Oleg Skvortsov, the main sponsor of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge, played an exhibition game before the tournament began against Viswanathan Anand. The result was a game from another era.

The Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge started Thursday, but before the main event, there was an exhibition game between Oleg Skvortsov, the event’s sponsor, and Viswanathan Anand, the former World Champion from India. Skvortsov is a Russian businessman, not a chess professional, but he is a strong amateur – perhaps around FIDE master strength. Against Anand he was playing quite well, but when Anand uncorked a spectacular and speculative queen sacrifice, Skvortsov was unable to keep up with his great opponent. Anand went on to win a beautiful game that received praise even from elite grandmasters.

Fans sometimes wonder why there are not so many brilliancies and swashbuckling games in contemporary competitions, but a game like the one between Anand and Skvortsov is a salutary lesson that today’s greats can attack with the best players of any era. It’s rare to see such games because the top players almost always play their fellow super-grandmasters. But given the chance to play weaker (though still very decent) opposition, instant classics like this one are possible.

Skvortsov, Oleg vs. Anand, Viswanathan
Anand-Skvortsov 2017 | Zurich SUI | Round 1 | 12 Apr 2017 | 0-1
1. e4 e5 This was a rapid game, played with a time handicap. Skvortsov had 30 minutes for the game, Anand 15, with both players receiving a 10 second bonus after each move.
2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 The contemporary approach starts with the more patient
5. d3 , intending further development before beginning active, committal play in the center.  )
5... exd4 6. b4!? An unusual move, no doubt intended as a surprise for the former world champion. And it succeeded, as Anand stopped and thought for a while here.
6. cxd4 is the obvious, ancient move, which promises White nothing after
6... Bb4+ 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 8. Nbxd2 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 ; indeed, this is sometimes played by White when he wants a day off:
10. Qb3 Na5 11. Qa4+ Nc6 12. Qb3 Na5 with a draw (after as many repetitions as the players see fit) has occurred in hundreds if not thousands of games.  )
6. e5 has enjoyed some popularity lately, thanks in part to its adoption by Baadur Jobava.
6... d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. cxd4 Bb6 and here almost everyone plays 9.Nc3, but Jobava has preferred
9. h3 instead. Play typically continues
9... O-O 10. O-O f6 11. Bxc6 bxc6 12. Be3 , with a position that deserves further analysis. Jobvaa's opponents generally played 12...fxe5, but 12...c5 and
12... f5 also merit attention.  )
6... Bb6 Better than
6... Be7 , which has also been played.  )
7. e5 d5 The thematic counter-blow in such positions.
8. exf6 dxc4 9. Qe2+ The immediate
9. b5 has been more common, though there don't seem to have been any GM-GM games in this line.
9... Na5 10. Qe2+ Be6 11. fxg7 Rg8 is still slightly in Black's favor, but White is better off than in the game with Black's knight on a5.
12. Nxd4 Rxg7 13. Nxe6 fxe6 14. O-O Qd5 15. g3 O-O-O  )
9... Be6 10. b5 Here Black can play 10...Na5, transposing into the previous note, but Anand comes up with a wild alternative.
10... Nb4!? Skvortsov is a businessman (and chess sponsor) rather than a professional chess player, but he is a dedicated, strong amateur who works on his openings. This move probably took him out of his preparation, though!
11. fxg7 It might seem strange to play the immediate
11. cxb4 , as after
11... Qxf6 White has forfeited the opportunity to grab Black's g-pawn. As we'll see later in the game, however, there's something to be said for White not opening the g-file.
12. O-O O-O 13. a4 a6 leaves Black with sufficient compensation for the piece, but perhaps not more. Practically though, Black's position looks easier to play with his powerful pawn duo and the bishop pair.  )
11... Rg8 12. cxb4 Qf6 13. O-O
13. Qe5 was safer, but again, Black has full compensation for the material after
13... Qxe5+ 14. Nxe5 f6 15. Nf3 Rxg7  )
13... Qxg7 14. g3 O-O-O 15. a4 Now if
15. Qe5 Black can say "no, thank you" to the offered queen trade, e.g.
15... Qg4 16. Qf4 Qh5 , with the initiative.  )
15... d3!?
15... Qf6 is objectively best, but then we wouldn't have seen the brilliant idea in the game.  )
16. Qb2 Skvortsov has played very well so far, and while Black's pawns and bishops look nice, White has a material advantage and threatens a5 to boot. What has Black got?
16... Qxg3+!! Beautiful! Even more impressively, it doesn't win; it's a true sacrifice.
17. hxg3 Rxg3+ 18. Kh2 Rxf3 Black has a grand total of three pawns for the queen; that's it, as far as material is concerned. But White's king is in obvious trouble - if it were Black's move he'd force mate with ...Rh3+ followed by ...Rg8+ and (in a move or two) ...Rxg5#. Another idea is ...Bd4, and still another is to play ...Rg8 first and then ...Rh3#. White needs to find some good moves, and here at last he falters.
19. Bg5?
19. Qg7! is best, aiming to keep Black's rooks off the g-file.
19... Rh3+ 20. Kg2 Bd4 21. Qg5 f6 22. Qg7 Rd7 23. Qf8+ Rd8 24. Qxd8+! Kxd8 25. Ra3 Rh5 26. Re1! Bd5+ 27. Kg3 Be5+ 28. Rxe5 fxe5 29. Nc3 /+/- Black has caught up, materially, but now that the pawns are blockaded White has a positional advantage.  )
19. Qe5 isn't as good as 19. Qg7, but it suffices to maintain a tenuous equality after
19... Bd4 20. Qh5 Rf5 21. Qxf5 Bxf5 22. Ra3 c3 23. Nxc3 d2 24. Bxd2 Be5+ 25. Kg1 Rxd2 .  )
19... Bd4 The point is not to grab the rook on a1, but to cut White's queen off from the defense of the king.
20. Qd2 Rg8!
20... Bxa1?? 21. Bxd8 Kxd8 22. Nc3  )
21. Ra3 Saving the rook and overprotecting the c3 square so Black can't push the pawn. Unfortunately for White,
21. Rg1 Rh3+! 22. Kg2 h6 23. Kf1 Rxg5! 24. Nc3 Rhh5 25. Rxg5 Rxg5 26. Qc1 Be5! The idea is to play 27...Bh3+ 28.Ke1 Rg1+ 29.Kd2 Bf4#!
27. f3 Bd4 28. Ke1 Rg1+ 29. Kd2 Rg2+! 30. Ke1 Bf5  )
21... h6! Time for Black to reap the harvest.
22. Rg1
22. Bxh6 Rh3#  )
22... Rh3+ 23. Kg2 Rxg5+ Here Skvortsov either resigned or lost on time. He's getting mated soon in any case.
23... Rxg5+ 24. Kf1 Rxg1+ 25. Kxg1 Bd5 And there's no defense to ...Rh1# on the next move (except for 26.Qxh6, when 26...Rxh6 and 27...Rh1# will ensue). A great game by Anand, which impressed no less a player than world #13 Pavel Eljanov, who tweeted that it was "one of the most attractive and romantic game[s] I've ever seen."  )


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.