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.

Oparin, Grigoryi vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 2.2 | 14 Apr 2017 | ECO: C54 | 0-1
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. O-O a6 7. a4 O-O 8. Re1 Ba7 9. h3 Ne7 10. Nbd2 Ng6 11. d4 Re8 12. Qb3 Qe7 13. Nf1 c6 14. dxe5 dxe5 15. Ng5 Rf8 16. a5 Nh4 17. g3 Ng6 18. Kg2 Ne8 19. Qc2 Nd6 20. Bb3 Kh8 21. Qe2 h6 22. Qh5 Qe8 23. Be3 f6 24. Nf7+
24. Qd1 was absolutely necessary here.  )
24... Nxf7 It 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. Bxh6 looks like the start of a brutal attack, Black can simply continue:
25... Nxf7 26. Bd2+ Nh6 An extra knight is an extra knight, and White's "attack" has already fizzled out.  )
25. Qxg6 Bxh3+! 26. Kh2
26. Kxh3? Ng5+ wins the queen.  )
26... Bxf1 27. Bxa7
27. Bxf7 Definitely 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... Rxf7 28. Bxa7 Bc4 29. Bb6  )
27... Ng5 28. Qxe8 Rfxe8 29. Rxf1 Rxa7 30. Rad1 b6! Nakamura needed to open lines for his rooks to improve his chances to win.
31. axb6 Rb7 32. Bc2 a5! Another nice move by Nakamura. It prevents b2-b4.
33. Rd6 Rxb6 34. b3 Ne6 35. Rb1
35. Ra1 Nc5 36. Rxa5 looks like it trades off pieces, but there's a nasty fork
36... Nb7 and Black wins easily.  )
35... Nc5 36. b4 axb4 37. Rxb4 Ra6 38. Rc4 Ra2 39. Bd1
39. Rxc5 Rxc2 40. Kg2 Ra8 41. Rd1 Raa2 42. Rf1 Looks like it was enough for a draw because four pawns against three on the kingside is theoretically drawn.  )
39... Nb7 40. Rdxc6 Rxf2+ 41. Kg1 Rd2 42. Bh5 Ra8 43. Rc8+ Rxc8 44. Rxc8+ Kh7 45. Bg4 Nd6 46. Rc6
46. Rd8 doesn't work because Black can simply play
46... Nxe4  )
46... Kg6 47. Bf3 Nf7 48. c4 Ng5 49. Bg2 Kh5 50. c5 Kg4 51. Ra6 Rc2 52. c6 Kxg3 53. Ra3+ Kf4 54. Ra6 h5

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.

Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Svidler, Peter
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 3 | 14 Apr 2017 | ECO: A36 | 0-1
1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. e3 e5 6. Nge2 Nge7 7. O-O O-O 8. Nd5 d6 9. Nec3 Bf5 10. d3 Qd7 11. a3 Bh3 12. Rb1 Bxg2 13. Kxg2 Nxd5 14. cxd5 Ne7 15. b4 cxb4 16. axb4 Bh6 17. e4 Bxc1 18. Rxc1 Rfc8 19. Qd2 Rc7 20. f4 Rac8 21. fxe5 dxe5 Nakamura 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. Kg1 Was more precise. Now the White king would have avoided pesky checks.  )
22. Rf3 Was also a better move.
22... Qd6 No longer works because
23. Nb5 Rxc1 24. Nxd6 R8c2 25. Qf2 Rxf2+ 26. Rxf2 And White is winning the endgame.  )
22... Qd6 23. Qf2
23. Rb1 Would have been more prudent.  )
23... Nf5! Svidler turns the tables; Black wins a pawn and has the better position.
24. exf5 Rxc3 25. Rxc3 Rxc3
25... Qxd5+ Would have been careless. Nakamura's king could run to the center, giving him excellent chances to draw.
26. Qf3 Qxf3+ 27. Kxf3 Rxc3 28. Ke4  )
26. Qf3
26. fxg6 Qxd5+ 27. Qf3 Qxf3+ 28. Kxf3 hxg6 29. Ke4 Was 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... Rb3 30. Rc1 Rxb4+ 31. Kxe5 The 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.  )
26... gxf5 27. Qxf5 Qxd5+ 28. Kh3 Rc6 29. g4 Rd6 30. Rf3 Qe6 31. Qg5+ Kf8 32. Re3 Qh6+ 33. Qxh6+ Rxh6+ 34. Kg3 Rb6 35. Re4
35. Rxe5 Rxb4 Is winning for Black. The connected queenside passers cannot be stopped.  )
35... f6 36. h4 The last mistake. After this inaccuracy, Svidler cruises to victory.
36. Kf3 Keeps drawing chances alive. Black should be able to consolidate his advantage, but White still has hope of surviving.  )
36... Rd6 37. Re3 Rd4 38. g5 Kg7 39. b5 Rb4 40. gxf6+ Kxf6 41. Rf3+ Kg7 42. Rf2 Rxb5 43. Ra2 a5 44. Kg4 Kf6 45. Ra3 Kg6 46. h5+ Kf6 47. Ra1 Rb4+ 48. Kg3 a4 49. Rf1+ Kg5

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.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Nepomniachtchi, Ian
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 2.4 | 14 Apr 2017 | ECO: A48 | 1/2-1/2
Be5 It 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. Rd5 Bb2 37. Bd6 Ra8 38. Rd2 Ba1 39. Bc7 b5 40. Ba5
40. Bc6 Is the easiest way to achieve a decisive edge. Black's queenside pawns can't be defended.  )
40... Bf6 41. Re2 Kg7 42. Kf2 Bd4+ 43. Kf3 Bc5 44. Bc3+ Kf8 45. Bb4 Bxb4 46. axb4 Rd8 47. Bc6 Rd4 48. Re8+ Kg7 49. 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... Rxb4 50. Bd5 Kf6 51. Rxf7+ Ke5 52. Bb7 a5 53. Rxh7 a4 54. 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... a3 55. Bxb5 Rxb5 56. Ra7 Rb3+ 57. Kg4 Kd4 58. Kg5 Kc3 White 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.

Nepomniachtchi, Ian vs. Anand, Viswanathan
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 3 | 14 Apr 2017 | ECO: A34 | 1-0
1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 g6 7. Ng5 e6 8. Nge4 f5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. Nc3 d4 11. Nd5 A 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... Bd6 12. d3 Be6 13. h4 Walking 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... Be5 14. Nf4
14. Bg5 Probably 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... Qd7 15. Nf4 Bf7 16. h5 Is good for White.  )
14... Bf7 15. Bd2 Rc8 16. Rc1 b6 17. O-O
17. Qa4 Was an improvement over the game continuation. Why not activate the queen?  )
17... Bxf4 18. Bxf4 Bd5 19. e4 dxe3 20. fxe3 O-O 21. Bg5 Qd6 22. e4 Bxa2 23. exf5 gxf5 24. b3 Nd4 25. Bf4 Qe6 26. Re1 Qf7 27. b4 Bd5 28. bxc5 Bxg2 29. Kxg2 Rxc5
29... Nb3 Was 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. Rxc5 bxc5 31. Qa4 Rc8 32. Kh3 Ne6 33. Re5 c4 34. Qa6 Nxf4+ 35. gxf4 Rc7? 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... Qd7 should secure a draw, since White's king is unable to escape perpetuals. White no longer has the necessary time to regroup:
36. Re3 Qc6 37. Rg3+ Kh8 And Black's king is safely tucked away in the corner.
38. Qa1+? c3 Is actually quite good for Black.  )
36. Re2 c3
36... Qd5 Does not resolve Black's king issues, but it does give him counter chances.
37. Rg2+ Kf7 38. Qh6 Ke8 39. dxc4 Is 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. Qd6 This 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... Kf8 38. Qd6+ Ke8 39. Re2+ Re7 40. Qb8+ Kd7 41. Qxa7+ Ke8 42. Qa8+ Kd7 43. Ra2 Black has just one check on e3. Meanwhile, his king is prey left out in the open.  )
37... Qd7 The 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. Qh6 Qf8 seems to hold.  )
38. Rg2+ Kf7 39. Qe5 Qc6 40. Qg7+ Ke8 41. 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.