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.

Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Pelletier, Yannick
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 1 | 13 Apr 2017 | ECO: A07 | 1-0
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. O-O Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. d3 Nbd7 7. Qe1 e5 8. e4 dxe4 9. dxe4 Be7 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. Nh4 Re8 12. Nc4 Bf8 13. a4 Qc7 14. Bd2 Nc5 15. Ba5 An interesting decision by Nakamura; his idea is to weaken Black's queenside pawns.
15... b6 16. Bc3 Nfd7
16... b5 Black should have considered this move, though pushing the pawn would be committal.  )
17. f4 f6? Instead, Pelletier should have opted for the more adventurous:
17... exf4 18. gxf4 b5 19. axb5 cxb5 The position is complicated, but Black seems to be holding his own.  )
18. fxe5 fxe5 19. Ne3 Ne6 20. Nef5 Nakamura 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... Rad8 21. Kh1 Nf6 This move is not losing, but it walks into Nakamura's trap.
21... a5 With the idea of preventing b2-b4 and supporting Bc5 was likely a sounder approach.  )
22. Nh6+ gxh6
22... Kh8 23. g4 Invites an attack, not to mention that the pawn on e5 would fall because of tactics.  )
23. Rxf6 Nd4 24. Rf2 Bg6 25. Qe3 Qg7 26. Raf1 Be7 27. Nxg6 Qxg6 White 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... Rf8 29. b4 Rxf2 30. Rxf2 Rf8
30... Qg5 Doesn't help because there is no way White is going to exchange queens at this point. After:
31. Qc3 Nakamura's initiative continues.  )
31. c3 Rxf2 32. Bxf2 Ne6 33. 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... Nc7 34. Qd3 Qd6 Pelletier had little time and his position was already lost from a practical standpoint. Now Nakamura has no qualms exchanging the queens.
35. Qc4+ Qe6 36. Qxe6+ Nxe6 37. Be3 Bf8 38. Bh3 Kf7 39. Bf1 Nc7 With minimal time remaining, Pelletier misses an opportunity.
39... c5 Was 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+ Kf6 Sadly the king can't move closer to the center because it is needed to defend the pawn on h7.
40... Ke7 41. Bg8  )
41. Kg2 Ne8 42. Bg8 Kg7 43. Be6 Nf6 44. Kf3 Kg6 45. Bf5+ Kg7 46. Ke2 h5 47. Kd3 Kf7 48. a5

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. 

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Anand, Viswanathan
ZCC 2017 - New Classical | ? | Round 1.1 | 13 Apr 2017 | ECO: A34 | 1-0
1. c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. e3 e6
5... O-O Appears to be the much more frequently played move.  )
6. d4 cxd4 7. exd4 O-O 8. Nf3 d5 9. b3 This looks like a new plan, though the idea is pretty straightforward: Defend the c4 pawn and give the bishop the opportunity to fianchetto.
9... Ne4 10. Bb2 Nxc3
10... Nc6 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Ne5 Must 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. Bxc3 b6 12. cxd5 exd5 13. O-O Nc6 14. Ne5 Nxe5
14... Bb7 Is 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. dxe5 Be6 16. Re1 Qd7 17. Qd2 Rac8 18. Bd4 Kramnik 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... Rc7 19. a4 Rfc8 20. Bf1 Bf8 Black would love to activate his rook by playing
20... Rc2 but after
21. Qe3 It'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. Ba6 Rd8 22. h4 When 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... Bc5 23. b4 Bxd4 24. Qxd4 Qe7 25. Bd3 Clearing 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. a5 Rdc8 27. axb6 axb6 28. Bf1
28. Qxb6? Rb7 Throws away almost all of the advantage.  )
28... b5 29. Bd3 Rc4?! 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. Bxc4 Qxb4 31. Rab1 A 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... Qxc4 32. Qd2 h5 Played to prevent Kramnik from playing h5, which would lead to a dangerous attack. But Kramnik is still able to launch a decisive attack!
32... d4 33. Re4 Bf5 34. Rxd4 Bxb1 35. Rxc4 bxc4 Does not quite hold because of
36. e6!  )
33. Rbc1 Qb3 34. Rxc8 Bxc8 35. Qf4 Bf5 36. e6! An awesome pawn sacrifice that ends the game. Black's king lacks shelter.
36... Bxe6 37. Qe5+ Kh7 38. Ra1 Anand 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.

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.