawn. Yet Anand must have had some doubts about allowing White to play f4 and gain space. )
15. dxe5Be616. Re1Qd717. Qd2Rac818. Bd4Kramnik has achieved the perfect setup. The bishop is beautifully centralized on d4, both supporting queenside expansion with a2-a4-a5 and blockading the isolated Black d-pawn. Anand wants to dislodge this bishop, but it requires a lot of moves. 18... Rc719. a4Rfc820. Bf1Bf8Black would love to activate his rook by playing
( 20... Rc2but after 21. Qe3It's unclear what exactly Black is doing. The rook on c2 is attacking nothing, and White can continue with his plan. The only benefit of putting the rook on c2 is that if the White bishop moves (say to capture a queenside pawn), the c3 square can be invaded. )
21. Ba6Rd822. h4When an opponent is immobilized, it's often wise to expand on both sides of the board. This way a player can create multiple weaknesses and push forward in due time. 22... Bc523. b4Bxd424. Qxd4Qe725. Bd3Clearing the a-file for the rook. 25... Kg7
( 25... a5!?Was potentially an improvement. Kramnik is able to simply occupy open the b-file with his rooks (essentially shifting the targeted pawn one file over), but at least the Black rooks might gain some more freedom. )
26. a5Rdc827. axb6axb628. Bf1
( 28. Qxb6?Rb7Throws away almost all of the advantage. )
28... b529. Bd3Rc4?!Desperation. Anand did not want to sit and get squeezed. After all, Kramnik's plan was quite simple, considering the weak Black pawns. Now, Anand has counterplay, but it is insufficient for equality. 30. Bxc4Qxb431. Rab1A precise move. It was important to prevent Black from obtaining connected queenside passed pawns. With the pawns split, White's task is much easier. 31... Qxc432. Qd2h5Played to prevent Kramnik from playing h5, which would lead to a dangerous attack. But Kramnik is still able to launch a decisive attack!
( 32... d433. Re4Bf534. Rxd4Bxb135. Rxc4bxc4Does not quite hold because of 36. e6! )
33. Rbc1Qb334. Rxc8Bxc835. Qf4Bf536. e6!An awesome pawn sacrifice that ends the game. Black's king lacks shelter. 36... Bxe637. Qe5+Kh738. Ra1Anand resigns as there is reasonable means of stopping an eighth rank invasion.
In the two remaining games, Boris Gelfand of Israel, at 48, the oldest competitor in the tournament, who impressed in the opening blitz event by finishing joint first with Nakamura, could not overcome an opponent nearly three decades his junior. Grigoriy Oparin, a 19-year-old Russian grandmaster, who qualified for the competition based on his performance in the Nutcracker battle of generations tournament last December, held the balance quite easily with the Black pieces.
In the other game, Peter Svidler of Russia faced an uphill battle against Ian Nepomniachtchi, a compatriot, in a game that featured an obscure variation of the Sicilian Defense. Nepomniachtchi came close to taking the full point, but Svidler slithered away in a queen ending.
Oleg Skvortsov, sponsor of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge.
The Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge is sponsored chiefly by Oleg Skvortsov and has been rechristened in honor of Viktor Kortchnoi, the legendary grandmaster who died last year. It consists of seven rounds with a time control of 45 minutes per player with 30 second increment after every move. In this segment, players receive two points for a win, one for a draw, and zero for a loss. On Monday, April 17, the competitors will then play another blitz event, this time with 10 minutes and 5 second increment, with each victory counting as one point and each draw as a half point.
Robert Hess is a former United States Junior Champion, recipient of the 2010 Samford Award (the most prestigious in the United States for young players) and was runner-up in the 2009 United States Championships. A 2015 graduate of Yale University, he is the chief operating officer of The Sports Quotient, a statistically-based sports site that he co-founded. He can be found on Twitter at @GM_Hess.