FIDE World Cup 2017: A mouth watering clash awaits!

by Sagar Shah
9/26/2017 – In the third game of the finals of the World Cup 2017, Levon Aronian came up with an interesting idea in the Reti. He moved his queen four times in the first ten moves in order to hamper Black's development. But Ding Liren kept making simple and strong moves. The end result was a tame draw. We bring you not only detailed analysis, but also in-depth interviews with the players, photos of the venue, prediction for game four and video of 76-year-old Nona Gaprindashvili analysing chess with her youthful energy. | Photos: Amruta Mokal

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All level with one classical game to go

World Cup

After game two, which lasted 75 moves and over five and half hours, the players looked pretty tired coming to the board on day three. Ding Liren had spent very little time on analyzing his round two game and preparing for the third. Sleep was his solution to recharge his batteries and during the game he did feel more confident. Levon Aronian, on the other hand, did have a heartbreak, but he is experienced enough to understand that losing or drawing winning games keeps happening all the time, as he said in the interview after the game.

Both the players have found the going tough with the white pieces and today was no exception. Aronian with white began the game with 1.c4. Ding stuck to his classical QGD development. He played the same line that was played by Aronian against Ivanchuk with black in the fifth round of the World Cup. It was surprising to see that Aronian put his faith in this line that he played with black only a few days ago and had very little difficulty in holding. "I like to play the same opening with both the colours," was his explanation.

Understanding game three in greater depth:


This opening is advocated by Daniel King in Powerplay 24 for Black — a repertoire against the Catalan. It can be strategically dangerous because the knight is coming to e5 and picking up the d7 bishop. After that it is a battle of two bishops versus central space. And I think Black does well in such position because he gets pieces off the h1-a8 diagonal and has a dark squared strategy with moves like ...b6,...Nd4 and so on.


Aronian's Qc4-d3!? is not so common! | Photo: Amruta Mokal


Well, the point is that White would like to take on d7, but prevent Black from taking with the queen. And the other point, as Ding said after the game, is to prevent ...Bc6 because of Nxc6 Nxc6 and Qb5! which leads to a small edge for White. The Chinese GM continued unperturbed with his development and went ...Nc6 after Qd3. Aronian took on d7 with Nxd7 and after ...Nxd7 White continued Qb3. 


Ding Liren trying to figure what exactly does Levon Aronian want to achieve with this move Qb3 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

After the game we asked Levon to explain his idea and he said, "White is just trying in some way to hamper Black's development. But in general Black is so solid, that it would already be an achievement to even get a small advantage."

Ding Liren continued with the normal move ...Be7 and Levon had to justify his idea of moving the queen four times in the opening! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In general White didn't get much out of the opening. But Ding wasn't too pleased with his move 12...Rd8.


Aronian started to get a small pull out of the opening, but the opposite coloured bishops ensured that Black never really was in huge danger. The critical moment of the game was reached here:


According to Aronian and also Ding, White's Rc2 was inaccurate. While the Armenian was at loss as to what the improvement could be, the Chinese player did offer a variation beginning with 21.Bh3! Rc7 22.Rxc7 Qxc7 23. Bg2! with some pressure. Once Aronian couldn't find something tangible, it became clear that Black will easily hold the position.

Ding Liren's supplies during the round — Ferrero Rocher and a banana! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Chess legend, former Women's World Champion, and the first woman player to be awarded the GM title Nona Gaprindashvili was present in the press room. We decided to get her thoughts on the position after Aronian's Rc2. The energy with which she speaks and analyzes even at the age of 76 years is simply amazing.

Nona Gaprindashvili gives her thoughts about the position after 21.Rc2


There was an interesting incident which took place after the move 28...bxa5. Ding took the pawn and pressed the clock. While Aronian was thinking for his move, the Chinese GM offered a draw. Naturally disturbed, Aronian told Ding that he cannot offer a draw in his opponent's time. The Chinese player after the game said to ChessBase, "I was not aware about this rule. Henceforth I will be more careful." 

This is a bit surprising to me that the top players would not be aware of this simple rule. I am not even sure if it is a rule, but just the fact that you shouldn't disturb your opponent when he is thinking during his time is a good enough reason not to offer a draw when it's not your move. Incidentally another 2750+ GM made the same error during this World Cup and was not aware of this 'rule'. 

After three more moves Aronian correctly offered a draw and Ding accepted it. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"] [Site "Tbilisi"] [Date "2017.09.25"] [Round "7.3"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2802"] [BlackElo "2771"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "k.o."] [EventCountry "GEO"] [SourceTitle ""] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "40/5400+30:1800+30"] 1. c4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:00] This time Aronian chooses a less direct way to meet Ding Liren's solid opening setup.} ( 2. Nc3 e6 3. e4 {is what Aronian played in the first game of the finals.}) 2... e6 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 3. g3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 4. Bg2 {[%emt 0: 00:00]} dxc4 {[%emt 0:00:27]} (4... Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. d4 {It could have been possible to transpose the game into the line that was played in game two with colours exchanged, but Ding Liren prefers to go for something that Aronian has comparatively less experience in.}) 5. Qa4+ {[%emt 0:00:00]} Bd7 {[%emt 0:00: 06]} 6. Qxc4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} c5 {[%emt 0:00:07] This was the same line that was played between Ivanchuk and Aronian. Levon had played this with the black pieces in that game, not tries it with White. This is something to learn from the top players. They like certain openings, but are not always attached to it. If they find a good idea, they can play it with either colour.} 7. Ne5 { [%emt 0:00:01]} Qc8 {[%emt 0:00:05] Black's idea in this line is to aim for rapid development and space in the center. In the process he loses his light squared bishop, but he hopes to base his play on the dark squares and make the bishop on g2 shoot in darkness.} 8. Qd3 $5 {[%emt 0:00:05] This is a move that I had not seen before. But it is not yet a novelty. It has been played by many top players like Grischuk, Yu Yangyi and a few others.} ({The main line goes} 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. Nxd7 Qxd7 10. O-O Rc8 $11 {with a dynamically balanced position.} ) 8... Nc6 {[%emt 0:01:35]} (8... Bc6 {This is not so great as after} 9. Nxc6 Nxc6 10. Qb5 {White is able to ruin Black's structure.}) 9. Nxd7 {[%emt 0:00:06] And this is one of the main ideas of Qd3. The knight cannot be recaptured by the queen. It will have to be taken by the knight which to some extent ruins Black's coordination.} Nxd7 {[%emt 0:00:06]} (9... Qxd7 $6 10. Qxd7+ Kxd7 11. Nc3 Rc8 12. O-O $14 {White has the bishop pair in this position and this gives him a small edge for sure.}) 10. Qb3 {[%emt 0:00:05] This is Aronian's new idea. He is aiming for something similar to Qb5, but just that the queen is not in danger of being kicked away with moves like a6. But in general I do not think too highly of Aronian's idea. It is just a move that he made. Qa4-c4-d3-b3 is not going to give you an opening advantage.} (10. Qb5 {has been seen before.} Nde5 11. f4 a6 12. Qa4 Nd7 (12... b5 13. Qe4 f5 14. Qe3 Nc4 $11) 13. Bxc6 bxc6 14. Na3 $14 {1-0 (72) Grischuk,A (2737)-Wojtaszek,R (2749) Doha 2016}) 10... Be7 {[%emt 0:02:45]} (10... Nd4 $5 {This looks like an interesting option.} 11. Qa4 $13 (11. Qxb7 $6 Qxb7 12. Bxb7 Rb8 13. Be4 f5 14. Bd3 (14. e3 fxe4 15. exd4 cxd4 $17) 14... c4 15. e3 Ne5 $1 16. Be4 fxe4 17. exd4 Nf3+ $15 (17... Nd3+ $15)) 11... Be7 12. Nc3 O-O 13. O-O Nb6 14. Qd1 Rd8 $11 {This game was reached with the move order Qb5 Nd4 instead of Qb3 Nd4. 1-0 (58) Pantsulaia,L (2585)-Wagner,D (2563) Abu Dhabi 2017}) 11. Nc3 {[%emt 0:04: 05]} O-O {[%emt 0:01:36]} 12. O-O {[%emt 0:00:07]} Rd8 $6 {[%emt 0:01:29]} ( 12... Nb6 {This is what Ding thought was better than what he did in the game.} 13. d3 Qd7 $11) 13. d3 {[%emt 0:05:14]} Nb6 {[%emt 0:05:28] Somehow the game resembles the second one a bit, where Aronian's knight also moved from f6-d7-b6 and then came to d8.} 14. Be3 {[%emt 0:01:39]} Nd4 {[%emt 0:02:14]} ( 14... c4 $5 15. dxc4 Na5 16. Qc2 Naxc4 17. Bf4 $14) 15. Bxd4 {[%emt 0:01:52]} Rxd4 {[%emt 0:00:12]} (15... cxd4 16. Nb5 $14 {Followed by Rac1 or threats like Na7 give White a pleasant edge.}) 16. Rfc1 {[%emt 0:05:42]} Rd7 $1 { [%emt 0:10:41] A strong defensive move. Once the rook is back, the knight can come to d5.} (16... c4 {was a possibility, but Ding was afraid of Nb5.} 17. Nb5 (17. dxc4 Rxc4 18. Rc2 $14) 17... cxb3 (17... Rxd3 $5 18. Rxc4 Rxb3 19. Rxc8+ Rxc8 20. axb3 $14) 18. Rxc8+ Rxc8 19. Nxd4 Bf6 20. Nxb3 Rc2 $132) (16... Qd7 { This was Ding Liren's original intention, but he was afraid of something like a3 followed by Nb5-a7.} 17. a3 $14 {[%cal Gc3b5,Gb5a7]}) 17. a4 {[%emt 0:07:27] } Qd8 {[%emt 0:00:48]} (17... c4 $5 $11) 18. a5 {[%emt 0:10:35]} Nd5 {[%emt 0: 00:04]} 19. Nxd5 {[%emt 0:00:04]} exd5 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 20. d4 $1 {[%emt 0:00: 03]} cxd4 {[%emt 0:03:27]} (20... c4 21. Qa4 $14 {Somehow with the pawns on d5 and c4 and the bishop sitting on g2, it seems to me that White is better.}) 21. Rc2 $6 {[%emt 0:05:05] This is the move that both Aronian and Ding Liren thought was inaccurate after the game.} (21. Bh3 $1 Rc7 22. Rxc7 Qxc7 23. Bg2 $1 {White can definitely claim a small edge here.} (23. Qxd5 $6 Rd8 24. Qb3 d3 25. exd3 Bc5 $44) 23... Bf6 24. Bxd5 Re8 25. Bf3 $14 {White has a small edge here, but nothing substantial. A few accurate moves by Black and the position should be drawn.}) 21... g6 {[%emt 0:03:19]} 22. Bh3 {[%emt 0:02:15]} Rc7 { [%emt 0:10:49]} 23. Rac1 {[%emt 0:00:05]} (23. Rxc7 Qxc7 24. Bg2 Bf6 25. Bxd5 Re8 26. Bf3 $14) 23... Rxc2 {[%emt 0:02:02]} 24. Rxc2 {[%emt 0:00:04]} b6 { [%emt 0:01:07] This is the human way to play.} ({A very interesting variation takes place after} 24... Qxa5 25. Qxb7 Rf8 $1 (25... Qd8 $2 26. Rc7 (26. Bc8 $18) 26... Rb8 27. Qxa7) 26. Qxe7 Qe1+ 27. Kg2 d3 $1 {This variation is not easy for a human to see.} 28. Rc8 Rxc8 29. Bxc8 d2 $11 {And White has to accept the perpetual.}) (24... a6) 25. Bg2 $14 {[%emt 0:01:05]} (25. a6 Bc5 $11 ) 25... Rc8 {[%emt 0:01:43]} 26. Rxc8 {[%emt 0:04:50]} Qxc8 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 27. Bxd5 {[%emt 0:00:10]} (27. axb6 axb6 28. Qxb6 Qc1+ 29. Bf1 Qc4 $14 { was a possible variation.}) 27... Qf5 $1 {[%emt 0:00:07] After this move Ding was confident of holding the game.} 28. Qc4 {[%emt 0:06:27]} bxa5 {[%emt 0: 03:03] Ding made this move and, after three minutes while Aronian was thinking, offered a draw. Of course this is incorrect. Ding should have offered it in his own time, after executing his move.} 29. b3 {[%emt 0:07:45]} d3 { [%emt 0:03:41]} (29... Bd8 30. Qxd4 Bb6 31. e4 Bxd4 32. exf5 gxf5 $11) 30. exd3 {[%emt 0:01:29]} (30. e4 Qf6 31. Qxd3 Bc5 $11) 30... Bd8 {[%emt 0:00:33]} 31. Qe4 {[%emt 0:02:33] This time Aronian offered the draw correctly after making his move, before pressing his clock and the players agreed to split the point and take the match into the final classical game.} 1/2-1/2

One of the most enjoyable part of my work at the World Cup 2017 has been to interview Ding Liren. The Chinese player is honest and tries to answer each of the questions to the best of his abilities. Through his analysis it is possible to learn a lot as to how a top ten player in the world is thinking, at the same time he gives us some important insights into Chinese chess. 

When asked if he had adjusted to this new environment of the finals, Ding said, "This is not very new to me, because I have played many one-to-one matches in my hometown Wenzhou." It's true. Ding in the recent past has played four game matches against Wesley So, Alexander Grischuk and Anish Giri. I would say it's really a smart move by the Chinese Federation. By giving their top player such an opportunity to play matches against the best in the world, they have him prepared for the moments when it really matters.

Ding Liren on his thoughts after the draw in the third game of the finals

Levon Aronian speaks about his opening innovation, plans for the fourth game and how people coming to support him from Armenia is a big joy for him

The entrance of Hotel Biltmore where the finals is being held | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The grand lobby of the Hotel | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The dining room specially reserved for the players, officials and the chess fraternity | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The spread of buffet is quite nice | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The missed opportunity

After three games of the finals if there is someone who is not happy with the 1.5-1.5 score it is definitely Levon Aronian. In the second game he was clearly winning. "It was a blackout" as he described. There were many ways in which Levon could have won, but the one that was a straight line without too many branches was the move 53...Nb3+. And yes, we call the Nb3+ tree as one with less branches, but that's just in a relative sense. The variations after that are also very difficult to find during the game. I try to explain what exactly was going on:

Three games have been completed and  Sagar Shah analyses Aronian's one winning chance

The final classical game

Does Ding Liren have an edge here because he is white? I do not think so. Mainly because Ding is a very solid player with the black pieces. He knows his limitations and it is extremely difficult to beat a strong player who plays chess in an objective manner. However, with the white pieces he is much more ambitious. While he has proven at this event that he has some amazing bit of preparation with white, he has also shown that it is possible for him to try a bit too hard and give his opponent some chances. Hence, according to me, the last classical game could really go either way.

Tiebreaks would surely be exciting and we can hope that the match reaches that point. But first we have the fourth classical encounter and with one wrong move the World Cup will be decided.

The infamous traffic of Tbilisi! All cars are heading towards Hotel Biltmore. If you are in Tbilisi make sure you come to the venue! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Format of the finals

The finals of the World Cup 2017 has a different format from the other rounds. Instead of the usual two classical games, we will witness four. And in case of a 2-2 tie, the match will go into the tiebreaks on 27th of September. Levon Aronian has the white pieces in game one. The winner takes home USD 120,000 (net 96,000) and the runner-up receives 80,000 (net 64,000). 



Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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m2vatr m2vatr 9/26/2017 11:19
Boring WC since Ivanchuk and MVL have been eliminated
benedictralph benedictralph 9/26/2017 07:49
We can assume in the future, matches will have to be ultimately decided on a blitz game. Presumably using 10 second time controls (with no increment).
hansj hansj 9/26/2017 07:08
The rules state quite clearly:
A player wishing to offer a draw shall do so after having made a move on the chessboard and before pressing his clock.