Playing after his woeful performance in Baden Baden, Viswanathan Anand bounced back to play like his old confident self at the Zurich Chess Challenge Tournament that concluded on February 19, 2015. The tournament had a field of six players; Vishy Anand, Hikaru Nakamura, Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruna. The Indian came very close to winning the event after emerging with top honors in the classical but after the rapid rounds; he shared the points with the American Nakamura. Therefore, an Armageddon became necessary, where Nakamura emerged victorious. As per the tournament format, the competition had five rounds of classical chess from February 14 to 18, to be followed on February 19 by another five rounds of rapid chess with reversed colors. In the classical part, winners earned 2 points, drawn games had 1 point each and losers got no points. In the rapid version, the point system was reverted to normal with 1 point for win, ½ for the draw and zero for the loss. The venue of the tournament was Zurich’s Hotel Savoy Baur En Ville, on the Paradeplatz. The opening ceremony was held on Friday night and it was attended by sponsors, members of the media and a number of well-known grandmasters like GM Nigel Short, GM Genna Sosonko and GM Ljubomir Ljubojevic. Two other famous players; GM Viktor Kortchnoi and GM Wolfgang Uhlmann graced the occasion. The two legends will celebrate their 84th and 80th birthdays respectively in March 2015 and they agreed to play four short games against each other during the tournament.
After the classical part in the Zurich Chess Challenge was won by Vishy Anand, the last day was reserved for the rapid section. Anand had finished at the top with two wins and three draws in the five rounds of the classical. In rapid rounds on February 19, Anand played Round-1 against Kramnik with black pieces. It was a close fight with Anand using something like a reversed Pirc/King’s Indian Attack. No player yielded ground until the end and the match ended in a draw. In the other match, Karjakin-Aronian were also locked in King’s Indian Attack. Aronian indulged in the exchange sacrifice. This posed heavy problems for Karjakin. Usually such tactics can still to a draw in classical chess, but in rapid Karjakin could not cope and Aronian won a nice game. In the Caruana-Nakamura game, the Italian also sacrificed an exchange against Nakamura but the American astutely defended and won the game.
In Round-2, all three games were decisive. One move can drastically change scenarios in rapids as was proved in the Nakamura-Kramnik match. Nakamura looked like winning at one stage but Kramnik turned the tables on him in the end. Nearly the same thing happened in the Caruana-Karjakin game, when Karjakin lost from a winning position. He had to block with the bishop for victory but didn’t do that and lost. The last Round-2 game was a beautiful contest between Aronian and Anand. But the Indian lost after he exposed his king by sacrificing a pawn.
In Round-3, Kramnik came back from a bad position to defeat Aronian, when the Armenian not only destroyed his own positional advantage but gave his opponent the win. Anand-Caruana match was loaded in favor of the Indian all along. Caruana had to win but his choice of Modern defense landed his knight on g4. This knight was trapped and Caruana resigned after 22 moves. The last Round-3 game between Karjakin andNakamura was drawn.
By Round-4, Kramnik led 2.5/3 in the rapid but on overall count he still trailed Anand and Nakamura by a full point. Therefore Nakamura’s match with Anand was crucial. for both players. The American began by advancing his c-pawn that always looked like a hung piece. But Anand suddenly decided to sacrifice his queen in favor of a rook and a bishop. Now Nakamura had to break Anand’s defenses and he did it very successfully. The wonderful f5 break and attack with queen and knight collapsed Anand’s fortress. In the other game, Karjakin had an easy winning position against Kramnik, when he shut out his opponent’s bishop on g7. Regardless, Kramnik showed his resilience and created a winning position for himself. But he blundered and handed over the advantage back to Karjakin. In the last Round-4 match, Caruana and Aronian ended their game in a classical draw with King vs King on the board.
In Round-5, Kramnik made a great comeback with yet another emphatic win against Karjakin but he still couldn’t catch up with the two leaders Anand and Nakamura because they both drew their final games. This required an Armageddon playoff between Anand and Nakamura.
There was some confusion before the crucial playoff since the official site displayed tiebreak scores to indicate that Armageddon was not required. But the chief arbiter switched the clock that displayed five minutes for White, and four for Black. Therefore Armageddon had to be played. Nakamura had black pieces and Anand attacked at the start in a Queen’s Gambit Denied with Bf4 and responded with Nh5 attacking the bishop with Be5 and g4. The Indian tried to force his opponent off the board with aggressive kingside pawn advances, but Nakamura held his nerves and ripped open the queenside for a counterattack. With Anand’s king still stuck in the center, Nakamura’s tactic worked and he avenged his loss in the classical round.