Zurich Chess Challenge 2017

As a way of introduction to the tournament (so that I don’t repeat myself) I would refer you to my post on last year’s edition. The only difference this year is the change of the time control to 45’+30” instead of last year’s 40’+10” and making it a round robin instead of a double-round robin.

I think Nakamura’s words that he wasn’t sure whether he was playing rapid or classical are very much to the point. In fact, it’s neither. The players have some time to think, but not too much; even worse, when the game is decided (moves 30-40) usually they are very low on time and they start to play blitz. And the quality suffers, making it the worst of both (classical and rapid) worlds.

A few examples proving my point: can you imagine Kramnik failing to win with a clear piece up against Nepomniachtchi?


Kramnik didn’t win this with White!


And that same Nepomniachtchi failing to win a position with a crushing attack against Svidler. Or Anand failing to calculate the lines and find an escape against Nepomniachtchi:



Both players missing crucial moves in time-trouble isn’t something new, but it is more typical for faster time controls. The misleading term “neo-classical” used for the time-control used in Zurich is just that – misleading – it is far from classical because these players do not commit such mistakes in classical chess.

To continue with the examples of poor quality: Gelfand misplayed a technically winning position against Kramnik, Nakamura commited a one-move blunder against Svidler in an advantageous position, both Kramnik and Nakamura made a lot of bad moves in an endgame after move 40 (when they were probably playing on increment time). My point is that this quality of chess is perhaps acceptable for rapid time-controls, but if these players played like this with classical time-controls they would probably have some hundred (or more) rating points less. So if the quality of the games points towards rapids, why bother and increase the thinking time and increments and pretend to have anything to do with classical? Some serious ego tripping happening in Zurich.

A few remarks about the openings played so far. Anand came with a refreshed reperoire against the English. After his suffering in the English Opening in the Moscow Candidates he prepared the curious 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 and had excellent results with it last year, winning 3 and drawing 5 (in all time controls). But for Zurich he prepared 1 c4 c5 and in spite of the good positions he was getting he only scored 1/3 with it (losing to Kramnik and Nepomniachtchi and beating Gelfand). It is worth noting that the English Opening was the only opening that took place in all his Black games!

Nothing new with Kramnik, who used 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 Bg5 (against Nepomniachtchi) and 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 (against Nakamura), continuing the trend of making theory where no theory is required.

Oparin used the odd 6 h4 against the Najdorf (and lost to Svidler). The same move was used by Nepomniachtchi in the opening blitz to beat Gelfand. It is a very fresh position after 6 h4 – a natural move like 6…e6 would be a novelty!!

The final two rounds of the “neo-classical” will be played tomorrow and then a blitz will follow. Let’s see if some other opening ideas appear.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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