Logjam at the Top of the Kortchnoi Chess Challenge
ByRobert HessApr 15 — 9:00 AM
Image by World Chess
Four players are tied for the lead after Day 2.
There is a four-person logjam atop the leaderboard after three rounds of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge. Hikaru Nakamura, the sole American in the field, was joined by the Russian trio of Vladimir Kramnik, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Peter Svidler in tie for first place.
Each player has 4 points, based on the scoring system of 2 points for each win and 1 point for each draw that is being used in the tournament.
Each leader took a different path to the top. Nakamura, the two-time defending champion in the tournament, started the tournament with consecutive wins. On Friday afternoon he won his second game by outplaying Grigoriy Oparin, another Russian player, from the Black side of a Giuoco Piano opening.
24... Nxf7It is hard to resist the temptation of winning a pawn, but Nakamura had a more devastating option with:
( 24... Kh7!The threat of Nf4+ prevents Oparin from capturing the knight on d6. And whereas: 25. Bxh6looks like the start of a brutal attack, Black can simply continue: 25... Nxf726. Bd2+Nh6An extra knight is an extra knight, and White's "attack" has already fizzled out. )
25. Qxg6Bxh3+!26. Kh2
( 26. Kxh3?Ng5+wins the queen. )
26... Bxf127. Bxa7
( 27. Bxf7Definitely was the more precise move. White's best drawing chances are in an endgame with fewer pieces on the board. Black is forced to trade all the minor pieces or else be stuck in an opposite-colored bishop ending. Either way, Oparin would have good drawing chances. 27... Rxf728. Bxa7Bc429. Bb6 )
27... Ng528. Qxe8Rfxe829. Rxf1Rxa730. Rad1b6!Nakamura needed to open lines for his rooks to improve his chances to win. 31. axb6Rb732. Bc2a5!Another nice move by Nakamura. It prevents b2-b4. 33. Rd6Rxb634. b3Ne635. Rb1
( 35. Ra1Nc536. Rxa5looks like it trades off pieces, but there's a nasty fork 36... Nb7and Black wins easily. )
35... Nc536. b4axb437. Rxb4Ra638. Rc4Ra239. Bd1
( 39. Rxc5Rxc240. Kg2Ra841. Rd1Raa242. Rf1Looks like it was enough for a draw because four pawns against three on the kingside is theoretically drawn. )
Nakamura ran into trouble in Round 3 against Svidler, who has historically been a very difficult opponent for Nakamura. Svidler, a seven-time champion of Russia, who began the event with draws against Nepomniachtchi and Boris Gelfand of Israel, was initially in a bind against Nakamura. But after Nakamura overlooked a tactic, he found himself in an ending down a pawn. He then failed to find the most stubborn path of resistance, and Svidler converted without too much difficulty.
1. c4g62. Nc3c53. g3Bg74. Bg2Nc65. e3e56. Nge2Nge77. O-OO-O8. Nd5d69. Nec3Bf510. d3Qd711. a3Bh312. Rb1Bxg213. Kxg2Nxd514. cxd5Ne715. b4cxb416. axb4Bh617. e4Bxc118. Rxc1Rfc819. Qd2Rc720. f4Rac821. fxe5dxe5Nakamura has an edge here, thanks to his passed d-pawn. The Black position appears to be quite solid, but his knight is awfully restricted and the open f-file is a problem. Had Nakamura played precisely here, Svidler would have struggled to find a good plan. 22. Rc2?
( 22. Kg1Was more precise. Now the White king would have avoided pesky checks. )
( 22. Rf3Was also a better move. 22... Qd6No longer works because 23. Nb5Rxc124. Nxd6R8c225. Qf2Rxf2+26. Rxf2And White is winning the endgame. )
22... Qd623. Qf2
( 23. Rb1Would have been more prudent. )
23... Nf5!Svidler turns the tables; Black wins a pawn and has the better position. 24. exf5Rxc325. Rxc3Rxc3
( 25... Qxd5+Would have been careless. Nakamura's king could run to the center, giving him excellent chances to draw. 26. Qf3Qxf3+27. Kxf3Rxc328. Ke4 )
( 26. fxg6Qxd5+27. Qf3Qxf3+28. Kxf3hxg629. Ke4Was a significantly better drawing attempt. Black would struggle to deal with the advanced White king. It's hard to see how Black can continue without allowing White the necessary counterplay to hold the balance: 29... Rb330. Rc1Rxb4+31. Kxe5The d-pawn is hard to stop given how perfectly positioned the king is. Black will find it immensely difficult to advance his pawns while simultaneously preventing the White d-pawn from making progress. )
Nepomniachtchi survived a completely lost position against Kramnik in Round 2. It is not every day that Kramnik, a former World Champion, doesn’t win an endgame with a clear material advantage, but Kramnik allowed his opponent connected queenside passed pawns.
Be5It is shocking that Kramnik did not win this game given the advantage he now enjoys. He has a bishop for two pawns, which is a significant edge at this level. 36. Rd5Bb237. Bd6Ra838. Rd2Ba139. Bc7b540. Ba5
( 40. Bc6Is the easiest way to achieve a decisive edge. Black's queenside pawns can't be defended. )
40... Bf641. Re2Kg742. Kf2Bd4+43. Kf3Bc544. Bc3+Kf845. Bb4Bxb446. axb4Rd847. Bc6Rd448. Re8+Kg749. Re7?Going after the wrong pawns. The pawn on f7 will always be difficult to defend, so Kramnik was better advised to go after the one on a6. However, even then Black might be able to build a fortress with rook and three pawns versus rook, bishop, and two, which is, I imagine, the reason that Kramnik was reluctant to enter that ending. 49... Rxb450. Bd5Kf651. Rxf7+Ke552. Bb7a553. Rxh7a454. Bc6
( 54. Re7+Was the best chance to win, though, in such an ending, playing for a win can sometimes also mean risking a loss. )
54... a355. Bxb5Rxb556. Ra7Rb3+57. Kg4Kd458. Kg5Kc3White will sacrifice his rook for the a-pawn while Black will be forced to do the same on the kingside.
Nepomniachtchi faced Viswanathan Anand, another former World Champion, in Round 3. For Nepomniachtchi, that game was a completely different story, as Anand mishandled the complications. Anand had rebounded from an opening loss to Kramnik with a win over Yannick Pelletier, a representative of the host country, in Round 2. Despite being up a pawn for the majority of the game, Anand could not find the optimal way to fend off Nepomniachtchi’s endless pursuit of the Black king.
1. c4c52. Nc3Nc63. Nf3Nf64. g3d55. cxd5Nxd56. Bg2g67. Ng5e68. Nge4f59. Nxd5exd510. Nc3d411. Nd5A bizarre opening has given Black what looks like several free tempi. Yet the bishop on g2 now has free reign on the long diagonal and Black needs to be cautious or else he will find that he has overextended. 11... Bd612. d3Be613. h4Walking into a pin with
( 13. Qb3!is actually quite strong for White. I am curious to know how Anand was planning both to protect the b7 pawn and deal with the threat of Nc7+, when Black would no longer have his bishop pair. )
13... Be514. Nf4
( 14. Bg5Probably should have been played prior to Nf4. In the game continuation, after Bf7 Nepomniachtchi could not play h4-h5 because Anand would have responded with g6-g5. In this variation, the bishop sits on g5, so 14... Qd715. Nf4Bf716. h5Is good for White. )
14... Bf715. Bd2Rc816. Rc1b617. O-O
( 17. Qa4Was an improvement over the game continuation. Why not activate the queen? )
( 29... Nb3Was a strong move, attacking both the rook on c1 and the pawn on c5. Anand would have been able to keep his queenside pawn structure intact. )
30. Rxc5bxc531. Qa4Rc832. Kh3Ne633. Re5c434. Qa6Nxf4+35. gxf4Rc7?This move earns a question mark not because it is egregiously bad, but because in time trouble it was necessary to bail out rather than face the daunting task of trying to survive a seemingly never-ending attack.
( 35... Qd7should secure a draw, since White's king is unable to escape perpetuals. White no longer has the necessary time to regroup: 36. Re3Qc637. Rg3+Kh8And Black's king is safely tucked away in the corner. 38. Qa1+?c3Is actually quite good for Black. )
( 36... Qd5Does not resolve Black's king issues, but it does give him counter chances. 37. Rg2+Kf738. Qh6Ke839. dxc4Is still very good for White. Even if the engine somehow finds a way to hold, practically speaking Black is in trouble. With just a few minutes left on his clock, and only able to make one check at a time, Anand lacks the opportunity to force the issue. On the other hand, Nepomniachtchi has many checks and mating traps, so the precision required to defend such a position is too great without ample time to calculate. )
37. Qd6This imprecise move allowed Anand to escape.
( 37. Rg2+Would have been better. Black does not appear to have an adequate refutation to the forcing series of checks. Anand's king is not escaping. 37... Kf838. Qd6+Ke839. Re2+Re740. Qb8+Kd741. Qxa7+Ke842. Qa8+Kd743. Ra2Black has just one check on e3. Meanwhile, his king is prey left out in the open. )
37... Qd7The amazing
( 37... h5!!saves the day. It's hard to believe that pushing pawns in front of the king allows it to survive, but the king needs the option of running to h7. Moreover, Qf8 is often a good defensive resource, but the queen needs to be diverted from d6 before this is possible. 38. Qh6Qf8seems to hold. )
38. Rg2+Kf739. Qe5Qc640. Qg7+Ke841. Re2+Anand resigned, his king is finally hunted down.
Kramnik should be the least content with his score. He failed to convert his advantage against Nepomniachtchi before easily drawing against Gelfand. Gelfand sits just behind the leaders with 3 points, having drawn all of his games. Anand and Oparin have 2 points apiece, while Pelletier has 1 point after ending his losing streak with a draw against Oparin.
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. The first seven rounds, with the 2-1-0 scoring system, have a time control of 45 minutes per player with 30 second increment after every move. 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.